Category Archives: Current Events

Interlude: Looking Around

Random Droppings: Looking Back, Looking at Now, Looking Forward

Now, for something completely different (sorry Monty).

Looking Back. 

First, a shout out to reader Dave R for suggesting that the title to my last blog/essay could have been: “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Hair* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) – sorry Woody.”  That’s brilliant. Thanks Dave.

Some readers did respond regarding the embedded cultural references in that essay.  For closure, here they are.

  1. “Sadly, Mr Lupner was born without a spine.” This from a series of Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits, circa late ‘70s, starring Bill Murray and Gilda Radner (RIP ☹ ) … sample skit here.
  2. “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” A line said several times by the king in “The King and I”, a musical; composed by the famous team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (lyrics) [RIP 2x]
  3. “Curiouser and curiouser”; a line uttered by Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Charles Dodgson (RIP) under the nom de plume Lewis Carroll.
  4. “Any way the wind blows”; a line both sung and whispered in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, mostly written by – and fantastically sung by – Freddie Mercury (RIP). It came out in 1974.  Normally, it would have been considered excessively long be a hit, at 6 minutes duration; nonetheless, it became a huge hit and still a standard at parties and receptions as they reach their raucous crescendos.  Also, a great karaoke song.
  5. “Fred Astaire got no hair” and other rhymes about hair are taken from George Carlin’s (RIP) recited poem Hair. Sometime in the ‘70s.  [Sample Carlin Hair Stand up act]



“You like Po-tay-to, I like Potah-to” (sorry Gershwins). Definitely not Potatoe (sorry Dan Quayle). Hey, Let’s (not) call the whole thing off.

Gershwin Bros, George (L) and Ira (R) [Born Jacob and Israel Gershovitz]

Thanksgiving weekend. Although brief, it took me a while, in fits and starts, to complete this piece, so I’m a bit late. Still within the 4-day break: after Black Friday and before Cyber Monday.

What are you thankful for?  Comment!  My own list is long.  At the top is my wife and her health.  Somewhere in the list is you all, my readers, whether frequent or sporadic readers and commenters.  Some are words of approbation, others of cogitation, some offer edits and improvements, or other tangents I could have flown off on (as if I need more temptation on tangents to drift away upon).

Thanksgiving mealtime!  What makes mashed potatoes great?  What is your secret ingredient?  Chives?  Cream cheese?  Grated cheese can make it great.  I think it’s butter. Butter makes everything better.

I was surprised to be reminded in my newsfeed last week that yams and sweet potatoes are nowhere near the same, neither genetically nor in taste, although the names are often used interchangeably.  And sweet potatoes are not potatoes at all.  In fact, my brilliant wife conducted an experiment a few decades ago that I had forgotten. She had all the kids visiting for Thanksgiving compare the tastes of them. [BTW: sweet potatoes make the best fries.  Just sayin’.]

Found online … lightly edited …

Color: Sweeties are orange. But not all potatoes are white.

Myth: A sweet potato is an orange potato.  Fact: Even though both the potato and sweet potato originated in Central & South America, they are actually not at all closely related. They come from different botanical families. Potatoes are in the nightshade family; sweet potatoes from the morning glory family.

Myth: Sweet potatoes are yams.  Fact: Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same vegetable, and they have different tastes. Back in the 1930s, “yams” was used as a marketing term for sweet potatoes and, still to this day, you find the two mislabeled in stores. They’re also from different families; yams come from the same family as grasses (!).

Details, details

To make things a bit more complicated, Garnet Yams are not yams at all; they’re sweet potatoes.  [read all about it]

You say potato.  I say … Yams?  “I yam what I yam.”

I’m glad this essay comes out after Thanksgiving, so you wouldn’t be tempted to bore your festivity guests with such trivia.  But, hey!, it’s better than politics, right?

Looking forward

I have notes for some upcoming essays, so here’s a heads up on what to look for. No promises that any will get finished or released.  Mostly a matter of finding time to pull them all together and polish them off. And staying focused.

These are not necessarily in order.

  1. A look back at the recent election.  This will be through the lens of the topic addressed in my essay Mr Gerry.  Since the census was just completed in 2020, districts re-drawn in 2021, and elections based on those districts in 2022, I thought it would be interesting to see how “fairly” the districts were drawn by a mathematical model.  (I put fair in quotes, since as adults we know the world is seldom fair, and fair is in the eyes of the beholder). I’m waiting until all the congressional races are decided.
  2. Like the Gershwins (Ira and George) mentioned above, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some famous brothers in history. This will probably be a trilogy, or more, to keep each reading session reasonably digestible in one sitting. As a side note, I think it’s interesting that fraternity (as well as sorority) are definitely Latin-based. And the words for brother and sister in Italian – clearly Latin-based –  are fratello and sorella.  We call such groups on college campuses by these Latin names, but we also call their “community” Greek Life, and the groups are known by Greek letters
  3. I have notes on an essay on some fruits and the history of a famous American family. The task, as always, is to be interesting, relatively brief, and with several interwoven threads.
  4. And I’m always prone to just march off on some new topic that pops into mind. Or a topic that a reader might suggest.  Perhaps you!

Sound off below.  Have a great holiday season.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thank you for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

More cultural references.
1) Everything You Wanted to Know … A spoof on the hilarious 1972 movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex* (*But were Afraid to Ask), an anthology in 7 parts, screenplay written by, directed by and (in at least 2 segments) starring Woody Allen … including one wherein he plays a sperm.  Wonderfully distasteful.

2) Let’s call the whole thing off.  Written in 1937 by George and Ira Gershwin for the movie of the same year “Shall we Dance” … with a title like that of course it’s starring Astaire and Rogers.

3) Potatoe: Vice President Dan Quayle famously erroneously corrected an elementary student who had correctly spelled it potato, while visiting a 6th grade classroom. [video here]

4) I yam what I yam. One of several regular expressions of cartoon character Popeye (The Sailor Man); here (8 sec) and here (full length cartoon, 3 min, titled I yam what I yam) , for starters. Oh my gosh, the (unbelievable racist) crap we watched for entertainment as kids.

5) Of course, the first: Now for something completely different. That’s a Monty Python line. Google it yourself. Insanely goofy and funny.

Part III – It Happened First In …

A House divided against itself cannot stand”

Abraham Lincoln,
quoting Jesus of Nazareth,
June 1858 speech accepting his party’s nomination for Senator of Illinois, 1958

Lincoln, pre-           beard

Set within a glacially-crafted landscape, as is Part 2’s Waubeka (which is a scant 50 miles southeast) one finds our third and final small community of this trilogy: the hamlet of Ripon.  As with the communities of Parts I and II of this trilogy, Ripon sits alongside a trustworthy clean source of flowing water: Silver Creek.

Driving to Ripon from any direction, whatever the season, one is mesmerized by the views of fields reaching to the horizon, over subtle ground bulges that pass as rolling hills.

Such drives can be exercises in boredom or awe, depending on point of view.  The country-side landscape surrounding Ripon certainly looks bucolic; that’s deceptive: whether it’s crops, livestock or dairy, Ag life is hard.
In mid- to late summer the fertile expanse stretches ever onward, bedecked with maturing crops, interrupted only by the occasional farmhouse, an array of grain silos or a dairy farm.  Trees are sporadic, and usually betray some feature of the land.

Betrayal: A woven garland of trees, sidling and twisting along, betrays a creek in a hidden draw.  A hedge of trees: a property or acreage boundary.  A sparse grove scattered across a small area: a farmhouse.

Most acreage is corn, but there’s also plenty of soybean and cattle fodder, such as the legume, alfalfa, and hay bearing grasses.

The landscape can be equally mesmerizing the rest of the year, too. In winter some crop rotation is needed for soil health and protection; that’s mostly winter wheat, planted in early fall so that germination happens before the first deep freeze. But many of the endless fields simply lie in slumber, carpeted under innumerable 6-sided crystals of white moisture through the weeks, as calendars are flipped from November to March. [1]

The first white settlers arrived in the area in 1844, from New York, via Sheboygan. Inspired by the writings of French philosopher Charles Fourier, they intended to build a utopian agrarian socialist commune, withdrawing from the developing American dog-eat-dog culture. They chose well: glacially blessed fertile and moist prairie land, at the confluence of the smaller Crystal Creek with Silver Creek. These idealists called their settlement Ceresco, after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.

There are few secrets when it comes to great places to settle. Soon after the Ceresco settlement, David Mapes, also originally from New York, arrived.  Finding the setting as a potentially commercially attractive site, he envisioned a community adjacent to Ceresco, just spitting distance to its east (especially with the prevailing westerlies).

Mapes soon entered into an agreement with the owner of this large swath of land along Spring Creek – a chap named John Horner – for the development of a city there. Horner decided the new community should be named Ripon, after his ancestors’ hometown, Ripon, in England’s North Yorkshire County. As Mapes also had ancestry from England, there was no objection.


Before long Mapes had completed a dam on Silver Creek. This was significant. The dam enabled the creek to power a mill. The dam also formed a large pond. Both the mill and the pond promoted commercial and community development. The mill would grind grist into meal. By virtue of Ripon’s trustworthy long, deep, cold winters, the pond provided ice. The ice was harvested in early spring. Thence it was stored in ice houses and cellars, insulated under layers of hay and sawdust. Through the warmer months it was used to chill and preserve foodstuffs, dairy products, and beer. Such was life before refrigeration. At least there was cold beer.

Within a very few years Ripon was thriving. It was growing. Over those same few years, many in the Ceresco commune began struggling with the idealistic concepts and practices required for total collectivism. As land values increased many wished to sell out.  Some found a way to do that.  Many became Forty-niners and drifted away to follow the Siren call of gold and fortune.  Ceresco was absorbed into Ripon.

“[The Confederacy’s] foundations are laid, and its cornerstone rests upon the great truth: that the negro is not equal to the white man; and that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth” 

Alexander Stephens,
Vice-President CSA,
Cornerstone Speech, 1861

Alexander Hamilton Stephens, VP of the Confederate States of America

Things were neither mesmerizing, nor beautiful, nor bucolic in America in these, the fledgling years for Ripon and much of America’s heartland. The issue of slavery was about to rend the nation asunder. [edited later: OK Lee Webb, and cotton tariffs].

In the supposed “two-party system” America sorely lacked a strong second party. The Democrats had held sway from Jefferson (1800) until 1840. In the ‘30s a new party, the Whigs, coalesced around a single notion: presidents (as exemplified by Andy Jackson, often described as a jackass — a label he gladly accepted) were too powerful. Beyond that notion — that Jackson was a jackass (which later became the Democratic symbol, a donkey) and too powerful as an executive — the Whigs were little more than a loosely cobbled-together coalition.

In 1840, with William Henry Harrison, the Whigs finally wrested the White House from the Democrats. But WHH promptly died, only a month in office, leaving the office to Tyler (“too!”). Sadly, he had strong “states’ rights” leanings, and, thus, implicitly, pro-slavery inclinations. Harrison’s only major policy initiative was to re-create a national bank (which had been scuttled by Jackson); but when it passed Congress it was vetoed by Tyler. The US financial system would remain fragile.

Thus, with Harrison’s passing and Tyler’s ascendence, the Whig fracture began – which soon led to their demise. They did win one more presidential election, in 1848, with Zach Taylor (probably a good general and poor politician), but he also died in office. Fillmore inherited the presidency. He was in practice pro-slavery (signing the horrific Fugitive Slave Act and denying that the government had any power to end slavery). He was, of course hated by northern Whigs. The party’s factions drifted irreversibly apart. Totally useless, it soon died.

In the 1850s the Democrats, were also split over slavery; the significant factions all favored maintaining slavery. Oversimplified? Sure. Some wanted to expand it to new territories, and others wanted the new territories (which would inevitably become states) to decide for themselves. Across the factions they agreed with the Whig, Fillmore: the federal government had no authority to end the awful institution. Whatever the national policy: slavery should remain forever in the South.

It was dire times for both abolitionists and those who wanted to stop the expansion of slavery. In 1853, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, powered by a Democrat coalition, was thundering down the pike. To Anti-Slavers and Abolitionists alike, the Act effectively promoted slavery, allowing new territories and states to decide the slavery issue themselves (of course, just white males could decide).

It was awful legislation – literally atrocious – and it was surely going to pass. It was in blatant defiance of the Missouri Compromise (1820) which allowed the eponymous state to enter the nation as a “slave state” provided Maine could enter as a “free state”, and that no state west of the Mississippi and north of 36.5 degrees could ever be a slave state (the border between Oklahoma! and Kansas is 36.5 degrees). [2] The Kansas-Nebraska Act tore that compromise to shreds.

Motivated by the distress of this approaching human rights disaster, groups began to coalesce around anti-slavery and abolitionist points of view – from limiting slavery, to upholding the Missouri Compromise, to totally abolishing slavery. These people were remnants of the former Whig party, dispirited members of other parties, and various abolitionist groups. The groups started meeting informally across America’s upper Midwest. A nationwide strategy was needed. A new political party was needed.

Ripon’s Little White Schoolhouse

At one such meeting, on March 20, 1854, in a little white schoolhouse in the modest, small and new settlement of Ripon, 34 such representatives declared themselves a new political party, committed to ending slavery, beginning with fighting its expansion into western territories and states, and ultimately to the universal abolition of the ghastly institution of slavery.  That day, the Republican Party had its first meeting, and it came into existence.  It happened first in Ripon.

Note: several Mid-west cities also claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party, including Jackson, Michigan. Ripon is widely accepted by historians as the site of its founding and first meeting.

The fledgling party lacked sufficient firepower to successfully contest the 1856 presidential election, selecting John Frémont as their nominee. Frémont finished a respectable second, ahead of Millard Fillmore (a candidate in ’52, heir to Taylor, and last of the Whigs) who nicked off a few electoral votes and finished third. The Electoral College winner was the feckless James Buchanan (who won despite capturing only 45% of the popular vote, but more than any other candidate). Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian, had pro-southern and pro-slavery sympathies. Thus, he led both the nation and his Democratic party to cataclysmic and complete fracture.

The rest is history, as they say. In 1860 the Republicans, at a very contentious national convention in Chicago, eventually nominated a self-educated railroad lawyer as their presidential candidate. That man was Abraham “Honest Abe” Lincoln. Their political opponents, the Democratic party, split over how to handle the “issue” of slavery – although, as stated, all favored keeping slavery – and nominated two candidates.

Lincoln defeated the fractured Democrats, represented by Douglas and Breckenridge [3], as well as a fourth candidate, Bell [4]. Lincoln won the presidency, even though fewer than 40% of all voters chose him (this time: thank you, Electoral College).

[It’s worth noting that Lincoln won the party nomination and presidency on a modest non-provocative platform of keeping the country united and preventing the expansion of slavery — but not ending slavery.  That final position was forced upon him (see Stephens’ quote, above). A position he gladly and openly accepted after the 1862 battle at Antietam, when he crafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s positions in the 1860 election campaign were nearly identical to Douglas’.  However, Lincoln had no known a priori southern or slavery sympathies: see quote atop this essay.]

Splitting the party and the nation was so devastating to Democrats that only one person from that party won a presidential election from 1856 to 1912 — that was Grover Cleveland (albeit, elected twice). His party ran him out on a rail in 1896, in no small part because he believed that a sustainable healthy economy depended on a strong currency. (See W.J. Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech, 1896). He was the last of the successful Bourbon Democrats.*

*[It was a Republican split, in 1912, that finally led to this reversal of fates]

Stephen Douglas, representing the northern Democrat faction for president in 1860, had recently defeated Lincoln in 1858 for the Illinois Senate seat after the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Breckinridge of Kentucky, very pro-slavery, represented the southern Democrats. Bell, from Tennessee, was of the new and short-lived Constitution Party, which, although pro-slavery, was unwilling to leave the Union over the issue. All 4 candidates received electoral votes.


… a nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to proposition that all men are created equal.”

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States,
quoting The Declaration of Independence,
November 1864 speech
dedicating the Gettysburg battlefield and cemetery

One of last photos, perhaps last, of Lincoln


And here I risk losing some readers. So be it. Like many others, I see parallels to the 1850s. The country and one major party stand on the precipice of complete rupture. Many talk openly of armed conflict. The fracture lines are evident. The Republican Party, born in honor and strife in a little white schoolhouse in Ripon nearly 170 years ago, has brought itself to the brink of its own fracture, and contributed plenty to the current widening fissures in this country.

God bless us all.

“Real peace comes from learning to understand the perspective of others. When that opportunity comes, harden not your hearts.” – my mash up of several different quotes.

Final Epilog

Three important firsts. You readers have probably noticed a few similarities across these three stories of “firsts.”

  1. The setting of small towns and small schoolhouses.
  2. The importance of water to early US settlements
  3. I have, heretofore, omitted which of the 50 United States in which each of these three communities lie — Hudson, Waubeka and Ripon.  But with a bit of geography knowledge, you’ve figured out that the three “firsts” happened in the verdant and Great State of Wisconsin, land of my youth — as fertile for my mind as it is to its splendid agriculture production, from crops to dairy.
  4. The lay of the land and development of commerce for each community was explored.  As was how each place received its name.
  5. Finally, despite good starts and good intentions, each of these three significant “firsts” have ended up in our contemporary times with controversy and contentiousness.

Be well. Be the person your mother would want you to be.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thank you for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

[1] I was sorely tempted to contrive a few twisted lines as a Hat Tip to Robert Frost’s classic and timeless composition. Joe-twisted they follow:
“Whose woods and fields these are, I do not know.
His house is prob’ly in Ripon though.
I don’t think it would be so queer,
to stop without a farmhouse near,
to watch his woods (and fields) fill up with snow,
the darkest evening of the year.”
I’m wondering who among my erudite readers might respond to this poetic tangent.  Alas, I left it all out, for “I have promises to keep, and miles to go, before I sleep… and miles to go before I sleep.”

Thomas Nast, prolific cartoonist, born in Landau, Germany, gave us cartoon versions of the Rep Elephant, the Dem Donkey as well as the jolly round Santa Clause

[2] technically: any new state that came from the Louisiana Purchase, not new states west of the Mississippi River.

[3] the city of Breckenridge Colorado was named for Breckinridge. A spelling tweak was made when it became clear that he was very pro-slavery. The “i” was simply switched to “e”; same pronunciation. “Breck” had once been US Vice-president.

[4] Bell represented a party that was mostly constitutionally conservative and southern

[5] NAST: ELECTION, 1876 “The Elephant Walks Around” – And the “Still Hunt” is Nearly Over. ‘ Cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1876, showing the Republican party trampling the Democratic candidates Samuel J. Tilden (right) and Thomas Hendricks (left), while John Morrissey walks away.  Nast gave us our current versions of the elephant and donkey as political mascots.  As well as the big fat jolly Santa Claus dressed in red.

Good start on history of Ripon:

And the demise of Ceresco:


Part II – It Happened First in

You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag …

US Flag — 1959 to present

Prologue. Waubeka: lay of the land

The languid Milwaukee River begins as a set of mild-mannered creeks amongst some “highlands” formed by a “range” of moraine hills. These hills constitute a small divide, between Lake Winnebago’s watershed and the river’s own. Several river branches and creeks soon join in, most from the same highlands. When enough creeks have linked up, it has graduated to a real “river.”  Thence it begins meandering on a very twisty path – apparently aimlessly, like a band of nomads, or like one of my essays ?. It plods many dozens of miles through Kettle-Moraine country, collecting other creeks along the way. Twenty miles from its mouth it finally turns right and commits to a generally southward flow, albeit with a few jogs.  Finally, in downtown Milwaukee, it joins two other rivers and makes a sudden hard left turn just before it disgorges into Lake Michigan.

Typical Midwest rolling moraine country

Ice sheets of at least four glaciation periods have covered much of North America over the current Ice Age. Each period lasted tens of thousands of years. The last – which ended about 11 thousand years ago – covered all of Canada, and much of the upper Midwest. The ice sheets were one to two miles deep. Cartographical features remain, large and small.  The most obvious are lakes, including the Great Lakes.  Many subtler topographic features include:

        • modern river paths,
    • moraines (hills),
  • kettles (depressions),
  • and till plains (fine glacial deposits). [2]

Lying alongside this lazy river – ‘twixt two of its last big bends, 30 miles upstream from its mouth – one can still find the tiny and humble settlement of Waubeka.  The community remains unincorporated, its population still just a few hundred.

Waubeka was first settled by Europeans in the 1840s.  Its name comes from a local Amerindian — Waubeka (Anglos’ best phonetic Anglicization: Wau-BEH’-kah) — who was Chief of the Potawatomi tribe that remained in the area after White-man’s settlement. [note: my pronunciation may not quite coincide with locals]

The region was once thickly forested: beech, cedars, pines, oaks, maples, larch, and black walnut, to name several.  All grew well in the humid continental climate, and the rich glacial till soil.  A beaver population prospered among the many placid brooks. Thick forests provided ample timber for these industrious builders – the largest rodents in North America – to build dams and lodges.[3]

In time, the land was settled – or maybe “exploited.” Endless groves were substantially cleared by felling on an ambitious scale. Some timber was floated downstream for use elsewhere, but the river’s nature (slow, twisty, with occasional “rapids” and dams) precluded much of that. Some was used for construction, and much simply burned — either for heat, or just to get rid of it. Most of the beaver were harvested, too, although by then the beaver pelt rage was winding down; but they were considered pests, since their dams created large ponds where they’d otherwise not exist.

The cleared-out land has produced an impressive agricultural yield ever since. [4]  Soon after this initial clearing out, Waubeka had its own dam to power a grain mill.

Agriculture still supports much of the economy around Waubeka. The hamlet itself is now slowly — grudgingly — changing. Bits of commerce and refugees are wafting north away from Milwaukee’s gravitational pull. But little Waubeka still retains much of the “agricultural-small-community-keep-it-simple” feel it had 150 years ago, when our protagonist came of age there.



Essay Main Body

“… Forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
the land I love,

The home of the free and the brave…”

Bernard Cigrand was born in tiny rural Waubeka, in October 1866.  He was the seventh of eight children born to Susanna and Nicholas Cigrand (one died in infancy in 1859).  Census data show Nicholas was a blacksmith and, for a while, hotelier.  Susanna is listed as housekeeper — quite a task I imagine with 7 kids in a remote community. Nicholas and Susanna were immigrants from Luxembourg. [Although Nicholas’ US naturalization record from 1858 says he was born in “Holland.”] [5]

In 1885 young Bernard was finishing his first year of teaching the school children of the area at a salary of $40/month. He was young, only 18.  Classes were held in the community’s small school (of course, small) called Stoney Hill School. Born and raised in Waubeka, he was considered qualified to teach by virtue of his high school diploma, times being what they were, and especially — as a local boy — he was well-known to be bright and trustworthy. Very young teachers in small remote communities were not uncommon at the time.

Bernard Cigrand, himself (looks like a wedding picture)

Bright, yes. After another year of teaching in Waubeka, Cigrand was accepted to dental school in Chicago. [6]

Upon dental school graduation Cigrand practiced dentistry in northern Illinois, starting in Chicago while also teaching at the dental school there. He set up a longtime practice in Aurora, IL, while residing in nearby Batavia, along the Fox River.

But before Cigrand’s pursuit of dentistry, while teaching in that small schoolhouse in Waubeka, he did something that started a national movement — one that is remembered to this day.

Monday morning, the 15th of June 1885, started out as usual for young Bernard. He opened the schoolhouse and opened its windows to allow a draft — humid warm June days are often oppressive. He went out to the hand-powered water pump and filled a watercooler – likely a Red Wing Stoneware ceramic cooler, or water ‘bubbler’ – thus securing his students’ hydration for the day. The cooler would be placed on a table in the back of the room. Then he did something quite new. Cigrand put a 38-star American flag on his desk.  His reason?  To begin promoting understanding of, appreciation for, and respect for the flag: its history, symbolism, significance, and its power to unify the many ethnic groups immigrating to America. (He himself was a first generation American.)

38-star flag, 1877-1890

A year passed. The end of his second, and final, year teaching in Waubeka. On Monday the 14th, Cigrand did the same thing.  He set out a flag.  He started talking about it, and he invited the students to talk too.

What a great idea! Word got out. The flag was a local hit.  A movement was started.  Flag Day, a day to honor the flag. Cigrand made it a personal mission.  Even after dental school he continued promoting Flag Day.

And he had opportunity to do just that. Cigrand was well-traveled as Dean of the Chicago Dental School and attended conferences in that role where he spoke of the Flag and the need of having a national Flag Day.  He contributed to several Chicago papers and gave lectures on the significance of the flag.

The idea continued to spread. Schools and towns and cities across the country started honoring the Stars and Stripes every June 14th, as the number of stars increased to 48 over the following three decades.  Of course, since 1959, the grand old flag now displays 50 stars.

June 14th was the de facto Flag Day long before President Woodrow declared it so, in 1916. Congress then made it official (although it’s not a federal holiday) via legislation in 1949 – and President Truman signed it.

We “fly the flag” at our house on special days, Flag Day among them.

“ … should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.” [7]


Of course, America being America, the nation’s flag — like Little Free Libraries — has become contentious.  I really don’t want to spend much time on this sad aspect.  With full knowledge and acceptance that our country has many, many warts and blemishes from shameful historic acts, I prefer to focus on its positive aspects: historically, currently and in the future.  To focus on the positives the flag symbolizes: such as human dignity, responsibilities, liberties, and unity.

Dignity and unity are possible because of E pluribus unum. In many we are one. All men are created equal, with the right to pursue happiness.  Equal protection under the law.  Fundamental rights encompassed by the Constitution’s Amendments. A country willing to spill its blood and spend its treasure for freedoms at home and abroad.

The flag is a focus of controversy? Really? Can’t we all just get along?  Do it for the children; for the school children.

On August 1, 1889 Bernard Cigrand married Alice Crispe. She had migrated to Chicago from rural Michigan, near Kalamazoo.  She bore him three sons and three daughters. Among them, Elroy (b. 1895) also went on to be a doctor of dentistry, DDS.

Cigrand is a very uncommon surname.  As there are a few scattered across the area, especially in upstate Illinois, near Batavia, I would not be surprised if many – or if all – are descendants of Bernard and his brother Peter.

Bernard had a sudden heart attack and passed away in 1932, aged 65.  He is buried near his home, just outside Aurora, Illinois, along the Fox River. Buried nearby are his wife, Alice, and five of their children. [8]

…Oh, say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”


On some positive notes,

  • Stoney Hill School in Waubeka has been fully restored to a fine condition.

    Stony Hill School house, modern

  • Flag Day ceremonies are held there annually.
  • The main street through Waubeka is called “Cigrand Drive.” There is also a “Cigrand Court” in Batavia, near his longtime home and final resting place.

If wishes made dreams come true, then mine would be that all citizens appreciate their nation’s flag, pausing often (and before assigning blame) to consider and respect the symbolism of what’s good, beautiful and hopeful within their country.  In other words, be at least a little bit like Bernard Cigrand, DDS.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

[1] Languid, indeed.  Over its 100+ mile length the river’s elevation drops just over 500 feet.  Much of that near its headwaters

[2] Technically we are currently in an ice age era, which has lasted about 2.6 million years, part of larger ice age that has lasted about 30 million years.
Some glaciation fingerprints referenced above:

[a] Glacial Kettles:

[b] Glacial Moraines:

[c] Glacial Till Plains (also sometimes called Ground Moraine):

[3] A feel for how the region looked pre-European settlement can be gained by visiting the nearby North Branch of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.  Beaver populations in the region are now protected as well (although can still be pest-like). Near Waubeka is a city actually named Beaver Dam.

[4] Thanks to glacial till much Midwest soil is among the most fertile on the planet. Positioned upon land that’s ever-so-gently sloped it’s very conducive to agribusiness, both crops and on-the-hoof.

[5] Luxembourg’s status and its sovereignty were in flux through much of the 19th century.  At the time of Nicholas’ birth, the Prussians, the Dutch, and even in some regard the Austrians, laid claim to parts of the duchy.  At one point the Belgians claimed all of it.  I was surprised to learn that regions of the duchy speak an offshoot dialect of French called d’Oïl. This could explain the “Frenchy” looking surname.

[6] Chicago had only a few years before been catastrophically burned (1871) and then picked up the nickname “Windy City” (1876). It’s not particularly windy, and the nickname’s origins probably come from its propensity for spewing “hot air.” Politicians and local business leaders were promoting Chicago and its rapid phoenix-like recovery from the fire.  The name stuck when journalists in rival cities used the nickname to describe the zealous windbags and gasbags who lived there.  This was envy: the city was known for its large, and growing wealth due to its hub as a financial, commercial and transit center.

[7] Song lyrics extracted from chorus to “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, by George M Cohan, who was born on July 4, 1878 (hence his famous lines in Yankee Doodle Boy: “[I’m] a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July.”)

[8] Four children died in young adulthood, including, Bernard (not a Jr) who went young in 1925 at 35.  These might have contributed to father Bernard’s passing in 1932. Wife Alice passed in 1962, age 92.


Notes and extras.

  1. At right and below: extent of Midwest ice sheets in current ice ag

    Laurentide Ice Extent in modern USA

    e phase (yes, we are in the inter-glacial period of an ice age, called the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation age), mostly the Laurentide ice sheets. Note that basically all of current Canada and much of the Pacific Northwest were also covered, the NW by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.



Cigrand’s tombstone, Riverside Cemetery, Montgomery, Illinois (quite near Batavia)

2. Tombstone of Bernard Cigrand, DDS








3. 1870 census data for Cigrand family of Waubeka

Cigrand family census data, Waubeka, 1870  … Source: Elizabeth M Cigrand (1862–1951) • FamilySearch [then click 1870 census record]

Part 1: It Happened First In

Lying along the left bank of the St Croix River, just across from Minnesota, the population of the small city of Hudson has nearly doubled in the past two decades — now population 14,000 — from its beginnings as a tiny settlement in the mid-19th century.  I suspect much of this recent growth is spillover from the Twin Cities, which straddle the Mississippi, about 20 miles due west. It’s now even considered part of the Minneapolis-St Paul Metropolitan Statistical Area for demographics and census data.

For decades aspects of the lumber industry supported its citizens, from logging, to mills, to transport. Most of its present-day commerce is tourism, supporting both domestic and commercial travel as a stop-over along Interstate-94, and as a Twin Cities “bedroom community.”


Hudson on the St Croix, looking downstream



Hudson was originally called Willow River, when it was first settled in 1840. In 1852, after a previous re-naming, the city’s first mayor Alfred D. Gray successfully petitioned to change the name to “Hudson”, as the bluffs along the river reminded him of the Hudson River in his native New York.



With the city’s long history of remoteness and small population, rare indeed is the modern individual who can name a single notable person from Hudson, let alone a famous one. There is one name that more than a few recognize, but the tally is not abundant.  He could be famous; he should be famous. Perhaps, some day, he will be famous. His name is Todd Bol.

Born near St Paul, Bol mostly grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, graduating high school there. Stillwater is also very small, just a handful of miles upstream from Hudson, but on the river’s right bank.

Todd Bol, of Hudson on the St Croix

After high school Bol then earned two bachelor’s degrees consecutively, in sociology and psychology, at a state university some 25 miles southeast of Stillwater, across the St Croix, in Riverside.

After university, his professional career originally followed that of his mother— a longtime teacher and bibliophile. He taught school in some small, even far-flung, hamlets in eastern Minnesota. Todd Bol also seized upon his mother’s passion for books and reading.

Eventually Bol left teaching and became a serial entrepreneur. He founded or help found companies, then moving on to others. He got involved in health care and nursing. One Bol company trained nurses in advanced care, and another, a foundation, provided scholarships for advanced nursing candidates.

Free now to change his domestic setting, Bol settled in relaxed Hudson, across the St Croix. He had left Minnesota, this time for good, as things turned out.

The 2008-9 financial crisis took a toll on Bol, now in his 50s. He found himself unemployed and with no nearby prospects befitting a person of his creativity and energy. Moping around, his wife suggested he take up some hobbies, starting with Do-it-Yourself home improvement projects. “And you can start by replacing the old garage door.”

Mission accomplished; Bol’s attention turned to the pile of old wood that used to be the door. Much was recoverable, still usable, and in fine condition.  Bol could not bring himself to throw it all out.

What to do with that scrap wood?

             Little Free Library, #1 (I think)

His entrepreneurial mind struck upon a way to connect himself to his mother, and to honor her, via this old wood.  He conceived and constructed a miniature one-room red schoolhouse, complete with belfry, a few feet wide and tall — built from that scrap wood. And about a foot in depth, front to back.  It had glass in its front doors so that one could peer through to see its contents.  He mounted it to a post, which he then planted securely in the earth — in his front yard — accessible from the street.

What could be seen through those glass- paned doors?

Books! Todd Bol filled the miniature schoolhouse with books. It was the first Little Free Library (sometimes called Little Neighborhood Library), or LFL.

Within a few years the idea spread wildly.  Cute little miniature buildings with books popped up in neighborhoods, parks, resorts, squares.  Want a book? Take a book.  Got a book? Leave a book.

The idea caught on and, well you probably know the rest of the story, if not the details.  Here are a few.  Rewinding a bit, soon after that first LFL, Bol met Rick Brooks, who worked at the state’s flagship University as an outreach program manager.  Excited by the Bol’s idea, they teamed up to promote community development via LPLs.  It became their passion; a project inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s library endowment [synopsis here], which funded construction of nearly 1,700 libraries in small to mid-sized towns across the country. [some say 2,500].

They soon blew past that number. There are now well over 100,000 LFLs in the world.  Well, at least that many registered with the Little Free Library Organization, a non-profit that sprang up to support LPL growth and “builders.” There might be more. They have an app to help desperate bookless readers locate LPLs (but seems most effective in the US), as long as the LPL builder/owner registers with the organization.

Alice Kravitz, notorious nosy busybody, from the “Bewitched” TV series

[Yes, Jonas, there’s even one in Erding, Germany — where they are called “Mini-Bibs” (German for library is Bibliothek). ]

LFLs are in all 50 states, 108 (and counting) countries. There is one at the south pole, and another in Siberia. Bol’s realized dream spans the globe, east to west and south to north.

LFLs were an advantageous societal feature during the Covid lockdowns, as libraries across the country closed indefinitely. Local residents put non-perishable food in many LFLs; others, hurt by the hard times, took the nourishment.

Hard to believe then, but not surprising (this is America, after all) that LFLs became contentious in many locales.  The world is full of Gladys Kravitz-types — nosy busybodies, nannies, and nitpickers. Every neighborhood seems to have at least one.  After all: LFLs violated all kinds of local codes, ordinances and HOA bylaws.  Then sprang up those who would ban books, from the Left and the Right. Some even feared the effects of competition with brick-and-mortar libraries. [1] (Sigh.)

This was one reason for the existence of provide advice on how to deal with busybodies and HOAs, and legal advice on how to fight city hall … and win.

Sadly, Bol was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. He passed quickly, age 62 [Twin Cities Star Tribune Obit], leaving the world with a great gift, a legacy, and an awesome tribute to his mom.

Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing


[1] A partial list of books banned in America, in various school districts, library districts and municipalities.

  • Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Fifty Shades
  • Harry Potter (esp. Sorcerer’s Stone)
  • Slaugherhouse-5
  • Fahrenheit 451 (how ironic is that?)
  • Brave New World
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Animal Farm


Like Hearing Lincoln at Gettysburg

‘Like hearing Lincoln at Gettysburg’

by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe

Jeff Jacoby, of the The Boston Globe


WHEN THREE US Marine divisions invaded the tiny but crucial Pacific Island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, they expected the fight to be over within a few days. Instead, it lasted more than five weeks. By the time it finally ended on March 26, 1945, nearly 7,000 Marines had been killed in action and another 20,000 wounded. It had been one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.

Even as the fighting raged, arrangements were being made to bury the dead. Three cemeteries were prepared, one for each division. The 5th Marine Division’s cemetery was laid out at the foot of Mount Suribachi, the hill at the southwest end of the island where the iconic photograph of six Americans raising the US flag had been taken a month earlier. Eventually more than 2,200 men, 38 of them unidentified, would be laid to rest there.

Beneath endless rows of grave markers on Iwo Jima, thousands of fallen Marines were buried in 1945.

The cemetery was dedicated on March 21. The plan was for Major General Keller Rockey, the division commander, to deliver a secular address, paying tribute to the fallen on behalf of the nation and the Marine Corps. Then the division’s 17 chaplains were to jointly hold a nondenominational religious service. The highest ranking division chaplain, Commander Warren F. Cuthriell, asked the division’s only Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, to deliver the sermon.

A native of Cleveland, Gittelsohn had been ordained at Hebrew Union College and appointed to the pulpit of a synagogue in Rockville Center on Long Island. From his teens he’d been an ardent pacifist, bitterly opposed to war and against military spending of any kind. “If there was one absolute in my personal credo, it was the absolute of pacifism,” Gittelsohn wrote in a 1946 memoir. “I vowed never to aid or bless any war of any kind. I told my friends that I was prepared to spend the next war in prison. I argued with my father that submission to the worst evil was better than resisting it by force.”

Then came Pearl Harbor and the scales fell from his eyes. “I felt inwardly happy that the monies I had called wasted were appropriated and the ships I had not wanted were built,” Gittelsohn wrote.

As it became clear that war against Japan and Germany was an urgent moral necessity, he decided to enlist as a chaplain. The memoir in which he told his story was never printed during his lifetime; it lay undiscovered in the Hebrew Union College archives until long after his death. Only now has it been published for the first time by the Marine Corps University Press. Titled Pacifist to Padre, Gittelsohn’s narrative focuses on his two and a half years as a Navy chaplain. He writes with eloquence and compassion of the struggles — moral, psychological, social — faced by young people caught up in the terrible experience of war. He conveys with almost unbearable intensity the “desperate, longing needs” of Marines about to head into combat and knowing they might never again see the people and things they love.

On Iwo Jima, where so many thousands of American lives were cut short, Gittelsohn was deeply touched that Cuthriell, the senior chaplain, had designated him, a member of “the smallest religious minority in the division,” to preach the memorial sermon. Gittelsohn labored over his remarks through the night, writing them out by hand. Then he learned that several of the Christian chaplains had objected to having a rabbi preach over graves that were predominantly those of Christians. Cuthriell, insisting that “the right of the Jewish chaplain to preach such a sermon was precisely one of the things for which we were fighting the war,” didn’t want to back down. But Gittelsohn withdrew, unwilling to mar such a solemn the occasion with controversy. Instead, he delivered the words he had written at the small service held later at the Jewish section of the new cemetery.

Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, far right, conducting the first Jewish service for members of the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima.

“I do not remember anything in my life that made me so painfully heartsick,” he subsequently wrote in his memoir. “We had just come through nearly five weeks of miserable hell. Some of us had tried to serve men of all faiths and of no faith, without making denomination or affiliation a prerequisite for help. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews had lived together, fought together, died together, and now lay buried together. But we the living could not unite to pray together!”

That was not entirely true. Several of the Protestant chaplains, upset by the snub to their colleague, attended the Jewish burial service and were therefore among the first men to hear the sermon he had written. That sermon is now legendary in Marine Corps history. This is how it began:

“This is perhaps the grimmest, and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-Day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us.”

It was not a sermon about religion or God that the Jewish chaplain preached that day. It was a call and a commitment to brotherhood — an exhortation to embrace the equality of Americans not just in the graves of Iwo Jima but back home in America, where prejudice was rife, bigotry rampant, and the ideal of liberty and justice for all, then as now, very much a work in progress.

“We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. . . . Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor — together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews — together. Here, no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. . . . Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.”

Copies of Gittelsohn’s sermon were typed up and circulated. Many of the men sent copies home. One of those copies reached Time magazine, which printed excerpts that were read nationwide. The sermon was quoted in newspapers and broadcast over the radio. Today it is renowned as one of the great memorial addresses in the annals of America. In the Marine Corps, it is known simply as “The Purest Democracy.”

In 1995, just a few months before his death, Gittelsohn was asked to give the invocation at a ceremony in Washington, DC, marking the 50th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima. He spoke the same words he had delivered on that sorrowful day at the foot of Mount Suribachi half a century earlier. It was, said a three-star general who was there, “like hearing Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

“Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against another, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery,” Rabbi Gittelsohn said. “Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: This shall not be in vain. Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come — we promise — the birth of a new freedom for all humanity everywhere. And let us say: Amen.”

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

— ## —

Follow Jeff Jacoby on Twitter.

Discuss Jeff Jacoby’s columns on Facebook.

Want to read more Jeff Jacoby? Sign up for “Arguable,” his free weekly email newsletter.
To subscribe to the Jeff Jacoby mailing list, go to


Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for Joe’s newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

Number One

The Supreme Court has certainly received a lot of attention lately: hearings, pending decisions, leaked drafts and partisan splits.  We tend to focus a lot on partisan splits, but 9-0 unanimous decisions occur more often than 5-4 and 6-3.  And those are just announced decisions.  I suspect they are also quite common on procedural things, like which cases to hear.

Shertoff proposed flag

Last week the Court announced a 9-0 decision on an interesting case, Shertleff v Boston.  Quickly: Shertoff was a free speech case in which a citizen (Shertleff) was denied flying a Christian flag (red cross on blue patch with white background) on one of three masts at the Boston city hall.  The city had never denied such a one-day request before.  But the court considers such facts not so much as the law. [1]

Regarding the law, the court has always bent over backward to protect free speech.  And the right to have that free speech heard – or, in this case, seen.  It’s not the first time Boston and the area has been so severely spanked by SCOTUS on speech.

In 1993 the Irish Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) wanted to participate in the St Patrick’s Day parade.  They were denied (although not by the city, rather by an independent organization running the parade).  GLIB sued and Hurley v Irish-GLIB, Inc went to the highest court.  These things usually take a while to wend through the court system.  The court decided again, in 1995 and unanimously 9-0, that free speech gets pole position.  Gays et al must be allowed to march in public parades.

Another unusual 9-0 decision came in 2014 in McCullen v Coakley.  A Massachusetts law was passed in 2007 mandating an anti-protest “buffer zone” around entrances to abortion clinics – even if that buffer extended to public areas like sidewalks. Protestors sued. Free speech won unanimously, again.  The whole law was stricken.

In every case above the most progressively liberal and conservative justices united to rule in favor of the most liberal interpretations of free speech, even if it went against their personal social principles in the specific cases.

This even applies to burning the flag, see Johnson v Texas, decided in 1989.  Although narrowly decided at 5-4, it’s interesting that conservative-leaning Kennedy and most-conservative Scalia voted with the majority to permit flag burning.  [Kind off odd, as the specific flag burning incident was a protest against Ronald Reagan, done just outside the Republican convention of 1984 — and by 1989, when the case was finally decided, Reagan had recently appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy].

Not long after Johnson, above, the court heard a very similar case.  In response to Johnson Congress quickly passed the Flag Protection Act, which prohibited flag desecration and mistreatment.  They basically dared the courts to take up the issue again.

This got to SCOTUS quickly, dying a 5-4 death in 1990, in United States v. Eichman.  Again, with conservatives Scalia and Kennedy concurring: flag burning is speech.  Speech is protected.

Antonin Scalia, SCOTUS Judge 1986-2016

Years later Judge Antonin Scalia stood by his votes.  “If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag.  However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged…”

Scalia’s reference to the First Amendment to the Constitution gives us a good chance to review this very important part of the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

One thing that’s interesting right from the start is that this Amendment, as written, is directed at “Congress” — not to the states, or to the state legislatures, or to city governments.  Yet the Supreme Court, and lower courts by precedence, have determined for a long time that these rights (religion, speech, press, assembly) are so very important that they apply to all branches of government.

These rights are indeed important.  Let’s consider Freedom of the Press.  This points to just one reason why I personally did not really react much to the great fear-stoking regarding the tenures of, let’s say, our last two presidents: Obama and Trump.  What’s that you say?  Because they were pummeled and attacked by the press, and cartoonists, daily.  None of those publications or voices were silenced, arrested, or “disappeared” by a government response.  We can extend this to the many anti-this and pro-that demonstrations that happened during each presidency.  Free press and free speech all.  [Presidential claims of “fake news” and a bible walk to St John’s notwithstanding].

Freedom of the press is so important it should cause us to consider how contemporary events would have played out if such a valuable and cherished freedom truly existed in, say, China and Russia.

Would there be an atrocity-filled war in Ukraine right now if Russia had such a court-protected freedom?  How might the Covid pandemic have played out if China had freedom of the press?  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) rates China 175th and Russia 155th (out of 180) in the world in Press Freedom.

By way of comparison, the US gets an overall top-grade score of “Good”, and “Satisfactory”, but still comes in at only 42nd, per RSF.  Saying the “US is better than most” is not anything like saying “Russia and China are better than North Korea” (dead last). They are so very low because of authoritarian government interference and censoring. Although we (the US and much of Western Europe) can do better, we are in pretty good standing regarding press freedom.

In absolute freedom of speech, the US does rank #1 in the world (World Economic Forum rankings). [2]

“I disapprove of what you have to say, but I defend your right to say it” has long been a maxim of US law and principals. [3] Recent Rasmussen polls regularly show over 80% of Americans believe free speech is more important than offending someone, and prefer it to giving government control of speech content. [Caveat, among younger Americans this number is dwindling.]

In reviewing the RSF’s Free Press evaluation criteria the US seems to lose ground for a variety of non-government reasons:  there are far fewer jobs for investigative journalism than there used to be; many writers self-censor; much media fails to fairly present alternative views. [4] It’s all related and these conditions continue to morph.  All-in-all, these topics are very large kebabs to skewer. As is Free Speech, in the context of, say, Twitter and Elon Musk. I’ll leave those for others to tackle.

Here’s to #1.  The First Amendment, that is.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

Footnotes below.  Acknowledgements to recent articles by Jeff Jacoby (Boston Globe) and The Economist for stimulating the thoughts that led to this essay.

[1] More on recent Shetleff Case:

[2] This is supported by a 2015 Pew Research poll, here.  By 2021, the US has dropped into a virtual tie with Norway and Denmark for #1 [link], which apparently has more to do with Americans’ perception of free speech than actual government or private censoring.

[3] This quote is often attributed to Voltaire, 18th century French philosopher and strong proponent of civil liberties.  It’s actually probably best attributed Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an early 20th century biographer of Voltaire, trying to capture Voltaire’s philosophy.

[4] Figure and scoring, ref: Reporters without Borders site:
Reporters Without Borders site

Reporters without Borders 2021 World Map, hard to believe Russia is red, not black.  But this was before Ukraine.

White (score 0-15) relates to a Good Situation.
Yellow (score 15-25) reflects a Satisfactory Situation.
Orange (score 25-35) represents a Problematic Situation.
Red (score 35-55) represents a Difficult Situation
Black (score 55-100) represents a Very Serious Situation



Mr Gerry

Consider the man Elbridge Gerry, an early American politician from Massachusetts, and his legacy.

His legacy could be that he was a member of the rebellious Continental Congress.  As such he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  As a member of the later Congress of the Confederation (under the Articles of Confederation), he was present for the crafting of the Constitution (although he initially opposed the final draft).  His opposition resulted in his helping give birth to the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, AKA the Bill of Rights.

Elbridge Gerry

His legacy could be that he was (eventually) elected Governor of Massachusetts, or even that he served as Vice-President of the United States, under James Madison.

What a legacy all the above would be! But no, his legacy is in the portmanteau that contains his last name.  “Gerrymandering” comes from a combination of Gerry and Salamander, since, as Governor, some of the districts he drew up for elected offices looked like salamanders. To gerrymander is to make elective district boundaries so contorted and twisted – always to gain elective advantage – that any sane and unbiased person would quickly recognize them as something that came from a Steven King book, or a House of Mirrors.

Most often used as a verb, or participle adjective, the root word, based on Gerry’s surname, is always used as a pejorative.  The practice of gerrymandering, i.e. producing gerrymandered districts, is still widely used today.  That is his legacy.

In fact, the practice has only gotten worse.  Later herein are shown several diabolical state Congressional District (CD) maps.  Last year the United States Supreme Court bowed out of the argument completely, saying they don’t have jurisdiction over how states draw their own CD boundaries.

Normally I’d agree with SCOTUS on this.  States do what states do.  They all have their own traditions, laws, policies, rules and idiosyncrasies.  Paraphrasing Justice Louis Brandeis: the states are 50 different laboratories of democracy.  However, as with voting rights, civil rights and individual liberty, sometimes it is mandatory that the Federal Government, with the blessing of the Supreme Court, step in to rectify wrongs.  Severe Gerrymandering is one such wrong.

I read with interest that recently the courts of individual states have stepped up to abrogate such newly drawn gerrymandered maps.  In New York, a very progressive state with historically progressive judges, a court has struck down a carved-up map that overwhelmingly favors progressive Democrats.  Good for them.  Similarly, the Maryland courts have tossed out a disturbing gerrymandered map (MD has had sliced-and-diced districts for decades).

Not to dump on just Democrats.  Republicans have often drawn just as contorted districts, unfettered by logic except to gain advantage. Recently, maps drawn by Republican legislators in Kansas, Ohio and North Carolina have also been tossed out by state courts.

There are surely a good many more such state maps, but in these their state courts seem unwilling to take action.  Texas, for example, has a few disturbing congressional districts that clearly favor whites (mostly Republican, at least in Texas) over Blacks and Hispanics (mostly Democrat voters). As in California, they have decades of judges chosen by and for one party, and they seem unlikely to overturn such maps.

These most egregious examples should and must be rectified very soon.  Districts are re-drawn to reflect the decennial census (the last concluded in late 2020 and data released in spring, 2021).  When the data are digested, the districts must be drawn in time for the next election cycle.  And this includes primary races, which are currently on the doorstep in all states.

A few states, like my home state Colorado, have adopted a “non-partisan independent” commission to draw the lines.  In Colorado, which could have been very contentious – since we gained a Congressional seat – this seems to have gone very well. It appears the split will closely trend with the political leanings of the voters, on average.  We shall see.  So far, few squabbles.

It appears Gerrymandering will be de rigueur in many states for quite a while.  What to do?

Not sure.  The Federal Election Commission, backed by SCOTUS, could step in, on the basis of civil rights and try to do what Colorado and other states have done.  If the congressional representation continues to deviate from general voter patterns, then I don’t think they have any option other than to take the districting responsibility away from those states.  Much like the voting rights act of 1965. To do nothing would be to leave millions with no practical voice in an election.

I do have an interesting option, which I have proffered before.  I’ll present it in terms of a hypothetical numerical situation.  First the Federal Government, say the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Justice Department, with support of SCOTUS, would have to step in and “help” states who draw such contorted districts.

Then a program kicks in which works something like this.  Suppose a state has 10 Congressional Districts.  And suppose ten million voters participate in the election of CD representatives.  So, on average, 1 representative for each one million votes.  [I know each CD has on average about 750,000 residents with many fewer voters; I use these numbers for simplicity].

Voters vote for party, not individuals.  But they know the preferred “winners” of each party as they would be published well before.

The hypothetical votes turn out as
Party A:  5.0 Million
Party B:  4.4 Million
Party C:  0.5 Million
Others:  0.1 Million

Starting with the first digit, we can assign Party A five seats, Party B four seats.  Subtracting those away we are left with
Party A: 0.0 Million
Party B: 0.4 Million
Party C: 0.5 Million
Others: 0.1 Million

So, Party C gets the 10th seat.

Party A: 5 seats
Party B: 4 seats
Party C: 1 seat.

As far as which individuals get those 10 seats I have two general approaches, but each could be tweaked in the interest of appeasing the squealers.

In each case the parties submit a list of 10 candidates several months before the election.  They should be chosen by statewide primary.

In my first approach, the candidates are ordered one-through-ten, and they get seats as such.  In the hypothetical election, Party A’s candidates 1 through 5 get seated, and B’s 1 through 4, etc.

In my preferred approach, the party’s candidate names get written on ping pong balls and selected by pure chance, a la Lotto.  Pick ‘em at random, which has the benefit of likely ending some careers that span 20, 30 and 40 years.

This randomness would, perhaps, anger too many.  A compromise tweak would put in 10 balls for candidate #1; 9 balls for candidate #2; … all the way to a single ball for candidate #10.

It’s not perfect, but it takes the power away from the partisans and gives third parties a chance to get representation, especially in huge states like California, Texas and Florida.  [In my model CA gives 1 seat to a 3rd party].

After a decade of this, the lizards in each state’s legislature might even pledge to play nice and do away with partisan district boundaries, … and dump on the legacy of one Elbridge Gerry.  Hey!  It could happen!


Maryland’s CD map, 2012-2020.  Calling #3 a salamander is a gross misstatement.  It’s a blob, a creature from another dimension.  And #4 isn’t far behind.

Maryland CD map, 2011-2021

Both major US parties accuse the other of such origami.  And they are correct. In fact, this problem is hardly limited to the US.

The UK has had a worse problem for centuries, only recently rectified. Constituencies for the House of Commons (like US congressional districts) didn’t have even close to the same number of people from district to district.  It was a very long-standing problem; I guess due to reluctance to re-draw boundaries and the uneven growth (in some cases shrinkage) of population.  Although this problem is now “fixed” (the UK now only requires that each constituency population be within 5% of the national average; whereas the US insists they be essentially identical within any state).  This has still resulted in gerrymandered constituencies (yes, even they use the word) and a result that leaves many unhappy.

Over in Hungary, Victor Orban’s power is secure.  Via gerrymandering his Fidesz party controls a slam-dunk legislative majority.  They have 2/3 of the seats despite getting only ½ of the vote.

Back to the US and uneven distributions. I invested quite a bit of time evaluating the current splits in the House of Representatives, by party and by state.  For point of reference, I used the method I proposed above.  In the analysis a whopping 39 states, or 78%, have distorted distributions of congressional seats.  20 tip Republican and 19 tip Democratic.  Most are off balance by a single seat.  Only 11 states are unbalanced by more than one seat. [1] These are:

Table of Imbalanced CDs, by state 2021-2023 [In an unbalanced state one party gets over- represented by the amount shown.  These seats generally come from the other major party. So an imbalance of 1 is actually a swing of 2]. Texas is 13D, 22R and 1Ind.  My model shows 17D, 19R is proper.

I have to give a bit of warning here.  The backdrop is that these states (as do most others with imbalance) have huge regions of rural low-density residents and a few compact areas of high-density population.  People tend to vote like the people around them and like the people they hang out with; the former group generally more conservative and the latter more progressive. Also, there is a high correlation between population density and how people vote. [Suburban and exurban areas can go either way, but they do still tend to fit the trend that people vote like their neighbors.  You can see this in most precinct level election results].

Because of very high and very low population density areas splashed across most states, the upshot is that almost any map drawn will have that look of being gerrymandered, even if it matches the theoretical perfect balance.  Urban areas will be cut up and parceled out to rural areas.  Some suburban areas will be smooshed in with a neighboring suburb, while being divided itself.

On a final note, the German system reaches about the best balance possible.  Bundestag elections have two separate elections.  Voters choose a candidate, and also vote for a party.  When all the votes are tallied in the candidate elections, and ministers are assigned to elective districts (598 are assigned initially), they then look to see if the distribution matches the party vote.  If it doesn’t then they simply add more seats, so that the overall representation matches the popular vote.  [Caveat: A party must reach a 5% threshold to get “extra” seats this way].  I don’t know how large the Bundestag can get, but in the current new coalition government it is at its largest ever, with 736 members. [2]

Or, Auf Wiedersehen Herr Gerry.

That’s my ramble, or rant, for this month.  On to happier themes for a while.

Take care

Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

With gratitude to my wife, as usual, for pointing out typos, clunky wording, awkward flow and unnecessary words. With helpful suggestions, of course.

Footnotes and final musings.
[1] The most egregious seem to be Massachusetts, Maryland and Alabama.  I arrive at this conclusion by simply taking the ratio of the imbalance to total seats available.  States that have recently lost a seat have redrawn boundaries to make things worse; some are still pending court direction (NY, CA, IL).

[2] The German system is slightly more complicated than this but this explanation gives the gist.

Below: some districting examples for elections 2012-2020.  North Carolina surely looks sliced up by Edward Scissorhands, as does Maryland, shown in main body, above.

North Carolina, may I direct your attention to CDs #1 through 5 and 9?  This has resulted in +2 for Republicans recently.

NC congressional districts, 2012-2022

Alabama looks innocuous.  By lumping almost all Dem voters into #6 (Birmingham area, AKA Alabama’s Blue Dot) Alabama is biased +2 for Republicans.

Texas has some serious distortions, which might get worse as Texas gets two additional seats.   Especially note #14, #26, #35. I don’t even see how this is all possible, given that districts must be contiguous.

Texas CD map: 2012-2020 elections


Tick Tock

“There’s no tick tock on your electric clock,
But still your life runs down.”
from “Halfway to Heaven”
— composed and sung by Harry Chapin


Among many conspicuous factoids that jump out at me as I observe the world in all its splendor is the astounding number of people who have achieved extraordinarily at young ages.

Usually I come across these individuals while doing research for some other thread. The Internet has made such research endeavors almost unbelievably easy, especially for one who grew up seeking information with only one option: going to the library and fumbling through frayed catalog cards and struggling with the Dewey Decimal system.  And, the internet has also made it easy to drift off onto tangents.

Book Cover: Chernow’s excellent and thorough biography on Hamilton

Examples are many. Alexander Hamilton and the young Lafayette of America’s birthing years.  Isaac Newton, at age 22 and on leave from university during the plague, whiled away his time musing about sundry things, like gravity, light, and fascinating aspects of mathematics.  This led him to the theory of gravity, and a whole new class of mathematics, integral calculus, to prove it.  And the nature of light.  And a method to compute Pi to many digits quite quickly. Then the plague ended.  He returned to school.

Even a partial list is imposing.  Alexander the Great pretty much conquered and ruled the world in his 20s; his accomplishments even intimidated Julius Caesar.  Joan of Arc was in her teens when she led the French to victory over the English. Nadia Comaneci, at age 14, was the first to score a perfect 10 in Olympics gymnastics.  The Beatles were 20-24 years old when they rode the wave of Beatlemania to #1 … in the world.

Speaking of music. This realm is not without more than a few other names, particularly those of the “27 Club”; great musical artists who perished at that age, including Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. They all passed on from drug abuse complications.  Clean living is no guarantee however — JP Richardson, The Big Bopper, made it to 28, only to go down in a Beech Bonanza, in a foggy snowstorm in a field in Iowa, “the day the music died.”

Following are three short bios of individuals who lived and played with elan, achieved greatly — and left the scene — relatively young.  The Comet, The Sweet Georgian, and The Paderewski of Rag.

The Comet

My dad was born and raised in Chicago; I was born there. Although we moved to near Milwaukee when I was but an innocent lad of 6 years old, we remained loyal to     “Da Bears” and the Cubs for decades, despite all my new friends’ allegiance to the Braves (who dumped Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1966), later the Brewers, and of course, “the Pack.”

50s and 60s style rabbit ears, with aluminum foil

I remember trying to watch televised games from Chicago, some 90 miles away.  We’d string wire through the trees in the back yard, or sometimes I’d stand beside the TV, holding the rabbit-ear antennae just right, usually with aluminum foil wrapped around them in odd shapes (most called it “tin foil”).

“Got it! Don’t move Joe!”

Usually we failed, or the blurry images were barely visible through the “snow”; then we’d give up and listen to a Chicago radio station – that would be WGN, at 720 kHz on AM. As a historic Clear Channel, and at 50 kilowatts, a good reception was a high likelihood.


Gale Sayers, looks like rookie or sophomore pic

In 1965 a rookie arrived on the scene for our beloved Bears: Gale Sayers. An exciting running back — fast, shifty and elusive — who could also return kicks. Raised in Omaha, Nebraska, he attended and played football for Kansas University. There he was a two time All-American, picking up the nickname “Kansas Comet.” Of course, as a youngster I didn’t know any of that; I learned that years later by reading his autobiography.

But I did know he was very, very exciting… and annoying to Packers’ fans. I was into my teens — cleaning zit ejecta from the bathroom mirror — before I stopped drawing his number (“40”) on my shirts to wear during pick-up football games.

During a game against San Francisco, in his rookie season of 1965, my dad and I followed probably the most remarkable game a rookie ever had, or ever will have. Sayers scored six touchdowns, 4 by rushing, 1 on a pass (80 yards), and another on a punt return (85 yards).  It was a late season game, so Sayers’ skills were now well-known, and the 49ers had redesigned their defense and kick coverage specifically to stop Sayers. To no avail. [video highlights here]

We were of course aware the mighty Packers were playing an important game across the country, in Baltimore, that same day. Their most glamorous player, Paul Hornung, had been struggling for quite some time with injuries; most notably a neck injury that caused a pinched nerve, accompanied by numbness and “stingers” running down his arms.  He was having a mediocre season and had been forced to sit out a few games.  That he was playing at all is testament to his mental and physical toughness … and to the stupidity of American Football.

Paul Hornung scored five touchdowns that day, a Packer single-game record that still stands. The next few days all my excited Milwaukee friends wanted to tell me  about those five touchdowns.  In a voice that probably failed to conceal my satisfaction, despite its soft tone (I had a bad stammer, and it was not cool to be a Bears fan in Wisconsin, even way back then) I replied: you know, Sayers scored six.

In 1965, Sayers set the NFL single season record of 22 touchdowns, coincidently at age 22.  It’s been surpassed eleven times now, but he did that in only 14 games. The rest, except OJ Simpson in 1975, had the benefit of 16 game seasons.  (Last year, ridiculously, and inviting further brain damage to players, they expanded to 17 games).

The next season Sayers led the league in rushing.  Then disaster.  He suffered repeated knee injuries, the first while playing against, ironically, the same San Francisco 49ers against whom he set the touchdown record.  He gamely came back after each knee injury and surgery (remember, this is way before arthroscopic surgery … the rehab was just brutal) and an ankle injury as well.  He still showed flashes of brilliance, but he’d never be the same Gale Sayers, again.

Comets light up our skies and provide us with something to marvel at, but they come and go quickly.  The same with Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet.  He retired at age 28, leaving fans with great memories from a career that spanned just a few years.

So phenomenal were those few years, that Sayers was named to 4 Pro Bowl games (the NFL All-Star game), twice earning Game MVP [link].  Remarkable: he only played four full seasons.  In a fifth partial season, he was limited to only 9 games after two more knee injures — he still rushed for 856 yards with an astounding average of 6.2 yards per carry. He was inducted into the NFL Football Hall of Fame at the age of just 34 years old, the youngest ever to be so honored.

Sayers used his injury down time to get additional education, eventually earning a Masters Degree, as well as rehab. After retirement he first moved into sports management, picking up duties as Athletic Director at alma mater Kansas University and then AD over at Southern Illinois University.  Thereafter, he started his own very successful computer company, which he then ran until retirement.

Brian Piccolo — gone too soon

We can’t talk about Sayers without at least briefly mentioning Brian Piccolo, and the friendship they shared.  Piccolo and Sayers came up together, both finishing their college football careers in 1964.  Piccolo, playing for Wake Forest, led the NCAA in rushing that year; he actually nudged out Sayers in the Heisman Trophy voting.  (10th and 11th).

A tough hard running back, Piccolo was not as speedy or flashy as Sayers.  He went undrafted.  Signing a free agent deal with the Bears, Piccolo eventually worked his way up from the Practice Squad to regular roster player, often teamed up alongside Sayers in the backfield.

Coach George Halas decided it was a good idea to have teammates who played similar positions room together when the team traveled.  A budding friendship further bloomed: the black Gale Sayers roomed with the lily-white Brian Piccolo.  The first such roommate pairing in the NFL.  They even had sequential numbers: Sayers #40, Piccolo #41.

As anyone who’s seen the gut-wrenching movie “Brian’s Song” knows, Piccolo soon contracted a rare form of cancer and passed away, aged only 26.

Final link: Sayers and Hornung. Probably not coincidentally, except perhaps the timing, these stars passed away recently, within a few weeks of each other, in the autumn of 2020.  Both struggled mightily with cognitive decline, then dementia, in their later years.  Although no investigations were performed, it’s highly likely each suffered from CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – the worst curse of American football.


Sweet Georgian: Bobby

I enjoy the sport of golf.  It can be relaxing and wonderfully distracting.  The exercise and fresh air one gets from playing are healthy, and so are the companionships that develop.  I’ve made a study of the game, including the physics and the history. I may not play well, but I can understand physics and history. One name all golf historians recognize is Bobby Jones.

Born in 1902 in Atlanta, Jones was blessed in many ways: coordinated, intelligent, self-driven and well-reared in a well-off family.  But as a youth he had severe health problems. For example, he was unable to eat solid food until age 5, which probably stunted his growth in these important years.

Doctors prescribed golf to young Bobby.  He lived across the street from a golf course (now the famous East Lake) which provided plenty of opportunity to play and learn.  He took well to the game, and by age 14 was playing – and doing well – in national tournaments.

While playing golf competitively at the highest levels, Jones attended nearby Georgia Tech, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Then, he went off to Harvard University, earning another degree, this in English Literature. [during his most competitive golf years, Jones would relax in the clubhouse before matches by reading Milton, Shakespeare and Chaucer].  Then, back home to Atlanta-based Emory University to study law.  Jones never fully completed his law studies at Emory, as he passed the Georgia Bar exam after his third semester, aged only 25.  He immediately began practicing law.

Along the way, he married his high school sweetheart and became a head of household: they had three children.

One can only marvel that through all this Bobby Jones compiled one of the most extraordinary golf careers in all of history, and certainly by far the greatest of any amateur golfer.

At age 21, Jones won the US Open. Over the next 7 years he’d win another 12 major tournaments, culminating with the Grand Slam – all four majors – in 1930.

After the Grand Slam (also called “The Impregnable Quadrilateral” at the time) Jones promptly retired, without warning — shocking the sports world.  Like Sayers, he was only 28 years old.  He had proved what he needed to.  He reached heights fans and historians still marvel at.

Robert “Bobby” Tyre Jones — in his prime

Was he the greatest, the so-called GOAT? It’s so hard to compare eras.  For example, Jones accomplished all this with hickory shafted clubs and golf balls that couldn’t be trusted to behave the same from one to another – even from the same box of balls!  Greens weren’t smooth.  He did all this while studying Engineering, Literature and then Law – and then practicing Law and raising a family.  [It is said that during an exhibition match at San Francisco’s Olympic Lake course, Jones reached the green of the 600 yard 16th hole in two shots — a prodigious feat by any era’s standards; he did it with hickory shafted clubs. His reaction?  A sheepish smile.]  If Jones isn’t the GOAT, he’s near the top.

Although his career as golf competitor was over after 1930, Jones’ involvement with golf continued.  Working with the Spalding Company he helped design and promote the first steel-shafted matched clubs.  He founded the Augusta Golf Club, which hosted the tournament he founded, now called The Masters.  He made a series of golf instructional videos – lost for decades; recently found – which are probably the most famous ever, using high speed cameras and special lighting.  Ironic, but it was for these instructional and technical ventures that Jones gave up his golf amateur status; he never accepted a dime for any of his many achievements playing golf.

In the 1940s Jones was still a vibrant and intellectual man.  But soon something was wrong.  He was weakening too fast, and in pain.  In 1948 he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Syringomyelia, in which cysts form and grow in the spinal cord, impinging the nerve channels.  It had been developing for decades, perhaps since birth.

President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower’s painting of Bobby Jones

Jones’ life on earth lasted until 1971.  Those final decades were marked by extreme pain and progressing paralysis.  Starting in the ‘40s he became acquaintances with a man who would become President: Dwight D “Ike” Eisenhower. Theirs would grow to a great friendship of mutual admiration. Ike was like many other world leaders, from Churchill, to Prince Charles, to Franco and even George W Bush — he enjoyed painting .  Ike, also like many of us, really enjoyed golf. He fell in love with Jones’ Augusta Golf Club and course.  In 1953 Ike presented Jones with a painting of his good friend: a younger and healthier Bobby Jones. [1]

Paderewski of Ragtime [2]

This final tale of Ticks and Tocks is the story that started the germination of this entire essay. I learned about it in a recent newsletter of the 1904 World’s Fair Society, of which my wife and I are members.

For the threads of many gleaned tidbits, I must give credit to newsletter regular contributor Jim Wiemers, the society’s Music Collector.

Ragtime music is certainly a historic throwback; its golden era was around the last turn of the century, from the 1890s to the mid-1910s.  But it’s certainly still enjoyed today.  It’s cheery.  It’s jaunty. Its syncopated rhythms are catchy.  Personally, I’ve enjoyed it since watching the 1973 film “The Sting,” which featured Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic The Entertainer throughout the movie. [Confession: The Entertainer is the only specific Rag tune I can confidently identify].

Rag was not considered respectable music from its beginning, not for at least 10-15 years.  No doubt that’s because its roots lie in the African-American communities of that era, most notably in Saint Louis.

In 1904, the leadership of the Saint Louis World’s Fair (officially “The Louisiana Purchase Exposition”) denigrated the music form and wouldn’t permit it to be played on the main Fair Grounds. Some Rag was played along The Pike, which, in many ways, was sort of a “side show” to the Fair.  {Pike description}

This was a great loss to anyone seeking a combination of contemporary culture and art.  And it was most unfortunate, since the acclaimed all-time king of Rag and Rag Composition, Scott Joplin, lived in Saint Louis at the time.  [You can still visit the house he lived in, on the edge of downtown Saint Louis, just a few miles from Forrest Park, site of the Fair.]

Although most of us today are hard-pressed to name Rag stars of that era besides Joplin, there certainly were many.

According to Fair and music historians, at least three contemporary stars of Rag played on the Fair’s Pike: Louis Chauvin, Sam Patterson, and Arthur Marshall.

Marshall played at the Spanish Café, in the Streets of Seville exhibit, for $12/week (he could’ve made $25 over at the Rosebud Bar, but not on the Fairgrounds).  The job lasted less than a month, as his music was too often drowned out by the bands playing at Hagenbeck’s Animal Show (well, the Pike was sort of a collection of sideshows and odd exhibits, displays and experiences). Marshall was replaced by an Iberian Orchestra. [3]  He outlived most the era’s Ragtimers, and was able to provide firsthand testimony on many of the personalities and events to historians decades later.

Sam Patterson and Louis Chauvin played two-piano Rag at the Old St Louis Restaurant and Bar on the Pike  [for a great map of the Pike at the 1904 World’s Fair, go to bottom of this page: click here.  For a great interactive zoomable map of the entire Fair, here]. [4]

Patterson and Chauvin grew up together in Saint Louis, which was rather a Rag hotbed.  They dropped out of school at 15 and 13, respectively, formed a musical touring group, and traveled the country. Later, they returned to Saint Louis, studying and performing – including at the 1904 Fair – before setting off again.

Louis Chauvin (1881-1908) — just not any good photos of him on the internet

Patterson held various musical jobs and even joined Joplin in New York City for a while, helping him complete the ragtime opera “Treemonisha” before Joplin’s untimely death in 1917, aged 58.

And then there was the prodigy, Louis Chauvin, often called “Paderewski of Ragtime.” [2]  A true superstar of the original Ragtime era. He was a regular performer at Tom Turpin’s Ruby Bar in Saint Louis, a nexus for Ragtime talent.  [Quick aside: we note that Turpin himself was an early Ragtime leader, not only through his bar as a Rag performance venue, but through his talent: his works include the very first published Ragtime piece: Harlem Rag.]

Chauvin played only by ear and could re-create any piece he heard; if it wasn’t Rag, he put his own Rag-spin on it.  He could adapt any melody to Rag, including a Sousa march.  Contemporaries pretty much agreed: Chauvin was the best. They were all in awe. But none of his creations were ever written down. His only published work was a team effort with Scott Joplin: Heliotrope Bouquet.

Sadly for him and the music world, Chauvin’s lifestyle was terrible for his health.  According to Patterson “He stayed up, drank, and made lots of love … he only seemed to be living when he was at the piano.  It’s authentic that he smoked opium at the last.”  Chauvin passed away at age 27.  Various causes were listed, but modern assessments would largely pin it on neurosyphilis … that’s a long term case of the STD syphilis, resulting in coma and, ultimately, starvation.




Sayer’s career was over at 28. Injuries. Jones also at 28, by choice; other things to do.  Piccolo gone at 26.

Chauvin, perhaps the first member of the great “27 Club.”

Tick Tock, tick tock. Our clocks are running, always running, always ticking.

I really wanted this to be upbeat.  To be a tribute to so many who accomplished so much, and so young.  Alexander Hamilton setting up a new nation’s finances and banking system at age 32.  Leading a charge at the battle that cinched American independence at 24.  Dead in a duel at 47.

Sorry that this took a bit of a dour turn.  That’s why it took me so long to finish and publish.  I was looking for a cheery way out.

Hey, it’s never too late to do something!  Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 62, after already (1) having made and lost a fortune, (2) bounced around the country losing jobs as varied and crazy as kaleidoscope patterns, and (3) also having survived a genuine shoot out.  [5]

Father William Treacy, the priest who married us, turns 103 this week. He still says Sunday Mass, preaching inspirationally as he’s done for 80 years, on love, humanity, brotherhood, peace, compassion and acceptance. [6]

Me?  I’ll just keep observing and writing.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] This famous painting hangs on the wall of the Chairman’s office at Augusta National.  Reprints are available, but good ones are not cheap. Ike presented it to Jones shortly after taking the oath of office, 1953.  He had been working on it for some time, including through the presidential campaign season.

[2] Ignacy Pedrewski, a Pole, was widely regarded as the best pianist in Europe at the time. As his name shows up in Saint Louis, obviously he was world renowned. An animated performer, he largely played classical music from the likes of Bach, Beethoven, & Chopin (of course) to large audiences. Known for reworking pieces to his own style (as did Chauvin), he went on to become Poland’s Prime Minister when it won its Independence as a favorable outcome of WWI.

[3] They All Played Ragtime, by Rudi Bush

[4] At nearly two square miles (1,270 acres) the 1904 LPE Saint Louis Fair was the world’s largest until the 2010 Shanghai Fair, which nudged ahead at 1,292 acres.  Close behind are the Chicago Fair of 1939, at 1,202 acres and the current 2020-22 Dubai World’s Fair, which has been cursed by Covid, at 1,100 acres.

[5] The Harland Sanders Shoot-out story,; and in the book, “Colonel Sanders and The American Dream”, by Josh Ozersky.

[6] Father William Treacy.  We often watch his masses by Zoom, or on recording when we’re busy.

Biographic sources for Louis Chauvin:

[d] And Jim Wiemer’s column on Chauvin the 1904WF newsletter.


Hugs and Kisses

Typical Card Page 1

XOXO Alert!

It’s almost St Valentine’s Day, February 14th, hereinafter called “the day.” This year the day somewhat coincidently comes one day after the Super Bowl. Don’t allow that extravaganza to make you forget your sweetheart and cherished ones.

The coincidence is because the “big game” is occurring about a week later this year than most others in recent history. That’s because the NFL, like other professional leagues – in their never-ending quest for money – has decided to add a 17th game to each team’s schedule.  [Don’t even get me started on the NBA and their addiction to China’s money, see here, here, here, and many others.].

The day is often annotated with flowers, candies, dates, proposals, photos, notes and cards with images of Cupid, the cards and notes often signed off with XOXO.

Less often are references to the massacre of that day and name, administered in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in north Chicago, in 1929.  Lore has it that the gore can be attributed – directly or indirectly – to Prohibition.

Who was St Valentine?  Historians and theologians disagree on just how and why to connect said saint to this romantic date, mostly because there were three Saint Valentines – all three were martyrs, executed by the Roman emperor.

St Valentine, 3rd Century

The most likely story is that of a Saint Valentinus (ca 225-270 CE).  He was a priest in what would be modern day Italy. He was sympathetic to the romantic inclinations of young men who were serving in the Roman military.  The Emperor, Claudius II, believed that single men made better warriors.  As Valentinus knew that love knows no bounds, he married the smitten men to their beloved sweethearts clandestinely.  He might have believed that this helped keep them more chaste when far away from home.  His secret was eventually discovered; he was beaten, tortured and beheaded.

The day? Whether legend or truth, or perhaps related to one of the other “Valentines”, the day of Cupid and putting love and loyalty on the calendar this particular day, is that it is presumably the date of his execution.  At least in the west; in eastern Christianity it falls on July 6th.

Or, the day could be related to the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, which by Christian times, had evolved into something of a pre-spring fertility festival.  Lupercalia was celebrated around the Ides of Februarius, which was regarded as the last month of the year for ceremonial purposes. Should we mention that fertility and “love” are related? Early Christians were pretty good at appropriating the dates of existing rituals to help with conversions and make proselytes feel more “at home.”

Linguists might notice the “Lup” in Lupercalia and wonder if there is a wolf involved.

Well, there is a wolf involved.  Historically, going back a few centuries BCE, the party festivities were to honor Lupa, the she-wolf who nursed and nurtured Romulus and Remus – the mythical founders of Rome.

[By the way, I’m pretty sure that Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with the urban slang meaning for she-wolf, which is “promiscuous woman”, or worse: “prostitute.”]

And Cupid?  The cute chubby fellow who adorns so many cards? He’s the Roman god of passionate love and physical attraction. He’s that cherubic and precocious imp who shoots arrows that, upon hitting their human target, provoke physical and emotional feelings: in short, uncontrollable desire. In one mythologic tale he accidently shoots himself, and thus he himself must suffer the ordeal of love.  How apropos.

Modern Day Cupid

Cupid, like many Roman Gods, was “stolen” from the Greeks, whose name for the corresponding god was “Eros”.  Eros to Greeks meant the same as what Cupid was the god of: passionate physical love.  Romans’ Latin even stole the very word Eros: from which we get the English words erotic, eroticism, erogenous and the like.  Etymologically, eros is both the Latin and Greek word for physical, passionate, sexual love.

One might wonder why Cupid, a god who can rule over one of mankind’s strongest emotions, is most often depicted as a winged, tubby little pre-pubescent lad. Why not a strong muscular figure? This transition seems to have pre-dated Christianity and even the Roman adoption of Eros as Cupid.

Wings? Well, he is a god, so the wings make sense, I suppose.  But better is the line of thought that people who fall in love are “flighty.”

A flabby whiskerless boy? With a little bow and arrow? He is a mere boy because, like youth, love can be so very irrational.  The mighty physique of early Eros was replaced with a bow and arrow to show he still had power.

Speaking of eros, eroticism and such. In Christian tradition, there are four types of Love (most languages, like English, don’t have enough words for this rich domain of emotions).  One is Eros, which is the special intimacy that exists between wife and husband.  Two of the other three are Agape and Charity.  I forget the 4th.

Anyhow, that’s a bit of a path to near to the end of this essay and the end of any Valentine’s Card, where you might find XOXO.  [This is also inscribed at the end of notes, or, nowadays, within text messages].  We all know this means hugs and kisses – or kisses and hugs – right?

Until recently I’ve always had this backward, thinking that O meant kiss (looks like a mouth to me) and X is the hug (looks like 2 arms crossing).  But no, ‘tis ‘tother way ‘round.

Seems as though the X comes from the time not so long ago when most people were illiterate but were required to sign a legal form or document.  So, they wrote just “X.”  They could have made any symbol, but the first letter in the Greek word for Christ is χ. That’s Chi, which looks like an X.  (Pronounced “K-eye”, or “kai”). The symbol was meant, in effect, as attesting before Christ the Lord that your “signature” was a true testament: a sacred vow. Then, to establish validity, they then kissed the X – as in “sealed with a kiss.”  That might be legend, but it’s as good as any other explanation.

Speaking of the Greek letter χ, it is near the end of the Greek alphabet.  The way the coronavirus is mutating, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the chi-variant before this is over.

Back to XOXO.  As for O in the XOXO script, it’s a “hug” because it’s supposed to be two sets of a pair of arms, each individual pair forming a semi-circle. Linked together, they form a full circle. Looking down from above, it’s two people in full hug, – well, the arms form a distorted loop, or circle. And, if the arms make a circle, which symbolizes true love – no beginning and no end, they’re like a wedding ring.  Another legend has it that many Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated into America were also illiterate.  Upon entry they also had to sign documents.  Seeing Christians mark their documents with an X, they went the opposite way and used O.  Which offsets the X, but doesn’t convey quite the same thing as hugs and kisses.

Despite all the above—the legends, the myths, the lore and the gore, the guesses and the tangents – this much is true: February 14th is Valentine’s Day.  And – truth – it’s as good a day as any to show special people in your life just how important they are.  Card or note? Sure. Sign it “Love”, mark it with an X, an O, or an XOXO. And we’re not playing tic-tack-toe here.



Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

Gently, Not

“… Do not go gentle into that good night.
… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

I still have a dear friend since childhood.  We’ve been friends and stayed in touch for nearly six decades now, although he lives over 1,000 miles away.  We’ve visited a few times, but most contact is through a news-blurb he publishes via email nearly daily. It contains the day-to-day comings and goings of his life and thoughts: everything from health, to work, to mundane errands, to weather, to politics, and, of course, his grandchildren. [1]

Sometimes he talks about the daily newspaper: what’s in it?; is it on time?; or is it wrapped in plastic for possible rain?  (precipitation is a big deal in Arizona.)  We share a sense of old-fashioned desire for the tactile experience here: we both like to get an actual newspaper, with ink, holding and folding it with that enjoyable crinkle of the paper as we manipulate the pages.

He recently divulged that his wife also enjoys the hardcopy newspaper, but for different reasons than he.  Whereas he checks weather, sports, local and national news (usually in that order, I have deduced), she goes right to the obituaries, and often limits her perusals to those.

Although they live in fairly good-sized city (now about 60,000, even though the municipality is younger than each of us), they live neither in, nor even near, any major metropolitan area.  Therefore, between the two of them, they know a majority of the long-time residents of the region.  So, it’s a way to get news, I suppose.  Mostly, I think, she doesn’t want to learn weeks or months later that a close acquaintance or long-lost friend has gone “into that good night.”

I’ve confessed before on this site that I like to wander through cemeteries.[3] My digital photo album has pics of the final resting places of people both known and unknown to me. The headstones with carved letters, the family plots, the funerary art: all suggest stories.  The details of those final resting places – withered bouquets, trampled grass, cracked stones with the weathered letters of names and epitaphs, two dates with a dash between them , or a few tiny pebbles perched upon a tombstone – are the outlines of those stories; our imaginations are challenged to fill in the rest.

Another confession. Like my friend’s wife, I also peruse the obituaries, especially on Sundays. The Sunday paper usually has a collection of obits from the previous week.  Here I can check to see how many are younger than I am. Weird?  I suppose. Sometimes I get a catch in my breath when I see a name I know. A full week when every Reaper’s Visit is to harvest someone older than I is a good sign.  Such weeks grow ever fewer. When the deceased are younger, I am often amazed at what full lives they lived and how very accomplished they were – I can’t help but feel a bit small and wasteful of my own time and talents in comparison.  Few have gone gently into that good night.


This morning’s Sunday paper brought some very sad news from Houston, Texas.  “Crowd Surge Kills at least 8 at Houston Music Festival.”  Evidently hundreds, perhaps thousands, pushed up against the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott.  Never heard of him until now. All of those who perished were young, aged only 14 to 27.  Many more are in hospital.

This is not a unique occurrence.  Human crowd behavior is bewildering; it’s even a scientific area of study.  It’s almost like we’re grasshoppers: a few of us hanging around is no big deal, interesting and a bit ugly up close, but once we get into huge crowds we change – chemically, hormonally, pheromonally, irrationally – and any behavior, whether destructive or otherwise, becomes acceptable.  Are we like locusts?

Cute grasshopper, not so pretty in real life, especially as part of locust swarm

I am but a poor ignorant grasshopper, yet yearning for wisdom, as in the series Kung Fu.  I simply don’t understand it. Twice I have been caught in such crazed crowd situations.  Even though I am not normally claustrophobic, my instinct both times was to simply get away and go against the throngs. Rather like a rat, squeezing myself out from a collapsed building.

Once was at a Summerfest concert, along Lake Michigan, in the summer of ’73 or ’74. [2] One of the featured acts was the Doobie Brothers, already famous by this time. With anticipation of the big act, the crowd grew in size and rowdiness through each of the warm-up acts. I guess half the audience was stoned.  There were no chairs or benches, just blankets and people on grass.  By the end of the last warm-up group, there was no space left at all.  Thousands of people, shoulder-to-shoulder, most pushing this way and that to get a better view of the stage.  The more pushing there was, the more pushing and yelling ensued.  Most wanted to get closer to the stage. Some yelling was for the Doobs to finally get their butts on stage, some yelling at other attendees for pushing so much.

With the sweet smell of colitis floating through the air my companion and I grew a bit fearful and decided to leave.  At this point our going against the flow was still possible – the space we evacuated was quickly consumed by the grateful pushers.

I learned the next day that a riot occurred shortly after we left.  Concert attendees pushed so hard on the stage that it collapsed.  As I recall there were no fatalities or serious injuries.  I don’t think the Doobies even made it onto the stage, although I wondered later if the roadies could salvage the equipment they were setting up.

The other time was about 15 years ago when I attended the Phoenix Open, a regular PGA Tour® event held annually in early February.  It had been for some time, and is still today, regarded as the loudest, rowdiest, rudest, drunkest and (for many) the most fun of all PGA events, which are usually very quiet and reserved affairs.  [Of course there’s always yelling at any event when a fan favorite is making a run, but that’s after the shot is struck, or the putt is holed].

Rowdy crowd at Phoenix Open

As a result of this reputation, the Phoenix Open is usually the most attended of all PGA events.  The big day is usually Saturday; often around 200,000 in attendance.  If you think golf is a game of manners, politeness, and properly behaved respectful fans who remain quiet during preparation and execution of a golf shot, you’ve not seen or attended the Waste Management Open (ironic name), the current moniker of the Phoenix Open.

Continuous hoots, jeers and cheers are common, especially on the 16th hole.  On the 17th too.  It’s not uncommon for this behavior to spill over to other holes, as ethanol fueled fans seek other views. To be honest, I’d be surprised if many attendees even witness two shots during the day they are there.

On this particular Saturday I was attending “alone”, with about 180,000 strangers, and I just couldn’t take the heat (even though only early February) and obnoxious crowd behavior.  Mid-afternoon I went “against the flow” toward the exit, only to find I was not alone.  Not even close. A vast throng of patrons had also decided to depart early.

In their (lack of) wisdom, the tournament officials set it up so that the main exits from the golf course had to weave through large merchandise tents, like cattle channeled through a feedlot.  In the tents were booths of many sizes and types, selling tournament memorabilia and golf paraphernalia of all sorts.  Most of the thousands of people just wanted to get out; but just enough people stopped at booths to shop that they impeded – in fact stopped – the entire flow of foot-traffic.

We simply stopped moving.  I had no interest in golf hats or visors, shirts, slacks, balls or ball markers.  People pushed upon me. I then pushed against others. It got hotter and hotter in the tent (it’s Phoenix).  Fresh air was non-existent.  After 10 minutes or so people started shouting: hey, let’s get moving.  This was anger.  This was locust swarm behavior.

In a flash of panic-motivated brilliance I hit upon an idea.  I pushed to the edge of the dammed-up motionless river of people and crashed through the barrier of a display booth.  I was then able to dash about 50-75 yards, going from booth to booth, sometimes crashing through the tables and banners that separated the display booths, until I was within a few yards of the exit.

Some people saw my successful tactic and followed.  I’m pretty sure more than one display area was out-of-commission for a while.

Once out  of the tent and at the event exit, I essentially cut-the-line for cell phone retrieval, since everyone else was back on the golf course, stuck in the big tent, or behind me weaving through display booths.  [Back then cell phones were not permitted on the tournament grounds; you checked your phone upon entry and retrieved it when leaving with a unique chit.] I ran to my car.   I’m not sure what happened thereafter.  No deaths, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ambulances showed up. The shouting, screaming, pushing, threats and hyperventilating was scary.  Humans.

I simply don’t understand crowd behavior.  Whether it’s F Joe Biden, Let’s Go Brandon, or crushing people to death at concerts, at soccer matches or during a Hajj, … or putting crass bumper stickers on your car because you just know that everyone in your community thinks the same way you do.  These are things that reasonable sane people wouldn’t normally do.  It’s like our brains flip to Locust-mode when we are in crowds.

Houston and crowd deaths. When people die young like this, they don’t go gently. They’ve not had the opportunity to rage against the dying of their own light.  To tell their story.

Live your life!  Rage now!  Soon enough, the sun sets over the horizon.  Live full, so that, as the Kung Fu teacher said: “Death has had no victory, grasshopper.’

The poet Dylan Thomas himself, whom I quoted to begin this essay and alluded to throughout, managed an impressive life and obituary, despite resting his bones forever, barely aged 39.

Grasshopper’s master teacher, from Kung Fu

As always, my best wishes for you.  And avoid crazed crowds.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] I’ve written about Kevin a few times in this blog and other blogs.  A few I can recall are here, here and here.

[2] Summerfest bills itself as the largest Music Festival in the world.  And they might be right, with attendance approaching one million annually. Although the Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival) in Vienna has drawn greater attendance in recent years.

[3] I’ve written about my fascination with cemeteries here and death here, among other times, which I cannot find right now.  My mom wrote this nice piece.


Finally, here is Dylan Thomas’s poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953. The years are close together, but his “dash” contained a full life.

Post Election Thoughts, Part 2 – and Looking Forward

Since I wrote Post Election Thoughts 2020, Part 1 last fall, I thought I’d finally get around to a Part 2 — which is actually mostly a look forward, and not so much a look back.

First, a quick look back.  Presidentially, Trump lost.  Period.  Yes, of course there are many “couldas”, “shouldas”, “wouldas”, and “yeah-but-what-abouts”, but he lost.  A large percentage of Trump voters think it was rigged; and a large percentage of Hillary voters still think 2016 was rigged.  Nonetheless, it’s over. Like it or not, Joe Biden is your president, for now.

Is Joe Biden your president?

We’ve been hearing the “not my president” chant for decades now.  First under Clinton, then growing ever louder with Bush 43.

I will throw a bone (or perhaps chew toy) to that crowd of howlers and doubters and concede that it looks like there were more than a few voting anomalies, such as sketchy absentee ballots and ballot-curing oddities, in populous counties of states that were extraordinarily closely decided: e.g. Maricopa in AZ and Fulton in GA.[1]  Regardless, it’s also evident that none of those were enough to swing a state, let alone the entire election.  Gonna take that bone away: this happens every election.  Every – single – pelection.  There are always anomalies and sideways glances.  Nothing is perfect, even democracy. Or perhaps, “especially” in a democracy.

This is one reason that I remain (slightly) in favor of the Electoral College (EC) over the National Popular Vote movement: it may be possible to corruptly swing a single state or two. But even if an entire state was so messed up (or amoral) that 100% of the vote went for one candidate (or, even 110%), it does not sway the EC outcome much at all.  It’s simply more difficult to fraudulently sway a large number of states without detection.

Built into this is a second reason: the EC usually (not always) gives a pretty clear indication of just who won.  For example, in the last two (very tight) elections the winner won by identical 306-232 [2] votes.  Fairly convincing majorities (yet Trump labeled his 2016 win a “landslide” despite losing the popular vote 46-48%).

Speaking of “minority” presidents, the EC gave Abraham Lincoln a clear majority over three other candidates receiving EC votes in 1860, despite garnering less than 40% of the popular vote.

[1] given the closeness in Georgia (a current official difference of only about 11,000 votes out of 5 million cast for all of its 16 Electoral votes) my pre-election assessment that a presidential vote counts more in Georgia than any other states stands substantiated.

[2] note that so-called “faithless electors” changed this 306-232 outcome slightly in 2016.  Per a recent 2020 Supreme Court case (Chiafalo v. Washingtonwhich was combined with Colorado Department of State v. Bacawe will likely see an end to such faithless electors soon — a situation I do not agree with)

One last thought looking back at 2020 and the presidential race.  I assert that without two things Trump wins, hands down.

  • Number one: obviously, the novel corona virus. The pandemic, our collective responses to it, and the consequences thereof completely pushed what was an almost certain Trump win into the gray area that columnists and the news media love.  Pre-pandemic the economy was roaring with record low unemployment as well as record high employment (and salaries) for minorities (especially blacks) and women.  Oh my, how that flipped.
  • Number two: Trump is an ass who broadcasts whatever undisciplined thought floats into his maze-of-a-brain without any filter whatsoever. Very unpresidential. Of course, he said stuff like “one day the virus will just go away.”  He didn’t do himself any favors. I score it an unconvincing 2-1 loss with an own goal.

Ok, enough looking back.  Now forward.

The US decennial census results are finally in, some four months late.  (Late, owing to the pandemic, and a few court battles about whether the census can legally count non-citizens as non-citizens).

The results are only a tad surprising, and there are some golden nuggets and poison pills for both Dems and Reps, although long term it looks better to me for Dems.

First, the population only grew about 7.4% over the entire decade; that’s the slowest growth since the Depression and Dust Bowl-cursed 1930s.  Still, 47 of the 50 states (48, including DC) recorded population growth; the losers were West Virginia (-3.2%), Mississippi (-0.2%) and Illinois (-0.1%).

Looking forward: Reallocation of Congressional District Seats, and thus Electoral Votes have been determined.  The “winners” are Texas (+2), and the following at +1: Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oregon, and North Carolina.  The “losers”, all at -1, are: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  [this is the first time California, the nation’s most populous state, has ever lost a congressional district; for New York it’s just the second: they lost two seats in 2010].

Nominally this looks like a slight win for Republicans, as more generally Rep voting states get additional congressional seats and Electoral Votes, drawing away from solid Dem states like CA, NY and IL.

If one thinks the presidential contests of the past were dirty or tainted – think of the angst following both ’16 and ’20 –  then one hasn’t ever paid attention to re-drawing of Congressional Districts and state legislative districts, which has been, and is going on, under our very collective noses. It’s a terrific example of “polite fiction.”  [“Terrific” is etymologically related to “terrible”, in this case for good reason]. The “Fiction” being that this is all fair, balanced and representative.  This has been historically, and still is, the unseen dirtiest of dirty businesses – classic smoke-filled room stuff that we don’t get to see much of; something that is supposedly based on balanced and fair representation. In reality it’s highly partisan in most states, and the process will take its toll on anyone’s faith in the notion that the drawing of district boundaries is fair and independent.

For example, Illinois, which is hard left leaning, at least state-wide (voting 55% and 57% for the Dem presidential candidate in ’16 and ’20 and only having Dem US senators since 2010) currently has 18 congressional seats: disproportionately 13 Democrat and 5 Republican.  The new state CD map managed to squeeze an incumbent Republican out of his seat, Adam Kinzinger; this, despite the state losing a seat and having a solid majority of Dems in the current tally, so it will be even more disproportionate.  Not sure how this plays out long term, since Kinzinger has been a critic of Trump, especially his bitching about the election.

On the other hand, one can be sure that the heavily Republican-leaning Texas legislature will ensure that the two “new” districts will lean Republican as well. More on Texas in the footnotes.

This all has to be done quite quickly, as the campaign season for the 2022 mid-terms is already underway.  The 4-month census delay has not helped map drawers meet deadlines. [By the way: since 1935 the sitting president’s party has lost seats in congress in all but two mid-term elections.  Because the Dems currently hold a very narrow 220-212 edge – with 3 vacancies – we can count on the drawing of CD boundaries and campaigning to be very contentious.]

And, probably about as important, each state must now re-draw their state’s legislative and senate districts (except Nebraska, which is unicameral, and only draws one set of district maps). Again, these must be drawn very soon.  Haste makes waste, so be careful.

Back to census-based demographic trends, most of which look to be favorable to Democrats.

  • America continues its over-one-century migration away from its wide swaths of rural regions, and toward the urban, suburban and exurban centers.  Urbanites, and those close to urban areas, tend to vote Democrat; Rural dwellers tend to vote Republican. Covid might have changed this, as it hit right in the middle of the census; so it will take a decade to see what the impacts are.
  • Racially, there are actually fewer total Whites than in 2010; Whites tend to be more likely to vote R than D. [Trump got 57% to Biden’s 42% of White votes in 2020].

One demographic that I noted could slightly favor Republicans.  America is aging. The Average age in the US is up 1 year, from 37.2 to 38.2.  Mostly this is due to longer lives among Baby Boomers and older (those born before 1964). Older people have a slight tendency to vote Republican, and they definitely get higher voter turnout. It’s also partly due to a falling birthrate.

Regarding voting patterns. People tend to vote how their friends, neighborhood, and fellow community members vote. This has become kind of a closed-loop feedback system, as people now tend to socialize and associate mostly (or only) with those who think like them politically. I don’t think this happened nearly as much before, say 2000.  We are very polarized now.

There’s also a high correlation between population density and political voting patterns. Below 800 per square mile people tend to vote Republican; and below 100 overwhelmingly so.  It starts to change between 800 and 2,000 per sq mile.  From lower population densities, but still urbanite densities like Denver and Saint Louis (both just under 5,000/sq. mi.), to larger BostonSan Francisco and New York (14,000, 19,000 and nearly 30,000 sq.mi.) one sees profound diluvial pro-Democratic voting patterns.

For Republican patterns and densities, one would need to look at county population numbers; I can’t think of a single urban center that leans Republican.  I suspect that two major factors here are: the higher the density the more the propensity to perceive benefit from bigger and more active government (efforts to de-fund police notwithstanding), and urban areas tend to have higher populations of people of color, who generally vote Democratic.

Re-districting and the associated “food fights” are almost inevitable. Highly political gerrymandering is not a necessary outcome every decade.  Although states like Texas and Maryland (and several others) seem doomed, for now, to their grossly distorted Congressional District maps, several states have recently taken map-drawing out of the hands of their politically-motivated legislatures (and even state courts) and put them in the hands of supposedly non-partisan commissions. [3]

Maryland’s CD map, 2012-2020. CD 2, 3, 4,and 7 are so contorted it hurts one’s head

My home state of Colorado is one of these; we voted for two such special commissions back in 2018: one for US congressional districts, and one for state legislative districts.  Kind of a big deal, especially since Colorado has an additional congressional seat starting in 2022 – now up to eight.

Other states that are now drawing maps via “independent” commissions are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New York and Washington. I can’t help but be skeptical of the “non-partisan” rating each commission would get, but I’m also optimistic that increased fairness and representation will result. (AK and MT have only one CD, but this applies to their state legislatures as well).  I’ve heard some squawking about preliminary maps from all sides already.

A few elections to look forward to besides the November 2024 Presidential and General Elections – when we will no doubt be told, yet again, that “this is a matter of life and death”, and “this is the most important election in our lifetime.”  (Insert breathless, feverish inflection as you wish).

I touched on the mid-term races in 2022, but special congressional elections will be held to fill vacancies as well in November, 2021.  With a Senate split at 50-50 there are several 2022 Senate elections to watch closely, wherein Reps must defend 20 seats, the Dems 14.  The likely close races to watch here look to be: Georgia (again), Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  Of these likely close races, Reps are defending 3 seats, Dems 4. Be prepared for an extra onslaught of advertising and “persuasion” if you live in those states.

And coming sooner, this year in September: (1) the nation will watch the recall election of Gov Newsome in California on the 14th, and (2) Europe – indeed, the world – will pay attention to see how Germany reshapes itself in the post-Merkel era, as they hold federal elections on the September 26th.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[3] Fewer Whites than in 2010.  This might party be attributed to several factors.  (1) more mixed-race couples and people-in-general who identify as non-racial, (2) mixed race people who identify as a person of color (e.g. Barak Obama who is exactly ½ White and ½ Black definitely identifies as black; people like Tiger Woods, who at ¼ Black would identify as Black), and (3) a reluctance — or even rebellion — by Whites against identifying people by race; e.g. some identify as Native American.  Why? They were born here, as were their parents and grandparents. They identify as Native.  Hmmmm.]

Original Gerrymander cartoon

[4] Gerrymandering is named for early Massachusetts politician, Governor, and 5th VP of the nation, Elbridge Gerry, who helped draw and then approved a political map of his state that was so distorted (in order to keep his party in power) that a district looked like a salamander.  Thus the word is a sort of portmanteau of his name and the amphibian.  Many states have outdone him today.  As Gerry was one of the nation’s founding fathers, it’s sometimes interesting to think that many modern jurists should divine to understand the thinking of founding fathers, and then seek, anachronistically, to incorporate such into modern judicial decisions).

Not all of Texas is severely gerrymandered, as much of it is rural and undividably safely Republican.  It is too large of a state to easily show all of the congressional districts at once in much detail, but the generally progressive counties containing cities like Austin and San Antonio have been chopped up and districted so that Dem Congressional representation is diminished.  Politics, it is said, is a full contact sport.

Shown is current Texas CD 21, in which fragments of San Antonio and Austin are lumped in with an enormous swath of rural-dom. Alongside is Texas CD35, which is more of a salamander and ridiculous.

Presenting: The Tippi-Review, the Trailer too

The One

“There!  That’s the one!”  A celebrated famous movie director and producer is shouting at his television.  He’s also famously morbidly obese. He’s watching NBC’s Today Show, when up comes a commercial for a diet nourishment drink, one of scores of Ultra-Slim-Fast-type products of the day. 

But he’s never been interested in dieting or health. He is one of the 20th century’s great story tellers and film makers.  He’s been looking for someone.  Someone special. And now he’s captivated by the lithe and pretty blond pitching the diet drink.  She has the beauty, the poise, the elegance, and the charm to play the characters in some films he’s been itching to make.  She’s the one.

You’re never too old to change.

I’ve been biting my fingernails since my earliest memories.  My parents tried every way possible to help me stop. It’s such a disgusting habit in several ways.  If nothing else, it’s atrocious hygiene; and people will – unconsciously or not – often judge your character poorly for it.  And it looks terrible.

Nancy and Sluggo. Famous cartoon characters since 1938

But I couldn’t stop.  As Sluggo said to Nancy when asked about it: “But they’re so convenient.  They’re right at my fingertips!”

I worked for a few decades with a fellow who gnawed his nails constantly. Way worse than even me. Every digit’s nail bitten right down to the quick.  Catch him thinking about work stuff (another aerospace engineer) and his saliva covered fingers were jammed into his mouth. 

“Well”, I could tell myself, “at least I’m not that bad.” 

But, I did even disgust myself.

I tried many times to quit.  Eventually, about 10 years ago, I started making great improvement and finally was able to cut back to almost never.

But a new problem arose.  When nails grow long, they crack and split.  Then what?  Back to biting?   I never replaced nail biting with a proper new habit, which – one would naturally think – would be to regularly trim my nails.  So, even though I’ve mostly quit biting, my nails still look like a mess, as I will nervously pick at the splits and cracks, or maybe trim them with my teeth, or resort to a deep gash with clippers to remove the nick. 

Nails, Nails, everywhere

During the 2007-2009 economic recession, I found myself looking at what was going on in brick-and-mortar businesses.  Who’s closing? Who’s staying open?  What businesses are resilient?  I’ve been doing this ever since.

Typical Salon Sign, for the ubiquitous Nail Salon in most metro areas

One curious thing that I noticed is that our urban and suburban areas are absolutely loaded with Nail Salons.  They are everywhere.  Even now, I can’t help but scan strip malls and shopping centers to find the almost-always-present *NAILS* marquee signs.  Usually in neon.

One reason, I suppose, is that people (mostly ladies) like to have very nice looking nails.  I appreciate that.  It’s a fairly inexpensive splurge (for most) that allows them to feel good about themselves, a bit feminine, and attractive.  Any more reasons?

Go inside a nail salon and … wait!!, I don’t go in those.  Maybe I should. Probably could use a good manicure occasionally (but no fake nails for me). 

Anyhow …. look inside and you’ll very likely observe that the professional manicurists are Asian ladies.  And if they are Asian, they are almost certainly Vietnamese ladies.  [Yes, I’ve peered in the windows, and peeked through the doors to verify this.  I usually don’t get pleasant looks in return.]


Nathalie Kay Hedren was born in 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota, the second child (and daughter) to first generation immigrants.  New Ulm, probably with the closest hospital, is about 10 miles from her first hometown, the tiny hamlet of Lafayette, lying in the fertile south-central breadbasket of Minnesota.  There, in Lafayette, her Swedish father ran a small general store.  She was small and precocious, so her father called her “Tippi”, Swedish for “little girl”, or “sweetheart.” Tippi: The nickname stuck for life.  

When Tippi was four, the family moved to Minneapolis, probably because of the impact of the great recession on her father’s farmer-customers.  Genetically blessed with good looks, naturally blonde hair and bright hazel eyes, Tippi started appearing in local fashion shows and advertisements in the Twin City area when just a lass. When she was 16 her parents sought a gentler climate, as her father’s health was slipping.  Upper Midwest winters will do that. They settled in San Diego, where she finished high school.

She then began studying art, at Pasadena City College, and also developed an interest in modeling.  Soon, her good-looks, grace and aplomb would take her to New York. And on to a very successful decade in modeling. Over those years her face (and lean figure) graced the covers of Life, The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, Glamour and other magazines.

A failed marriage and one child later (she is actress Melanie Griffith’s mother), Tippi was back in southern California, making commercials for various brands, including Sego, a meal-replacement drink of only 225 calories.  Thin was “in”, even then.

Tippi Hedren, in opening scenes in “The Birds”

The Find

Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and film-making partner, Imelda Staunton, noticed her first.  A brilliant blond, on a diet drink commercial.  She knew “Hitch” was looking for another blond to cast in a movie he was hoping to make.  And she knew he had an eye for beauties, especially blonds, and putting them in terrifying situations; as in Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) and Janet Leigh (Psycho).

Hitchcock profile and silhouette. Used on his two TV series, both called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”

An interview was set up.  That paved the way to screenings.  Hedren was no actress. But she worked very hard on her lines, which were generally from earlier Hitchcock hits.  She impressed him with her determination; plus she had grace and class. Hitchcock intended to make her a star. He’d be her coach.

Tippi’s career

Hedren starred in the 1963 thriller “The Birds”, generally regarded as a top Hitchcock classic.  Hedren went on to make one more movie with Hitchcock: the not-so-popular “Marnie” (1964, with Sean Connery) which was met with mixed critical reviews. Then they had a falling out (lots there, maybe watch the movie “The Girl”, a Hedren/Hitchcock biopic). [1]

And this reminds you of ….?

She then floated in-and-out of acting the next few decades, mostly spot appearances on several TV series. She appeared with her daughter in an ’80s Hitchcock TV episode. Nothing so significant as “The Birds.”  But she had developed new interests along the way.

The late 1960s found her in Africa for filming. There she became enchanted by exotic cats and she grew concerned about their exploitation and mistreatment. Inspired to act, in the early 1970s, Hedren began what would become a mission for the rest of her life: working with wildlife charities to assist in the rescue and protection of such beautiful animals.  Land was bought north of Los Angeles to establish the Shambala Preserve as a wild feline sanctuary. Later, she established the Roar Foundation to further support this charitable activity.  In fact, she lives at Shambala now, aged 90, with her beloved big cats.


For the United States, the Vietnam war ended in 1973, when the treaty known as the Paris Peace Accord was signed in January.  Although the US was out, the war continued.  Treaty or not, North Vietnam bore down on South Vietnam.  The South’s capital, Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), fell in April, 1975. 

Fearing for the fate of so many who had been loyal to South Vietnam and the US, the US government evacuated over 130,000 refugees and brought them to the United States.  They were put in camps around the country: to be fed, clothed, and trained for employment and integration into the US society and economy.

Hedren was moved to act. She visited the first non-military camp for refugees, Hope Village, near Weimar, CA, along I-80 in the foothills about 40 miles outside Sacramento. This was a humanitarian visit to encourage them and find a way to help.  She came with typists and seamstresses, hoping to find careers the refugee women could connect with. [2]

Now 45, Hedren was still a strikingly beautiful blond.  At 5’-5”, she was tall to them.  Blond and tall: that’s not all they noticed about her.  They noticed her beautiful nails.  They were long, perfectly shaped, … and painted.  They had never seen anything like that.  They all wanted nails like that.  How do you do that? They wanted to become manicurists!

Hedren watches teaching demonstration at Nail School, Camp Hope, 1975

Trying to find employment: why not work with what you love?  Hedren flew her personal manicurist to Camp Hope, to help train them. Then she recruited a local beauty school to work with them. In that first class, they trained a group of about 20 Vietnamese women.  She guaranteed them all jobs, when they graduated, mostly in southern California.  And she flew them to LA too.  And they continued to train more refugees who wanted to become manicurists.  Not pure coincidence that LA county has the highest population and concentration of Vietnamese of any place in the world, outside Vietnam. [Many other refugees from nearby Camp Pendleton eventually settled there, too].

One of the first graduating classes at Camp Hope (Weimar, CA)

And from there the nail phenomenon exploded.  In the US, the nail salon industry grosses over $8 billion in sales annually.  There are about 55,000 nail salons in the US – you can see them in almost any strip mall and shopping center – and about half of them are owned and operated by Asians.  And over 95% of those are Vietnamese. Of these Vietnamese professional manicurists, most are only one or two degrees of separation from Tippi Hendren and her nail salon school for Vietnamese refugees. [3]

Until next time, be well,

Joe Girard © 2021

  • Notes:
  • [1] the veracity of Hedren’s sexual harassment claims against Hitchcock are much disputed, including by actors and stage hands who worked with them on “The Birds” and “Marnie.” I tend to concur with the skeptics. At 5’7″ and 300 pounds, one can hardly imagine that the rotund 61-year old Hitchcock thought he had any romantic chance with the 5’5″ 110-pound 30-year old blond bombshell. But, stranger things have happened (ahem: Harvey Weinstein). Plus, she returned to work with him, briefly, in the ’70s on a TV show.
  • [2] Hope Village is now the home of Weimar Institute, a health oriented college.
  • [3] US Nail Salon sales, staff and salary stats here

Wrote Myself a Letter

“I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter …”

Lyrics by Joe Young; recorded by many [1]

January, 2021 is finally here.  It is the time of the new year.  A time for looking backward, and a time for looking forward.  January is the gateway month, named for the Roman god Janus, the guardian god of the city gates, the god of doorways and of arches. Like the namesake month, a symbol of new beginnings.

Janus, the two-faced god. Always depicted with faces looking in opposite directions: in/out, backward/forward. Often, as here, with an older face looking back, and a younger face looking forward

On one hand: Reflection and cogitation. On the other hand: forecasting and planning.  What have we learned from the experiences of the past year – the past decades – that can help us in the new year?  In our future? Can we grow?  To help us make better use of our allotted time on this spinning blue marble?

Have you ever written yourself a letter?  Perhaps not. Perhaps you did, and don’t know it.  It is one of those recommendations that come up on lists of possible New Year’s Resolutions.  Write a letter to your future self.  Tell yourself your plans, hopes, dreams.  Your thoughts, your experiences, even your past. 

Janus: thought #1. What if you could write a letter to your ten-year-old self?  What would you write, and how would you write it, so as help, but not frighten that child?  My message would be simple:  Don’t worry so much; follow your passions; love freely; make healthy choices. 

Janus, thought #2. Well, what if one actually does, or did, write letters to themself?  There are sundry ways this can manifest.  Many of us journal or blog, or something of that sort, such as keeping diaries.  My friend Kevin writes a newsletter to about 100 friends 6 days a week; he has been for many years.  Those of us who do those sorts of things can look back on archived records of what we were thinking years or even decades ago.  Such writings can carry one’s consciousness both forward and backward.

Beyond Janus, thought #3: regarding the writing of letters, notes and cards. This is something wonderful and spiritually uplifting that is largely lost to current and future generations cursed with the ease and ephemerality of electronic communication. ‘Tis a special thing to receive a letter, or a card containing a note, written by hand.  They can contain the essence of your heart, mind and soul.  From the greeting, through the letter, possibly with innuendo, and emotion and news of daily life, to the sign-off.  Such things are still best captured with actual handwritten ink-on-paper in-the-moment reflection.


At holiday season the delivery of hand-written greetings surges a bit. But, every year it is less and less so.  Three to four decades ago the average household received 30-50 greeting cards during the holiday season – each with a note of friendship, fondness, reflection and even affection.  No more. The average is now 10-15.  Postal delivery of daily actual hand-written person-to-person messages is crashing.   This while the flow of digital communication (via email, text, FB instant message, WhatsApp, etc) proliferates. We who well recall personal communication by pen and paper – the little thrills of receiving a letter from a friend, grandparent or lover – find ourselves a bit amiss and adrift. 

I see no end to the trend.  Soon, by the time of my death perhaps, all greetings will be electronic.

We are Janus, standing at the changing of the guard.  What will we gain in this new era?  And, at what cost? Many interesting and lesson-filled chapters of human history have been reconstructed by the recovery, perusal and research of preserved letters. How would we know of the unlikely decades-long friendship between Jefferson and Adams? The deep affection between Adams and his dear Abigail? The love affair between Bess and Harry? What will people think four or ten generations hence?  That the pen and paper were deemed illegal?

Brief backstory many of you know [much of it is available – yes, sadly, mostly only digitally on my blogs] – I was in a violent car crash, May 1, 2014. I suffered a serious brain injury. 

Even though I safely emerged from many very dark months, the remaining years till now were no great fun either. Through years of recovery (still not quite finished – sigh) I fell into a bit of a deep funk for a while.  In fact, at one point, I sort of panicked. I recall the time and place of the bottom exactly. I cannot apologize enough to those I love and were close to me during those years – especially my wife – for my behavior. My excuse? I feared that details of my life were lost to the fog.  The events, the people, and settings that I could recall and synthesize – were they real? 

All kinds of memories started flooding my brain – as if my brain were trying to re-construct a part of itself.  Was it a historically faithful reconstruction?  Was it fantasy?  What kind of person was I?  Shitty?  Sensitive?  Loving?   Asshole?

My mom died suddenly in 2006. She left my dad alone and more than a bit lost. They were quite a team. He was the organizer: bank accounts, car payments, insurance policies, mortgages, when to paint the house, change the oil. Those things were simply not in her world; she lacked that gift.  But she contributed much more to the party. Despite a life-long struggle with mental illness, she was the connector, the socializer, the sentimentalist, the writer, the family historian, the family emotional bank account manager – and the one who hid large bills with pictures of Alex Hamilton and Andy Jackson all over the house in case the Depression ever returned. 

Mom had a huge heart that bled at every opportunity. As testimony, two items.

(1) Evidently I was a pretty honest kid, at least with money. Back in the day when most transactions were done with cash – credit was not a big deal, long before PayPal and Zelle – I’d often be tasked with riding my bike to the grocery store. [Oldest of six kids]. I’d fetch simple stuff like milk, eggs, can of soup or an onion.  Not so much that I couldn’t get it home on my bike.  When I got home, she not only got the groceries, but I actually gave her the receipt and the change.  All of it.  What a crazy kid was I. Unbeknownst to me … she stuffed all that cash into an envelope for years.  Years! One day, when I was in high school, she just handed it all to me. I must have needed or wanted money for something. A fat envelope full of bills and coins that represented years of honesty and integrity.  That was powerful.

(2) Mom, the sentimentalist, also kept large collections of correspondence – spanning decades – much of it organized, but some of it scattered around “her” parts of the house. Some were mixed in with pictures of presidents on fancy pieces of greenish paper, 2.61 inches wide by 6.14 inches long.

Well, about four years after mom passed dad’s health declined to the point he had to move out, and we had to sell the house.  That’s when we found boxes and boxes of mom’s “stuff” – and over several weeks we eventually found all the money, maybe.  Many items – not the cash – went unclaimed and were donated to various charities – or pitched in to the garbage.  [Can I brag?  My wife organized all of this.] The Big Win, by the way: I got the Manhattan glasses.

Most of mom’s memorabilia were preserved, divided up, and passed off to her six children when we cleaned out the house. Some of us “kids” have sorted through our “inheritance” by now: pictures, letters, cards, etc.  I am ashamed to say: I have not.  Not a whit.  I have not even cracked the lid.  It’s daunting, and – to be honest – I’m a bit afraid.

Thankfully, my youngest sibling has gone through his share of “stuff from mum.”  Several years ago, he came across a small stack of letters that I wrote to my mom and dad when I was in grad school. That would be 1978-80.  The folder was titled “Letters from grad school”. Clever, huh? Well, he kindly passed them back to me a couple of years ago without comment.  Time passed. I have just recently gone over them. What can I say? “Wow” is not enough.

I am now reading letters that I wrote to my parents over 40 years ago. 

Questions: What do they say?  What kind of person was I?  What was going on in my life?

Answers: Well, I was not an asshole.  I communicated a lot, even if it was simple stuff like football scores, weather, classes, and my love life.  I held little back. Of course, I even asked for money and advice once, when I was dealing with medical issues. I signed off “Love You” and “Miss you.”

“Happy” and “Grateful” don’t even begin to explain how I feel. Thank you, thank you sibling #6. Thank you, mum, for saving these scraps and scribblings. And thank you to myself for writing these letters. These are quite literally “Letters to my future self.”  If someone had told me, in 1979, to write a letter to myself to be read in 2020 or ’21, about who I was and how I felt as a young adult, well — I cannot imagine a better approach. 

It’s as if I had sat right down and wrote my (future self) a letter. “Dear Future Joe, you are a pretty good guy.  Here’s proof!”

I have no idea how to end this appropriately. But I’ll take a shot at it.

New Years Resolutions.  1. Go through “My Boxes from Mom.” 14-1/2 years is long enough. If and when I find something meaningful, I will share it with my siblings, as appropriate.  2. Write more letters.  Write them … on paper or card, with pen, and address the envelope by hand.  And cards, too. Draw silly pictures of hearts and setting suns. Criminy, we don’t even have to lick the stamps anymore.

Get real. Messages saved as screenshots, or archived on googledocs or your email server are ethereal. As in: tenuous.  Messages are made more palpably precious when they’re put on paper by ink and loving hand. Such treasures can be squirreled away to be cherished by dear family and descendants. 

There is nothing – nothing!! – like the touch of hand. That is one thing that this period of Covid has taught us.  The touch of a letter that’s handwritten, or the fondling of a letter, card, or note from a love, a mate, a friend, or an ancestor is the next best real thing to actual touch.

Happy New Year


Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] This has got to be one of the most famous songs in the US in the 20th century, judging by how many very popular singers have recorded it.  Among the many are Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin (probably my favorite version), Bing Crosby, Bill Haley & the Comets and Willie Nelson.  As recently as 2012 Sir Paul McCartney’s album “Kisses on the Bottom” started off with this song on track 1.  [The album’s title is actually a line from the song.] The gist of the song is probably that a guy wishes he’d get more letters from his lady friend. 

Correction: In my November 30, 2020 Essay “Fire Drill” I incorrectly stated that the great Vince Lombardi, in his first move as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, wasted the very first draft choice in the NFL. That is incorrect. For some reason the 1959 draft was held in early December, in 1958. Lombardi did not sign with the Packers until January, 1959. That, along with a terrible team, was another burden he inherited.

Post Election 2020 Thoughts – Part 1

“You’ve come a long way, baby! ”

— Virginia Slims cigarette slogan, late 1960s [1]

An abbreviated list of firsts: Jackie Robinson, Yuri Gagarin, Orville Wright, Louis Brandeis, Hattie Caraway, Barak Obama, Jeannette Rankin, Kim Ng.

All are significant modern era historic firsts: All of these people are remembered as much for what their personal achievements represented as much as the individuals themselves.

And now we can add Kamala Harris to that list, come January 20, 2021.

That such “breakthroughs” would happen was never in doubt. And, maybe these aren’t the specific persons many would have hoped would be first.

Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris

Many would have perhaps preferred: Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige to Jackie Robinson; perhaps John Glenn or Alan Shepard to comrade Yuri; brother Wilbur, Samuel Pierpont Langley, or even the German Karl Jatho to Orville. And on and on.

In the end, it does not matter who was first, just that these breakthroughs did happen – although we tend to remember these “firsts” much more than other nearly equal very worthy contenders. For sure, we recognize all these breakthroughs as individual achievements that history will keep indelibly recorded, and – to various amounts – as team achievements as well. More important, each marks a breakthrough for humanity. An expansion of possibility for America, or more importantly, for humans. Each marks a broadening of our hopes, imaginations and expectations.

Congratulations to Kamala Harris. I join the nation and the world in wishing her well.

Last week the Virginia Slims slogan of the ‘60s flashed into mind (top quote). Now, finally, Kamala Harris, a woman – and a person of color, no less – has been elected to be vice-president of the United States. Ladies: you’ve come a long way! And thereby so have all of us; so has our nation.

I feel a similar sense of pride to what I felt watching Barack Obama take the oath of office, standing in our friends’ house just outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, on January 20th, 2009, to become the 44th President of the United States. [Here is an essay from my old website to honor the 2008 election]

To all the above I say: Great, great and … great! Accomplishments and events like this show us what is possible for humanity. They show that talent, meaningful participation and leadership can be found, and are being found, everywhere and anywhere in all humans.

My soapbox here. It is simply impractical and inefficient by any measure – morally, intellectually, economically, politically, culturally – to restrain any fraction of the nation’s intellect and potential, whether it be leadership positions, education, service or any sort of employment. In the case of female participation: Why would any society aspiring to reach its maximum potential also limit fully one-half of its talent from contributing in any way they can?? I submit that this is a reason that some cultures, for example mostly Islamic countries, have lagged in all these areas, including intellectually and economically.

A fair system, with a “wide net”, will capture all sorts of interesting and diverse individuals.

Kamala Harris is just the latest obvious observable example of breaking through and reaching potential. Not hers. Not women’s. But society’s. America’s. The world’s. The whole race’s potential.

In fact, it was bound to happen. It was inevitable. Just the latest indication: an aged dam cannot hold back an immeasurable and growing ocean of water forever. First a crack, then a trickle, then a deluge.

What am I talking about?

Consider first women’s representation in Congress. It is absolutely zooming. The first plot here shows the fraction of Congressional seats occupied by females since 1920; that’s 100 years ago (coincidently when women got the nationwide right to vote, via the 19th Amendment). The numbers are Representatives plus Senators. (In this 1st plot, which is linear-linear, slight fluctuations in number of total seats over time. [1] Lower house grew from 435 to 436, then 437 in 1959 as Hawaii and Alaska added, then reduced to 435 after 1960 census; [2] Upper house Senate seats expanded from 96 in same period for these new states, and 100 ever since).

Plot 1: Women in US Congress since 1920 elections, % of seats available

In 2021-22 women will make up over 26% of the 117th Congress, an all-time high. Although this is barely over half the 51% of American adults who are female, the growth in participation is exponential.

Plot 2: Logarithmic plot of women in Congress as % of seats available. X-axis is log of year since 1920

This 2nd figure shows women’s congressional participation in a log-log (logarithmic) plot, dating back to the 1968 elections. Straight lines in log-log plots indicate pure exponential growth. With a straight-line coefficient of determination (R2) of at 0.97 this is clearly exponential growth in these 5+ decades.

Of course, this exponential trend cannot continue indefinitely, since the total number of seats in Congress stays (for the foreseeable future) quite limited.

One assumes that at some future time — within a decade perhaps –the curve will turn to be more or less level with 50%.

Or perhaps more than 50%.

Reason #2 for the inevitable breakthrough, and a good reason to expect a higher “plateau” than 50%, comes from looking at graduation numbers beyond secondary education. Women exceed men at every level — from Bachelors, to Masters to PhD degrees and law degrees — and most areas and levels have done so for quite some time.

Women are getting basic university degrees at a rate about 50% above men (roughly 59% of college bachelor degrees are going to females; only 41% to men). Although college degrees are certainly not necessary for service in high office – examples such as Harry Truman and Scott Walker have demonstrated this – it is certainly a very, very good indicator. Especially, for some sad reason, Law degrees. (Sorry, you lawyers). Women have outnumbered men in Law School and law degrees for several years, although the margin is slimmer here, roughly matching the US adult population at 51-49%). Not just bachelor’s degrees; Women are earning more advanced degrees of almost all sorts than men, including medical degrees. [3]

This education disparity indicates that female participation at all levels of society will continue to accelerate in all areas. That’s good news.

As a short side note: if participation in many advanced areas shoots much past 51%, and stays there, then a deep study of educational data and experiences might well suggest that we are currently giving young men short-shrift in opportunity development. However, these things can take decades to reveal themselves.

A healthy, growing society welcomes and encourages input, participation, leadership, and ideas from every single one of its citizens. And it develops potential. To do otherwise is to limit itself. Regardless of your politics, Barak Obama, Kamala Harris and Kim Ng, et al, are indications we are doing just that.

Good luck America.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] Virginia slims cashes in on the women’s lib movement with a cigarette and ad campaign directed at women
[2] Women get far more degrees than men; even at PhD Levels
[3] Women earning more advanced degrees than men
And: More women in medical school than men


“Vote early, and often”

— attributed to many

Firstly, I must make it clear that voting is important. If you are of age and registered: vote! And vote only once. Please.

Voting’s importance is not because your single vote could sway a governor or presidential election; those odds are less than trivial. One in trillions. More on that later.

Voting is very important. Healthy turnout numbers legitimizes our democracy. When large numbers of voters “sit out” an election, that election result suffers reduced credibility, both at home and in the eyes of the world. My son took the time recently to convince me that 400 Electoral College Votes could have gone to Did-Not-Vote in 2016 (only 270 EC Votes needed to win).

In 2016 voter participation ranged from a low of merely 42.5% in Hawai’i to a high of only 74.1% in Minnesota. The 2008 turnout across the nation was a paltry 56%. In 2008 and 2012 national turnout was only 58.2% and 56.5%, respectively. This deprives both winners and losers of credibility, and validity.

So, secondly, larger tallies on each side allows winners to claim more support, while also encouraging them to also recognize that there are significant differing points of view. Well, we can at least hope on that second part.

One vote will never tip an election, but the votes of you and a few of your friends could be enough to trip a re-count.

Please do vote. We cannot be an authentic democracy without healthy turnout.

The good news is that across the country preliminary numbers suggest 2020 will have much higher levels of participation. For instance, as of October 29 Texas had already recorded more votes than were cast in all of 2016, when only 51% voted there.


The quote atop this essay is most often attributed to Chicago’s murky election past, during the last ½ of the 19th century and the first ¾ or so of the 20th century. Some actual Chicagoans who have said this range from gangster Al Capone to mayors William “Big Bill” Thompson and Richard “The Boss” Daley.

Historians have more accurately traced “Vote early, vote often” further back to the first half of the 19th century, when it was first used publicly by John van Buren – son of our 8th President, as well as one of his senior advisors. Perhaps that’s an indication of electioneer shenanigans through that century as well.

The history of ballot box stuffing and vote buying notwithstanding (especially in “political machine cities”), is a thing of the past (so far, for several decades, thank God), and the command is said rather tongue-in-cheek.

Although some vote fraud will certainly occur, I have no great concerns that it will sway any statewide election, let alone the Presidential election (which is essentially 50 statewide elections, plus DC – thus sequestering “good” state results from sullied or doubtful ones).

Worriers will point to three statewide election elections that have been agonizingly close in recent history.

1) 2004, Washington state: Christine Gregoire defeats Dino Rossi for Governor by 133 votes (or 129, depending on source and date). This is the closest governor race in US history and was decided only after two recounts, several court challenges and a few court cases. In the end, over 1,600 counted votes were determined to be cast fraudulently, although there is no indication that the fraud was intentional, nor that it would have changed the outcome. [1]

[Aside: this election was among 2nd wave of indications – the 1st was in 2000, with defeat of 2-term incumbent Slade Gorton for Senate by Maria Cantwell – that a giant blue political tidal wave was rolling up on Washington, a condition that will continue well into the foreseeable future, and making November elections there quite easy to predict.]

2) 2008, Minnesota: Comedian Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman for US Senator by 225 votes, or 312, depending on whether we take the State Canvassing Board results, or the ad hoc panel of three judges chosen per constitution by the States Chief Justice. In any case the margin was a squinty eye-watering wafer thin one, indeed.

Very similar to the Washington case, later analysis found that almost the same number of fraudulent votes had been cast and counted, about 1,670. Again, this was not necessarily intentional, and no we can’t know how they voted; or if it would have changed the outcome. [2]
Minnesota was also turning blue, and still is.

As interesting asides: (a) Norm Coleman is the answer to a trivia question; he not only lost a Senate race to a comedian, he lost a Governor race [1998] to a professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura. Oh, the ignominy. (b) The months’ long delay in deciding the winner cost Presidential Obama a bit of momentum, as Franken’s vote would become the 60th filibuster-breaking vote on the Dem side of the aisle, allowing them to steamroll legislation without inter-party compromise for about 18 months.

3) 2000, Florida: George W Bush defeats Albert Gore for president by 537 votes [coincidentally remarkably close to the total Electoral Votes available: 538]. This provided Bush with the state’s entire slate of 25 Electoral Votes and gave him a “victory” in the Electoral College by the slimmest of margins: 270 to 268. (As of 2012, Florida now has 27 EC votes).

Much has been written about each of these elections, and I don’t really wish to pick at old scars and turn them into open wounds, yet again. We are in enough drama and pain as it is.


How important is your vote? Well, even though each vote is very important (as stated above), the likelihood of any single vote changing the outcome for a state’s electors is mathematically insignificant. In that regard, the Florida voters of 2000 no doubt cast the weightiest presidential votes in history.

Again: How important is your vote? It is common for small population states and large population to complain about balance of power in choosing presidents. The most repeated refrain is that a very large state, say California, is under-weight when compared to a small state, say, Wyoming. Simple math suggests this is true: divide the state’s Electoral Votes by its registered voter total and we find that a vote in Wyoming is about 3.1 times more “electorally powerful” than a vote in California.

Electoral votes per state, 2012-2020

I submit that is indeed simple. Too simple. To truly evaluate a single vote’s “weight” the scoring must be more dynamic. One must consider not just Electoral Votes and total voters; one must consider the vote spread between winner and loser.

Such slightly advanced math deeply erodes the value of a Wyoming voter. Why? Currently Trump has an insurmountable 38% advantage. Add Wyoming’s low EC weight, and a single Wyoming voter’s weight falls from the top to near the middle.

Using average polling data from October 1 to 27th, I attempted to weigh each state’s voter’s relative effect on the outcome. It’s a simple formula: take the EC votes and divide by the expected difference between winner and loser.

To get an estimate of maximum single voter effect, I did a parallel calculation, reducing the expected difference by the average Margin of Error across all pollsters. [To avoid dividing by zero – such as when the MoE is equal to or larger than the expected spread – I used a small number (537) … hence the max impact in those states is roughly equivalent to that of a Florida voter in 2000].

The results were interesting. For ease, I have ratioed all the values relative to the top single voter power of all states. The top 13 States are shown in this figure. It tells us that (a) these are the states to watch come election night (and the days, weeks to follow); and (b) if you must skip voting these are the states your absence or neglect will have the most effect.

Three low population and low EC states (3 votes each) Alaska, Montana and South Dakota remain near the top, but get nudged down by expected differentials. (e.g. Alaska, Trump +6.0%, MoE ±5.7).

States’ Single voter relative power

Since many of these states are in the eastern time zone, we should get a fairly good idea of how the Presidential election will turn out early on. In the Central time zone Texas and Iowa will let many west coasters know likely results before they’ve even voted. If it comes down to Pacific time zone, only AZ and NV have real potential impact.

[I have casually and unapologetically lumped Nebraska and Maine into the same model, even though they assign single EC votes based on their few Congressional Districts.]

And next, are the bottom 13 states, ranked by single voter power. Note: these fall to the bottom not particularly because these are states with disproportionately few EC votes or such high populations; it’s because the outcome is not in doubt.

[Their “Max Power” ratio drops, since Texas could be so high. In effect, even at their most powerful (thinnest margin), their effect withers further if a larger state ends up close: these voters always weigh less than 1/1000th the power per single voter in a contested state].

States with weakest single voter power

Even smaller states like Connecticut, Maryland, DC and Mass that are heavily weighted by the simple ECVotes/population computation get pushed to the bottom of significance, alongside California and New York, due to high expected win/loss margins. You can color in your Electoral College map early for these states. Well, any state not in the top 13 as well. {Rhode Island may well lose an EC Vote after the 2020 census, and will drop into this group}.

Things and order jumble about, but only slightly, if we re-calculate assuming that the full Margin of Error is realized for each state. For example, big Texas — now a battleground state — jumps from #8 to #1. Georgia drops from #1 to #4. Details in the two tables at the bottom.

I must admit that this is a concept that I adopted and simplified from an extensive effort over the past few decades by Andrew Gelman, a statistics professor at Columbia University (cue Abe from “The Amazing Mrs Maisel” here). He’s been joined recently by Gary King and John Boscardin, as well as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, to determine the odds that your single vote will decide the entire election, based on where you live. Of course, the odds are astronomical, but statistically quantifiable; the inverse of that possibility is a measure of the state’s single voter power. My results, arrived at with simpler math to account for my simpler mind, has much the same results (although I don’t think they’ve done it yet for 2020) [3]

These high-powered statisticians take into account far more than I have. For example, likely voter turnout. And odds the election is even close enough for that single state to make a difference (which further de-rates low EC vote states). That is too much computing, and voter turnout (abysmal and getting drearier for decades) will be a wildcard in 2020, with most areas now expecting record turnout.

In any case, like they say: “Every vote matters; count every vote.” My ballot’s in already. I know it won’t make any difference as to who wins; but it’s a vote for democracy. And that’s important.
May there be peace. Fingers crossed.

Until next time,

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] Gregoire wins by 133 (or 129) votes, with over 1,600 votes deemed to be fraudulent., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 5, 2005

[2] Franken win tainted?; 1,670 fraudulent votes tallied, The American Experiment, July 1, 2016

[3] When One Vote makes a difference (but never in a statewide race)

Table 1. All States at Nominal Power per single voter

StateNom Strengths
4North Carolina0.0146
12South Dakota0.0021
16North Dakota0.0018
18New Hampshire0.0016
19South Carolina0.0016
23New Mexico0.0013
28West Virginia0.0011
37Rhode Island0.00069
43New Jersey0.00058
49New York0.00038
Table 1, Relative single voter weight, all polls nominal
A single voter in Georgia is ~3,800 times more significant and powerful as one in DC

Table 2. Relative single voter weight, all states at max strength per voter (i.e. poll margins reduced by average margin of error).

StateAll Max
5North Carolina0.395
16South Carolina0.0015
17South Dakota0.0014
19New Hampshire0.0010
20North Dakota0.0010
26New Mexico0.0007
27West Virginia0.0006
40Rhode Island0.00033
41New Jersey0.00032
49New York0.00018
Relative Single Voter Strength if each state is at Max power (I.e. full Margin of error reduces final vote difference)… A single Texas voter is 9,100 times more powerful than one in DC

Special Summer

Indian Summer

Idyllic “Indian Summer” image

The first thing we should address, given contemporary sensitivities, is if this is even an appropriate term. 

The sports teams of my undergrad alma mater, Arkansas State University, used to carry the nickname “Indians.” ASU started out as an A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) school and thus were known for some time as the “Aggies.”  They changed to “Warriors” in 1930, then to “Indians” the next year.  They remained the Indians until 2008.  They then changed to the Red Wolves.

Jumpin’ Joe: Arkansas State mascot when I attended in the 1970s.

Nominally one could argue that the name was not insensitive.  However, the mascot was known as Jumpin’ Joe (see figure), usually portrayed as a hideous visual parody of a native Amerindian. I was always uncomfortable with this, but as a young man finding my way in the world – and coping in the South as a native Yankee – I never made much fuss about it. 

Historic range of the Red Wolf

So, Arkansas State became the Red Wolves.  The Red Wolf is an endangered species, and – if ever seen – is usually in the southeast US.  It’s a mixed beige-reddish/copper colored subspecies of the gray wolf [1], and also evidently quite modern in its evolution, having a genealogy that is only about 50-400,000 years; so not that different than humans.

Interesting that the most successful college sports team in the hometown of my youth (Milwaukee), is Marquette University, and was also called the “Warriors” for decades; definitely an allusion to a supposed war-like nature of the American Native. Marquette, is a smallish Jesuit run school. Yes successful: they won the NCAA Basketball Championship as the “Warriors” in 1977. In time, the nickname was deemed a negative portrayal of native Amerindian culture.  Marquette’s sports teams have been called the Golden Eagles since 1995.

The Golden Eagle is a very successful species.  It’s one of the most widespread birds of prey across all of the northern hemisphere. So that was probably a good choice by Marquette. Pick success.

And let’s not forget the team that can be called “That team formerly known as the Washington Redskins.” Or maybe the official name is just the “Washington Football Team.”  Or something like that.  Not following sports much lately.

In any case, Indian Summer is a wonderful time.  Typically, it refers to a period of pleasant weather late in the year.  It could also be a wonderful period of time late in one’s life.  I may be having my own Indian Summer right now, in early retirement, and before Old Man Time tatters and frays my neurons and sinews even further.  

The term might have even originated with “Indians”, as some oral traditions tell of how American Natives explained the phenomenon of this weather to new arrivals: fear not, an unexpectedly nice time of year will arrive.  You can hunt, and sometimes even fetch a late harvest of berries.  Northern Europeans would likely have expected no such thing after a blast of Jack Frost and wintery chills.

The thing about Indian Summer is you don’t actually know if, or when, it is going to arrive.  It’s kind of a “bonus summer.”   An end of year “bonanza.”  A happy surprise.

The US Weather Service prefers to apply the term to a stretch of summery weather that occurs in the autumn after a killing freeze.  Annuals have all perished.  Budding has ceased.  Perennials are into dormancy.  Deciduous trees are shutting down. It’s best if there is even some snow; a warning of the deep dark nights and short days to follow.

And then: bam!  Sun.  Warmth.  Hope you didn’t put those shorts away, or that sunscreen.

Colorado is Not currently in Indian Summer, although one could be forgiven for thinking that.  The temperatures are back into the 80s – and might even soon touch 90.  Yet last week we had three days of freezing temperatures and even several inches of snow in most places.

But it’s not autumn yet.  Fall has yet to fall.

It’s just one of those things.  One of those crazy Colorado things. [3] Even though we were over 100 degrees just a few days before the snow and freezing temperature.  It’s not Indian Summer, yet.  I hope we get one again this year.

Anyhow, should we call it Indian Summer?  As opposed to Bonus Summer, or Extra Summer?  The Cajuns of Louisiana have a cute term: Lagniappe (Lan-yap), for an unexpected pleasant little add-on. [2]

I rather like Indian Summer, both the event and the term.  But Lagniappe Summer works fine, too.  All so multi-cultural.

Wishing you a lovely rest of summer and a blissful Indian/Bonus/Lagniappe Summer as well.


Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] The taxonomy of the Red Wolf is much debated – sort of like whether the names Indian, Warrior and Redskin are insensitive or not.  Many believe that it is a cross between the Gray Wolf and Coyote. Others say it is a blend with an additional wolf species.

[2] The story of Lagniappe.

[3] Apologies to song writer Cole Porter, and every great singer-artist who sang it, for poaching and re-appropriating these words.

Indispensable Servants

It was the day before Labor Day. It was many, many years ago – when only ½ of US households had a television set, the vast majority showed only black and white, and there were only three stations to choose from.  That fateful red-letter Sunday my mother went into labor.  It must have frightened her, even though she was a woman of great faith, for this was her first child.

For me and my existence, this was essential labor.  Without it, I would not be on this earth.  I’ve expressed gratitude and praise to her – both in person and to her soul – for her countless sacrifices and many achievements.  She passed before I ever thought to thank her for this specific essential labor. 

This delivery – and those of my two sisters within the following three years – occurred at the old St Anne’s hospital, on the near north-west side of Chicago.  Well, things change, and St Anne’s was shuttered in 1988.  Over the following decade or so most of the grounds and nearby surrounding region were re-purposed; most significant among them being the arrival of Beth-Anne Residences.  This facility is dedicated to low-income and disabled elderly, many of whom require assisted living.  It is run by a 501-c-3 organization. So perhaps I can “slip the surly bonds of earth” at the same place I arrived.

Labor Day: it’s the day we honor workers in America – even though much of the rest of the world does this on May 1.  As we get out, have fun, fire up the grill, crack a beer, hike, bike, safely visit family and friends, and do the things we do on this end-of-summer holiday, we are tasked with recalling the importance of the American worker – the laborer.  And we recall the struggle of the labor movement, especially from the last decades of the 19th century through the first few of the 20th – their victories in achieving reasonable rights, among them: safe labor conditions, 40-hour workweeks, end of child labor, and yes, the right to collective bargaining.

This year I extend that to “essential labor.”  We’ll go here, as many businesses (and hence their workers in many cases) were deemed non-essential during this coronavirus pandemic.   The best synonym, I submit, is “indispensable servant”; those without whom society could not function with any sense of decency.

Of course, we all mandatorily identify those who serve in the health care industries as such.  From doctors, physicians assistants, nurses, and nurse practitioners; – to psychologists, pharmacists, emergency medical technicians.  The breadth is wide indeed: who administers hospitals, keeps the lights on, cleans the toilets, keeps ambulances and fire trucks operational, manufactures and ships drugs & vaccines, fills and drops off liquid oxygen, cleans surgical devices …? All those people who answer the phone and answer your billing and insurance questions. It is a breathtaking list.  Appreciate them all.

What would we do without food?  Grocery store workers are essential.  But so is everyone who works in the food supply chain.  Migrants who harvest food.  Fishermen. Workers who process food – often migrants as well.  How many among us raise hogs, chickens?  Collect eggs? Don’t forget the truck drivers, truck maintenance personnel, truck stop employees, truck and dock loaders and unloaders, even longshoremen who help us get our food.  I’m sure I missed some.  Appreciate them all.

What would we do without energy?  Who keeps the electric power flowing to our houses so that our food stays fresh in our refrigerators and freezers?  How many could work from home – or communicate with the world at all – without linemen, power plant workers, engineers and technicians who keep substations, transformers, and transmission lines operational.   It’s been a hot summer in much of the country: jeepers creepers, what would we do without A/C?  Even that is rather essential. Appreciate them all.

As humans, we are naturally social.  Yet we’ve had to “socially distance” (a new verb there).  To stay “in touch” is essential to our nature.  So, don’t forget telephone and cell phone employees.  And workers for internet providers.

Sanitation.  What happens to your poop?  What happens to your garbage?  We’ve been in shut down for 6 months now.  What if each one of us had to dispose of all that shit?  Thank the garbage collectors, and anyone who supports them, like landfill workers. Thank the municipal laborers, engineers, chemists and technicians who work at and support the wastewater treatment plants – ensuring that the waste we flush, and all the stuff we send down the sink, does not ruin our environment.

Clean water.  Water is essential to life.  And steady access to clean water is essential to a healthy life.  And good coffee.  Many careers are dedicated to acquiring, treating and delivery of clean water to every household. That is surely indispensable. 

Come to think of it: With clean water and wastewater disposal as essential, well, we have to add plumbers to the list of essential workers.

Protection.  Law Enforcement has been in the spotlight a lot lately.  It’s certainly not perfect.  Yet it is critical – essential – to a society that respects individual rights.  I include fire and rescue personnel here as well as in the medical section. 

Even with reduced traffic we need to get out occasionally, if just to buy groceries.  City engineers and technicians keep the traffic lights running. 

And there’s protection at the national level.  We can have a discussion about the size of our government and our nation’s defense: but we do need them.  From scanning the skies and oceans, to cyberattacks of all sorts. 

I know I missed some.  And quite a few more that are nearly-indispensable.  Child care.   The natural gas industry (by which most of us heat our water, and will soon be heating our residences). Education: teachers, professors, para-professionals and cafeteria workers. School janitors, maintenance, and IT personnel. Transportation: mass transit workers (who often help essential workers get to work, or the grocery story), road maintenance.  Even the evil banking and financial industry has kept the wheels of the economy creaking along; who maintains ATMs and answers your calls, and processes your quarantine on-line credit card purchases?

Many simply do not make the essential or nearly-indispensable list, like swaths of government and the entire entertainment industry.  And that includes professional sports.  Not gonna apologize; you all are simply not essential to life.  We don’t need you Robert Redford, DiCaprio, Duval, LeBron, ad nauseum.  

The “not even remotely indispensable” includes anyone who works for CNN, Fox, etc.  Yep, don’t need you at all; I’m talking to you Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson. I turned you all off long ago and don’t miss you one bit.  Life rolls merrily along, and much more calmly, without you.

Happy Labor Day! Enjoy, and also be grateful for those who labor. Thank the indispensable servants among us.  This year, I task you all with identifying the less obvious indispensables. Especially those who do the things we cannot do or choose not to do. Appreciate them.

And mothers, thank them too.  Thanks mom. See you someday.

Honor the American Worker

Joe Girard © 2020

note: my mom gave birth 6 times. My siblings and I are all lucky and grateful for her many labors. After the first 3, the next was delivered in Evanston at St Francis Hospital. The last two (brothers) were in Wisconsin — I think Menominee Falls.

Bloody Ramble: from Typos to Chaplin

I am not a hematologist. Nor an immunologist or a virologist. Just an aspiring amateur writer who has recognized that typos fall into two dominant categories. Regular readers have no doubt spotted more than a few.

The first kind of typo comes from stream of consciousness – such as just getting the initial thoughts and sentences tapped in.  Misspellings, poor grammar, dreary or ambiguous word choice, double words, lazy punctuation.  The long list continues: verb/noun mismatch; change of tense within a paragraph; chronological inconsistencies; using “their” or “your” for “they’re” and “you’re” …

These are all forgivable, and relatively painless. Many make it to draft status, when well over 90% can be cleaned up by a few proofreading passes.

It’s the second kind of typo that is really painful.  These result from late edits.  The eleventh-hour flash of brilliance that results in a “catastrophic improvement.”  At the final moment, with the cake fully iced, the product is ready for a la mode, and full reader enjoyment! 

But no! Those last flourishes require just as much proof reading as the original drafts.  Yet, it is so easy to skip. I’ve done it many times. Slow learner.

To my readers: Thank you.  Many of you have gently suggested improvements and corrections to my typos and “facts.”  The rest of you have kindly ignored them; or, perhaps in your brilliance, merely read what I intended, not what I wrote.  Exhibit A: My last essay enfolded references to (a) a famous bathroom fixture company, (b) its founder, (c) the label for a common convenience, and (d) my regular tapestry of  history, factoids, and observations.  During some post-published proof-reading I found a few major hiccups. It’s better now, but only after some help and a couple of paragraph re-writes.


Not only are there two kinds of typo; there are two kinds of Type-O.  Positive and negative.  We’re talking blood here.

I am O-positive.  That’s the most common blood type, nearly 40% of humans have it, despite O’s transmission on a recessive gene.  About 85-90% of people in need of transfusion can accept my blood. If I didn’t carry the Rh-positive antigen, 100% could take my blood.

Through the magic of genetics and natural anti-bodies, I am quite valuable to blood banks.  There is a virus connection here.  How appropriate for this time of novel coronavirus, SARS CoV-2 and international tumult.

Most adult humans have, at some point in their lives, contracted the Cytomegalo Virus (or CMV). As much as 80%.  Of those affected, nearly 100% who contract it suffer from only mild symptoms, if any. Except infants. CMV can cause severe long-term damage to new arrivals – especially “preemies” – as their immune systems are just waking up. 

Of the many scores of herpes viruses discovered, only eight are known to regularly affect humans.  Once infected, our bodies almost always eventually mount a swift and decisive victory, driving the virus from the battlefield – our homeland: tissues, organs, blood.  Better, our well-evolved immune systems retain intermediate and long-term immunity via anti-bodies (of the five main types Immunoglobulin-M and -G antibodies are of the most interest here).

Like many types of virus, the herpes family is insidious.  Even though thoroughly thwarted by a superior foe, they execute a strategic retreat, never quite leaving the body.  They “hang out” in nerve cells. Lying dormant for long intervals, they occasionally “wake up” to see if their host – us! – is healthy enough to fight them off for another round of battle.  If the response is “yes”, they retreat again to the sanctuary of our nerves, a place a proper immune system has been trained to not attack.

This happens over and over again, until we die, as sufferers of HSV 1 and 2 can attest (Herpes Simplex 1 or 2); that is, repeated blistering around the mouth, or even in the mouth.  Those episodes of re-occurrence are only mildly annoying when compared to what can happen with the Chicken Pox virus (Vicella Zoster Virus, or VZV); later in life it can manifest as what’s commonly called “Shingles” – with an agonizing and often debilitating rash accompanied by stabbing pains.

Since CMV is in the Herpes family there is always a likelihood it is in someone’s blood; that is, if they have ever had it in their life. Hence, their blood must never be used for transfusions to infants.

My blood always tests negative for CMV anti-bodies, both IgM and IgG. This means it is not lying dormant somewhere and I am a safe donor for infants.

I donate blood as often as practicable.  I am of some use to society. We Type-Os are also delicious to mosquitoes. My wife says that having me around is better than using insect repellant.


Until the previous turn of the century, blood types were unknown.  The micro-biological processes of transfusions and outcomes were a mystery, so it was practiced sparingly and as a last resort. Sometimes with spectacular success.  But more often with horrible, painful, fatal results.

At that time Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner was wondering about this. He hit upon the idea of simply mixing blood from various people together to see what happened. No chemistry. No microscopes. In hindsight, this seems most unsophisticated – even elementary; but no one had done it. 

What he found was rather amazing. Some samples got along well together, and most others did not; they made globules: which was the observable effect of one blood trying to obviate the other; or each other.  Landsteiner had discovered blood types!  For this he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, decades later, in 1930.

At first he identified 3 types: he labeled them A, B and C.

Red Blood Cells

In the scaled down world of micro-biology and microbes, red blood cells are like titans. Thin and disk-like, they average about 7 microns in diameter, with a thickness of 2 microns, which “squishes” down to about 1 micron at the center, not unlike Life Saver candies. [From now on, I will give sizes in microns, with no units, for simplicity]. This topography gives the red cell a very large surface area compared to its mass and size, which is useful for its main duty: ferrying oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules around the body and passing them across its surface membrane.

A CMV virion’s size is about 0.2. The SARS nCoV-2 is probably smaller than that: about 0.1.  Bacteria, like staph and strep are bigger, but still smaller than a reddie: size, on average, about 1.

Cytomegalovirus CMV, a DNA-type virus from Herpesviridae family. 3D illustration. CMV mostly causes diseases in newborns and immunocompromised patients

A and B blood types were found to carry antigens on their surface. Antigens are anything that triggers an “attack” from antibodies. These red blood cell antigens are, surprisingly, sugars of the D-galactose family, size about 0.0005 (or 1/2000th the average thickness of a red blood cell). 

A blood type which has no sugar antigens, C, was re-named O, which basically means zero, or none. A little later it was discovered that some types carry both A and B antigens, so they were naturally named “AB” – pretty rare.  These 4 types (A, B, AB and O) comprise 99.9+% of all blood types.

Now it’s not at all complicated to tell who can take whose blood for a transfusion. Since my O has no sugar antigens, anyone can take my blood.  But my body will “see” the A, B, and AB cells as invaders. We Type-Os are picky. Although anyone can take my blood, I can only take Type-O.

But wait, not quite so simple. There were still problems.

Rh markers were found a few decades later, around 1940 (also, sort of, by Landstein [1]) – just in time for most of WW2, resulting in fewer multiple-transfusion complications … and a better understanding of baby-to-mother Rh mismatch for the baby-boom that followed WW2.

The Rh markers are proteins (there are actually about 49 of them; the most common is type-D), about size 0.003.  About 90% of people have Rh-positive blood.

Floating nearby in the plasma are anti-bodies.  For mammals these are about size 0.1 – quite small.  In Rh-negative people, these little workers are always “on the ready” to identify Rh proteins as “bad guys.”  And also to identify foreign A and B antigens.

People, especially prospective mothers, with no Rh proteins (i.e. Rh-negative) must be careful with donations and pregnancies.  The first time the body encounters the Rh antigen the process or pregnancy is usually OK.  But the body is stirred up, and it remembers. The next time it’s “attack.” If a Rh-negative patient gets more than one Rh-positive transfusion — or a Rh-negative mom gets a second Rh-positive baby in utero — it can be bad news.


Returning to the red blood cell.  It is quite large; a workhorse of the vascular system. Yet, one might wonder: why have we evolved so that its surface is laden with thousands of tag-a-longs and stowaways that seem more trouble than their load is worth?

Well, maybe those labels are a bit harsh.  Research suggests that the Rh proteins can provide a sort of osmotic-efficient pathway for the relatively large CO2 molecules (compared to oxygen) to slither through the cell membrane.  And it appeared millions of years ago – before anything like a hominoid walked on two legs. [2]

We can consider these ancient genetic tweaks as a sort of typo: a minor transcription mistake in typing out genetic text from DNA to RNA and back again to the DNA of a new cell, thus creating a new or different function for such genes.

Sugar antigens, similar to A and B, appear in the blood of all mammals. Again, these evolved in our pre-hominoid ancestors long ago. [3] Just why this is so, is a bit of a mystery.  Perhaps it was for a weird but clever type of “trick play herd immunity.”  A virus sees cell coatings as something that can provide an attach point on, or even pathway into, a cell.  If a population has a random collection of these sugars and proteins, then a single type of virus pandemic cannot wipe out the entire species.

Here I like to imagine a sports team cleverly crafted to beat any team at, say, a football match. That team is the Evil Virus. The first games for team EV are easy victories. The next several matches they stampede confidently onto apparently identical pitches, only to be confronted with rules for cricket. Or golf. And then tennis. Then speed skating.  Result?  Team EV fails. –  The species survives; the virus must go off and mutate further or die out.

All these rule changes – different cell coatings among individuals among the same species – makes our bodies suspicious of one another.  When there’s a transfusion mismatch the coatings are identified as antigens and marked for destruction by those tiny antibodies. 

Interestingly, something similar might be happening with the virus du jour, SARS CoV-2 which causes Covid-19. Early analyses of cases (and deaths) in hard hit areas of Europe suggest that those with Type-A blood are disproportionately susceptible. [6] How or why this happens is not understood but could give virologists and immunologists an understanding of the virus and our bodies’ machinations.  Perhaps the A-type sugar is a sort of 5th column for the virus; or the presence of B-type antibodies somehow distracts, diminishes, or delays the body’s defense.

I expect there will be a plethora of studies of many sorts regarding this coronavirus, its impact, and our reactions in the months and years to come. Brace yourselves.


Classic Charlie Chaplin Photo

The improvement and acceptance of blood type science went beyond medicine and into forensics. It helped reduce Charlie Chaplin’s embarrassment, but only a little.

Chaplin, the famous actor-comedian-film maker, was married four times and a well-know philanderer, as well as a misogynist. [4] A paternity suit against him in the ‘40s resulted in blood testing, and eventually changed family law. 

In the 1940s a young actress (with whom he was “friendly” – this during his 3rd marriage) claimed he was the father of her child. She sued him for child support. Blood tests on Chaplin, the child and mother showed that he could not possibly be the father. 

Chaplin, with recessive Type-O, could not have been the father of a Type-B child whose mother was Type-A.  Case dismissed?  No. She pressed her allegation, nonetheless.

Astounding to us in the 21st century, accustomed as we are to such quotidian data as DNA matching, blood tests were not permitted as evidence at the time. Chaplin lost the court case and was compelled to pay child support.  Worse: His trysting filled the pages of the days’ print media. His reputation was trashed.[5]

The law was changed a few years later.  But not in time for Chaplin.  He was so disgraced that – combined with other bad press and McCarthy-era distrust – he was even denied re-entry to the United States, in 1952. (He was not a US citizen, although he’d lived there for over 40 years).

He resided in self-imposed exile in Switzerland for the rest of his life. He returned to America only once before he died, for a few days in 1972, then aged 83, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars.  On stage, with Jack Lemon, he received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest in Academy Awards history.


Even though Type-O is recessive, it has survived. Not surprisingly, its prevalence is about the same for whites and blacks; we are one race, after all.

Recessive?  Well, we Type-Os are sometimes weak, as attested to by Chaplin’s behavior.

That’s a wrap, from typos to Type-Os. Thanks for any corrections or suggestions.

Until next time, peace to you.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

Final footnote on Chaplin.  He was soon married a fourth time.  He reportedly approached the young 18-year old Oona O’Neill with the line: you look like my next ex-wife. As he was 38 years her elder (in fact nearly the same age as her father, famous playwright Eugene O’Neill) he was disgraced again. Next ex-wife?  Wrong! They stayed married for over 30 years, until his death, producing 8 children.  The eldest, Geraldine, starred remarkably with Omar Shariff and Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago: at the tender age of 20 when filmed.

[1] Who discovered the Rh factor?

[2] Possible purpose of Rh proteins:

[3] Blood Types over 20 million years ago:

Could be as recent as 3.5 million years ago:

[4] Charlie Chaplin:

[5] Chaplin paternity, blood tests and court case:

[6] Type-A and COVID-19:

Wells, Welles, Wells: Patterns

Wells, Welles, Wells: what have we here?

Dawn Wells won the title of Miss Nevada in 1959.  She went on to star in TV, live theater and movies, most memorably as Mary Ann in the Gilligan’s Island TV series.  Still a beauty at 81, she and Tina Louise (Ginger) are the last surviving actors in that ‘60s TV show – which continues to live on in re-runs.  Wells was born in October 1938.

Also, in 1938 – just a few days after Miss Wells’ birth, on the Sunday night right before Halloween – a series of “news” flashes and reports were broadcast nationwide over the Columbia Broadcasting System.  The news went out as part of a regular show: Mercury Theatre. But unless listeners were tuned in at the very beginning, they might well have not realized that the “news” was a spoof — part of an entertainment show. [2]

Orson Wells, on CBS’ Mercury Theater

The news shocked and, briefly, terrified more than a few people – and a bit of panic broke out. (The panic was not nearly as widespread as legend has it[3]).  Even some who understood that the “news reports” were fake did not understand it was actually a radio show dramatization of H.G. Wells’ famous novel, “War of the Worlds.”  

The creator and producer of the 1938 radio show? Orson Welles. (He also played several voice-roles in the dramatization.)

So, Welles produced a show based on a novel by Wells?  Put on the air the same week as Wells’ birth?

Wells, Welles, Wells. These are simply coincidences.  A sequence of events and names that present a curious pattern of no significance.

But as humans, we cannot help but notice such coincidences.  Coincidences look a lot like patterns.  And humans have evolved to be probably the best pattern recognizers in the world – outside, perhaps, of advanced Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Algorithms. (Such as: whatever on the internet seems to know what I might be shopping for?)  As humans, we’ve used pattern recognition to help us survive and thrive, evidence of Darwin’s theory. We hunt prey, avoid predators, plant, harvest, and socialize – including finding mates – according to evolved inherited skills of pattern recognition. 

One of the most important is patterns for weather forecasting. We recognize “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.  Red sky at night sailor’s delight”.  It was already ancient when Jesus said “When it is evening, you say ‘it will be fair weather for the sky is red.’  And in the morning: ‘it will be foul weather today, for the sky is red.’  O hypocrites. You can discern the face of the sky, but not the signs of the times!” [Matthew, 16:2-3].


Long ago humans recognized patterns of movement in the night skies.  For example, every 780 days the red-orange planet Mars appears very bright in the sky, and almost directly overhead at midnight.  (This phenomenon, called “opposition”, would likely have been tracked by counting lunar months, and predictably occurred every 26 lunar cycles, plus 19 days).  Such celestial movements and tracking have meager connections to our lives, try as astrologists might to make them.  On the other hand, the single biggest influence on ocean tides is the moon.  Plus, constellations and the north star have been trusty navigational tools that pre-date history. So, our planet and our fates are not fully disconnected from all celestial patterns.


In 1894 Mars and Earth met in their regularly scheduled dance of syzygy. Astronomers were ready and turned their telescopes toward the planet named for the god of war.  Their observations, sketches and conjectures helped inspire a novel: “War of the Worlds”, by H.G. Wells. 

Percival Lowell saw the great Canali on Mars and fancied that they were massive water projects, undertaken to manage water by a civilization on a nearly barren planet that was drying up.  H.G. Wells’ imagination: Would they be interested in coming to water-rich earth? 

Further exciting scientific speculation: great flashes of light were seen on Mars during that alignment.  From the respected astronomer Perrotin in (Nice, France) to the Lick Observatory in the hills outside San Jose, California, Mars-gazers confirmed to each other that the bright Martian lights were real.  H.G. Well’s imagination: Might these flares of light be the firing of a giant gun, to send a spacecraft to earth at this opportune planetary alignment?

Like most science fiction writers, Wells was pretty well attuned to scientific developments.  And world affairs.  Thus armed scientifically and culturally, and with a great imagination, Wells wrote “War of the Worlds.”  Initially published as a series in 1897, the work was published as a novel in a single volume in 1898. 

I’m not sure why the title has the word “Worlds”.  In the Wells novel, per my recollection and re-perusing of the fairly short book [1], the only locale inflicted with invasion and destruction of the Martian “heat ray” was southeast England, in and around the London area. [4]

In Welles’ 1938 radio show, the Martian invaders’ destruction was mostly limited to New Jersey and around New York City, although he does make brief passing mention – almost like an afterthought – of Buffalo, Chicago and St Louis. [2]  

I’ve seen the 1953 movie a few times, mostly as a kid, and the “invasion” was limited to California.  Writers can be so parochial.  If it were really “War of the Worlds”, the whole human race would have been affected, and united in an effort to fight (or at least survive) the invaders. [5]

Alas, uniting our race would have done no good in any of the versions of the story.  The Martians were virtually indestructible. The annihilation from their heat ray was total. Their only weakness was that they lacked an immune system adapted for earth.  At the end they all perished due to exposure to simple common germs.

Martian Death Ray — War of the Worlds movie, 1953

Virology was not even in its infancy when Wells wrote his novel; the very existence of anything like a virus was postulated (and indirectly proven) only a couple years before that Mars-Earth alignment.  Scientists and novelists knew, of course, about bacteria.  But those are usually many, many times larger than most viruses, and had been observed under microscopes.  Humans would not truly “see” a virus until 1931, with the development of the electron microscope.

If Wells had known about viruses when he wrote his novel, he might well have included them in earth’s “victory” over the Martians.  If he wrote the novel today, he might have included a “novel virus” (ha, pun intended) as the “hero.”

Returning to patterns (like novel & novel), and the current novel virus (AKA SARS-CoV-2 and 2019-nCoV – the “n” indicating “novel”), we can understand a bit how the US under-reacted, at first, to this threat. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 is a “new” virus (that’s what novel means) but is closely related to the corona viruses that caused SARS in 2002-3 and MERS in 2015.  From a US-perspective, these were mostly well contained to Asia and the Middle East, although a nasty outbreak of SARS occurred near Toronto. 

More novel viruses will come.  They mutate easily and quickly. Some will be worse than SARS-CoV-2 or even the H1N1 variant that caused the pandemic of 1918-19 … more fatal and more transmittable.  Concurrent with another existential catastrophe, they might even threaten the species.  Not sure when … next year … next decade or in a few generations. But they will come.

In my imagined minor and more modern re-write of Wells’ story, it is a virus that saved the Homo Sapiens species.  In future, perhaps the lessons-learned from this 2020 virus pandemic will save us too.

Mary Ann and Ginger, again

Final thought: By the way, from way back in the ‘60s until today, I always preferred Mary Ann over Ginger. No contest. Is it because she was a brunette, or because Mary Ann was … well she was Mary Ann?  Or because she was Dawn Wells?

Be well, stay healthy, be nice.


Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] Wells’ novel, War of the World, is in the public domain and can be read many places, including  here:

[2]You can listen to the 1938 Radio show here:
or here:

[3] There was not widespread panic caused by Welles’ production of WoW, as legend has it. 

[4] Backstory spoiler: Wells was disheartened by the methods and human impacts of British worldwide colonization and empire building.  So, in his novel, the roles are flipped. The Brits are set upon and invaded by strange and powerful foreigners who have come to take their resources, without regard for human life, or for destruction of a civilization.

[5] Screenplay Script, War of the Worlds, 1953 movie:

The Coronademic and Words

Most of us are fortunate to dwell in some land that is run by governments described with three words: Liberal Democratic Republic.  Let’s ignore the first and third words for today and focus on the second – Democratic – since it will help us address the hottest topic in the world these days, the Corona Virus, and start us on the path to decode the difference between the two similar and frequently heard words: Epidemic and Pandemic. [1]


As the English language evolves ever more rapidly many words have been discarded on the wayside. They languish there – grass and debris covering them, yet not quite dead – calling out from time to time to passersby. “Use me! Use me! I’m perfect for what you want to say.” Most of us usually ignore them.  Our minds and vocabularies have moved on. Or we’re rightfully afraid that no one will understand us; or they’ll think we are pretentious. These lonely plaintive words get scant attention.  They lived vibrant lives once. Occasionally we stumble across a few in an old text, or perhaps in a more contemporary passage tapped out by a witty writer; one equipped with either an English Degree, or a thesaurus. Or both. Or me.

Generic Corona Virus: This is a CDC image in the Public Domain

Other words remain but get morphed so mischievously that they now mean something quite different.  For example, Jealous and Envious – and their cousins: Jealousy & Envy. Until recently, these used to mean pretty much the exact opposite of each other. Jealousy meant to aggressively guard what you have. And envy meant to covet what somewhat else has.  [e.g.: The jealous girlfriend imagined the envy of her friends every single waking moment. And why is it always the jealous girlfriend, not the jealous boyfriend?].

Anyhow, now it seems acceptable that Jealous should always mean what Envious used to mean.  And Envy seems to have all but vanished from modern lexicon, left on the side of that road of language evolution. [Random person: “I’m so jealous of your trip to the Bahamas.” —
Envious, in a faint Whoville voice: “Use me! use me! I’m perfect for you!”]

Back to square one for today: Democracy.  The -cracy ending simply means a form of government, or a ruling structure.  Just think of theocracy, bureaucracy, and aristocracy and you pretty much get the idea.[2] The first part tells you who has the power.  In the painful-to-watch, but occasionally funny, movie “Idiocracy” the idiots ran the world.

In Democracy, the people have the power.  Demos is Greek for “the people.” This also gives us a key to the words of the day: Epidemic and Pandemic.  -Demic: Something that is of the people, or affects the people. 

There are some other unrelated words that end in -demic, and this moment is propitious for a note of caution: the -ic ending can confuse us, because it means “having to do with.” For example, “academic” is only faintly related to ‘demos’, or the people.  Here the -ic indicates it has to do with “academy’; which also comes directly from Greek. Academy: It was a public garden, as in a place where Plato would conduct his classes (which does indeed have to do with the people).  But the word “academic” arrived late in English’s evolution, around the 16th century, from “academy.” That was long after academy had anything to do with public gardens, and everything to do with education – I guess thanks to Plato, and other Greek academics.

Back to “epidemic” and “pandemic”, which sound so much alike, and whose meanings are so similar, that they are often used interchangeably.  That’s Okay, I suppose, as the rules in English fade away and sometimes appear in new places.  But in these times of COVID-19 – or Wuhan Virus, or SARS-Cov-2, or 2019-nCoV, or whatever you want to call it (maybe “the big panic”, or the great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020) – it might be a bit useful to know the difference between “epidemic” and “pandemic.”

For “epidemic” go to the prefix – “epi-“ – and think “epicenter.”  Epi- means having to do with a specific, singular location.  Think about when a significant earthquake occurs; among the first two details reported are the magnitude and the epicenter.  Not just “how strong?”, but also what specific location on the earth’s surface is directly above the earthquake’s focus? That’s Epi-.

So, “epidemic” is something that has to do with “the people” and is fairly local.  Limited to a geographic location.  When the COVID-19 virus first appeared, it was clearly an epidemic.  Limited to Wuhan province.

Outbreaks don’t have to be viral or microbial to be epidemic. There have been, sadly, epidemics of suicide in some school districts, and epidemics of avocado accidents at some emergency rooms.  “Epidemic” doesn’t even have to be medical in nature – although usually people use it that way.  At my place of employment for some 34 years the misuse of the word “adverse” was epidemic among management.  Yes, I cringed, but that was neither the time nor place to correct my superiors.  The main thing is: epidemic is some phenomenon related to people that you can draw a circle around and say “it’s limited to this region.”

By now you can guess that “Pandemic” is an epidemic that is no longer limited to a region.  The prefix “pan-“ simply meaning all, or everything.  Long ago, a few hundred million years ago, all of earth’s landmass was co-joined and contiguous.  You’ve heard scientists and geologists refer to that single continent as “Pangea” (suffix as a slightly modified “Gaia”, meaning earth). 

Or for Pandemic, thick Pan, as in Pandora’s Box: all the sickness and troubles that could plague the world are set free. Such pandemonium was no longer quarantined within her box, spreading to all of mankind. Truly one of the most evil gifts ever given, even if it was mythology.

And of course, you can guess that the COVID-19 outbreak is now well beyond epidemic, having graduated to pandemic status. I think the CDC defines pandemic as three or more separate geographic locations. Continents surely qualify as separate locations. So, pandemic?  We’re there.

Another appropriate word of that day – one with identical letters at the beginning, but a totally different origin – is PANIC. Empty shelves of toilet paper; stock prices losing 10%, then20% of value in a few days.  Is this panic?  Probably.  We recognize the -IC ending as “having to do with.”  But in PANIC, what is Pan?  Students of Greek mythology and chaos (or readers of Tom Robbins) will love this.  Pan is the god of the wild: the woods, the hills, the un-tamed places. When Pan was disturbed his shouts would terrify those who heard it. Any weird or unexplainable sound heard outside the cities and villages was attribute to the anger of Pan – a very unpredictable fellow. This terror would spread orally among the people, with little apparent reason or validation.  Panic: widespread terror with little reasoning.  No toilet paper. 

For reference: The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 killed 25-50 million people in 25 months. Total deaths are pretty well gauged, but infection rates are a SWAG at best. It’s estimated that one-third of the world’s population might have been infected.[3] Those numbers, or anything close to them, are astounding! That was definitely a pandemic.  Especially since world-travel was so limited in those days (outside of travel related to World War 1), it’s hard to imagine how it became so widespread.  And deadly.  Advanced evolution? Could anything like this happen again?

With any luck, the current pandemic will serve as a warning for those to come.

At this point, I’ll call the Coronavirus a Panic-Pandemic. English has few rules, and the rules permit me to make up a word: Panic-Pandemic. Unplug the TV, turn off the radio, and behave like adults.

Wishing peace and good health (and clean hands and no nose picking) to all of you.


Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing


[1] I wrote on Democracy vs Republic some time ago, here:
I do plan to publish a study on “Liberal” soon.

[2] Theo = God, or of God.  Theocracy is run by those who are believed to be divinely guided by god.
Bureau and Bureaucaracy: think of an office.  A really big slothful office with lots of internal rules and procedures.  Full of faceless unelected people fulfilling government roles.  Like the Department of Motor Vehicles.  In a bureaucracy, these people are in control.  Hmmmmm…
Aristocracy: Aristocrats are the wealthy, privileged and upper crust of society. 

[3] Fatality rate of 1.4% from these numbers.  That is pretty astoundingly high. (World Pop in 1920 about 1.75 billion, even after the killing fields of WW1). 

[finally] – a pretty cool website for etymology (or “how words got their meanings”) is

Sound of Silence

Well, there’s only one thing I can say about the war in Viet Nam.
Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.

– Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) at speaker podium. (Forrest Gump, the movie — used here under US Copyright Fair Use law)

In the 1994 box office smash and critically acclaimed movie “Forrest Gump” there is a re-enactment of the massive May, 1970 Anti-War Rally, at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond, on the Mall in Washington, DC. In the movie, the eponymously named lead character is inserted into the speakers’ program, and he gives a short speech. 

Most of the speech was not heard by the crowd.  Movie viewers didn’t hear it either.  That’s because – per script – the sound system was disrupted by an anti-anti-war protestor, disguised as a part of the security detail, just before Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, stepped up to the microphone. [Forrest Gump’s unheard speech before the Reflecting Pond anti-war rally, in DC, with the whole scene. — early link was taken down, I suppose for copyright issues.]

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything important to say. The words above are what Tom Hanks claims to have said into the dead mike.

I recently came across some old essay notes that reminded me what happened when Wes Studi – a Viet Nam war Veteran, accomplished actor, and full Cherokee Indian – spoke at the 2018 Academy Awards.  The reaction of “the Academy” was if he hadn’t spoken at all.  Hardly louder than crickets.  He was only asking for recognition for films that honor those who fought for freedom around the world – especially when it wasn’t at home.

Much of the US population dealt with Viet Nam war veterans rather disrespectfully, especially from 1968 until about 1980.  Instead of treating them as youthful wide-eyed 18 to 20 year olds, sent off to do their country’s dirty work in a proxy war of the Cold War era, they were spat upon and derided as “baby killers.”  This was most unfair.

Hollywood and the media treated them rather shabbily and ungraciously as well, usually depicting them as damaged goods and misfits.  This is well-documented, and doesn’t even touch upon the disturbing “Full Metal Jacket” and “Coming Home.”  From last year’s Oscars … it seem the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still feels that way.  [I stopped watching awards shows a while ago].

I touched on this in an earlier essay, but it was longer and the treatment of Viet Nam vets, particularly with regard to Hollywood, was part of a broader context.

I don’t have much more to add. But: Now that we have learned that the Pentagon has been lying about progress in Afghanistan for 18 years, we can justifiably cite the refrain of the 1970 protest at the Lincoln Reflecting pond: it’s time to bring our boys home.  Dying in Afghanistan it appears is as worthless as dying in Viet Nam. 

Staying in a war 6,000 miles away for 18 years? “You break it, you bought it” is not an intelligent foreign policy. Stupid is as stupid does. [H/T to Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only person in either House to vote against the Afghanistan War Resolutions (2001), which she did on the basis that it was too broad, and had no “end game.” Even Ron Paul voted “Yea.” Astonishing.]

By the way, Hanks’ co-star in Forrest Gump, Gary Sinese, is doing wonderful things for veterans and first responders through his actions, words and foundation. Bravo, sir.

That’s all I have to say about that. 

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing

[1] Screen Play for “Forrest Gump.”

Of Disruptors and Keyholes

Recently the brand new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, suspended parliament at a moment in history that portends a possible keyhole event: a “Hard Brexit” is about to occur.  Technically the term is prorogue.  That is to say: “Johnson has prorogued Parliament.”  He simply sent them home for a few weeks.  Although not all that uncommon for a new government – it comes shortly after his placement as PM – the timing has made many Brits uncomfortable, to say the least.

One supposes that my writing has been sort of prorogued of late – not much publishing anyhow.  I don’t think many readers are uncomfortable about that. 

You can look back through a keyhole, but you can’t go back through one

I have a pair of terms for events that are so transformational that things can never return to the way they were; not even ways of thinking can return: Wormholes and Keyholes. Either way, when we pass through them – either as individuals, families, communities, cultures, countries or the entire world – a new reality emerges.

A possible alternative to keyhole and wormhole is “Rubicon”; or the full phrase “crossing the Rubicon.”  Way back in 49 BCE, a Roman general named Gaius (of the patrician clan “Julia”) took his powerful and famously successful army across the River Rubicon. When he did, he also created a keyhole through which he, his army, and Roman culture passed and could never return.

Rubicon: Reality was irreversibly changed.  A civil war ensued.  At its conclusion, there was no more Roman Republic, although it had endured nearly 500 years with a slight flavor of democracy.  It was replaced with the Roman Empire, to be led by a sovereign head of state named “Caesar” (the first one being the aforementioned general).

“Crossing the Rubicon” is a term that means total commitment, and no turning back. You’ve gone through the keyhole. Although, for Julius Caesar, there was an strong element of personal choice in the matter. That’s not always the case.


Using the theme of keyholes, I will touch upon many a quaint and curious story of forgotten lore [1], including brief biographical glances at the lives of three individuals.

These are but three people among countless.  Passing through the same keyhole in history.  An entire nation of millions was transformed by that keyhole, through which nothing – no person and no part of American culture – could return to their previous state … forever transformed. These three people made history because of their transformations – and society’s – brought about by a major disruption to American national culture.

  1. Hattie had a sweet personality and an even sweeter voice.  And she had a quality of magnetic personality mixed with pizzazz, or panache.  Today the name “Hattie” is rather obscure – in fact, it almost completely disappeared in the 1950s and ‘60s.  It was not an uncommon name at all across American cultures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Hattie Caraway (ARK) was the 1st woman elected to the US Senate, in 1932. Our Hattie was born in Wichita, Kansas, to parents who had been slaves.  Although the name Hattie would later virtually disappear, her own name would not.
  2. Born and raised of pure German descent, Henry hailed from the German neighborhoods on the southside of the great beer-making city of St Louis.  But he usually went by the nickname “Heinie” (or “Heine”), since it was German and rhymed with his last name: Meine.  Of course, it was Americanized to “High-nee My-nee”; you can’t get a much more memorable name.  Nonetheless, he’s virtually forgotten, although Heinie came through the keyhole and left his name in the record books. 
  3. A first generation Italian-American, he preferred to go by “Al” rather than his given “Alphonse.”  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he’d make his name in Chicago. Known for many things – including feeding over 100,000 Chicagoans each day during the Great Depression’s early years –  Al was not known for being very faithful to his wife. That’s too bad, because she was extraordinarily faithful and loyal to him.  At least he was loyal: he treated her well and never spoke poorly of her. That, and his Depression-era food lines, are among the few good qualities we can credit to him.

On a geological scale, the biggest disruptor to life on earth was almost certainly when the 12-mile diameter Chicxulub Asteroid slammed into the earth at 40,000 kilometers per hour, near the Yucatan peninsula (modern day Mexico) about 66 million years ago.  Scientific estimates of the energy released approached one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The asteroid event is probably the biggest reason, among many, that between 99.9% and 99.999% of the all species that have ever lived are now extinct.

Dinosaurs had ruled the earth; they had for some 250 million years through advanced evolution which tracked the earth’s warming climate. (Consider how far humans have evolved from advanced apes in less than 1/1000th the time).  For most of those many millions of ”dinosaur” years, the earth was generally a very warm, even rather tropical, CO2 rich environment.  Literally, in a very few years (perhaps a handful) all had changed.  The world, relatively speaking, became a frigidly cold “ice box.” 

The asteroid, as agent of disruption, had altered reality so suddenly, and so irreversibly, that the world and its reality was forever immediately changed.  We should be thankful.  That stupendously, mind-boggling cataclysmic event permitted the survival and prominence of tiny mammals – and eventually to us: we humans and our many friends like horses, dogs, cats – over dozens of millions of years.

I should hesitate to even suggest candidates for “disruptors” in the human era – especially in our post-industrial age era.  But, eventually we must get to our three protagonists:  Hattie, Heinie and Alphonse.  Therefore, I submit some examples, starting with —ta da – the internet.  It has spawned on-line commerce and “the sharing  economy.”

The “sharing economy” starts with the simple idea that we, as humans in a free-market economy, have assets that are lying dormant. In economists’ terms: non-performing assets.  Our houses. Our cars. Our time.  The sharing economy idea suggests we can put those assets to work. Over just a very few years, this simple idea has disrupted how we consume, travel, commute and vacation.  Many of us now think of Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, CrowdFunding as powerful and preferred alternatives to “traditional business models.”  The value of Taxi Cab medallions in New York City has fallen by some 85% since their peak value of $1.3 Million in 2013. Entire industries must now behave differently – or die.

The sharing economy has been co-joined on the internet with our lust for connectivity and ease. Amazon has put booksellers out of business. Thanks to the internet, we often now shop in the comfort of our homes, in front of our computers – often clad only in our underwear (if we are dressed at all – sorry for the visual).

Merchandise is delivered to our front door, sometimes within hours – while many old and drab strip malls slowly, silently go vacant and “turn-over”, their dull slots replaced by the equivalent of pre-human mammals that are mostly just cheap “creature comforts”: nail salons, micro-liquor stores, tattoo and/or piercing parlors, micro-breweries, tobacco-friendly stores, massage parlors, pot shops (where legal), second-hand and antique shops, etc. And that’s if the vacant spaces are filled at all.  There is no telling which will survive to coming generations, if at all: evolution, disruption and their effects have their ways of being unpredictable… that is their very nature. [2]


In American culture, looking back over the past 125 years, or so, I cannot think of any more forceful disruptor – outside of the Internet, the Depression, and the Great Wars – than Prohibition.

Prohibition. The 18th Amendment. The Volstead Act. The culmination of decades of effort by the Temperance Movement, the Women’s Movement, and Cultural Conservatives. 

I’m sort of a fan of Prohibition. Why? It was, in effect, a vast significant social scientific experiment.   It made being anti-government-control very cool.  It made counter-culture cool. It made “shoving it in The-Man’s-face” cool.   For many cultural icons and movements – from the obvious, like craft beer brewing and craft alcohol distilling, to the Beatniks, to Elvis, to The Stones, to Jay-Zee, to tattoos, to piercings, to sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll, sexual licentiousness, the prevalence of Sugar Daddies, and even NASCAR, (America’s most popular spectator sport) – Prohibition helped paved the way.

To me, on balance, those are good things. But every die comes with many sides: it also gave more profit and respectability to the mafia and the underworld. 

Our protagonists: In order of how famous they are today:

#1. In 1913, Young Al dropped out of school at 14, after slugging his teacher.  He then worked odd jobs while falling in with various young gangs of hoodlums.  Eventually, he got connected to the local mobs, and began working his way up the mob ladder – getting a nasty razor gash across a cheek in one episode – before finally getting in so much trouble that he was sent off to a different “branch of the business” in Chicago, along with his wife (the one he was not quite “totally committed” to) and young son.

Propitious timing: Prohibition was about to start.  Chicago is where Alphonse – Al Capone and Scarface to us – made it big. Really big.  Prohibition provided almost unlimited opportunity to make money … either through booze itself or through protection schemes.  Capone inherited the top position of a major Chicago crime syndicate, at age 26, when boss Johnny Torino retired and went home to Sicily.

After various deals and “take outs”, like the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone’s gang ruled supreme in Chicago and Cook County. 

Al Capone, king of Chicago ~1926-1931

“Scarface” (a nickname he hated) escaped criminal conviction many times.  But Prohibition Agent Elliot Ness and the government finally got him on income tax evasion; his lifestyle and braggadocio were just too conspicuous during a time such as the Great Depression.  Yes, he daily fed many thousands in the early years of the Depression.  But everything ended on October 17, 1931, when Capone was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.

While in prison – eventually at Alcatraz – Capone’s old cronies in the Chicago mob did quite well.  But he didn’t fair so well himself, even though he was released for “good behavior” after serving only about 7 years of his term.  It turns out his good behavior was probably because he developed advanced dementia caused by syphilis. Evidently it had been attacking his nervous system since his teens – considering that his only son, Alphonse Jr, was born with congenital syphilis.

Capone’s wife, Mae, remained loyal, and took great care of him until his demise, in 1947, only one week after his 48th birthday.  He was probably not aware of that or much else, as he was given to talking to inanimate things and people not present.  Their son Al Jr, an only child – who lived quite deaf since infancy on account of surgery for syphilis-caused infections – changed his name to “Albert Brown” in 1966, to distance himself from the infamy of his father. “Brown” was an alias his father had sometimes used.


2) In 1895 came Hattie McDaniel into this world. She was the 13th and last child born to Susan and Henry McDaniel, both former slaves. Her father was a freed slave, who fought in the Civil War and suffered the rest of his life from war injuries.

Originally from Wichita, Kansas, the family moved to Ft Collins, then Denver, Colorado seeking opportunity – as Henry had a difficult time with manual labor on account of his war injury – about the time young Hattie was 5 or 6.  There, in school and in church, her phenomenal musical skills were discovered. 

By age 14 she had a professional singing and dancing career … and she also dropped out of Denver East High School.  As feature vocalists for various bands, mostly Blues, Hattie had made something of a name for herself.

In 1930 she found herself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as part of a traveling theatre troupe on the Show Boat production. Then, disaster:  The Depression struck. The show and tour were abruptly canceled, leaving Hattie and the rest of the cast abandoned … and nowhere near home.

Hattie found employment as a restroom attendant at Club Madrid, a not-so-secret speakeasy run by Chicago gangster Sam Pick, just outside Milwaukee’s city limits, and just across the county line. Why there? Because that jurisdiction was largely rural and had virtually no police force. Prohibition was still in effect. 

Club Madrid was famous for great entertainment, as well as a great stash of alcohols.  It was a place to visit and be seen for politicians, high rolling businessmen and other wealthy gangsters.

Word had gotten around Club Madrid that Hattie was extremely talented; but Madrid was a “whites only” establishment. They kept her in the restroom.  Until one night when an act didn’t show.  Desperate to keep the lubricated and influential guests engaged, Sam brought out Hattie.  She brought the house down … and did so for over a year.  Her income and notoriety soared.

Whereupon her skills as a performer were noticed by Hollywood.  She’d go on to a rich film career of over a decade, most notably as Mammy in Gone With the Wind.  In perfect Hattie pose and poise, she was virtually “playing herself” as the only truly likeable and reasonable person in the entire saga. 

Hattie McDaniel was honored by the US Post Office with her image on a stamp, 2005

For that performance she was justly awarded an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  Hattie McDaniel was the first Black to receive an academy nomination, and the first to win an Oscar.  Bravo Hattie.

She remained popular, and used that popularity to serve in World War II, entertaining troops and performing at War Bond rallies. 

At the end of the war the role of blacks in America was about to dramatically change. Truman integrated the military with a stroke of his pen.  There was a loud popular cry to end the stereotyping of black characters as obsequious, simple-minded submissives in movies. The cry was heard.  Unfortunately for Hattie, she had already been well typecast into such roles, and her Hollywood career faded.

Not so for radio, and Hattie signed on to play a maid on the nationally popular regular radio show Beulah.  Another first: she was the first black to have a weekly appearance on any media. [3] Her years were running out, however.  Too young and too late she was discovered to have breast cancer, and she succumbed in 1952, aged only 57.


And #3. Henry “Heinie” Meine is surely the least famous of the three who actually achieved a significant level of fame.  Born in Saint Louis in 1896, he was a sports enthusiast who took to baseball well.  He played a lot of local sand-lot and then semi-pro ball as a young man, mostly as a spit balling pitcher.

By 1920 word got around that he was pretty good – especially with his favorite pitch: the spitter. He’d been noticed by legendary scout Charles “Charley” Francis Barrett, and he was signed to a minor league contract with the St Louis Browns of the American League.  In 1922 he was called up briefly to his hometown Browns and pitched in one single game — a mop up effort in a late season blow out.  Unfortunately for Heinie, the spitball had been outlawed as an unfair pitch; and was now being enforced. His major league career seemed over.

He bounced around the minor leagues for a while, gaining a reputation for a “rubber arm”; he was kind of an energizer bunny, as he regularly pitched 250-300 innings a season during those years in the minors. Finally, Meine just gave up, retiring at the end of the 1926 season after learning he’d be demoted to the Single-A level for the 1927 season.  It seemed he had no path to the majors, especially without his spitball. There were other options: he intended to make money in his beer-happy hometown of Saint Louis running a Speakeasy. Prohibition provided opportunity.

Like Pick’s Club Madrid,  Meine’s “soda bar” was located just outside the city limits, in a German neighborhood that was known for some reason as Luxemburg. His drinking establishment was so popular, he got the nickname “Duke of Luxemburg.”

When other major league teams came to Saint Louis (the city had two teams then, so it was often), Luxemburg was a frequent stop for refreshment.  After a few drinks the players often teased him about being a good minor league pitcher, but not being good enough to make it in the majors.

This was motivation. He’d show them! After a layoff of nearly two years, Meine returned to baseball. He was determined to make it as a “control pitcher”, one who could make the ball move any direction, who could constantly change speeds and hit any spot on the edge of the strike zone.  He became an early effective “junk” pitcher. He didn’t strike out many batters; they just hit soft grounders and popups. After a couple minor league seasons, he was eventually acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

As a 33 year-old rookie, Heinie Meine made his major league debut in 1929.  Unheard of even in those days.  After two moderately successful and contentious seasons with the Pirates (including missing much time with a bad case of tonsillitis) he set the baseball world on fire in 1931, leading the league in wins and innings pitched. A phenomenal record for a Pirate team that managed only 75 wins against 79 losses that year.

Henry “Heinie” Meine

Meine was a holdout for the 1932 season – one of the first to successfully do so – demanding more money.  Starting the season over a month late, after a contract renegotiation, he still managed 12 wins and nearly 200 innings.

But Meine was now approaching 37 years old.  His rubber arm was wearing out.  Still, he managed 15 wins and 207 innings in 1933, impressive totals for any age in any era. All the league’s pitchers with more wins than Meine were aged 31, or younger.

The next year, 1934, would be his last, as Meine was getting past his prime.  He still put up a winning record, at 7-6, but he knew the end of his career had come. If he’d stayed for just a small part of the next season, he’d have seen a national superstar who was well past his prime have one last unlikely and very dramatically successful day at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. A very wobbly 40-year old Babe Ruth hit three home runs in one game in late May … the last three he’d ever hit. Then promptly retired a few days later.

But by then Meine had already retired to run his saloon business full time.  With Prohibition over and his reputation for Gemütlichkeit, Meine’s career as saloon keeper was safe for years to come. And with some thanks to Prohibition and the customers who teased him, he had made his place in baseball’s record books.


Well dear readers, that was quite a ramble. Perhaps even a Keyhole for you.

I was long overdue for an essay and had a lot of thoughts in my head to somehow string together.

I hope you feel fulfilled and inspired, or at least changed for the better. 


Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing me at

[1] With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe fans.  Lifted almost verbatim from verse #1 of “The Raven.”

[2] Strip Malls have a rather interesting history in the US (and Canada).  Briefly: The preponderance of Strip Malls exploded in the 1950s in North America, along with the expanding post-war economy and our love affair with cars.  Ubiquitous on the edges of urban areas, and within the new suburban areas, they were a “strip” of available business spaces in a single building with parking in front.  Sometimes “L-shaped”, they lined major and semi-major roads, near residential areas, but seldom near central business districts.

They provided convenient, if not “drab”, space for respectable businesses like pharmacies, butcher shops, barbers, and sellers of fresh produce and groceries … where everyone seemed to know everyone else and friendly chit-chat was interwoven with business. In an America that no longer exists.

But cars got bigger and ever more plentiful.  Available parking for strip malls was too small. So then came the “Big Box” strip malls, with huge parking lots anchored by one or two major retailers, like Walmart, or Home Depot.  The small strip malls lost business, tenants and most public interest.  Also came the super malls … and strip malls were just so-o-o 1950s and ‘60s.

If not already scraped away, strip malls still exist, but ever more with spaces that are vacant, or populated by the likes of businesses I listed above. Always drab.  Always an eyesore.

[3] At about this time, only about 10% of US homes had televisions. Nearly 100% had radios, and people built their daily schedules around radio shows. By 1960, this had reversed: nearly 90% had TVs, and Americans lives revolved around their favorite shows, on only 3 networks.

Regarding Strip Mall history: One of the better sources I found was here.

Other stuff:

Heine Meine Biography:

Popularity of name “Hattie”:

Hate and Love: A Brief Essay on Race in America

Hate and Love: A Short Conversation on Race in America

The Clayton area of Denver is a historic neighborhood of vast cultural and architectural diversity, dating back to around 1880 – just about the time Colorado became a state. Unfortunately, Clayton currently also has one of the highest rates of crime of any of Denver’s 78 neighborhoods.

This past weekend a really awful crime was committed on personal property in Clayton; a family’s home was defaced with racist graffiti, shown here. As reported in the Denver Post, the family has decided to leave these most distasteful markings on display to show what is going on in their neighborhood. [1]

Hate graffiti, Denver. By Sam Tabachnik, Denver Post

Racism exists. It’s a fact that we’d often rather not be reminded of – especially in normally placid neighborhoods and social gatherings of white-collar light skin people – across the country.

Racism. It can be explained as ignorant; but that does not excuse it. It can be explained as something that is learned from family, or peers; but that does not excuse it. No explanation can excuse it.

Despite regular occurrence and reporting of such “real” hate crimes, I bring hope. A fair look at ourselves shows trends that among we Americans such dark, putrid idiocy is becoming a waning part of who we are as a country.

For evidence, I will herein only address the topic of interracial marriage, and our attitude toward it.

When, in 1967, the Supreme Court pronounced its unanimous 9-0 decision in Loving v Virginia – thus giving the Lovings and every other couple the sacred human right to marry whomever they love, regardless of race or where they live – only about 3% of marriages in the US were interracial. Today that number is over 17% – or more than one of every six. That is astounding, and it is good news.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving

More important, I believe, is the overall acceptance of interracial marriages. In 1958 approval of mixed black-white marriages stood at 4%. Today it is near 90%. Those ignorant bastards are a shrinking minority, and the trend is irreversible. I say: Good.

The internet has helped. So many seekers have gone in quest of extra-racial soulmates that sites have sprung up just for such searchers. Supply meets demand.

It’s not just apparent to me as I walk through airports, stores, museums, parks and zoos. I’ve noticed that TV ads, cereal boxes and store posters regularly show mixed-race families… With children.

Add to that the increasing frequency of inter-faith marriages. According to Pew Research, this has more than doubled from 1960 to 2014: from 18% to 39%. One easily suspects it is even higher now.

Taking both together (interfaith and interracial) the arithmetic says that well over one-half of marriages in the US are now very mixed by any standard, especially standards before 1960. This is a good thing, and a great positive point to keep in mind when confronted with the divisiveness so prevalent in our modern media and communications. The evidence suggests that most people can see through differences and get to agreement … even love.

On another tangent, I presume there are additional mixed couples who cross political boundaries. Well, good for them! In the current environment, it’s understandable that those numbers seem to be dwindling.

Back to interracial marriages and their beautiful mixed-race offspring. I will cite three of the most accomplished and good looking:

  • Barack Obama (½ black, ½ white);
  • Jennifer Lopez (Puerto Rican with mostly unknown mix of Spanish, Amerindian, Black); and
  • Tiger Woods (½ Asian, ¼ Black, 1/8 White, 1/8 Amerindian).
  • — [Let’s leave politics and life-style choices aside … but I’ll venture to mention that Woods did take a very blonde Swedish wife … who infamously did take a 9-iron to his car’s rear window – and to part of his cheek bone.]

I don’t expect that racism and the stupid, ignorant, hateful acts that come with it will completely disappear in my remaining lifespan. Or even my children’s. But the trend is real and irreversible. Thus, I do have hope that the simple, honest light of human love and dignity will continue to shine into the dark corners of hate whenever and wherever possible, and thereby extinguish that darkness before the 21st century ends.

Or, more simply: React to hating with Loving.


Joe Girard © 2019

Update note: the 17+% interracial marriage statistic includes all possibilities, not just black-white.  This is: all possible pairings of Amerindian, Asian, Black, Latino and European White.

You can add yourself to the “New Essay Notification List” by clicking here.

To contact Joe just email him at


[1] Hate Crime / Spray Paint in Denver:

[2] About the Clayton Neighborhood, Denver:

[3] Another source on frequency of interracial marriages:

On the Border — a Library in Defiance

The US-Canada Border Runs Through this Tiny Library.

Meet the only library that operates in two countries at once.

by Sara Yahm (c) of Atlas Obscura

Rumor has it the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian  province of Quebec (*) were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile. But the residents of the border towns didn’t particularly mind, mostly because they ignored it altogether.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands athwart the US-Canadian border, on the Derby Line

{Link to the entire article here.  For copyright purposes I did not want to cut and paste the entire piece.}



To contact Joe just email him at

You can add yourself to the “New Essay Notification List” by clicking here.

* Editor note: actually the British colony of Lower Canada.  The line was to be surveyed as the international boundary per the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812, which was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, and formally ended the war.  We will never know what would have happened if Col Andy Jackson and his ragtag army, allied with locals and pirates, had not defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, just a few weeks later.

What’s the G2?

What’s the scoop?  What’s the poop?  What’s the G2? What’s the 4-1-1??

Old Reliable — those suckers never wore out

These are all slang ways to ask about what is going on, what is the “insider” information.  In military parlance, the “2” group is intelligence.  “G2” refers to divisional (or above intelligence), whereas, say S2, is staff intelligence at a lower level, usually brigade.

A cool, hip way to ask “what’s going on” about 10 to 20 years ago was to say, “Hey, what’s the 4-1-1.” This was a play on the phone company’s information number, 4-1-1, a way to get phone number listings in most locations.

It’s a surprisingly little known fact that n-1-1 is a useful number in most locations in the US and Canada, and is governed by the North American Numbering Plan, which sets standards for how phone numbers are set up.  I just learned this last month (or was it the month before??).

What are the other n-1-1 codes or phone numbers? We all know about 9-1-1. That’s for emergencies. And now we all know about 4-1-1.  What about the others?

2-1-1 provides information and referrals to health, human and social service organizations. Think United Way, or how to get help with housing, health or simply paying the electric and water bills.

3-1-1 is for getting non-emergency help or assistance from local government (usually your municipality).  Some examples might be: an abandoned car, general public safety concern such as burned out street or traffic lights, dead animal removal, or roaming packs of dogs with foaming mouths.

5-1-1 is one that you might have seen before.  It is for getting information on local traffic conditions. In some areas you can also learn about public transportation and carpooling options at the 5-1-1 number.

6-1-1 is for reporting problems or concerns with phone equipment.  Many cell phone service providers use *6-1-1 to get help with your cell phone.

7-1-1 is used for the Telecommunications Relay Service to translate from TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) to speech, and vice versa. I’m not quite sure how it works, and hope to never need it (although my hearing is fading while the tinnitus is as strong as ever) … but it is important enough to be a federal code and have the FCC (federal communications commission) chime in that it must apply to VoIP phones, too.

8-1-1 has different purposes in the US and Canada.  In the US the number is used to get help locating buried utility lines.  You might have seen or heard the line: “Call before you dig. ” Well, the number to call is 8-1-1.  In Canada the number is for getting health care questions answered and in assisting with individual health care, such as for patients who are far-flung from most medical services and doctors. Canada is big … really big.

There is no 0-1-1 or 1-1-1 phone number.  This would conflict with rules of the aforementioned North American Numbering Plan.  0-1-1 is the code that an international phone call is being made.  After 0-1-1 the country code is expected to follow … so while you are waiting for someone to answer the call, the phone computers are waiting for you to enter a country code (e.g. 49 for Germany).  And 1-1-1 is equally confusing: the beginning “1” signals the computer you are calling long distance — the computer is then waiting for 10 more digits.

I suppose these rules could be modified to account for more n-1-1 codes.  I say that because it wasn’t too long ago when all area codes had a “0” or a “1” as the middle digit (out of three).  And local exchanges never had a “0” or a “1” as the middle digit. These have fallen away, driven mostly by the need for so many more phone numbers (and area codes).

It’s often said that the only thing constant is change.  So probably all the phone rules we now take for granted will change too.  Hey, who remembers rotary dialing?  Not that long ago, was it?

Now you have the poop, the G2, and the 4-1-1 on n-1-1 phone numbers.

Joe Girard © 2018

Supreme Thoughts

Supreme: 1) Highest in rank or authority; 2) Highest in degree or quality; 3) ultimate or final
–  Merriam-Webster

I recently read a fun and interesting article by Jonah Goldberg.  (Yes, I know – that Jonah Goldberg – please don’t roll your eyes and give up on me). At once randy and riveting – sending insults in many directions –  he does cite and make some interesting points.

After starting out on the topic of the weird magic of orbs, he quotes an Annandale Public Policy survey that determined 75% of American adults cannot identify all three branches of government. (Yes, I know – shocking).  And more than one-third of Americans cannot name a single right conferred by The Bill of Rights.  (As my wife and I say at this point: “And they vote.”)

Trump touches “The Orb” in Riyyad, Saudi Arabia, with Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sissi.

It’s a good enough starting point for me, but I’ll go off into theory and conspiracy-land instead of slinging poison-dart words.

The US Constitution’s first three Articles deal with the three branches of government.  Article I – The Congress; Article II – The Executive Branch; Article III – The Judicial.

Digging into Article III, it is interesting to note that the Constitution does not – I repeat: the Constitution does NOT – set the number of Supreme Court Justices.

Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

In fact, the number we have come to know and grow accustomed to – specifically, nine – has not always been the total number. The number is set by acts of Congress. And can be modified by acts of Congress.

When the Supremes first sat, in 1790, the odd number was six. [1].  Why is six odd? It is not, generally speaking, a good idea to have an even number of people deciding things.  Ties can result, and in the Supreme Court, ties lead to no action at all.  Whatever was law before is law after.

In 1807 they judiciously raised the number to seven.  In 1837 it was raised to our familiar nine (perhaps some sort of north-south compromise … I’ll have to look into it).  Oddly, in 1863 it was raised to an even ten.  [At this time the South had virtually no representation in Congress, they bolted to their own government, and it was pretty clear that the North would probably win the war. Not sure if that’s why a seat was added.]

Finally, in a fuss over President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor … remember, he was impeached and avoided getting removed from office by a single vote), the number was reduced back to seven.  This precluded Johnson, a Tennessee southerner, from appointing any judges.

Then in 1869, with Johnson out and Grant in office, the number was raised back to nine – I suppose to re-enforce the government position on Reconstruction. Or to spite Johnson.

And there, at a total of nine, is where the number of justices has remained for nearly 150 years.

The Supreme Court has had its own building, shown here, since 1935.

Upshot #1 is that Roosevelt’s plan to “pack the court” was not the least bit unconstitutional; although it did represent the sort of power grab that was a hallmark of the his presidency.  Roosevelt believed in “go big, or go home”; he attempted to jack up the number to fifteen, thus giving himself a slam dunk on any issue before the court. Probably no other president did more to establish the tradition of a very powerful executive branch.  [After Obama, and, especially, now Trump, it looks like people in both parties have recognized this danger].

Upshot #2 is a wild long-shot prediction – or perhaps observation of the possibility – that something supremely weird could happen, most likely in 2021: Expansion of the court to 11 members, or more.

My thought process. The backlash against the Republicans for painting themselves into a corner: first with Trump, and then with Moore. These will yoke their general popularity numbers in the ditch for years – and will almost surely result in Congressional seat losses in 2018.  Even popular presidents lose seats in off-year elections (see Obama in 2010).

Unless the Reps can bump Trump and field a Knight (or Dame [2]) in shining armor for 2020 – or the Dems run another truly “horrible” candidate, as in 2016 – there is a good chance the Dems will hold the Whitehouse and both branches of congress come 2021.

Here’s where current events come into play.

  • The Senate has gone “nuclear”. That means the good old days of needing 60% and plenty of compromise to get anything passed (used to be two-thirds) are basically gone.  No one plays nice anymore.  Could blame Harry Reid, but there’s not enough mud or ink for all the villains.  Now it takes only 50-50 (if you have the Whitehouse … the VP casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate).

[The lower house of Representatives has always been designed to go fast: only a simple majority has ever been required … except to commence the Amendment process]

  • Some Supremes are destined to retire, or pass away, soon. So, look for good odds that Trump will get to appoint at least one more judge, securing the Right’s slight advantage (currently approx. 5-4, even noting that Kennedy and – in a few cases – Roberts have swung left a few times).
  • Anthony Kennedy is 82. Although the left sees him as a hateful ideological enemy, he sides with them frequently and is always the “swing” vote in closely decided 5-4 cases.  He probably isn’t sure about Trump (who is?), and, as a relative moderate among right and left sharks, might be hanging on to see what happens in 2020.
  • Even older is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She is 85 years old and looks 105; her energy is visibly dwindling to all court observers.  A true Progressive/Leftist believer, she is surely hanging on, hoping that Dems win the Whitehouse in 2020.  But she could pass any day, and no one would be surprised.
  • Steven Breyer, at 79-1/2 could keel over too.

If Trump gets to appoint even one more judge, look for the Left and Dems to get super energized. Even more than the hornet’s nest we are observing now. Why? This could “lock in” a perceived rightward slant for at least another decade (even though this court did uphold “Obamacare”, AKA The Affordable Care Act, and Same Sex Marriage rights).

They will seek to overturn any perceived disadvantage by adding at least two seats to the court.

That’s my Far-Out-From-the Center-Field-Peanut-Gallery prediction for now.  Call me out on it in a few years if the Dems take the elections in 2018 and 2020.

Well, the future beckons.  Let’s be careful servants out there!

Cheers and best wishes for 2018.

Joe Girard © 2018


[1] Actually the number was five, although Congress set the number at six.  The sixth justice was not confirmed by the Senate until a few months later.

[2] The equivalent of Knight for females is Dame. When she receives her title, she is said to be “daymed”, not “knighted.”  Link

Coffee, Culture and History

Confession: I drink a lot of coffee.  Probably too much.  I also like to observe people.

Recently, when in coffee shops, I’ve started casually making a tally of the of people who are spending their time in these special places with their attention focused on some digitally connected device.

Not counting customers in line, or placing an order, the ratio consistently runs at around 65-75% percent.  My how things have changed.


The year 1683 marked one of the most dramatic turning points in European history, at least as pertains to central and western Europe. For one, it marked the high-water mark for Islamic influence and territorial martial acquisition by the Ottoman Turks.

To push their domination further and more completely into Europe, they laid siege to Vienna.  A massive army of 170,000 under Ottoman Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa — allied with rebellious Protestant Hungarians, who chafed under Austrian rule — surrounded the fortressed city and cut it off from supplies and communication.  And then proceeded to wear down the great city’s defenses over two months’ time.

Greatest extent of the Ottoman Turk Empire

There is no end to imagination of how the history of Europe would be different had this siege succeeded, as was expected by most. Or if the Ottoman armies had simply bypassed Vienna and moved onward into, say, modern day Germany and Poland.

But Vienna was the center of culture for many hundreds of miles, and – as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – was a much desired jewel for both the Turks and their rebellious Hungarian allies.

In early September, as the Viennese defenses were beginning to fail and capitulation seemed imminent, there was a great surprise!! A huge rescue force arrived. Many armies, formed from dozens of German and Polish principalities, appeared on the hills outside of Vienna.  The city had held on just long enough, despite a defense garrison of only just over 1,000 fighting defenders. Early on September 12th the Ottoman army moved to attack the rescuers.  But they badly underestimated the size and breadth of the northern allies’ position.  The Ottomans charged.  Most of the German and some of the Polish northern armies – usually estimated at some 74,000 men total – swept down to meet the Ottomans on their flank and rear.

The battle raged for some 12 hours; nearly a quarter of a million men engaged in bloody, ruthless, hand-to-hand combat. Attack and counter-attack. Over and over; back and forth. Just when it appeared as though the Turks might claim the day – and Vienna – they were blunted by another surprise.  The Poles had effectively kept 18,000 horse-mounted men in reserve; this because they were delayed in their long slog through the mountains and forests.  Immediately perceiving their opportunity, the Poles thundered along a wide front … down from the wooded hills into the plains, striking the Turks who were already engaged with Germans and other Poles. At some 18,000 strong, military historians regard this as the single largest cavalry charge in history.  [And, now that we have entered the asymmetric-terrorist-nuclear-digital-cruise missile-drone era of warfare, it will ever likely ever remain so.]

Caught quite unprepared – the battle had already waged 12 hours; where did these fresh horse-mounted troops come from?? – the Turks were delivered a coup de main, in fact, the coup de grace, by the Poles, who nonetheless suffered heavy casualties themselves.  After two more withering hours, the surviving Turks fled the battlefield, but only after butchering their prisoners and attempting to destroy much of their military matériel. They soon abandoned their encampments in nearly complete disorder. [1]

Vienna, the center of culture and power in central Europe, was saved.

The booty left behind by the Turks included innumerable tents, much grain, many sheep & cattle (soldiers had to be fed, after all), horses, mules, and, according to King John Sobieski who led the largest Polish army, “… no small number of camels.”

Two other items of interest they left behind.

The first was a vivid memory among the Viennese: a memory of countless Ottoman Turkish flags emblazoned with the Islamic crescent flying outside the city walls. As a consequence of this, the Viennese are said to have invented that delectable morning snack called the croissant (which in addition to being the French word for “croissant” is, of course, the French word for “crescent”).

This legend has much merit.  The croissant did not become hugely popular in France until nearly a century later, in 1770, when Marie Antoinette – she who was born in Vienna and of Austrian royal blood – arrived and married the young man who was soon to become Louis XVI. [2]

[To be fair, there is evidence that versions of the croissant were enjoyed in and around Vienna before 1683.  So perhaps the victory merely inspired its colossal growth in popularity.]

Ottoman Military Flag — 17th Century

The second item of interest left behind was mountains of coffee beans. The confused Viennese, Germans and Poles thought this might be some sort of food source. Ugg, it tasted awful. Perhaps it was food for cattle, or camels. But they wouldn’t touch it either. So they began burning it as fuel; mmmmm – it did smell pretty interesting.

Coffee beans, grinding and imbibing for solo pleasure and social drinking was known to few in Europe, principally only the Mediterranean trade-centric towns like Venice. But it was unknown inland and to the west.

It took enterprising world-traveler and Viennese citizen Georg Franz Kolschitzky to figure out the secret. Through his earlier travels in eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, he had learned the magic of roasting and grinding the beans for use in preparing something very akin to the stimulating beverage we know today.

And so was born the legacy of the Viennese coffee house.

The coffee cache rescued, Kolschitzky’s coffee recovery became the basis of the very first coffee house, as we know it. In fact, there is a street named after him and this “gift” in Vienna: Kolschitzkygasse.

There were tables for cards. Tables for pool. Available newspapers and pamphlets provided stimulus for conversation. Life slowed down long enough to enjoy the company of old friends, and new acquaintances: to chat about current events, young children, doddering uncles, or a spouse’s quirks.

Please excuse me while I tell an old but appropriate story.

A professor once placed a large glass carafe on a table in front of his class and poured it full of golf balls. He asked the class if the carafe was full. They all said “yes”.

He then took out a bag of marbles, and poured them in too, bouncing and jiggling the carafe, until not a single marble more could be added. Is it full now? Most still said “yes.”

He then produced a large bag of sand, and poured that in as well, until every conceivable pore was filled. Is it full now? Still, most said “yes.”

Then he walked over to his pot of freshly brewed coffee. He poured two cups and dumped them into the carafe before it came right to the brim.

Is it full now? Yes, they all agreed.

The professor concluded. Yes it is now full. And here is your lesson for the day. Life is never so full that you cannot enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend. Especially if you take care of the big things first.

The concept of the coffee house – a place to catch up with friends, chat idly or heatedly – took off and spread across Europe. And came to America. It was a beautiful thing.

But now I see all those people with their faces and attention drawn to electronic screens – not even looking or talking to their friends alongside them who are at the very same table (who are doing the very same thing) – and I can’t help thinking: have we lost something important? Is our social fabric decaying that quickly?

If I had a coffee shop, I think there were would be no wifi and I’d make it a faraday cage so customers couldn’t get data or calls on their phones… unless they went outside to the sidewalk tables. I’d have a payphone and front desk phone. But, I would supply free music, newspapers and refills. It would bomb terribly, wouldn’t it?

Wishing you peace and hoping to share a cup or two with any, or all, of you in the near future.[3] Perhaps we can share a croissant too, and raise our cups in a toast to the salvation of the good parts of European culture; as long as we take care of the big things first.


Joe Girard © 2017

[1] At the battle’s conclusion, the “Christian” victors returned the favor by slaughtering many of the surviving Turks who could not escape and could not be exchanged.
[2] Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 232

[3] In MY version of the story, the professor poured in a couple of beers.


I often miss what’s going on right in front of me. Just ask my wife.  That includes before the brain injury.

For example, evidently there is a significant amount of cheating going on in marriages.  In anywhere from 25% [1] to 80% [2] of marriages at least one partner cheats. Eventually.

Now, I have  known literally hundreds and hundreds of couples in my lifetime.  I can cite exactly one case of cheating; and that was so obvious that even a drunk couldn’t miss it.

But, statistically speaking, I must have known many couples where this had happened.  Even if it was only once.

I have no idea which couples to guess. Zero.

Likewise, I suppose I must be missing similar clues with regard to  sexual bad behavior and sexual predation.  Really.  There seems now to be no end to the list of men being credibly accused of this vile behavior. In fact, as a candidate, Donald Trump even identified himself as an offender on tape.  I have to wonder: Have I missed this, too, in plain sight?

“Just what is going on with men?” I found myself wondering aloud at work the other day (a dangerous thing), asking no one in particular. “What is it with all these creepy old men? How the mighty and admired have fallen: Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Al Franken. Who next?” A co-worker, just out of sight, immediately piped up: “My news feed says Garrison Keillor!”

Garrison Keillor? You’ve got to be kidding me! But no, it’s true.


I found myself browsing the screenplay script for Casablanca a few days ago. Why? I was writing an email and wanted to get a quote exactly right. I’ve written about Casablanca before, in That’s Entertainment.  I probably will again. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a powerful story of human struggle and emotion amidst the wild throes of history. Classic Good vs. Evil, with a few gray areas. In That’s Entertainment I delved into the personal lives of two actors who played important supporting roles.

One character I didn’t discuss is Louis Renault, the French Prefect of Police in the city of Casablanca.  Claude Raines plays the part and — even as a supporting character — he nearly steals the whole show.  He played “a poor, corrupt public official” so well, and with such flair, that he earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. [He lost to Charles Coburn, from The More, The Merrier, which I’ve never seen]. It was Claude Raines who delivered the famous and frequently spoofed line: “I am shocked — shocked!! — to find that there is gambling going on here!”

I started reading at the scene where Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) sits down and talks to Sam, the piano player (Dooley Wilson).  She finally convinces him to play and sing the song “As Time Goes By” by saying “Play it once, Sam, for old time’s sake” and then humming a few bars for him.  He can’t resist.

“You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”

Once you know the story, you realize this is a pretty emotional scene.  Each one is having difficulty letting go of memories.

I kept reading.

The panache of Raines as Prefect Renault came out more clearly than ever before.  I’ve seen the movie many dozens of times.  Yet reading the script — while seeing the scenes only in my head — was different. The story was oddly different.  Somehow clearer.

Renault is a powerful man, but in a difficult position. As Prefect of Police, he is, by law, one of the most powerful people in Casablanca, French Morocco.  Virtually no one can leave Casablanca without his signature on an exit visa. Many people are in Casablanca because they are refugees from Europe — from the expanding Nazi empire — and they wish to do exactly that: leave Casablanca for some safe place, especially nearby Lisbon, in neutral Portugal, from where they can sail freely to America.

But Renault is in a bind, too.  As an official of Vichy France, which is subject to the whims of Nazi-occupied France, he must be careful to not bring too much attention to himself.  “In Casablanca, human life is cheap”; even his. Therefore, he permits very few people to leave.  His choices for who leaves are typically based on two types of bribes.

The first type of bribe is cash.  In fact, he probably is poorly paid for his responsibilities. This makes sense. The second type of bribe can be guessed by the fact that he is probably a lonely man; your guess assisted by inference from a scene you will please allow me to describe.


Rick Blaine, the protagonist played by Humphrey Bogart, owns and operates a night club in which he also operates an illegal casino in the back; a casino which is an open secret.

A young wife — a refugee from Bulgaria — approaches Blaine, asking whether Renault can be trusted to keep his word. Blaine acts as if he’s not paying the young lady much attention, answering somewhat curtly and rudely. He soon abruptly cuts off the conversation. He walks away, and goes directly to the Roulette wheel, where the young lady’s husband is gambling and losing badly.

He is down to a final few chips, about to quit. Blaine says softly to him, but loud enough for the croupier to hear: “Have  you tried twenty-two tonight?”

Blaine: “Have you tried 22 tonight?” … while eyeing his croupier

The young man puts his chips on 22.  Blaine and the croupier exchange knowing glances. Renault, at a nearby table, takes notice of Blaine’s presence, and with whom he is speaking.

The marble lands on 22.  A 35-1 winner!

“Twenty-Two, Black” — a winner. Roullette is French for Little Wheel.

The young man is about to pick up his pile of chips.  Blaine barks: “Leave it!!” He knows the young man does not have nearly enough money, yet.

The marble again lands on 22.  A gigantic pile of chips — probably representing the illegal casino’s entire profits for the night — now rests near 22 on the board.

Blaine snaps: “Cash it in and never come back!”

At a nearby table, Prefect Renault’s interest in this exchange of words and chips grows to what could be interpreted as alarm.  The young man soon openly approaches Renault with a fantastic pile of money.  This is clearly going to be an Exit Visa bribe.  But it is clearly also not what Renault intended. When it is established that they can meet at his office at 10AM  the next morning, “to do everything business-like”, Renault goes over to Blaine and says: “You’re a rank sentimentalist. … Why do you interfere with my little romances?”

Oh my gosh!  How had I missed this for decades? Right there in front of me.  Renault was using his position of power for sexual gratification.


I don’t think any less of Casablanca, the actor Raines or the character Renault because of that.  It is still a great movie and, in the end, Renault turns out to be something of a hero by standing up to Nazidom … at some sacrifice to himself.  In fact, the movie ends with Blaine and Renault at the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  Presumably based upon their mutual interest in fighting fascism.


I do, however, think a lot less of the XY half of the human race about now. I have been such a naïve simpleton. I know that most men are not pigs.  At least I think not. Certainly none with whom I am acquainted — so far as I know. But with such a cannonade of credible accusations my confidence in the gallantry of the testerone-half has been severely shaken.

Hey XY.  That’s you, men!!!! Let’s start noticing and calling out each others’ piggish behavior and speech.  And holding ourselves and each other to high standards.  The world really needs it.

“You must remember this” —

“The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.”

The world will indeed always welcome lovers and sentimentalists and romancers. Even when they fail. But not pigs; especially when they succeed.



Joe Girard © 2017




Pet Peeves – I

The most important thing about Pet Peeves is that everyone has them. Things that bug us. A careful thing to remember about Pet Peeves is that it’s everyone’s Pet Peeve when they encounter someone who has a lot of griping to get off their chest. So I’ll keep this short — for now. That’s why it’s Pet Peeves – I.

ARGGGG. Pet Peeves.

Warning: Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire took up six volumes.  Euclid’s Elements, thirteen.

The potty.  The restroom.  The powder room.  The necessary room. The Loo.  Room 100.  The WC.  The toilet. Or, as Americans call it: The Bathroom.

Why do we do that?  We certainly don’t intend to bathe there, unless you include a little splashing at the sink.

  1. People — especially men — who don’t wash their hands after using the convenience.  Really? You are the reason I don’t touch restroom door handles.
  2. Toilet Paper Over or under.  Can we get it over with? The free end goes over the roll; it should not come from underneath. Why? You can find the end easier.  You can tear off the paper easier.  You don’t have to risk scraping your knuckles on the wall behind the paper. And that’s what the inventor, Seth Wheeler, had in mind when he patented the perforated paper roll dispenser in 1891.  See for yourself.  Here it is.

    Inventor Wheeler says: “Over”

    However, if you have a cat (or two, or more! — you crazy cat people) I get why under appeals to you: it’s more difficult to get the roll spinning and unraveling if the free end is behind.  But I don’t have cats.

    And cats can’t explain “under” in offices, restaurants, and other public places. [1]

  3. Men. Seat up or Seat down?  I don’t care.  Just do the right thing.  Not doing the right thing is a daily double of Pet Peeves for me.
    a) If you’re gonna put the seat up, fine.  Just put it down when you’re done.  Men, I know it’s hard to believe, but there are women in this world who hate to have to put the seat down (that means touching it — ewwww).  Get over it.  I grew up in a house with two sisters who came marching down the birth canal right behind me (ok, 15 months and 36 months younger).  If I can do it, so can you.
    b) If you’re gonna pee with the seat down, then by gawd please sit.  Your aim is not good enough to completely miss where the next sorry soul will have to sit.  You lazy bastard. Honest to Pete, guys. Don’t ruin our delicate balance of the sexes by being stupid.
  4. Still on hygiene, but no more potty talk.  Cold and flu season is approaching.  Time to address some PPs there as well.
    a) Covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing.  My Pet Peeve is when people do this directly into their hand.  Particularly the palm of their hand.  Well, isn’t that just dandy?  Hi! Nice to meet you, too.  What else are you gonna touch besides my hand?  Please, please, please use a tissue, hankie or the crook of your elbow.
    b) That quick-and-dirty, sneaky, casual nose wipe.  Don’t think no one saw you. And even if no one did, do you think that nasty slimy mess your sniffer was trying to get rid of cares where it goes next?

That’s enough ewwww and gross for now.  I don’t want to be your new Pet Peeve.

Stay careful and healthy out there.

Oh! The moral to the post??  Cat people shouldn’t marry dog people.  Corollary: Over people shouldn’t marry under people.

Feel free to comment below or Email Joe with your own Pet Peeves.  Or to just berate me.

Joe Girard © 2017

[1] There is a lot (I mean a LOT) of internet based discussion on this topic.  Surveys nearly all fall in the range of 65-80% prefer OVER, and much of the remainder don’t really care.

In Search of Meaning

1. “For the meaning of life differs from man to man,
from day to day and from hour to hour.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general
but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

— Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning)

As mentioned earlier I endured nearly eleven years of being pracitcally illiterate during my adolescent and young adult years.  Obviously I missed out on a lot.  During my ravenous quest to catch up — and become literate in every sense of the word, including culturally and intellectually — I came across Viktor Frankl’s classic of Existentialism: “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Someone told me it was important.  They were right.

No synopsis can do it justice, although many have tried.  With many millions of copies sold since its first publication in 1946, you can and should read it yourself, if you haven’t already. In fact, it’s time for me to read it again.

Frankl completed the manuscript of nearly 200 pages in only nine days.  He was an Austrian Psychiatrist who had only weeks before been liberated after enduring three years of “housing” in Jewish ghettos and four concentration camps — including Auschwitz and Dachau.

It is short, but dense and challenging in several dimensions: emotional, thought provoking, revealing of human nature. Recollection: It is translated from the German, so sometimes reads a bit stilted and awkward.

If we learn nothing else from Frankl’s deeply reflective work: A) We have it so good we don’t even know how good we have it; and B) Our life has meaning … if we decide that it does; in some cases, making that decision is a prerequisite for life itself.

Those dark 11 years: One of the things I evidently missed out on was a meaning to life.


Indeed, I — in the late autumn of life — now feel a bit lost for “meaning.” Meaning varies not just “from day to day and hour to hour” as Frankl said; it varies with the seasons of life. Now at the end of a “successful” career — and as a more-or-less empty nester — I find myself musing on this very topic.  Frankl reminds me — reminds ALL OF US — that this is up to each one of us, to decide for ourselves.

I have a friend who has ALS.  Holy moley. That’s an existential crisis if there ever was one. Compared to Frankl and my friend … heck, compared to almost all of humanity who has ever lived … I have no problems.  Like Frankl, my friend has embraced a marvelous attitude about his situation.  He relishes the reality and the challenge. And he remains engaged with the concept of meaning in his life. He realizes he still has choices … and he is making them.

2. “Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl

Well before my ALS-stricken friend’s awareness of his upcoming struggles with this horrible disease, he made a decision to begin raising service dogs for children with “silent” disabilities, such as diabetes, seizure disorders and severe food allergies.  The results of this work are truly life-changing … and incrementally world-changing.  In time, our Kiwanis Club adopted this effort as our Flagship Project.

He remains engaged in training dogs, families and new trainers … despite his failing health. He sets an intimidating and inspirational example.

Reflection. To make a difference: affect someone’s life positively. I believe that the “save the world” approach is a poor investment of time and treasure.  At least for me. Best to help one or a few people at a time.  And to make a difference that impacts the future, be a positive influence on a young person’s life.

My stricken friend has this for an email tagline, and I may start borrowing it.

“A hundred years from now, it won’t matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove…..but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”  —  Forest E. Witcraft


With all the furore over DACA lately, superimposed on the disasters of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s re-assuring to remember that America is overwhelmingly, by and large, a generous and merciful nation.

Americans participate in donating their time and money at a higher rate than almost any other place in the world. Although only 60-70% actually give money during any year, when rated as percentage of GDP, the US is the world’s most generous nation, donating to organizations both domestic and international … all efforts to improve the human condition across the globe. This of course does not count government foreign aid.

Toss in the fact that Americans are also most likely to help a random stranger and they are the world’s most generous folks as well.

In time, God permitting, and after many months, the affected communities will recover, thanks to human resilience, generosity and mercy.


I’ve changed my home page to show a few of the charities my wife and I support. The explanations and links are duplicated below.

[Feel free to comment or Email Joe.]

We’ve been blessed in many ways, including being financially healthy enough to financially support meaning in life. Reprised, here are some of our Favorite Charities, almost all focused on children.

Foothills Kiwanis Club Foundation: Primary activity is providing service dogs for economically disadvantaged children with invisible ailments like seizure disorders, diabetes and severe food allergies.
Also supports many child-related organizations with funds and manual labor, including Sweet Dream in a Bag, who provide personalized bedding for children in social and economic crises.

Alert Service Dogs for Kids: photo copyright of Foothills Kiwanis Foundation

Rocky Mountain Honor Flight: Treating WW2 and Korean War vets with extreme dignity and gratitude by providing “red carpet treatment” for tours — with personal escorts — of monuments and historic sites in Washington, DC.

Smile Train: Repairing cleft pallets in third world countries. The stigma of this unfortunate defect is too difficult to understand and puts victims at an impossible social and economic disadvantage.

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental IllnessDepression is epidemic.  Suicide is at the highest rates in several generations.  And it is the second leading cause of death among 15-35 year olds. This age group is as disaffected as they have ever been.  I weep when I consider the long term consequences of this on families, social fabric, our nation and the world.

Maji Safi Group: Bringing clean water and safe hygiene practices to villages in Tanzania.

Ethiopian Education Fund: enable disadvantaged youth and young adults, especially girls, in the Kaffa zone of southern Ethiopia to realize their full educational potential. Just one or two more years of education can make a huge difference.

Real Choices Pregnancy Centers: Helping woman in pregnancy crises in all aspects.

Wish there was peace on earth, but it seems now that it cannot happen anytime soon — at least in our lifetime.  May it come some day decades hence … and may we pull together to make that more possible.


Joe Girard © 2017



Modest Proposals for American Football and Elections

Somethings need to change.  And I’m not shy about making some suggestions from an “originalist” point of view.

American football and American elections are dying. Let’s make some changes.

Football first.  The games are too darned long. And unnecessarily violent.

Does anyone remember why there is a two-minute warning?  Well I’m old enough to remember that the remaining time shown on the stadium clock was unofficial.  It was just the best guess of a skilled guy up in the booth.  Imagine the home team driving for a winning score with 30 seconds left.  They could try for a field goal, or try to get a little closer and score a touchdown.  And then — shockingly and suddenly — the head referee blows his whistle and announces the game is over. They never got a chance to do either one.  The game — just — ended. Because the time on the stadium clock was unofficial.

The two-minute warning was just that: a warning.  The stadium clock might show 1:32, or 2:32, left in the game.  But no worries, the head referee would stop the game, walk over to each head coach, and announce that there was precisely two minutes remaining. Plan accordingly. Then the game would resume.

Now, decades later, the two minute warning is just a chance to sell more commercial time.  It’s a waste of fans’ time. And a free time out for the team that should probably lose anyhow.

More wastes of time.  TV timeouts.  Team A scores a touchdown.  What happens? TV timeout. Then there is a kickoff.  What happens after the kickoff (which is usually a boring touchback) … another TV timeout.  That’s about 5 minutes of wasted time for a score.

Plus, most punts are followed by several minutes of TV timeouts.  Yes, TV and commercials pay those insanely stupidly high salaries.  I guess that’s why there’s Tivo; to tolerate those 4 hour games.

If you’ve ever been at a football game, you’ll notice all these awkward moments when the teams are just standing around for several minutes.  What’s up? They are waiting for the TV commercials to end. That’s one of the main reasons real Football fans (read: soccer) just don’t “get” American Football.  All that standing around time; all those commercials.

I have more ideas, but will stop with this.  Who really cares if the receiver gets two feet in-bounds? That concern leads to more replay reviews, which can take several minutes a piece.  Go with one foot, like college.  It leads to more scoring, more offense and a faster clock.  That’s what fans want anyhow.

Here’s another one, but not so much about wasted time.  When a player commits a personal foul he should get red-carded, like in soccer.  Then his team must play with only 10 players (or less if more players commit such an egregious foul). Ok, maybe it’s like hockey and it’s only for two or five minutes.

Dead ball personal fouls completely mess me up.  Apologies to non-football people, but consider the following situations.  Team A punts to Team B, who returns the ball a few yards after a tackle. It’s first and 10.  After the play is over, a player from Team B commits a flagrant personal foul for a 15-yard penalty.  Why is it not then first and 25 when the offense comes on?  Nope, first and 10.

Also I’ve seen where team B’s offense converts a first down, and then there’s a dead ball personal foul.  The ball is moved back 15 yards, but it’s first and 10.  Why?  Penalize the malicious penalty. The current process is going way too easy on violence.

Politics and elections have gotten way too divisive.  Yet, the electorate has told us something. Mrs Clinton received 48% of the popular vote; Mr Trump 46%.  We are divided.

Yet Mr Trump won 58% of the electoral votes.

The problem is not the Electoral College system, per se, but the way most states choose to allot their Electoral College votes: winner take all.  Even if the winner gets less than 50%!  For example, in my home state of Colorado, Mrs Clinton took 48% of the popular vote, Mr Trump only about 43%. And yet Mrs Clinton was awarded ALL 9 Electoral Votes (although at least one “faithless” EC voter from Colorado tried to cast votes for someone other than Clinton; and were thrown out by the Colorado Secretary of State).

As Electoral College voters are not permitted to vote their conscience in most states, and the division of votes in most states clearly does NOT reflect the balanced concern of the voters, I make the following suggestion.

Simply: award each states’ Electoral College votes according to how that state votes on a pro rated percentage basis. Assigning only whole numbers of votes, and using the Girard-system, this past US presidential election would have ended up: Mrs Clinton, 261 votes.  Mr Trump 261 votes.  The remainder would have gone to Gary Johnson (14), Jill Stein (1) and Even McMullin (1).

For example: Instead of ALL California’s 55 votes going to Clinton, Trump would’ve gotten 18; Gary Johnson 2; and Jill Stein 1. Further, amazingly, in Wyoming Clinton would’ve gotten 1 vote, and another 3 in Alabama and 7 in Georgia.

In such a situation where no candidate receives a clear majority (270 required out of 538 total) the House of Representatives must decide among the top 3.  Almost certainly they would have eventually chosen Trump. But he would’ve had to negotiate with the likes of Paul Ryan, and he certainly would have been much less of a braggart about his “electoral landslide.” (In the final actual tally, Trump had 304, and Mrs Clinton 227.  There were 7 “faithless electors”; 2 fled Trump, and 5 left Clinton).

Speaking of the House of Representatives, I have one final modest proposal for these bi-annual elections as well.  We all know that many Congressional Districts are highly gerrymandered by political parties to give themselves as many seats in congress as possible. And we know that many Representatives have been in their seats for decades.

Here is my proposal. It has two parts.  First, award a state’s seats proportionally.  Suppose a state gets 10 Congressional Seats. Each party submits the name of 10 candidates.  There are no districts. There is no gerrymandering — at least for CD (Congressional District) seats. Award the seats just like for the presidential electors.

And here is the kicker.  Pick the “winning” names randomly from the original slate.

For example: In Colorado the seats would have been awarded 3 Democrat, 4 Republican and 0 Independent  (the same as the final turned out). Now the excitement starts: Have a lottery show!!  Pick the names from ping pong balls.  No more safe seats.  Even if your party wins 6 out of 7 seats, there is no guarantee that your #1 candidate gets picked. Eventually a de facto term limit kicks in.

Have fun with that.  And it’s all constitutional!!

The two-party system, with entrenched and loud-mouthed politicians, will certainly kill us.  I could at least have football as a distraction as we swirl down the toilet bowl, but they need to fix that too!


Joe Girard (c) 2017


Remembering Lisa

By Ken Hutchison, Feb 3, 2017

Yesterday was a sad day for me. I walked in the building, along with hundreds of my co-workers, former co-workers and friends. I was handed the folded piece of paper; on it was one of my photographs. It’s happened before to me. I should be used to it, but not this time.

It was the portrait I took of Lisa Hardaway (that’s DR. Lisa Hardaway). In the photo, she’s holding a scale model of the New Horizons spacecraft. The spacecraft that passed Pluto last year, capturing the first ever, high resolution, up close and personal images of the furthest thing in our solar system. I remembered taking the shot; it was for various press releases, social media, education outreach, and because she was recently named as the Engineer of the year by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Lisa was so proud, and who wouldn’t be, because that’s the Holy Grail of aerospace engineering. Lisa was the program manager for the Ball part of the mission.

Then, on the paper, were the dates. The date she was born, and the day when she left us with only her memories and legacy. On the cover were two other pictures, of her and her husband, and the shot of her kids. Lisa, mother, wife, friend, co-worker, and damned smart American, died at the young age of 50.

We filed into a beautiful light filled room, hundreds standing and sitting, hugs, tears, handshakes that turn into hugs because men have that awkward “do I hug?” thing that we do.

The Rabbi came out. Now, I’m a flunky Presby kid from Pueblo, not exposed to the Jewish religion at all. I’ve never been to a Jewish funeral, only a wedding. That dance with the bride and groom in chairs is, well, different from our fussy traditions. Looks a lot more fun.

This, hands down, was one of the most beautiful services I’ve been to. The Rabbi began with what I guess was a call to worship or mourning, I’m not sure. It was Yiddish, ( 2/4/2017, author’s update: Hebrew, not Yiddish; pardon my ignorance) and my depth of that language is about as deep as saying “Oy!” Still, it was haunting, moving, having an ancient tone of thousands of years long. The Rabbi spoke, and then gave an outline of who would be talking with us. First up was her husband, James.

I’ve known James for years as a customer and colleague. He proceeded to wrap the entire room around his little finger with stories of how they met, the food and wine they loved, their children, and the things he learned from his wife. The last thing he mentioned that he learned was “courage”. At that point, and that point alone, is when his voice broke… Along with all of the hearts in the room, for we all felt the same. Next, her daughter Jaella Hardaway came up, and captured the room with her charm and grace, her laughter, humor, and stories, some of which she’d never shared. That girl has a future, you could see why Lisa was so proud of her.

There were a couple of more speakers, family and friends. Then the Rabbi addressed the family. At this point, the tears started for me, because she was a rockstar with her words. She asked the folks in the room that would be willing to provide life guidance to the children should they ever need it to stand up.

The entire room stood.

Then there were the closing prayers, chants and other Jewish customs which were alien to me, and the service was over. Upon exiting, I walked past the two men I noticed on the way in. They had pistols on their belts…private armed guards. You see, the Jewish Community Center had a bomb threat phoned in two days prior, along with dozens others around the country.

It was not only a sad day for us, but for our country as well, when those who are grieving need to be protected.

May God bless the family of Lisa Hardaway.

Editor’s Notes: Ken Hutchison is the Senior Staff Photographer at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation.  He also gives tours, entertains high level guests (Congress persons, Generals) and is a heck of a writer.  He lives in Longmont, Colorado.
I also had the honor of working with Lisa on the New Horizons mission (Ball’s instrument was called “Ralph”). Ball is a very close community.

Long View — 2016

Confessions lead to perspective.

Confession 1: I did not vote for Barack Obama.  Try not to be shocked.  And yet, a month after his first election I wrote an upbeat essay with a generally positive outlook for the United States and its new president. Remembering 1968; Honoring 2008

I recall very well watching his inauguration, in the living room of our friends, the Kroesens, in Amsterdam. I beamed with pride for my country.  I was happy that they saw me glowing. Happy that the world saw our country aglow. We were in the spotlight, and in a good way for a change.

We were showing the world how it’s done.  No, not the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural parties, celebrations, balls and lime-light performers.  Toss in an eloquent speech.  That’s all just puffery. Rather, I was proud of how we had an election that nearly amounted to a revolution; yet the transition was smooth and peaceful.

An inaugural swearing in is a historical event.  Obama’s even more so. People of all shades and political persuasions were invited to — and attended — the inauguration. Politically and culturally they were diverse; as citizens they were united. It’s hard to believe now, but President Obama enjoyed very favorable ratings among Conservative and Republicans in his first days as president, per Gallup. How quickly things changed.

Confession 2: I did not vote for Donald  Trump.  Try not to be shocked.[1] Combined with confession 1, and the fact I vote in every election (but only once), this puts me in a very, very tiny minority. Nearly alone, I’m pretty sure, and with a very special perspective. It’s like I’m perched on high, on city hall’s mezzanine veranda, looking out over a vast and busy city square with its throngs of people: many going about their business in the market, yet many, many others worked up and fussing about in emotional tizzies. The more they talk with each other, the deeper their dithering tizzies become.  From this perspective I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be upbeat.

We are as divided as we’ve ever been.  Scores of politicians, personalities and pontificating people find it necessary to not only reject the incoming president, but to make it a point to protest and not participate.

I ascribe much of our deep political divisions to the behavior of our last two presidents, particularly #44 [2], and to the apparent total inability of either major party to come up with a likeable and “clean” candidate.

Yes, Trump speaks, acts and tweets divisively.  Even childishly.  I cannot condone that.  Reacting in kind does nothing to unite us.

I know scads and scads of people who supported and voted for Mrs Clinton.  Since I’ve not voted for a presidential winner in nearly three decades, I should be able to understand how  they feel.  Yet I don’t. I feel miles and miles away — a universe away. I’ve never experienced such depth and breadth of disdain for a president-elect in my entire adult life. This doesn’t bode well. Can’t people at least wait until he’s president, and in the meanwhile celebrate our American democracy, with its bloodless changing of the guard?

I also know quite a few Trump supporters. Not one is racist, homophobic, stupid, unthoughtful, hateful or a Troglodyte.  They seemed to me to go about their citizens’ duty with a sort  of  grim determination, like a detective investigating a grisly crime.  “I’m not happy about it, and it’s dirty work — but is has to be done.”

Quite a few left-leaning luminaries will be attending Mr Trump’s inauguration.  I applaud them.

Begin with the Clintons.  Together again.

Jimmy Carter.

And of course, Barack Obama.

And the 200 or so Democratic Senators and Congressmen who will attend.  Good for them all.  This is not their day to grandstand.  It is America’s day.

If we cannot stand united to honor our democratic functions, then we have little chance of uniting when destiny calls upon us to deliver our very best in her hours of greatest need.


Joe Girard (c) 2017

[1] I almost wear this as a badge of honor.  I vote for losers.

[2] Almost immediately after the 2009 inauguration, President Obama took to belittling, lecturing and (legislatively) ignoring Republicans.  With both houses, he lectured: “Elections have consequences.”  And “We won, you lost.”  And finally, “Eat your peas.”

This demeaning behavior was the cake. The thick icing was a nearly perpetual state of campaigning, and passing of legislation without so much as consulting the other side of  the aisle, nor soliciting a vote of support.  Message: you’re not needed here.

Hope for Ferguson

Or … finding hope in a Brewery and Zantorian.

December 4, 2016

Zantorian gives me hope for Ferguson.  And hope this country.

My wife and I travel rather frequently to the Saint Louis, Missouri, area.  The story of how we came to enjoy our little get-aways, away from beautiful Colorado, to the rusty and gray heartland Midwestern city will, perhaps, come in a later essay, or memoir.

As there have been no noteworthy protests, or riots, or fires in the past year, or so, many have forgotten about Ferguson, a community near St Louis. We have not.

As quick refresher, on August 9, 2014, 18-year old Ferguson resident Michael Brown was shot and killed on a street in Ferguson by police officer Darren Wilson. This was the spark.  Protests followed, and quickly by riots and arson and looting.

Black Lives Matter, which was birthed by the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin the year earlier, organized mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country, and sprung to newfound significance in the St Louis area. These were BLM’s first in-person demonstrations.

When a St Louis County Grand Jury declined to indict Officer Wilson that November, heated protests began anew.  Some violence flared up, and then – again – fires were set.  To businesses and, this time, to police cars.

My wife and I visited Ferguson several months later, in early 2015.  Burned out businesses were evident. Up and down both Florissant Avenues (the city has two major north-south streets named Florissant, the eponymous name of an adjacent city, just north of Ferguson). Also a few abandoned burned out businesses in nearby Dellwood, which didn’t seem to make the news.

Among all that despair and destruction, we found hope … in a brewery.

The Ferguson Brewery serves fine craft beers and a mixture of classic American cuisine – from burgers, to St Louis-style Barbeque, to Mexican – in its lovingly refurbished 100-year building at 418 South Florissant.

Ferguson Brewery

Ferguson Brewery

We stopped in, not knowing what to expect, just after visiting the floral memorial at the site of young Mr Brown’s death, on Canfield Drive.

Even on a weekday afternoon, toward the end of what you’d consider lunch hour, the place was nearly full.  Patrons included blacks and whites, some sitting together, all chatting, enjoying the food, the beer and the atmosphere.

I’d met people from Ferguson, and the surrounding area, who were proudly pro-Ferguson.  They believed the community was much stronger than what the news had shown.  A BUYcott were organized to get St Louis locals to go to Ferguson and patronize local businesses.

I was hopeful.  There seemed to be promise of recovery and the Brewery was a good sign of it. But things soon changed.

Fire broke out again, in June, 2015.  At the friendly little brewery and restaurant a fluorescent light was left on overnight in the kitchen. Sadly, the aged wiring was not up to the job, and a fire broke out.  It spread quickly. By the time the fire was discovered around 2AM, by a policeman on patrol, the fire was extensive.  There wasn’t much for the heralded and award-winning Ferguson Fire Department to do but control the fire. [1 [2]

There was significant damage to the kitchen, the interior building structure, roof and all furnishings.  Worst was perhaps the smoke and water damage.  Just about everything had to go.

Like many other of the local businesses, victims of fires, the Ferguson Brewery shut down. But not for long.

Brewery owner, Mike Loreno, set his mind to re-opening as soon as possible.  Brewery operations were moved off-site.  Restoration to the structure relied on Loreno’s will, as well as a tight relationship the local restaurants had formed with each other – and the community – to stay afloat during the difficult times of the riots.

Ferguson pulled together for their brewery, raising funds and pitching in.  It’s the kind of positive news you don’t get on CNN or Fox.  Just not sensational enough.

Less than 6 months later, Ferguson Brewery — in the same 100-plus year old building, complete with kitchen, new brewery and dining area — was open for business.

My wife and I stopped in last weekend, on our way out of St Louis, to Lambert Airport.

It was beautiful.  We were struck by how everything simply looked and smelled splendid.  Evidently the bar – the centerpiece of the establishment’s beauty – was recovered and completely restored.  Everything else was replaced … but you couldn’t tell. It looked like before and had the same comfortable chairs, stools, tables and atmosphere we remembered.

We sat next to a table of 20 or so blacks from the Trinity Mount Carmel Baptist Church having their holiday party for their army of ushers.  It was pretty cool to see this twist: an overworked White wait-person serving a party of Blacks. [TMC Baptist’s website]

Ferguson Brewery and Restaurant: A comfy and welcoming establishment

Ferguson Brewery and Restaurant: A comfy and welcoming establishment

Not drinkers by faith, they seemed to be having a great time, nonetheless – even the two young boys, occupied with each other mostly. (Although one lady confided – on the QT – that she enjoys an occasional glass of  wine).

One of the boys grew bored and was offered a large cell phone to play with.  After a while he was still looking a bit bored, clicking and swiping, and he noticed, between his games, that I was sneaking peeks at him.  He soon walked the few feet to our booth and showed me what  he was doing: playing Wheel of Fortune.

Tory and "Grandpa" Joe

Tory and “Grandpa” Joe

“Hi. What’s your name?”

A reply as firm and snappy as you like. “My name is Zantorian. That’s Z-A-N-T-O-R-I-A-N. But you may call me Tory. Tory with a Y. I’m six years old and I’m pretty good at this game.”

Neither Tory nor his aunt or mum had any reservations about him climbing onto my lap so we could play together.  My grandpa juices started flowing.

I don’t know how long it was – too short for me (thank goodness Audrey took a few photos) – but too soon it was time for Tory and his merry group of ushers to begin leaving.  He was not very happy about that. He didn’t complain, he was too polite for that, but it showed in his body language.

Hey, this is fun!

Hey, this is fun!

One of the older ladies – the same one who confessed to an occasional glass of wine – made sure we knew that we would be very, very welcome if we visited them at Trinity, in neighboring Florissant.  “Wouldn’t we please visit them next time we get a chance? That’s Trinity — Mount — Carmel!”

She said it slowly and deliberately. She really meant it and wanted us to remember. Gosh, how could we say no?

Tory’s aunt took her phone back, and a few minutes of long good-byes among the Trinity Mount Carmel ushers ensued … during which time Tory took the opportunity to wonder what fun he could have with Grandpa Joe’s phone.  Without hesitation, he picked it up and scrolled back-and-forth through the panels, looking for an icon that appeared interesting.  Unfortunately for him, there aren’t any, except maybe Duolingo – the language learning app.

So he tapped that, and a review lesson for German came up.  “Ein Junge” – appropriately enough.  The only thing better would have been if Duolingo popped open with “Ein Enkel.” [These mean “A boy” and “A grandson].

The Duolingo Icon

The Duolingo Icon

“What’s THAT!?!” Before I could answer (thankfully, it would have meant nothing), he closed that app, and waved panels to find “Sky Map.”

“Tory, this will show you the names and places of all the stars you can see in the sky.”

“REALLY?  That’s cool”

“Tory, we really have to go now” said auntie and mom.

He gave me back my phone.  He hopped down, and obediently let each of them take one hand.

As they walked out, Tory’s head was turned like Linda Blair’s, trying to keep eye contact with me and Audrey.  We waved.

“Bye Tory. Hope to see you again soon.”


Joe Girard © 2016

Final note: The Mall of America, near Minneapolis, has hired a Black Santa.

Santa Larry

Santa Larry

It’s quite the rage on the internet (for some reason) and looks wonderful.  His name is Larry Jefferson, but prefers to go by “Santa Larry.” This picture is just great.


[1] Ferguson Fire Department website:

[2] Awards for the Ferguson Fire Department:


Collegial Codes and Conspiracies

November 20, 2016

A few Tuesdays ago – a day we will all recall for decades to come, if we live that long – I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the election returns. I was disgusted by the campaigning, the candidates, and the pompous potshots by everyone from ants to asshats.

After reading that Nate Silver had the chance of a popular vote/electoral mismatched vote as high as 10% [1] – and hoping to dear God that would not be the case – I squirreled myself safely away from outside earshot of the TV and commenced to thinking about the Electoral College.  Its birth.  Its history.  What it means today.  Then I tapped out a pretty good rough draft of an essay.  A Joe Girard classic format.

The essay was overtaken by destiny. As Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogard) said in Casablanca: It seems destiny has taken a hand. Maybe someday I’ll finish it and publish it.  Here’s what happened.

I tapped my notes out on my ASUS tablet, onto which I’ve installed the Politico app (a well-regarded and usually considered slightly left-leaning news source).  Politico feeds news headlines – usually very, very occasionally – across the bottom of my screen.  After a couple of hours I took a peek.

Virginia for Clinton.  Of course.

Florida for Trump.  Odd, but Okay, not totally unexpected.

North Carolina for Trump.  Less unexpected.

Then the feed that Ohio was looking like a Trump win.  And possibly Pennsylvania too.

Now to Central Time Zone.  Wisconsin looks like a Trump win.

Oh… My… God.  This could really be happening. It IS happening. I saved the draft essay and browsed to the CNN and Fox sites for maps shaded red, pink, purple, sky blue and navy blue.  Some quick math showed Trump with a very plausible path to 270, well before 10PM Mountain Time.

And THAT was the end of the Electoral College essay.


Soon, on December 19, 2016, the 538 Electors from the 50 states, plus DC, will meet in their respective states and District, and cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States of America. Presumably at least 290 will vote for Donald Trump, and 232 for Mrs Clinton, with the destiny of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes STILL not determined at this writing (although it is looking like a slim margin Trump win at the time of this writing).

This is the “Real” Election for President and Vice President.  When we voted for Clinton or Trump (or whomever) on November 8, we were actually voting for an entire slate of Electors who are pledged to vote for those candidates on December 19.

Some people are saying it ain’t over til it’s over; it ain’t over till the fat lady sings; and other such mixed metaphors. Well, they’re right.  That’s how the system works and Mr. Trump is not officially President-elect until those votes are cast.

Before discussing that, let’s talk about who these Electors are.

They are not just Joe and Jane average-citizen who have signed a pledge to vote a certain way, if they should themselves get elected.

They are party loyalists.  The life blood of their respective parties. Almost always they’ve been very active in their state’s political parties.

For example, an elector from California is Christine Pelosi.  The daughter of Nancy Pelosi.

An elector candidate from Maryland is Michael Steele, the (black) former head of the Republican National Party.  [Maryland went for Clinton, so Steele will not be voting as an Elector on December 19].

All potential candidates for Elector are screened by their state parties well in advance of the election. It’s obvious that the main qualification is party loyalty, and the bar for party loyalty – as you can surmise and see from the examples – is very high.

Can you imagine a Pelosi voting for anyone other than Mrs Clinton?

No, of course not.

But for those who simply fall ill at the very thought of a President Trump, let me offer an alternative outcome.  It involves my own wildly conceived conspiracy.

The Electors were chosen, in most cases, well before it was clear that Mr Trump would be the Republican candidate.

Since their selection by their state parties as Electors, an astounding number of Conservatives and Republicans have gone quite public with their disdain for Mr. Trump.  So much, that they did not support or vote for him.  From the ranks of politicians there is, for example, Mitt Romney and all the Bush families. Karl Rove considers Trump “a complete idiot.” Three term South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler didn’t support Trump. Neither did former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (who lost his seat to comedian Al Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008). John Huntsman.  Christine Todd Whitman.

It’s actually quite a long list, which I will spare you the tedious task of scanning.These are big name Republican politicians who openly did not support Trump.  Trump was publicly shunned.

And then there’s the “conservative” intelligentsia.  Jonah Goldberg, chief editor at at National Review (William F Buckley’s magazine!! For crying out loud) lambasted Trump every chance he got.  Glenn Beck ran far away from the “idiot” Trump.  George Will brilliantly pointed out on a Sunday Talking-heads news show this summer that Trump “has been a Republican for all of about 15 minutes.”

These were the “Never Trump” folks. Their cast was large, significant and influential.

That Trump won without much support from the faithful Right is truly astounding.

But could it also be his undoing?  As most of the Electors were chosen before it was certain that Trump would be the Republican candidate … could they turn the tables on him since so many “Conservatives” and “Republicans” don’t consider Trump a true Republican? Not a qualified representative of their “party of values” to serve as President.

That’s the genesis of my conspiracy theory.

Now, don’t presume that ANY Republican Electors will vote for Mrs. Clinton.  Not gonna happen. Mrs Clinton is stuck at 232 and no petition is going to get her to the 270 needed to be President.

But … What if 37 or more Electors conspired to cast their Presidential vote for someone more … uh, digestible… than Trump?

That would reduce his tally from 306 to 269, or less.  A person cannot be elected President outright by the Electoral College with fewer than 270 votes.

But whom would these 37 (or more) unfaithful Electors vote for, and how would they choose such a person?

Well, consider the Constitution’s provision in such a case. The House of Representatives chooses the next President, and they can only choose from among the THREE candidates who receive the most Electoral votes. [In 1824 John Quincy Adams ran second to Andrew Jackson in the Electoral tally, but was chosen by the House as 6th President, since Jackson did not secure a majority of Electoral votes and was considered, by many, to be too wild and uncivilized to be President.  He eventually did win outright in 1828 and 1832).

Here’s how the House of Representatives chooses: Each state gets only ONE vote.  And a clear majority, that is 26 states, is required.

When the new Congress is seated, next January, the Republicans will have a majority of Congressional seats in about 33 states, the same as now.  Suppose … now just suppose, a band of unfaithful Republican Electors spoke secretly with Republican House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan (WI) and decided to bump Trump.

In this conspiracy, 37 Electors (who are sworn and pledged to vote for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump) break their pledge.  Most vote for the pre-arranged preferred candidate, let’s say it’s Joe Girard.  Ha!! Just kidding.  Let’s say Mitt McCain (another fictional character). Who then comes in third place.

When the votes are sent to Washington, no single candidate has a majority.

The top three candidates are sent to the House for consideration.  And John Romney is chosen.

Yes, this is the stuff of cheap fictional novels.

And it’s not going to happen.

But it IS possible. Trump COULD still be thwarted.

Sincerely, I am your conspiracy theorist …

Joe Girard © 2016

[1] Nate Silver has become something of a highly regarded prognosticator in election season.  I think he’s more of an eccentric and talented statistician.  A wizard with numbers.  Here are a couple of his newsfeeds in the last week before the 2016 election.



[2] Politico is highly regarded. I take it to be slightly left leaning by this review, and that it’s editorial leadership came from Washington Post.

Also slightly Left per this research (as well as NPR’s taxpayer funded slight Left lean):


Election 2016

Here it is election eve, November 2016.

For the most part, I’ve bit my tongue — and muzzled my keyboard — with regard to politics this election season. And I promise to go easy now that I’ve loosened my leash a little bit. I’ve certainly had a lot go through my mind. I’ve often felt like sharing it here. But this election season has been so terribly awful and disappointing that I decided to exercise considerable restraint rather than subject anyone to even more abuse.

What follows is brief, and based mostly on a short email that I sent to my good friend Kevin, who in turn included it in his daily Good News Today newsletter.  I wish it had more good news, but sometimes the truth is not all good.

This is regarding election choices and exercising your right to the franchise.  And the fact that many of us, Kevin included, dared to share their decisions and the reasons for them.

There are obviously going to be differences of opinion. It is a difficult year for many of us.  Recent exchanges of banter and bickering have spawned several thoughts in my busy little head. Mostly, I try to not be critical of people’s selections and thinking.  Voting is a personal choice and I realize we are all of us individuals.  And that means “different.”  But there are some cases where I can’t help myself, I grow critical and judgmental — although I try to keep these thoughts to myself and would not squelch such people even if I could.  There are two such cases.

One is voting for someone because of what they have between their legs, even if it is only one of many criteria. That’s sexist and shallow. Intelligent votes are based on what’s between their ears and their resume’.

The second is when people attack a candidate they don’t prefer on non-policy grounds (e.g. Trump is a sexist pig who can’t string two simple sentences together; Clinton is a lying criminal who got rich without ever producing anything of value that Joe-or-Jane average US citizen can relate to). This second type of opinion that causes me to be judgmental only applies when it is pretty obvious that the argument is made by someone who almost certainly would have voted for the other candidate anyhow.

I cannot help but see such attackers as draped in their own self-made mantle of sanctimony while sitting on their imaginary throne of self righteousness. “News” provider people who do this are even worse. (e.g. Sean Hannity, Don Lemon). I’m not proud that I do this judging. Maybe it’s my own form of sanctimony and self-righteousness.

99% of the attacks on Trump (and there are many good reasons for them) that you see and hear are from people who would have voted Democrat anyhow.  And vice versa. Probably 100%.   I wear myself out with restraint when I read or hear someone criticize a candidate that they wouldn’t vote for even if that person were a saint.

So, finally, at long, long last, this will soon be over.  This squabbling over candidates only increases the chance that we as a nation will continue to grow ever more fragmented and distrustful of one another — a Grand Canyon growing between us.  Neither Mrs C or Mr T have demonstrated an ability to unite us; let’s not make it worse by doing the work for them, and tearing ourselves apart.

It’s okay to praise a candidate. Even the other side once in a while.  It’s okay to respect others’ voices.

When it’s all over, Clinton or Trump in the White House makes no difference to your happiness, your health, your human dignity and your relationship with others.  They can’t make you happy, successful, pleasant, magnanimous, rich or generous.  You have to own all that yourself.

So, no matter what happens tomorrow, November 8, go out there everyday and make it a point to not just be nice to people who voted differently than you. Take time to listen when they dare to share their points of view, their logic and their passions. If they “attack” your candidate, this is a great opportunity.  “Yes, I can see that.  Of course. But what if it weren’t Trump or Clinton?  What if they were a truly decent human?  How would you vote then? What is important to you?” Listening is the most important quality. If you haven’t really learned anything, then you probably weren’t genuinely listening.

Really try.  Otherwise this election will just drive us farther and farther from each other.

Wishing you peace.

Joe Girard (c) 2016







P is for Privilege

CW (Content Warning).  Please stop right now if you’re expecting a lofty essay on privilege in our culture.  This essay contains a few more thoughts and observations from our recently concluded extended expedition through part of Europe. Regarding privilege, see note [1].

The musical Urinetown must have one of the most unlikely plots – and titles! – to ever go on-stage and  be regarded as a critical success. [2]

My short version of the plot set up.  At some dark time and dismal place in the future there has been a decade’s long drought so severe that there is virtually no water for almost any use. So bad, in fact that the government creates a preposterous scheme to limit water consumption. In fact, it’s cockamamie: They make it illegal to urinate anywhere except at a public facility operated by a company that possesses a government sanctioned monopoly (called Urine Good Company, or UGC).

Facilities are few and the cost to use them are high.  Any infraction gets the violator immediately sentenced to serve an infinite term in penal colony called Urinetown.  It’s not really described what Urinetown is, or what it’s like until late in the play.  But you’re led to believe it is very, very bad.

One of the key songs in the Tony Award winning score is “It’s a Privilege to Pee”, for obvious reasons.

The reason I recalled all of this is that it’s what came to mind while on tour almost anywhere in our tour through Europe (primarily Germany, Austria, and Netherlands, with small side trips to Belgium, France and Luxembourg).

My advice for American travelers is (1) practice peeing when you think you can’t (2) practice not peeing when you think you absolutely must (3) and always keep some coins in your pocket in the event that you do manage to find a WC/toilette and it requires either a fee to enter, or an implied tip to the person who cleans them and sits immediately outside (as quite often is the case).

As a last resort, you can usually duck into a pub or coffee shop … as long as you buy a pint or a kaffee. They might very well run you out if you don’t.

Toward the end of the 7-week trip I did find myself unconsciously slipping into a European habit (confirmed by unscientific poll by discussing this with several) of reducing liquid consumption from morning to mid-afternoon.

This was a big change for me (I suppose it happened gradually), and I wondered if it didn’t have health consequences; namely, kidney stones. I did find some evidence that Germans suffer from a much higher rate of stones than do Americans.  [4]

Still, there were many positive experiences, even the worst of times, such as traffic jams on the Autobahn, when the observed max speeds quite often drop from close to 200 kph (about 120 mph) to essentially zero.  The Germans have such a useful word for “really horribly bad traffic jam”; it’s “Stau” (sort of stick an “h” between the “s” and “t” and it rhymes “how”: shtow).

Also, you can easily find interesting history almost anywhere in western Germany and this region, extending all the way back to the Romans, and beyond. Also, German wines sold locally are mostly quite spectacular … and often spectacularly inexpensive.

Don’t expect many pleasant surprises in navigation in Europe, which most Americans would regard as very, very unfriendly toward automobiles.  For starters, it’s also a privilege to park. For many cities it’s probably best to save time and frustration by parking at the edge of town, and then getting to the sites by walking, taking bus or tram.

Address numbers are so different from America that one can regard them as almost unusable.

Numbers are assigned sequentially, beginning from the beginning of a street.  So on one side they are usually 2, 4, 6 … etc; and on the other 1, 3, 5 …  If a new building is built then it might need an address like 21a, which of course is between 21 and 23, … unless there is a 21b.

Grid systems are virtually non-existent, so it’s pointless to think, for example that addresses with 200 are about one block past those with 100. Addresses are generally from center to out, and clockwise.

They simply don’t like big address numbers, like 2101 or 1508 (which would be one block beyond 2001 and 1408 in the US).  If and when a number gets too big, like close to 100 or 200, then they simply change the name of the street where there’s an intersection or a slight bend.  They have so many historical figures to name streets after that, even with this puzzle of seemingly never-ending street name changes, they will never run out of possible street names. I think the main ring around Aachen has seven names.

Also, it is quite likely that address #55 is nowhere near 54 or 56.  A few much larger or much smaller lots on one side of the street might lead 55 to be across from 15 (which of course could be ½, 1 or even 3 blocks away). One place this was not true was in Dutch towns with a canal on one side of the street.  Obviously there is no building in the canal, so – unless the street on the opposite side of the canal has the same name – these house numbers are indeed exactly sequential on one side of the street … 1, 2, 3 …

All of this means you could be at the very edge of a city and encounter an address number 1 or 2.

Confused?  Well, there’s more. These oddities, and a near blackout of visible street name signs near intersections in many cities at critical intersections, will leave you grateful for your satellite navigation system. Grateful that is, provided it doesn’t direct you to a pedestrian area such as a city square (Platz in Germany, Plein in Netherlands), down a one way street, onto an apparent farm road, or onto a side street that’s two-way, but is only about 10 feet wide with parking on both sides – all of which unfortunately happens unnervingly often.  We also experienced a major construction on a country road with no hope of deciphering an alternate route without also having a very detailed map of the area available.

And the GPS navigation warning finale: SatNat receiver programmed with an English speaking voice (or worse, an actual English accent) will absolutely butcher the pronunciation of many streets and city names, so that you’ll really want a competent co-pilot to help decipher where the heck you are supposed to go.

Back to numbering, this time on the Autobahn system. The exits are also always numbered sequentially.  Exit 25 (or Ausfahrt 25) is the next exit past 24 – or past 26, depending on your direction of travel.  It could be 1, 5 or 30 kilometers away, but the exit number increment is always one.  Americans are spoiled by the numbering (in most states); Exit 200 is one hundred miles from Exit 100.  Easy-peasey.

Is there a new exit added to the Autobahn?  It will be numbered 25A.

One unexpected and very agreeable thing about the Autobahn: pre-programmed detours.  There can be frequent experiences of a Stau, whether due to volume (usually near larger cities), construction or crashes.  That said, the Germans are prepared.  Most exits are marked with a “U” and a number, like U-22.  U stands for Umleitung (Detour): if you leave the Autobahn at that exit and U-number due to a Stau, then you simply follow the pre-arranged detour (U-x) signs through the city or countryside several kilometers down the road to where there is, hopefully, no more Stau.  I think this is very clever.

Bathroom talk. One concluding warning and tidbit on the European bathroom experience regarding the (usually very tiny) one-person shower stall.  They are elevated by several inches and usually sport a significant “lip” that you must step over; the lip is generally 7-8 inches above the main bathroom floor level.  You can imagine how carefully this naked and barefoot exit must be performed when you consider that none of the shower floors we experienced (I think 22 of them) had a significant anti-slip surface and there is no safety handle to secure yourself to.

End on the positive. One more positive part of the European Experience: we didn’t have to follow US politics at all, unless we wanted to.  And what kind of masochist would do THAT?

Probably more travel thoughts to come …


Joe Girard ©  2016



[1] Regarding privilege. The greatest privilege you can have is to be well-reared such that you have appreciation for values that include respect for others, the inherent values of hard work and delayed gratification, the beauty of self-respect, patience, grace and fortitude.

[2] Even more unlikely, the “hero”, Bobby Strong, gets killed off midway through Act 2.

Awards, besides multiple nominations.

2002 Tonys: Best Book from a Musical; Best Original Score; Best Musical Direction; and Best Musical Actor.

[3] a good way to improve your “performance” on “holding it” is to practice the Kegel exercise.


From this report:

JG: The Tramp Abroad – continued

Updates and corrections. (sorry for smaller font; still on mobile device … it’s hard enough with umlauts and ess-tset).

1. Thank you Regina.  Turns out most major stores are closed all over Europe on Sundays; it’s not just a Catholic thing.  Some groceries are open for a few hours, and you can always get a coffee, a beer or a Donner somewhere.

2. Fans, they have issues with fans.  It’s cold and rainy today, so I used a fitness center. No fans. And no water either.  I guess they just expect to be uncomfortable and constipated. How people can live without fans AND without air conditioning will forever be beyond the understanding of most Americans.

3. Met a cool 77-year old from small town of Ringgau, just on west side of former east-west Germany border.  He’s eight years past a stroke, and looking very fit — although his right leg is a bit withered.  Stroke was behind left eye, which he’s lost the use of.  Still, he plays golf, and every day he works out and walks two miles.  He knows virtually no English, so FINALLY my knowledge of this most difficult language paid off a little bit (more on this below). A very friendly fellow.

4. The common generic greeting here in Austria is not “Morgen” (short for good morning), or “Guten Tag”.  It is “Gruß Gott”, a sort of shorted form of May God Bless you.

This IS a Catholic-thing, and I read that if you speak it to a northern German (likely a Protestant) then you’ll get a semi-sarcastic reply of something like “yes, maybe the next time I see him.”

5. Body art.  It’s everywhere just as in the US and Canada. People must be ashamed of their bodies or feel some sort of perverse peer-pressure to take their perfectly beautiful faces and bodies and put hunks of metal through them. And tattoos too.  I haven’t learned the German for “tattoo” yet, but it looks like it’s just tattoo.   I have learned that “tramp stamps” are commonlly referred to as “ass antlers”, but probably only by those who are not in the body-art community.

6. Turns out that I’m wrong, again: Norbert Hoffer has sworn off leaving the EU, but he had entertained the idea earlier — he is an EU skeptic. However, his left/green oppostition has stuck that label on him and his party, so Austrians are stuck with the word Öxit.

7. Now I share with you a wonderful essay on the German language by Mark Twain. Even our good German friend Regina has shared it with me on at least two occassions.  Enjoy.

Mark Twain: The awful German Language

bis bald

Joe Girard (c) 2016




Decision 2016: Not Lard Dump


Not Lard Dump

 “He (Donald Trump) is a good and honest man.”
– Larry Arnn (President of Hillsdale College)

“… I will never look at that fleshy pile of vanity, crudity, and deceit and say: ‘There’s a good and honest man.’  ”
– Jonah Goldberg (senior editor of National Review)

Fairly regular readers will note that I’ve pretty much avoided politics for quite some time.  I’ve ventured slightly into that area occasionally; for instance last month I risked a brief walk into the mine field, touching on the issue known as “Citizens United”.  [We are all citizens, not united]

Discussing politics turns people off; drives readers away.  So I only dabble in that arena.   And then Donald Trump happened.

I was searching for the right words to describe The Donald. I had an overly long list going: boorish, crass, braggart, childish.  He’s … he’s … and then I came across an essay by Jonah Goldberg with the words in the header.  [Jonah Goldberg will not “come around” to supporting Trump]

“Fleshy pile of vanity, crudity and deceit.” Concise, descriptive and complete.  That’s why Goldberg is the professional writer, and I am not.

I have no horse in this race.  I could go off on Clinton, Sanders or Cruz ad nauseum with facts – chapter and verse – to justify my loathing.

Yet, I’m aware that each of these candidates has loyal followers who are decent people; who can rationalize their support.  Yes, the rationale ranges from shallow and simple to deep and profound.  In fact, a good reason to support any one of them is that they are not the other three. I generally don’t criticize other citizens for whom or for what they support; but I feel completely authorized to analyze and criticize candidates, parties and issue positions.

This one is for Donald Trump.  Sure he’s smart.  He’s rich. He’s slick and irreverent. To some extent I “get” the support for him (which I see as rather similar to Sanders’ support): people are angry.  But, as Goldberg writes: “Let me ask you something: How many times have you been justifiably angry in your own life yet still let your anger lead you to a bad decision?

And it is, indeed, justifiable anger.  The “system” has not worked.  Blue collar jobs are waning.  Average is synonymous with mean. And average wages are mean: adjusted for inflation mean wages have decreased for the middle class (and below) over the last 25 years. Virtually all of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing money has ended up with the 1%, with the banks and financing mergers.  Banks are bigger than ever.

And there’s confusion, and frustration, and complexity. The world is complex.  The economy is complex.  There’s creeping evil and chaos in the world.  Trump (and Sanders) offers catchy slogans for responses (although few valid solutions). For Trump: Let’s Win!  I’m smart and rich; trust me!

Looking at the larger world milieu, we can see that Trump is not unique. In a world context, the “right wing xenophobic reactionary anger” that Trump seems to represent is on the rampage, like Rommel racing across the open fields of France.  In Germany and Austria the xenophobic “Alternativ” parties are very vocal (AfD and AfÖ). In Great Britain, it’s the anti-immigration Euro-skeptic UKIP. In France, it’s the National Front (FN).  Netherlands? Geert Wilders leads the xenophobic nationalistic Party for Freedom (PVV).

Not to be outdone, such parties have not just come to prominence; they’re running the country in Poland and Hungary. And more: populist right wing xenophobic parties are running countries from Finland to Macedonia, from Switzerland to Norway, from Estonia to Norway.

So, Trump and the US are not unique here.  Accepting that Trump is rich and smart, and accepting that he is a clever media-playing populist, let’s go just a bit deeper.

Going a bit deeper we find, as Gertrude Stein famously said: “There is no there there.”

Insofar as intellectual depth, intellectual breadth and even intellectual curiosity are concerned – I submit that Trump is a lightweight.  A self-loving, bombastic, emotional simpleton.

I submit three examples.


  1. I’ve watched a majority of the debates and town halls. [Yes I have a disease.]

In a recent CNN Town Hall Trump was asked: what are the 3 most important duties of the federal government?

This is a classic “softball question.” It is the sort of question that any thoughtful person – and especially a candidate for any national office (let alone President) – will always have a ready answer for.

Here’s what happened. Via my paraphrasing Trump said “the most important thing the government can do is protect its citizens.  So security is number 1.  It’s so important, that the top three duties are security, security and security.”

Good start. Security. Then … completely feeble.

Anderson Cooper tried to help him.  “Is there anything else the government should do?”

Trump: “Well there’s Health Care and Education, and you go on from there….”

You go on from there?  Is he a statist?  At this point, Trump has clearly knotted the noose, tied it to a branch, climbed up on a stool, and stuck his neck into the loop – at least to any thinking Republican voter.

Cooper tried to help him again.  “So you’re saying that the Federal government should be more involved in Health Care and education?”

Trump then kicked the stool over: Yes.  What’s being done now isn’t right.  We can do better. Security, Health Care and Education.”

For the next 30 minutes Trump continued to display ignorance and lack of thought. He pouted and smiled.  He has more facial expressions than Jackie Gleason. And more one liners than Henny Youngman.  He swayed gently in the breeze, hanging from the tree.

As a populist Republican, Trump could have said something like:

“Every nation must protect itself and its interests.  Every citizen of every country has a reasonable expectation of safety to be provided by their government. So priority #1 is security.  It’s the only ethical and common reason for any government to exist since the beginning of time.

“Moving on we have to consider what makes us unique as Americans.  So #2 you have the defense of individual rights.  We can start with the enumerated rights of the Constitution’s Amendments, especially the Bill of Rights: freedom to assemble, freedom to worship, speak, … and legal rights like fair legal processes.  And, for #2, we expand to rights that we’ve come to expect that are not in the amendments.  We have a reasonable expectation of privacy, to travel, to conduct commerce,  … Because really, this is a beautiful country.  I love this country.  And it’s often called a free country. The 9th Amendment basically states that rights of people not listed in the Constitution are still rights. So #2, we protect the citizens’ rights from government.

“And now #3, which is consistent with the spirit of American expression.  Government must do all that is practicable to ensure a level playing field.  All individuals have gifts, skills and intellect; and it’s in our DNA to desire to grow these, to use these, to contribute these gifts to the greater good of society, the good of ourselves , the good of our family, and for our posterity.  If a bright hard working young man in Detroit can’t have a reasonable path to individual actualization – similar to a young lady, say, from Beverly Hills – then we are all being cheated.  That young man is worse off.  Detroit is worse off. America is worse off.  We are all worse off when all of us – in all of our diversity – do not have as level a field as possible to aspire, grow, contribute.

“So the top 3 responsibilities – and not by any means all government responsibility – are security,  rights and a level playing field.”



  1. Trump recently fielded a hypothetical question from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about abortion (Matthews is hard left and always eager to trap any Republican). It is mind-boggling that any candidate – especially a Republican candidate for national office – would not be well-coached and well-prepared for such a question.

    The paraphrased question was: If abortion becomes illegal, should the woman be punished?

Trump’s simplistic answer (which he made several attempts to walk back later): Yes. You need to have some punishment.

Matthews actually tried to help him!  What punishment?  10 cents?  10 years?

To which Trump had no answer other than: I don’t know.  It’s complicated.

Really? Complicated?  This was such an easy trap to avoid. If he gets the party nomination, this video will haunt every Republican candidate come November.

Let’s start with Trump’s own words and try a better response.

“Abortion is complicated.  It’s because life is complicated.  Look, reproductively speaking, it’s unfair that woman carry the burden – literally – of carrying a baby to term.  Of giving birth.  And since life is complicated, pregnancy is complicated.  I’m sensitive to the myriad stressful and inconvenient circumstances that could lead a woman to consider abortion. Really, I am sensitive.  I’m sympathetic. My heart goes out to them.

“Look, this is a hypothetical question.  Right now the law of the land has been established by Roe v. Wade.  And that says woman have the right to confront life’s complications armed with the option of abortion.  As president I will enforce the law of the land.

“If and when abortion becomes illegal, I would never push for any punishment for the woman who’s made that choice.  In many cases, most cases I’ve been told, she will likely carry a psychological burden for years, if not the rest of her life.  That’s punishment enough.

“Do I like abortion?  No.  It is a violent option.  It ends a beating heart.  That’s why I support so many wonderful organizations – not Planned Parenthood – organizations that help women struggling with problem pregnancies. They’re encouraged to carry the baby to birth.  We give them financial and health resources.  Sometimes they abort; mostly the don’t. They baby is adopted – there are so many loving couples who’d love to adopt. Sometimes she keeps the baby to raise as her own.  We provide more financial and health resources so that the child can grow up in a healthy and loving environment.

“Chris, there are no easy answers.  We do what we can.  Even though I said I’d enforce the law as chief executive, I’d never enforce punishment on a woman who decided that abortion was the right option for her unique situation.”


  1. Number 3 is a bit shorter. In a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame), Trump predicted that we’d soon have a major economic meltdown.  The system is screwed up.  Fair enough.

But he went on to say that if he’s elected president, the federal debt of $19 Trillion (a truly mind-boggling amount) would be eliminated in 8 years.   HA!

In the shadow of disaster he’s going to eliminate a debt that took almost 90 years to amass? [Here, I’m dating back to the dawn of the Great Depression].

When pressed how he’d eliminate the massive debt (let alone the annual deficit, which is currently running at one-half trillion dollars per year, and projected to run at least that high through 2020) Trump said simply that he would re-negotiate all of our trade agreements.  Citing an annual balance of payment trade deficit with China of about $500 Billion, Trump offered no other explanation, except “I’m a great negotiator.”

[Actually our entire worldwide trade deficit is about $500 Billion [1]; our deficit with China is about $360B [2]]

Evidently Trump seems to think that if the trade imbalance were removed – trade that occurs between corporations and individuals and has little to do with the government  – all of that money would somehow end up in the federal treasury.  And that wouldn’t even extinguish the annual deficit, let alone the Everest-sized total debt.

And how in the world could this be achieved in an atmosphere of imminent financial doom?

Trump may be a genius in real estate, media manipulation, reality TV, getting people riled up, and bankruptcy law.  But he is not intellectual or thoughtful or careful enough to be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office and the Executive reigns of power.

The more he talks, the stupider he sounds.  Keep talking.

Joe Girard © 2016

Note: the subtitle “Not Lard Dump” is an anagram of “Donald Trump”. Of the many options, I did not use “Damn Turd Pol” or “Dump Lord Ant.”








We are all Citizens, but not United

Author’s note: 3/13/2016 — On the occasion of my first visit to Barr Lake State Park, Colorado

We are an organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizens’ control.
Through a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization, we seek to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, individual freedom including freedom of enterprise, and national security.
Our goal is to restore the founding fathers’ vision of a free nation, guided by the honesty, common sense, and good will of its citizens. [1]

There are very, very few natural lakes in Colorado, outside of the mountain area. Probably zero. Grand Lake, from which the Colorado River flows, on the western extreme of Rocky Mountain National Park, is the only significantly sized lake in Colorado, but it is in a pretty mountainous area. Fact is: most of Colorado – particularly east of the Rockies – is parched most of the year. Hence: no lakes.

This was a problem for 19th and early 20th century farmers. Creeks and shallow draws would fill with water during spring and early summer snow-melt run-off, only to go mostly dry for most of the rest of the year. Farmers united to form cooperatives and local water management corporations to manage water so that food could be produced for Colorado’s rapidly growing population. And for its growing economy.

Even a mildly casual observer of eastern Colorado’s terrain notices that it is crisscrossed with ditches and pock-marked with man-made lakes. These provide water – with senior and junior water rights – via Western water law. Such laws can appear as twisted as the ditches and canals that were developed along with them.

One of the water gems in the Denver area is Barr Lake. Originally a buffalo wallow [2] near current Brighton and Lochbouie, it was a low draw that gathered water in the spring and early summer, allowing grasses to grow and attracting animals like the bison, rabbits, coyote and hawks. The location gained interest as a potential reservoir when the Burlington & Quincy railroad came through in the early 1880s (a well-used Burlington-Northern line still passes by there).

Over the decades a ditch was dug which drew water from the South Platte River to this low-lying area. The ditch was enhanced and — for a while — others added. A dam was added, and  large reservoirs were built that provided a huge number of benefits. Eventually the reservoirs were joined into a single large water management body of water: Barr Lake.  But the bottom line was it provided a steady supply of water. Water for farmers – at first mostly sugar beet farmers: at the time referred to as white gold. Water for native trees like Cottonwoods to grow. Water attracted waterfowl. Fish came. Eagles, osprey, even seagulls. It became an end-point and a stop-over for migrating birds. A gem.

Since the early 1900s the Barr and Milton Reservoirs have been owned and managed by the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO). FRICO was incorporated in Colorado in 1902, as a corporation with the mission of protecting the water quality, and steadying the quantity, of water available for agriculture in and on the front range of Colorado. This is the beginning of how many of the Farm-to-Table and fresh Farmer’s Markets products get to our tummies every week, every day. Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry in Colorado. It provides food, and jobs. Barr Lake is central to that.

FRICO manages Barr Lake in coordination with the State of Colorado’s Wildlife and State Park departments. Eagles nest and winter there. Osprey spend their summers there. It is host to an education center and a raptor center. It is the locale of some of the best birding in Colorado. Barr Lake is central to the wonderful wildlife of Colorado’s front range prairies.

Birding at Barr Lake, Brighton, Colorado

Birding at Barr Lake, Brighton, Colorado

Now, I want you to imagine a situation wherein a legislator or executive of the state of Colorado (or the Federal Government) wished to do something to harm the interests of the farmers, nature enthusiasts, and birders of Colorado. Perhaps they wish to allow a little more industrial effluent into the canals that feed the lake. Perhaps lay state’s claim to the water for some use they deem could help raise more tax dollars; like more suburbs.

Would we allow FRICO to speak in defense of the lake? If the politician had a shady past and questionable judgment, would we allow FRICO to allege that the politician had ulterior motives … that they didn’t hold the best interests of our citizens in high priority? Would we allow them to produce a documentary movie?

Hold that thought.

I live in the town of Erie, which is an incorporated Town in the state of Colorado. Naturally, it has a Chamber of Commerce, which is an incorporated corporation in the state of Colorado with the mission to promote the community; to promote its economics, businesses, environment and culture.

Imagine a situation wherein the state has legislators, or candidates for office, who wish to impose their own visions on Erie. More fracking, less fracking. Taking 10% of our water rights for state needs. Revoking access to commercial areas. Limiting annexation possibilities.

Would we allow the Chamber of Commerce to speak in defense of the interests of Erie?

To point out where said politicians had demonstrated poor judgment in the past? To produce and market a movie about said politicians?


For almost all groups of individuals who have some common interest … corporations are formed. Be they Home Owner’s Associations, Labor Unions, Kiwanis Clubs, Optimists Clubs and Rotary Clubs, or Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Some groups, like from the quote atop this essay, wished to inform the public about a candidate for president whom they found especially egregious. The year was 2007 and her name was Hillary Clinton. Do we allow people to express their concern about her qualifications and history? They made a movie about their concerns and were subsequently sued.  The suit ended up in the Supreme Court. In the end — long after the election — they won their case: the freedom to express their views.

You might recognize this as the famous/notorious “Citizens United” case. (Actually Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission). Perhaps not. But the claim (mostly from the Left) is that “corporations aren’t people.” At least insofar as freedom of speech is concerned.

Many are very agitated that “corporations” have a free voice in politics. About how our country is run. I can’t completely disagree with that. I’m concerned too.

Great. Let’s go with that. Let’s shut down free speech for corporations. If free speech and access to deliver a message is bad for Citizens United, and Nabisco and Hersheys and Exxon and Chevron and Monsanto … then it’s bad for the Farmers Irrigation and Reservoir Company, most Chambers of Commerce, most community service organization, Home Owners’ Associations, Unions and …

Let’s hold on a minute. Magazines, and Newspapers and TV stations are corporations. Or they are parts of corporations. They often do the hard legwork of investigative journalism that tells us what is wrong with US politics.

Think early 1970s: Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. Deep Throat. Exposing a sitting president (Nixon) as obstructing justice. A defiled president then resigns in ignominy. And rightfully so!!

If we shut down political free speech by corporations, we are effectively saying that magazines and newspapers and radio programs and TV programs and even on-line blogs have no right to express their opinion. Or attempt to express their opinions. Or make movies …

Because … OMG! … they might be corporations.

Maybe all these “Citizens United” worry-warts are all correct. But it is a very, very slippery slope. Here in the United States we protect freedom of speech, even if it is from a corporation, or from someone whose message we really don’t like.

And if it’s money in politics we’re actually afraid of, remember this: for the 2016 election … no one was better funded than Jeb Bush. After that, it’s the same Hillary Clinton, who has had no problem tripping all over that money and — perhaps fumbling the ball directly into Bernie Sanders’ arms.  Or worse: Donald Trump’s.

I admit to being conflicted. I might be wrong. Yet, even in this case I choose to cling tightly to expansive interpretation of First Amendment rights, which includes freedom to express thoughts and freedom of press — whatever we might construe “press” to mean in this digital era. I welcome your comments, either below or via emails.

Joe Girard © 2016

[1] My adaptation of the mission statement of Citizens United.

[2] Officially, there are no “buffalo” in North America. Any such animals are actually Bison. Still, terms like Buffalo Wallow are commonly used.

Week in New England — and a Quandary

On October 3, my wife and I returned from a week in New England. Mostly northern New Hampshire, to be specific. Historically, that supposedly would be the pluperfect leaf-peeper week, or at least very close to it. Toward the end of our stay the crowds began showing up in great hordes, even in the remote areas of the White Mountains, thus giving that supposition some credence. Lamentably for us all, the dry summer and warm September seems to have pushed “peak peeper period” back a few weeks. Hence we saw lots of beautiful green leaves. And yet, in a few of the upper valleys there was enough leaf color to give a hint of how spectacular it can be.

Along the Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, NH

Along the Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, NH


Most of the locals seemed happy, nonetheless: seems like the Patriots’ 4-0 start had a lot to do with their cheer.  It’s always mystified me how a local sports team — with dozens of players and coaches and an owner making millions of dollars THAT YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, but play in a stadium paid for by taxpayers— can affect the local mood just by winning or losing.

We not only caught the beginning of leaf season, but, as a bonus, we caught the beginning of presidential primary season. Since 1952 New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary in the nation.  Why?  Well, they like it that way.  So much so, that it is a state law that they must be first! Indeed, the “New Hampster” Secretary of State has the power (and the duty) to move the primary date, when needed, to insure their first-in-nation-primary status. For the 2016 elections the date is set for February 9th. Even though only a very few delegates for the summer conventions will be selected, New Hampshire is regarded as something of a bellwether state in terms of national sentiment. Maybe it’s because their motto is: “Live free, or die.” It’s fitting too: we came across quite a few liberals and libertarians.

Throughout the week I did an informal count of bumper stickers, yard signs, posters and buttons. Assuming that is a reasonable proxy for the nation’s bellwether:

I feel the change coming;
I feel the wind blow;
I feel brave and daring;
I feel my blood flow.

– from Weekend in New England, by Barry Manilow

Based on my informal count: “I feel the Bern.” Yes, Bernie Sanders. The 74 year-old socialist 8-term US representative and 2-term senator from Vermont had more visible support than all other candidates (Democrat or Republican) combined.  Maybe it’s spill-over almost-native-son appreciation for the guy from next door Vermont.  Maybe not.  By the way: Hillary had a big fat zero.

Over on the Republican side there was scant early visible support anywhere.  From what I saw, it looked like Carly well out in front, with a few stickers for Ben. (That’s Carly Fiorina and Dr Ben Carson).  Thankfully, The Donald also had a big fat zero. I do believe that none of those three have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president — although it’s interesting that the current top four polling Republicans (an orange-haired orangutan, a woman, a black brain surgeon, and a first-generation Spanish-speaking Cuban) demonstrate a lot more diversity than the top thee polling possibilities from the “party of diversity,” which has just three old white people.

Old White People lead the polls for Dems

Old White People lead the polls for Dems

Becoming president, I suppose, is one of those rare opportunities wherein what you say and do can have huge consequences. In the case of president, it’s how that country performs, and how that country is perceived.

Perhaps there’s an analogy in sports. Maybe once or twice in a long season an individual player will have a sudden opportunity to either: a) shine brightly, making the whole team appear marvelous; or b) fail to execute a basic skill or tactic, making them – and their team – appear ordinary at best, and pathetic at worst.

Since it’s football season I’ll bring up the ill-fated Jackie Smith and the 1978 Super Bowl. In the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, Smith finally got his one chance on the world stage as a backup tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.  Late in the 3rd quarter, wide open in the end zone, on a critical third down play, Smith dropped a perfect pass from Roger Staubach.  It was such an easy and critical catch.  The Cowboys lost the game … and that drop was one of the biggest reasons why they lost.

Which is a long way of getting to the quandary.  I’ve been in a few conversations with a friend named “John” lately. He’s been sharing his personal quandary that he’s been having regarding a friend of his named “Rich.” (Not their real names). It has to do with one of those rare opportunities we get in life wherein one simple act or choice can be a large statement of goodness and integrity, or a statement about mediocrity and hum-drum mushy morals.

John and Rich have been friends for a long time, and hold each other in pretty high regard.  Well, they held each other in high regard until recently; until Rich shared a “Jackie Smith” sort of story that has caused John quite a bit of anguish.

As John tells it, Rich has had a decades long very successful career in a lucrative and glamorous profession.  He was highly respected, well-compensated, and recently able to retire in his mid-50s with a nice retirement package plus a send-off bonus. He lives in a splendid home in a high end neighborhood, owning a house worth nearly 7 figures.  Rich recently unloaded an investment property scoring several tens of thousands of dollars more than he originally expected to fetch.  Things are pretty good for Rich, financially speaking. Among the lucky few percent.

Now it came to pass a few weeks ago that Rich told John a story that goes something like this: It seems that Rich was doing some home re-modeling and stopped by a major hardware store to pick up a large stock of merchandise. Distracted by a minor allergy attack, Rich did not check his receipt at all.  Once Rich had his car loaded he noticed that the checkout clerk had made a huge error: a bill that should have been around $2,000 was only about half that.  Rich had no compunction about keeping the money.

As Rich proudly told this story, John cringed internally. His mind ran wild for several days. “If this is what ‘good’ people do, what does this say about the human race?” — “If this is my choice of friends, what does this say about me?” — “How is this morally different than people who took advantage of the broken windows and rioting in
Ferguson to make off with stereos, large screen TVs and cases of booze?”

Eventually John confronted Rich and put the friendship on hold after hearing disappointing morally-ambiguous and squishy explanations.

What would you tell John?

I suggested he come up with a pro/con type of list.  He came up with a different list, which (as well as I can reconstruct) looked something like:

Regarding judging people

How do they act when they think no one is watching?

How do they treat people who can do them no personal good?

Don’t judge people based on their worst behavior, or decisions made at weak moments

Judge not, that ye not be judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged… Matthew 7: 1-2

Look for basic goodness.

In bad times, no person or no situation is as bad as it looks. In good times, nothing is as good as it looks.

I praised John for his list.  He told me it could have been longer.

I asked him if he valued friendships, and if he could be a better person himself. John answered “Yes, of course” to each.

“In that case”, I told him, “You hold the answer yourself. ”

Friendships are like warm pleasant autumns: there might be an occasional chill, but when they come to an end we usually miss them.



Joe Girard © 2015



Miss Buzz; Double Click

Dateline: April 12, 2015

It was quite breezy along the front range in Colorado today. A strong high pressure pushed air currents over the Rockies and pulled down some cooler Canadian air.

One of Zephyr’s effects was to tug at the many petals that had emerged these past 10 days or so, as spring had sprung to life.  I was noticing mostly the brilliant whites and pink blossoms of fruit trees, not to mention lilacs and many others. The petals, like mute winged fairies, floated gently, settling near their twiggy sources.

I recall last year about this time — when working on pruning some shrubs and doing some early weeding — that I heard a tremendous buzzing. Like an enormous joy-buzzer was going off in the neighborhood.  I could not discern its source, so I continued busily at my tasks.

After a few minutes of attentive listening while puttering away, the source become evident: our non-fruit-bearing apple tree only 15 feet away was in brilliant full bloom!  Upon it and about it were thousands and thousands of bees doing their business.

Busy Bee at work

Busy Bee at work

It was beautiful.  I moved myself right up to the trunk of the tree, leaning against it,  and enjoyed the sense of life happening all around me.

We’ve heard so much about bees being in great distress.  It was good to see them healthy, buzzing, making honey for their hives and maybe some Pooh Bear somewhere.  Life on earth would be so much poorer without the diligent contributions of the hardworking honey bee.

This year it’s been different.  As I’ve walked about the neighborhood and worked in our yard this past week I have heard no buzzing.

At first I didn’t think much of it. Then I guessed perhaps it was a sort of tone-deafness on account of the incessant ringing I’ve had (at just under 4,700Hz) in my head since the car crash, last May 1.

But no.  I’ve walked right up and into the branches of many full-bloom fruit trees. There are hardly any bees. On each tree I can find at most two, or three. No Buzz. This saddened me.

I’m usually rather skeptical to the insistence of greenies and tree-huggers that we have to do this, and do that, and sacrifice our way of life, in order to save this or that aspect of Mother Earth.

But the plight of the bees is, I believe, real.  Bee populations have been caving. Hive collapses (CCD: Colony Collapse Disorder) are epidemic. They’ve been overcome by parasites, most notable Nosema ceranae. Fungicides have made the problem worse; not necessarily by directly killing the insects, but by weakening their resistance to parasites. And insecticides have indeed had a direct effect; if not killing adult bees, then by killing the larvae who consume nectar from the pollen.

Agriculture in this country would take a horrible beating if we lost our bees, not to mention much natural beauty.


I’m kind of ashamed to admit that as a young boy I would catch bees in jars, like empty Flintstone Jelly or Skippy peanut butter jars. Actually, I’m also kind of ashamed to admit that I ate Skippy.  But what did I know? I recall once proudly showing my mum a jar full of perhaps two dozen honeybees, and a few clover blossoms, in an old  jar. She was not impressed.

Wisconsin lawns were full of sweet, sweet clover.  And the bees loved it. It was almost unfair. Almost. When a wee bee lit on the little pollen laden ball-looking blossoms, I’d lean over, crack the lid of the jar, and slide it over the bee and blossom together … and into the jar they would go.  There may have been some informal contest between some lads in the neighborhood to see who could capture the most bees.  In the end, we’d set them free. We often got a sting or two in the process.

Later, with more than a twinge of guilt, I learned that honey bees die shortly after delivering their sting. So simply are they designed that they make the ultimate sacrifice just to defend their blossom, their payload, or their hive … which is pretty much all the same thing to them.

Catching Fire Flies was more difficult.  No sweet bait to lure them.  But it was more practical, no?  If you could catch a whole jarful you’d have a natural lantern for the rest of the evening.  Try as we might, it never seemed to work out that way.  My sister was better at catching fire flies: more patience. But at least we didn’t get stung. And no fire flies died.

I actually do miss the buzz.  The spring buzz.  Busy bees are buzzy.  And that’s good. But if the ringing in my head ever goes away, I won’t miss that [(it’s not really in my ears, but I “hear” it)].


Meanwhile, my knee replacement recovery is going well.  Of course, it’s not as quick or as continuously improving as I’d like.  It still swells and gets a bit cranky. The muscles are learning how to work with their new partner.

I had written just before the replacement surgery that my left knee — the one I called “Click” — was going away. [essay here]

Well, I have a surprise lately: new knees “click.”  Especially when climbing stairs, or when tired.  Turns out the muscles have to tighten up a bit after surgery and patients can experiencing clicking — even clunking — for a year, or more. Oh well.

Now I call my left knee “Double Click.”  Or sometimes “Click Two”; (or Click Too).  It’s like a whole new relationship.


Today’s breezes portend things to come later this week. Some chilly, wet and breezy weather should bring much needed moisture and … gasp! … perhaps a few inches of snow.  A not uncommon occurrence in Colorado — April snow.  But it usually means bad news for all those white, purple and pink pretty petals.

Good news/bad news about Double Click: I no longer get arthritic pain when storms approach and descend upon us. That’s good, but I had gotten used to the extra warning.

Cheers and wishing you a healthy spring and a fruitful summer!

Joe Girard © 2015

Postscript update, April 13, 2015: The bees are back.  I heard and found them en masse during neighborhood walk today! Yay! Not quite as many as last year, but the apple tree in our front yard was abuzz this afternoon. (see photo below).






Bee on Blossom, Girard front yard, 4/13/2015

Bee on Blossom, Girard front yard, 4/13/2015

Provocative, Ignorant Erin – A Reply


Oh Erin. Really? A Measured Reply

Erin Burnett of CNN is pretty.  But she’s also petty and ignorant. That’s no crime.  And she has a lack of intellectual curiosity that would even make George W Bush blush.  Again, no crime.

But tonight (11/21/2014) she used these “qualities” in a way that brings even more shame to the news “information industry.”

First, she breathlessly covered the unfolding events regarding the Grand Jury review of the Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of – and possible murder of – 18-year old Michael Brown. Nearly panting, she seemed all out (combined with “neutral” guest, Van Jones) bent on justifying whatever protests may come.

  • There are only three blacks on the Grand Jury; and nine whites.  This was stated over and over.
  • And why is the Grand Jury meeting in Clayton, which is ten (10!!!) miles away with different demographics and income levels?
  • At the end of the one of several segments on the shooting and Grand Jury she closed with “Why Clayton?”, as if this would be answered later.

She did not answer it later. Her show returned to, for all practical purposes, promoting protests (but not violent protests) and justifying them.  Not only is the Grand Jury mostly white, meeting 10 miles away from Ferguson, but also they are meeting in secret.  Oh the horror.

Second, in her next major story she and several other guests went on and on (breathlessly) about what an evil man Bill Cosby is, how his career is over, and more women were coming out with credible claims of being victims of his sexual abuse.


The Ferguson, Wilson and Brown tragic story first.  Ferguson is a small community, embedded within a much larger community.  Like nearly all municipalities, Ferguson does not have the resources to conduct the full operations required in capital crimes.  For this reason, in Missouri (as I believe in nearly every other state) major crimes are prosecuted by District Attorneys.  Each county has its own prosecutor, and District Attorney Staff.

A short detour to history in apropos here.  The city of Saint Louis is not in the county of Saint Louis.  They removed themselves from the county in 1876; this is often referred to the “original sin”, and has led to many problems, and made this issue of multiple small municipalities in a single metro area worse.  Saint Louis County has nearly 100 municipalities. [1]

Saint Louis used to be the county seat.  That ended 138 years ago. So that’s where the County Courthouse was (it later became a Federal Courthouse), near the riverfront where the famous arch is now located.  That’s where the Dred Scott case was heard. That courthouse is now a national historical site.

The County Seat of Saint Louis County is in Clayton.  Thus it is home of the County Courthouse, as well as – ironically – the majority of Washington University in Saint Louis.

Now, since the District Attorney’s offices are in Clayton, and the County Administrative offices are in Clayton, and the Court House is in Clayton … well, that’s where the Grand Jury is seated.  The Grand Jury hears and sees evidence in the County Courthouse.  Is it 10 miles from Ferguson? Yes, I suppose it is.  Most counties are pretty geographically large and diverse.

Members of a Grand Jury are chosen the same way members of a regular trial jury in a jurisdiction are chosen: at random from among registered citizens.  Overall, Saint Louis County is 70.3% White; it is 23.7% Black. [2] So the 9-3 racial split on the Grand Jury is quite a good representation of the County of Saint Louis.  If a Black officer had killed a Hispanic or Asian teenager?… well, what would we expect the Grand Jury to look like? About the same. Yes, those percentages are pretty much reversed for Ferguson, just 10 miles away.

Finally, the presentation of evidence and testimony to a Grand Jury are required by law to be done in secret.  If we need to ask why, it’s because we’d like to protect jury members from blow-back.

Couple thoughts about Saint Louis County District Attorney Robert McCulloch.

He could have decided to go ahead with prosecution based on his own (and his staff’s) choice.  He did not.  I think it’s an understandable decision: this is certainly a highly conflicted case and proceeding to full prosecution almost certainly would be (or will be) a very long, painful and expensive process; apparently they did not think they could likely get a conviction.

He could have withheld the case, and the opportunity to indict, from the Grand Jury.  He did not. From the very duration of the sitting (since August), we can be sure that the Grand Jury is hearing every bit of culpatory evidence possible.  And just to be sure, McCulloch appears to be preparing the release of all testimony and evidence after the Grand Jury renders its decision. That’s very unusual, but in this case it is justified.

I have to say, the system is imperfect.  It’s what we have.  If Darren Wilson is guilty, I hope they get him.

But Erin Burnett, your ignorance, lack of intellectual curiosity, laziness in finding any answers to your own protest enraging questions, and your urge to inflame emotions, is most detestable. At least you’re pretty. Apparently a bit of research or waiting for answers is too time consuming for you … when there’s racial conflict and racially charged protests to incite.


I won’t go on nearly as long about the revered man with so many credible charges of sexual abuse against him.  He should be shamed.  Apparently he is not.  Juanita Broaderick.  Paula Jones. Gennifer Flowers. Monica Lewinsky. Kathleen Willey. Dolly Kyle Browning. Eileen Wellstone. Carolyn Moffet. Elizabeth Ward (Gracen).  Still we are forced to listen to him ….

Oh sorry, I’m supposed to be talking about Bill Cosby, not … oh … what’s his name?  … Clinton. Right.

Yeah, same thing.  Except Clinton has admitted to the Jones, Lewinsky and Flowers encounters.

Suppose we could add that one perp is white – and getting off scott-free – while the other perp is black – and catching all kinds of crap. But that would be race baiting.

Keep it safe out there.

Joe Girard © 2014


[1] Ferguson and Saint Louis’ Original Sin:

[2] Saint Louis County (Missouri) demographics:

Note: this essay has been gently edited (the author, 11/22/2014 – JFK assassination day).






Democracy, No!

Democracy NO!


The much revered founders of the United States are guilty.  Guilty of disliking democracy — even fearing it.  They did not want this new country to have democracy.  Ever. They erected statutory barriers to it.



“The years leading up the Declaration of Independence gave them them the motive.  The years during and immediately after the war for Independence confirmed that motive. The drafting of the Constitution in 1787 gave them the means to carry out this crime.  Their intent is confirmed by the writing and  passage of the so-called ’Bill of Rights’ — the Constitution’s first ten amendments.


So begins the prosecution’s opening statement against the founders of the United States – and its Constitution’s esteemed framers.


The defense statement: “The founders were many things.  They were first, anti-royalists … abhorring ancestral rule by monarchs. Similarly, they distrusted peerage: the archaic protocol by which great titles and seats to government were granted by heredity.  They were believers that government — the state — derives its ‘just powers’ from the consent of the governed.  That is to say: the government might have any number of powers at any time, but those that are just and righteous can only be conferred by consent through contract with the people who are governed.


In all these ways the founders and framers were radically protective of ‘we the people.’  The charge itself, then, is unjust. It is not appropriate.”


The prosecution presents its case.  To establish the motive, we see videos of angry, shouting mobs.  In one, on King Street in Boston, a large crowd of hundreds is spurred on by chants and slogans memorized in dingy pubs from the shallow words of pamphleteering provocateurs.  Hundreds scream crude obscenities at a solitary young British sentry.

After a while, eight other soldiers – all but one quite young also – appear to relieve the poor lad.  The crowd continues to shout profanities and inane insults. They yell “fire”; actually daring the soldiers to shoot at them. When they still get no response, they begin hurling feces covered rocks. Hooting shouters urge them on.  A jar of urine is flung upon the soldiers.  Shouting back and forth.

Finally, a soldier opens fire.  A struggle and yelling.  Then more gunshot. The mob would call it the Boston Massacre. Even founder and patriot John Adams could see the horror of giving the power of law making to a people so easily agitated and manipulated; he defended the soldiers in the King’s Court, earning acquittal for six, and light sentences for the other two… despite a jury of American locals.

In other video clips, we the jury, are shown scenes of similar mobs — yelling, shouting, literally drunk; drunk with spirit, drunk with mob mentality — breaking into the residences of government officials.  One after another, in city after city, they are pulled out of their homes, often dressed only in a nightgown.  They are stripped naked. To the huzzahs and hollers of the mob — those spurred on by slogans and chants and pamphleteers — we cannot bring ourselves to avert our eyes as the videos show hot oily tar inhumanely poured over bare flesh. They are then covered in feathers.

During the war, popular movements, supported by vox populi, led to harassment of Tories.  Those loyal to the established government were subject to all sorts of vengeful acts, not limited to the taking of life and property.


Even after independence, and after the War for Independence (but before the Constitution), the rule of law was subject to the rule of the populace .

“Serious rioting recurred in many of the major cities … Extralegal groups and conventions repeatedly sprang up to take public action into their own hands, to intimidate voters, to regulate prices, or to close courts.  … In the 1780s … mobs were taking over the functions of government.  This was not simply a chimerical fear, for the legislatures in the 1780s appeared to be extraordinarily susceptible to mass demonstrations and mob violence.  State governments were continually forced to submit to various kinds of popular pressures, often expressed outside the regular legal channels.” [1]


Before, during and even after the revolution.  All of these actions, the prosecution points out, were done with the look and feel of popular democracy; And so the framers had the motive to suppress the will of the people, the will of the demos.


Now the prosecution directs our attention to the deed itself: Restricting democracy.  The framers gave us – we the people – three branches of government, and yet only one-half of one branch is “chosen by the people”; so says Article 1, Section 2.


How crafty they were to throw “the people” a “democratic bone.”  This House would turn over rapidly, every two years, as “chosen by the people.”  It served the framers doubly well: 1) this house would give vent to the popular current trends; they could be more responsive to democratic populism and even recite popular chants in the halls of government; and 2) they would probably,  hopefully, go back to their plows,  mills, and shops after a term or two.


The Senate, the more powerful house of the Legislature, would be chosen not by the people, but by the Legislatures of the States themselves (Article 1, Section 3).  These terms were six years, thus allowing the members to take a less populist view, (the defense interjects: “And a more long term view.”  The judge pounds the gavel: “That’s out of order and enough of that, counsel!)  … ahem, the Senate would naturally take a less populist view, a less democratic view, of legislative issues.  Note: Not chosen by the people.  Not reflecting the view of the people. Not democracy.


And then, look what they did to the Executive Office.  The framers did not want this person to be fawned over by the public, worshiped as some regal or charismatic persona.  Consequently, they struggled mightily with what to call this person, and how to choose him.


By what simple non-populist title to address him in person and in legal documents?  They feared anything that might smack of privilege or royalty. They desired to convey a humble, yet appropriate title.  A struggle for sure; after all, no country yet known had done such a thing.  They settled on such a wonderfully simple solution that it was doomed to fail. The executive is the person who presides over government and presides over the highest meetings of government.  They called him, simply, President.

  Continue reading »

My Story, by Claire

Claire is a freshman at Arapahoe High School, in Centennial, Colorado — site of last week’s horror. I’m providing a link to her essay.  This was sent to me by my bother, whose daughter is the “Jessica” referenced in the essay.  It’s very well written; it is gripping; it has wonderful insights … and great advice to all of us.

 My Story

When I woke up December 13, 2013, I was ready for a regular Friday. I had no idea that I would be presented with a situation that would test my emotions in ways I never knew possible…in ways I never would have dreamed of.

Claire’s Story

Fee, Fie, Foe — Fumble


There is an obscure monument located, pretty much, in the middle of nowhere, Kansas.  Well, not actually nowhere: it is among some corn fields and a pig farm, about 2 miles northwest of Lebanon, KS (population 218).  But then again, maybe as close to nowhere as you can get — Lebanon is in Smith County, whose population has dwindled to fewer than 3,800 … at a lonely 18 folks per square mile, it’s even less populated than when it was formed back in 1872.Slide1


To give an idea as to its significance, or lack thereof: the monument’s coordinates have precisely been determined to be 39 degrees, 50 minutes North Latitude; 98 degrees, 35 minutes West Longitude.  That puts it exactly 12 miles south of the Nebraska state line, and almost exactly halfway between Missouri and Colorado.  Evidently a whopping 1,200 people visit there each year, including the few who use the tiny chapel at the site to get married.


A century ago, in 1912, Arizona became the 48th state, completing the contiguous United States (plus DC, to be precise, so I will call it 48+).  At the time the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey decided that this point is the Geological Center of the United States. [1]


It will serve as a nexus for showing that you can pretty much find whatever it is you are looking for.



There is a number that mathematicians refer to by the Greek Letter, Φ.  It has a number of curious properties.  Before we drift into a bit of math (really, it won’t be overbearing), I wrote a poem about, or perhaps an ode, to Φ. [2]


FEE, FIE, FOE, — Fumble


Φ: a special number golden

Some say it rhymes with “me”.

But mathematicians told ’em:

“No it can’t be said as ‘fee’.

You should pronounce it ‘fie’.”

So now, it rhymes with “I.”


Its character irrational.

Its digits never ending.

Its ratio most fashionable;

Nature applies its trending.

So “me, myself and I,”

Could be compared with Φ.


This number, Φ represents something special to some people, most of whom are odd.  For instance, the author Dan Brown, of “The da Vinci Code” notoriety.  It is the “so-called” golden ratio, supposedly perfect and wondrous to behold.

Its decimal value is infinitely long, but we can simply refer to it as 1.618, or 1.618 …

Turns out it shows up in some unusual places, but before we go to those places, let’s consider some of its qualities.

The inverse of Φ (i.e. the number 1 divided by Φ, or 1/Φ) is 0.618… — or the exact same digits after the decimal point:  i.e Φ-1=1/Φ.

Some folks, Dan Brown included, make quite a deal of the fact that the ratio of sequential numbers in the Fibonacci series quickly converge to quite close to Φ.  [Quick Fibonacci overview.  Take the first 2 natural numbers: 0 and 1.  Add them to get 1.  Add the last two numbers in the series, now 1 and 1, to get 2.  Repeat.  Add 1 plus 2 to get 3.  Add 2 plus 3 to get 5.  So: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 … Note that the ratio of 55/34 = 1.619)

In fact, who needs Fibonacci? Brown, supposed son of a mathematician, is a simpleton. If we take any two non-zero numbers (even complex numbers) and add them to get another number; and then keep adding the last two numbers in the sequence to get yet another … well, the ratio of the last two numbers quickly approaches Φ.

Folks get all worked up about how this ratio is the perfect construction for all sorts of things: from faces and limbs, to animal bodies and tree structure, to even architecture — ancient and modern.  Dan Brown contorts himself to prove this in The da Vinci Code; but careful checking shows that he was very discriminating in sharing his set of facts.  In other words, he only found (and shared) what he was looking for.

Fibonacci numbers do show up in nature, mostly in plant leaf and cone structure.  As a consequence Φ can be inferred.  Still, mostly you have to really be wanting to find it: it’s like saying “Ah ha!  I keep finding this ratio (fill in the blank … could be two or three or 3.14).”

But regarding Φ, I have found it in some unusual places …

To convert miles to kilometers, you multiply by 1.6093.  Dang near phi.

The ratio of earth’s orbital period, 365.24 days, to her planetary twin Venus’ orbital period of 224.7 (earth) days, is 1.625.  Pretty close, too.


Looking at a map of the United States and locate good ol’ center of the 48+, near Lebanon, Kansas, at almost exactly 40 degrees north latitude.  The distance coast-to-coast directly East-West through this point is 2550 miles.

Border-to-border, directly North-South through this point is 1570 miles. The ratio is 1.62.  Rather close to Φ, for no apparent reason, but I found what I was looking for, didn’t I? The United States is perfectly proportioned.


OK, just a couple more.  Here is a population density map of the United States, with population distributed by latitude.


Notice that really high peak around 40 degrees north?  That’s where I live, in northern Colorado.  There is sort of a wide band from about 38 deg to 42deg: this is on account of the Bay Area, Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York and surrounding areas lie here.

The days are getting short this time of year (well, actually they are all almost exactly 24 hours, but daylight is getting short).  In about two or three weeks, we’ll be at minimum duration of sunshine per day, on the average about 9.3 hrs in this band.  But, in 6 months we’ll be at almost exactly 15 hours.  The ratio?  About Φ, or 1.612. [3]

Almost exactly 38% of the population of the 48+ lies in this band.  Oddly, this is the complement to 1.000 of Φ’ (where Φ’=1/ Φ).  That means the ratio of the population of the rest of the country to this thin strip is 0.62/0.38, which is of course essentially equal to Φ.

Conclusion 1:  Φ is the perfect number and Φ is the golden ratio; therefore we at 40 degrees north latitude in the US live in the perfect place, with the perfect ratio of the nation’s population, and the perfect ratio of day lengths… in a country sized perfectly in accord with the Golden Ratio.

Conclusion 2: This essay demonstrates a huge part of the problem with political discourse today.  Namely: smart, creative people with time and resources on their hands can find or manufacture nearly any fact they want to support their positions – and then fill the web’s ether with them.  People who read or hear such “facts” typically don’t have the time or resources to do their own research.  So they typically exhibit one of two reactions.  One: if it confirms how they are inclined to think, they absorb it into their psyche, to share at appropriate moments later.  Two: if does not confirm their current positions, they dismiss it as apocryphal or anecdotal.

Let’s replace these options with two much better.  One: ignore it.  Or two: take some time to factually refute or substantiate it.

Wishing you peace


Joe Girard © 2013

The Girardmeister

[1] since the additions of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959, the center has of course moved to another insignificant spot, now in South Dakota.  These points technically must move back and forth several miles each year, owing to the vagaries of shoreline build-up and erosion, depending on vitality of storm seasons.

[2] The Greeks pronounce this letter Fee.  Europeans generally follow the Greeks.  In English speaking countries, among the mathematical literati, it is more customary to pronounce it Fie.  Dan Brown says Fee; so therefore obviously it should be said Fie.

[3] This sunlight ratio is closer to 1.60 in the Bay Area (around 38 deg north) and 1.65 Chicago (almost 42 deg north).

[4] Φ = ½ [1 + √5]


Calculus … ‘n’ stuff

Calculus : the branch of mathematics that deals with the finding and properties of derivatives and integrals of functions, by methods originally based on the summation of infinitesimal differences. The two main types are differential calculus and integral calculus. – Oxford Dictionary

Syria is presenting a difficult situation to the world and to the United States – still.  The US press has taken to referring to the difficult situation as having difficult calculus.  From this, they get their cue from the president, who has referred to “the calculus” of Syria.  Such as: clear evidence of chemical weapons use would change “the calculus.”

This language clearly tells us that, regardless of what they might know or don’t know, they want us to think they are intelligent … and serious.  Anyone who uses the word calculus must be smart and somber, capable of deep thought.  And since they want us to think they are intelligent (and … ahem … serious), … well then … the fact that they must resort to such a word should send us to a safe place.  They probably aren’t.

To politicians (i.e. lawyers) and the press (i.e. journalism majors) using such a word as calculus is a smoke screen – a curtain – meant to deceive.  As in: the wizard must consult with the infinite through the magic of “calculus.”

That’s right.  Here — sit right down here.

That’s it. Ha ha!  This — this is the same

genuine, magic, authentic crystal used by

the Priests of Isis and Osiris in the days

of the Pharaohs of Egypt — in which

Cleopatra first saw the approach of Julius

Caesar and Marc Anthony, and — and so on

— and so on. Now, you — you’d better

close your eyes, my child, for a moment —

in order to be better in tune with the


We — we can’t do these things without…

…reaching out into the…

…infinite.  Yes.”  

— Professor Marvel, in The Wizard of Oz [1]

That’s it!  Marvel’s use of “crystal” – like the use of “calculus” by the political and press community – actually triggers a sense of cheap chicanery combined with complete inauthenticity and utter ignorance.  Our BS-alert meters light up.  At least – like Professor Marvel in MGM’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy story – our president and press are sincere and mean well.  Still.

Let’s help them out a bit.  There are many fields of mathematics that could apply.  In fact, simply substitute Mathematics for calculus, and our BS-alert systems wouldn’t overheat as much.

How about Arithmetic?  Chemical weapons use by Assad, or presence of al-Qaeda among rebel leaders, would change the Arithmetic.  That’s a little too weak, isn’t it?  Bill Clinton and Joe Biden beat us up during the 2012 campaign season – especially at the Democratic Convention – explaining that the government’s role in the economy was as simple as Arithmetic.  Gosh, did I feel dumb.  Who knew it was so easy?

How about Geometry?  Or even Algebra?  Those are subjects that many people in non-math, non-science and non-engineering roles have taken, studied, and passed.  We could appreciate that it’s difficult, but it’s doable.  Evidently, those words convey too much simplicity.  [Algebra would have a special applicability though, as it crept into European languages from Arabic].

OK then.  How about some related fields that actually have uncertainty and variability built into them? How about Probability and Statistics, or Computational Quantum Physics? – which pretty much couldn’t exist without uncertainty and probability.

I also suggested Chaos Theory and Fractals, where even knowing all present facts as perfectly as possible cannot lead us to absolute certain knowledge of any future facts.

Or the best: Fuzzy Logic.  A true branch of math and logic, it is.  And unlike Computational Quantum Physics its very name suggests uncertainty!  The application of such math already accepts that a perfect picture of reality at this moment may not be – in fact cannot be – a perfect picture in the next moment.  And better yet, a perfect picture is not attainable!

Lamentably, this is the unfortunate situation the world faces.  It is a situation of certain uncertainty.  We can be absolutely sure that there is significant information – like how things will unfold 1, 2 or 10 years hence – which we absolutely certainly cannot know.

It could be so much easier, couldn’t it?

  • What if Bashar Assad (Syria’s dictator) was known to have 550 tons of uranium yellow cake?  It’s not weapon-grade fissile material, but could make a heckuvalot of dirty bombs.
  • What if Bashar Assad were also known to casually lob missiles into civilian populations – not just his own country, but to neighboring countries?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew certainly that he had not just used chemical weapons, but had repeatedly used those dozens of times – over a period of decades? With many thousands of victims each time.
  • What if he actually bragged about having tons and tons of the stuff … both Sarin and VX?  And what if, when challenged, he denied it, saying it was destroyed?  And then if, when further challenged to provide evidence, he produced 13,000 pages of gobbledygook … sending the world’s truth-seekers into a wild goose chase?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew he’d order mass rapes, ran brutal torture chambers, burned people slowly to death with their families watching, and had multiple mass graves scattered across his country?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if he were to invade a neighboring country, in naked aggrandizement, to seize highly productive oil fields as his own?
  • And gosh, would it be easier if Assad also bragged about paying money (first $10K, then $25K, and finally $50,000 per event) to Palestinian families as a pay-off when their teenage children blew themselves up in crowds of Jews?
  • What if the UN actually passed numerous resolutions saying: this regime must stop what it is doing, or face military action?
  • What if the United States had dozens of countries ready to stand side-by-side in a grand alliance, including a willingness to provide “boots on the ground”?  What if there were corroborating intelligence from organizations like the UK’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB and GRU … and many others?

If only it were so easy.  But no, it’s not so easy at all.  Those are the circumstances under which we went to war in Iraq in 2003.  We so easily forget that both presidents named Bush went and got congressional approval to fight a war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq under brutal facts (those are the 2003 war; the 1991 war liberated Kuwait).  They also built huge international coalitions in support of those wars.

Virtually every Democratic voter who was born before 1986 has voted for such people to become president multiple times (or by inference, vice-president, which means “a heartbeat away”): Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edward, Joe Lieberman. They all voted to go to war against Iraq (Democrats by a 28-21 margin in the Senate) under far more strict and severe criteria than we now consider to justify lobbing cruise missiles and few airstrikes into Syria.  [2]

In short, a YEA vote now is validation — ok, perhaps some thin vindication — of the 2003-Iraq war decision.

Sadly, there was no end game, even though it was pretty obvious we would “win” in a matter of weeks.  And we have no end game now, with Syria, either.

There are two possible heroes of that now forgettable and infamous 2002 vote.  The Republican tally was 48-1 for the resolution.  The lone Republican was Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, a fellow who literally inherited his father’s (John Chaffee’s) Senate seat, both well-known as very “liberal” Republicans; and in 2006, shortly after re-election, Chaffee-the-younger switched party affiliation.

Surprisingly, I nominate Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy from Massachusetts for hero.  During debate on Iraq, the Senator declared that (I’m paraphrasing here) … given all the bad stuff we know about Saddam Hussein, and even if you provided me with total undeniable proof that he had useable Weapons of Mass Destruction and the means to deliver them … I would still vote no.

That is a man of principal.  He didn’t need calculus, algebra, arithmetic, geometry or even fuzzy logic.  No “known unknowns” or “unknown unknowns.”  He saw it clear with no equivocation.

And speaking of arithmetic vs. calculus: modern economics does indeed require much more calculus than arithmetic to understand and explain.

If you want to make the other guys sound dumb, say “it’s just arithmetic.”  And if you want to make yourself sound intelligent, say “it’s calculus, … yeah, ‘n’ stuff like that.”

But if you want to be honest, you’d probably have to call these situations their own class of Fuzzy Logic instead of Calculus.  The latter has a definitive correct answer that can be arrived for each set of given initial conditions – follow the correct process of derivatives, integrals and infinite series, and you clearly get the same repeatable answer, every time. The former, Fuzzy Logic, not so much.

There may be little hope for total peace on earth; still I wish all of you peace in your lives.

Joe Girard © 2013

[1] Script to the Wizard of Oz.

[2] Senate Roll Call vote, Iraq War Resolution:

Acknowledgement: to my friend in Indianapolis, who clued me in to all the talk about “calculus.”

Notes: (1) I confess that a couple of paragraphs are paraphrased from that evil, evil woman, Ann Coulter.  I don’t normally read anything from her, but someone sent me this link and it seemed interesting.  Next thing I knew I was half way into it….

Community Organizer Goes to War:

(2) in the 1991 Senate vote, it was very tight 52-47 in favor of liberating Kuwait by military force.  10 Democrats voted for it; 45 opposed.  Biden voted against this one, which likely cost him some of his chance for the  ’00 nomination.  That’s probably why he voted YEA in 2002 and got his hair implants … he still wants to be president.

(3) House votes in 1991 and 2002 are not reported here, but both carried YEA for military force.



Too Clever

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream.
The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the stream.
The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?”
The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out.
But in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog.
The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink;
He knows that they are both about to drown,
but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”


Replies the scorpion: “It is my nature...”

— From Aesop’s Fables

There are a pair of unbelievable English words that  mean the same thing.   It’s just incredible, but — acting interchangeably and as the same word — I posit that they are probably the most often incorrectly used words in American English.

These two most incorrectly used words are “unbelievable” and “incredible.”  These words mean, literally, “not to be believed.”  If someone says that their child is “an incredible child”, I feel like asking: “So, did they speak 12 foreign languages and win a Nobel Prize by age 6?  Did they successfully command the sun to rise in the west today?”

My 1975 Websters has no entry whatsoever, not even under the “un-” listings with a “believable” listed in a lengthy table of verbs and adjectives that follow.  My 1947 Funk & Wagnalls does list “unbelievable”, but only as the opposite of believable; which means that it is unacceptable as truth.  Finally, in my 2001 Random House Unabridged dictionary, “unbelievable” makes its own full appearance: too dubious or improbable to  be believed.  And a second definition, which now seems to be the hyperbolic and generally accepted definition appears as well: So remarkable as to strain credulity.  In other words: at the very limit, and perhaps a bit beyond, of what one could believe.

I live in Boulder county, in Colorado, where “The One’s” name is still spoken in solemn, reverent tones. One suspects it is likewise in many other communities … as it is with various of my friends and family, who yet devoutly remain — current revelations notwithstanding — fervent that “He” (who promised the most honest and transparent administration ever [1]) can do no wrong.

For them it is truly unbelievable that three — count ’em three — crises of ethics have hit “The One’s” administration lately.  For those of you buried under rocks and moon-eyed over “The One”:

  • Bengazi: Sworn testimony reveals that the administration knew from the very first moments that: 1) it was, in fact a coordinated terrorist attack on the US consulate; 2)the administration’s state department had been warned for months that there was insufficient security for the Libyan diplomatic team; and 3) The administration had the military and CIA “stand down” while the attacks were underway.The administration hid these facts, carefully crafting statements that would protect the president and his administration as the November elections approached.  Employees were threatened and demoted for challenging this apparently unethical approach.
  • IRS-gate.  The IRS, an armed branch  [2] of the administration’s treasury department, intentionally and specifically single out organizations with viewpoints that are probably contrary to the administration’s ideology.  These organizations were subject to intense and exceptional scrutiny and delays. This occurred for up to two years.
  • Justice department essentially spied on the AP (Associated Press) to get electronic communication information. In a hugely rare political gesture, this was defended by Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell.  And maybe that’s why this is the one that could hang over the One’s administration.  The MSM distrusts Republicans, especially McConnell.  The Left Wing radio shows love to accentuate the *CON* in his name as he is con-man, as are all Republi-CONs.

The media spinners are spinning credible stories about how Republicans are to blame for Bengazi (budget cuts) and for the disaster that followed (carefully releasing their own versions of communications).  It is, after all, all politics.  All that notwithstanding, the administration will skate relatively free on this one.  Yes, four people died and there was a very non-transparent cover up.  But in the end, it will be deemed a mistake, incompetence, trying to do too much.

And the spinners are craftily spinning away on the IRS issue too.  This too definitely happened, and IRS officials definitely either lied or were (almost) unbelievably corrupt <grin>.  Still this is too far down from “the One” to pin on him — although the top does set the tone.  As the same spinners used to enjoy saying when Reagan was in the White House: The fish stinks from the head down.

It is the spying on the AP thing that might be the cross the administration has to bear for three more years.  This country loves its 1st Amendment Rights, so much so that we allow people to burn the flag, fly Mexican flags above the Stars ‘n’ Stripes, and call corporations people.  We love freedom of the press.  In Reno v ACLU, the Supreme court ruled that the internet effectively gives us unlimited freedom of speech; and since anyone can publish on-line (like this post), by extension there is almost unlimited freedom of the press.

It will be interesting to see how the press, especially the AP and the Washington Post which has the legacy of Woodward and Bernstein to uphold, carries this out.  In what could spawn an awkward partnership, there is evidence that the Administration may have used the power of government to spy on Fox reporter James Rosen.

Of course the Obama administration — like the Scorpion — turned out to not be the squeaky clean nice guys we wanted to believe.  D’oh. He’s a politician.  And he’s a product of the Chicago political machine. It is, rather, very believable that he has an enemies list, uses the levers of power to his political benefit and to torment his enemies, tries to control the press, is furtive and choreographs cover ups of negative events. It’s very credible that he’d funnel billions of dollars in pro-green projects to political supporters who bundle millions of dollars in campaign support, and make high level presidential appointment to extremely wealthy insiders. Big deal.  What did you expect?

Unconsciously, when reading a written piece or listening to someone speak, I critically count up things like the use of “incredible” and “unbelievable.”  I leniently permit a single use of the word — you are permitted to strain my credulity, but only once.

Here is my once.  Don’t you find it incredible and unbelievable that Republican leader Mitch McConnell publicly defended the president’s eagerness to find out how the AP gets its information?  Given this political manna, I’m sure the Republicans will find a way to screw it up, and The Teflon One will wiggle away.  Now, that’s believable.



Joe Girard (c) 2013



The Places WMDs Take You

Boston Bomber charged with using weapon of mass destruction, or WMD?  Really?

Up until now I’d always thought of WMDs as the big three: 1) nuclear effect weapons (nuclear blast or a nuclear “dirty” bomb; 2) biological effect weapons (anthrax, ebola); and 3) chemical weapons (with nerve agents).

Sure enough, US code 18-§ 2332a (c)(2) defines a WMD  as the big three, plus “any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title.”

Off to Title 18, section 921, where explosive device is defined as:

(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—

(i) bomb,
(ii) grenade,
(iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
(iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
(v) mine, or
(vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
(B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and
(C) any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
The term “destructive device” shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a s…
blah, blah, blah
So, there you have it.  Bomb.  A bomb, or any device with a projectile with an incendiary charge of more than 1/4-ounce (one presumes this is standard gun powder), IS A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION.
Can we now admit that Bush-43 — and the intelligence of Israel — and Britain — and France — and Russia were right? With a definition like that, of course there were WMDs in Iraq!
Naturally, I’m being a bit silly.  Everyone thought Bush and SecState Powell were talking chemical weapons, and possible nukes.  That’s what they — and Cheney — led us to believe.  By the way, a nuclear effects weapon need not be a thermonuclear device to qualify as a WMD.  Per 18-§223a, any device “designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life” is a WMD.   If memory serves, Iraq was harboring 550 tons of Uranium Yellowcake, which was safely and furtively sent to someone who could put it to good use: the Canadians.
Yes, while we were all fawning over “the One” during the summer of 2008, our country’s state and defense departments were going about the important business of getting this hazard to a safe place.  The existence of 550 tons of enriched uranium yellowcake does not prove that Iraq was about to re-start their nuclear program.  It’s a long way from yellowcake to weapons grade or even reactor grade.  Still, that’s enhanced enough to turn a several thousand Scud missiles into dirty bombs, and according to title 18 of the US code of regulations, a WMD.
Zooming to the present.  According to many sources, Syria has used chemical weapons based on the nerve agent Sarin.  This was supposed to represent some sort of “red line” which would bring the United States — and her allies, if she so committed — to some sort of elevated activity or intervention.   Perhaps even military intervention.
Really?  After 75,000 dead and now … now after a few dozen or hundred more are killed by the legal equivalent of a pressure cooker laced with nails and ball bearings … now we are saying Assad and his Lex Luther henchmen have crossed a “red line”??
I recall just a couple of years ago, when a thousand or perhaps two thousand deaths in Libya led us to declare that there was some “moral imperative” that we (the US and the West)  intervene.  We launched several hundred cruise missiles at Moammar Qadafi’s strategic military and state sites (don’t quibble with how I spelled his name; I think there are at least 1,000 western attempts to spell his name phonetically).
75,000 dead in Syria.  A huge humanitarian and refugee problem.  A dilemma for our friends in Jordan and Israel, to say nothing of the struggling new democracy in neighboring Iraq, and the struggles in neighboring Lebanon as well.
Compared to only 1,000 dead in Libya with neighbors like Tunisia, and Egypt (well into their own Arab spring) and Algiers.   Was Qadafi really that much worse than Assad?  In fact, after witnessing what “the Coalition of the Willing” had done to Saddam Hussein, Qadafi swore to totally give up on obtaining WMDs.  Ever.
I’m not saying that getting belligerently involved in Libya was wrong; nor am I saying that staying out of Syrian belligerence is wrong too.  I am suggesting that looking at moral “red lines” like use (or presence) of WMDs, and number of deaths, presents a limited scope that is a distraction from issues more important …
For one, Syria has close ties to both Russia and Iran.  Libya was fairly isolated, diplomatically speaking.
And Libya  produces about 1.65 Million Barrels of oil per day — about 2% of the world’s production.  Most of that oil goes to Europe, which can hardly afford another economic wobble  … which would indeed have happened had Libya stayed politically unstable much longer.  Syria’s petroleum production?  A tiny fraction as much. With Libya producing, the world can do without Syria’s pittance of oil, which it has done for several years now.
Rest well when you can.  You might need it.
Joe Girard (c) 2013

Clang goes the Trolley

Let’s play a game.  Trolleyology.  It comes in three distinct flavors, getting more challenging and interesting as we move up the levels.  It is generally a British game and based on British definitions of trolley, although the game transports to the Americas quite well.

[Definition background.  What Americans call a “shopping cart” the British often call a trolley.  Also, what American might call a “street car” Brits call a trolley.]

[Game requirements: Be honest and try to answer all the questions.  There are no wrong answers.]

Level 1, Trolleyology.  Question: have you ever popped into a grocery store so you could quickly get one or two things, and emerged 30 or 40 minutes later with a trolley full of product you didn’t originally intend on buying?  Or even with two or three extra items?

When you enter a grocery store, you are playing Level 1 trolleyology. Most grocery stores are set up so that common items are in the back, or in remote corners. Need some milk? Back of the store. Loaf of bread or dozen eggs?, often at remote and opposite corners.

Now you are in Trolleyology Level 1.  Do you have preferred aisles or routes you take to get to these items, or between, say, bakery and dairy?  Think a moment.  Do you prefer the soft drink aisle?  The baking goods?  Stationary?  Home cleaning products, beer and wine?… Seasonal merchandise?

Now take a moment and think about what your answers might say about you.

See, trolleyology isn’t that difficult or stressful.  You’ve answered the questions and ruminated on what they might say about you.  You’ve progressed to Trolleyology, Level 2.

Level 2, Trolleyology.  Think again about your experiences in grocery stores, or department stores, where people are pushing around trolleys full of merchandise. Have you ever peered — perhaps casually, perhaps with feigned casualness — into someone’s cart and taken note of what they are about to buy? And then, started passing judgment on them, their lifestyle and their value system?

Last night for example, while failing Level 1, I was cruising through the front end of the store when I passed a 20-something fellow in baggy droopy jeans.  He stopped in front me — causing me to have to avoid him — to grab a package of candy bars.  Passing him, I noticed his cart had three 12-packs of Pepsi soda and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes.  I couldn’t help from making some quick judgments about “droopy drawers”, how his present and future will turn out.  I could not help it anymore than I could help myself from quickly peering into his cart, or admiring a beautiful sunset.

We all lie on the”nosy and judgmental” scale somewhere.  We want to know things about others, and we all feel some urge to judge, even though we know it’s not really “right.” Even if it’s just to feel better about ourselves.

Thank you for playing Tolleyology, Levels 1 & 2.  These shopping versions  provide  little windows to our brains and our souls. The gist here has been get us to realize that we are all (at least a little bit) nosy, judgmental and subject to manipulation.  It’s OK, we’re only human.

Trolleyology Level 3.  You are standing on a pedestrian bridge over a street car rail line.  You are standing next to a very large fat man.  He is a complete stranger to you.

Your attention is drawn to a run-away trolley coming toward you … about to pass underneath you and the strange very large fat man in a few moments.  You also know that a hundred yards (or 90 meters) down the line there is another man — completely unaware of the run-away trolley — who is performing some maintenance work on the rail line.

If the run-away trolley continues –a single car, small and unoccupied — it will surely kill the worker.  Yet it is small enough that the body of the strange very large fat man would stop the trolley.

Trolleyology Level 3 Question.  Do you push the very large fat man off the bridge and onto the rail — to stop the trolley and save the worker?  No matter what you do — or don’t do — your actions will be nonpunishable   There are no wrong answers.  Not answering is disqualifying.

Take a moment.  Push the fat man to his death.  Yes, or no?

If you answer “yes”, you can skp to the “skip to here” paragraph”  below.  If you answered “yes”, outside this essay, the game changes the question.  What if the worker would only be maimed — losing a limb — instead of being killed? Would you still push the strange very large fat man?  The idea is to find where your “yes” becomes a “no”.

If you originally answered “no, I would not push the fat man” you can perhaps support your answer with logic such as

  • Someone is going to die.  Who am I to decide which one?
  • This whole thing happened without me until now.  Why should I get involved now?
  • Who am I to play God?

Here again, the game changes questions again.  Would you still answer “no” if 3 workers would die?  Five? 100?  What if one of the workers were you spouse, child, or parent?  What if one thousand — or one million — would die from the run-away trolley car?

The (admittedly very uncomfortable) idea of the game is to determine the threshold at which the answer is barely — just barely — “yes, I would push a total stranger off the bridge to almost certain death in order to spare _____ *(fill in the blank).

If there is no threshold for you (i.e. NO, there is no circumstance under which you push him), then you are dismissed from further participation.  Many would dismiss you as heartless, others as stridently beholden and shackled by principals, or lack thereof. You would choose not to get engaged to save one hundred, one thousand or one million. No matter how many 8 year-olds were killed or limbs were to be lost.  In a sense, you win.  But the rest of us must struggle on.

[Skip to here if you answered YES originally]

So here you are.  There is some threshold, no matter how uncomfortable, at which you push the fat man off the bridge. “Gosh darn it, I don’t feel good about it, but yes I think at some point I’d have to push him off the bridge.” Good, thanks for being honest.

We now turn to the terrorist acts in Boston.  Two brothers, Chechan immigrants, set off bombs in a crowd at the Boston Marathon, killing three and horribly injuring 180, leading to many limb amputations.  Later, a security officer was fatally shot; and a police officer was gravely shot as well.

Now, suppose — just suppose that instead of a strange very large fat man — you have a person of interest who has information about such a horrible terrorist attack about to occur. You can choose to help avert this killing and maiming. If there is a threshold where, “yes, you would push the man off the bridge”, then we have to ask you the corollary: what is the threshold where “enhanced interrogation techniques” are appropriate? Could we deprive someone of sleep, or a meal, or a few moments of breathing?

Going a bit further, one of the Boston Bombing Terrorists has been caught alive.  He may well have knowledge of pending future attacks, possibly even more horrific.  He was seen on video placing his bomb-laden backpack in front of an 8-year old boy … who would soon die … and then walking away.  [We Americans are so naive.  If this were to happen in Israel, the crowd would immediately start shouting “Unattended Package!” and tackle his sorry skinny ass.] He may well be attached to cells of fanatical terrorists who have provided him inspiration and training.  Cells of terrorists who will act again.  Since you have read this far in the column, there is a point at which you would push the fat man off the bridge.  Is there not, then, a point at which you would go beyond Miranda Rights and try to save death, mayhem, maiming and suffering for untold many others?

Many people are already clammering for the death penalty for young Mr. Tsarnaev. Some water cooler conversation swirled around wishes for a slow, painful death.

The end of Trolleyology, Level 3.  If you would kill the fat man, you must also address the question when and how to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” to get information that could save hundreds, thousands, even millions from death, maiming and suffering.

Thanks for playing all three levels of Trolleyology.

Joe Girard (c) 2013



60 years on: Remembering the forgettable, the forgotten

The pudgy, pernicious, impetuous, spoiled little brat president of North Korea is behaving impertinently. Yet again.  No great surprise.  It does serve to remind us, though, of the forgotten war — the Korean War.


Dennis Rodman, World Diplomat

According to Dennis Rodman, it could all be fixed if President Obama would just sit down and talk with Kim, with no pre-conditions.  Interestingly enough, this is is the same strategy then-candidate Obama espoused in 2008: talking with the other of the world’s two most notorious rogue states, Iran.  How’d that work out?

Little brat has recently reminded us — by his bombast and saber rattling — that the Korean War never really ended, and he’s right.  Ike had a big chest himself, earned as Supreme Head of the Allied Forces (SHEAF) in Europe during War War II.  But in reality he was a very, very cautious man.  When he took office in 1953 he visited Korea (fulfilling a campaign promise), and what he saw showed the cautious leader that the costs of continued fighting would be much  too dear.  He pushed hard for an armistice, and Russia (recently relieved of Stalin’s pugnacity) was ready to pull back.  China went along and the cease fire was signed — 60 years ago.  But not a peace treaty.

Now the spoiled brat reminds us that the state of war still exists, and has declared the 1953 cease fire null and void.

President Kim

President Kim

Nonetheless, the President hasn’t done nothing in response to Spoiled Brat’s chest thumping.  Stealth B-2 bombers flew non-stop all the way from Missouri to the west coast of the tiny peninsula last week, for a bomb-drop demonstration on small a un-populated group of islands regularly used for live explosive target practice.  A non-stop bombing run from almost halfway around the world, and then returning, non-stop — seems pretty darn impressive but it’s actually just another practice run for the USAF.  Take that!, you pompous, pudge-faced little  twerp.

This was an appropriate response.  I’m not sure what else we can do at this point. North Korea has broken every pledge they’ve ever made.  To attack them would put South Korea’s 50 millions at great risk, not to mention the already-fragile world economy — Seoul is only 35 miles from the DMZ, and NK has many missiles already dialed in, some reportedly could be armed with tactical nukes.

This week President Obama helped us remember the Korean War in another way.  Let us not not forget the legions of heroes, those who gave unselfishly to help protect a land of different-looking people a long, long way from home.  This week Father Emil Kapaun’s nephew received the Medal of Honor on his uncle’s behalf.

Here, I’ll devote the remainder of this column to Krissah Thompson of the Washington Post, as she describes Father Kapaun’s heroism, his unselfish commitment to his fellow men, and his death.  (hyperlink to Ms Thompson’s article above.).


Joe Girard (c) 2013



Imagine: MOOKP and POOP

Eyetooth: A canine tooth of the upper jaw –Webster’s Dictionary

Pooh: interjection, used to express contempt or disapproval. – Webster’s

Oddly, Webster’s does not define Canine Tooth.  Nor the character developed by A.A. Milne.

Canine Tooth: Any of four teeth having a thick conical crown and a long conical root, adjacent to the distal surface of the lateral incisors, … also, cuspid. – the Medical Online Dictionary.


He had never seen his wife.  A few years before they met, he was blinded as a result of a horrible chemical accident at work.  The damage to his left eye was so severe that it was completely removed.  His right eye was too unhealthy for him to qualify as a candidate for corneal transplant.

Still,  one  ophthalmic surgeon held out hope.  His retina was reasonably healthy.  It had a blood supply and nerve activity. If they could just get some light to it.


She was intensely crippled by colitis.  Constantly faint and feverish, passing out and falling into slumber – whether pain or fatigue induced, it did not matter – was her only relief for so many months that she could not remember.

Nothing seemed to help.  Cramping seized her abdomen for days, weeks … months; and rocked her from deep in her intestines.  Could medicine bring a young woman back from the edge of darkness, and return the healthy mother that her children needed, and deserved?


Harsh circumstance often gives rise to imagination and creativity.  The first two decades of the 19th century were cold, but the year 1816 stands out as especially cold, wet, grey and depressing.  Such would be the circumstance that gave the world one of its most creative stories that still holds our imaginations today.

First: why was it cold?  Scientists have long noted a strong correlation between solar weather an earth’s climate patterns.  The best indicator of solar weather is sun spot activity.  Since the Medieval Warming Period (the period that gave rise to the colonization of Greenland, 950 to 1250AD), the northern hemisphere was generally cooler until about 1900.  During that period, there have been two periods of especially low sunspot activity: the Maunder Minimum from about 1645-1745 (coinciding with the Little Ice Age) and the not-quite-as-severe Dalton Minimum of about 1790-1830, which also coincided with lower-than-average temperatures.

1816 will forever stand out in history.  In the United States, Canada and Western Europe it has many names, including “The year without a summer.”   Bedding and clothing hung out to dry often didn’t dry; rather they froze stiff on clotheslines that summer.   Rivers and lakes froze over in July and August across New England and Pennsylvania.

The Dalton Minimum cruelly coincided with a short but intense period of extreme worldwide volcanic activity.  Five major worldwide volcanic eruptions, beginning in 1812 on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, spewed tiny particles high into the atmosphere.  Rather than settle out, these road the earth’s upper air currents, until she was shrouded in a type of early sunscreen.  The last of the five, in April 1815, on the Indonesian Island of Sumbawa, was of biblical scale, the earth’s largest eruption in over 1,600 years.  The blast was heard nearly 2,000 miles away.

As crops failed and moods drifted to dreary, Percy Shelley (among the finest lyric poets in the English language) and his 18-yearold fiancée/girlfriend Mary Godwin found themselves in Geneva, Switzerland. They were for a while the guests of famous English poet and ex-patriot Lord Byron, and his personal physician John Polidori.

The weather that summer was so abysmally cold, wet and dreary that they decided to pass the time telling each other creepy stories of the supernatural, and topped it off with a writing contest: they would all write imaginative stories of the most bizarre and terrifying sort.

Mary Godwin soon married Percy, becoming Mary Shelley.  The story she wrote was re-worked into the now-famous and classic thriller, Frankenstein.

As imaginative and disturbing as the story remains today, it cannot match the imaginative healing powers of the human race, and the human body, to which we now turn our attention.



Months before the final bandages were removed from his right eye, a strange and bizarre Frankenstein-like process was begun.  MOOKP.  They would soon know the outcome.

The first step was pretty simple, if not odd: removing some of the tissue that lines the inner mouth, and using it to replace some corneal tissue in the eye.  This would put receptive, healing and moisture producing tissue where it needed to be.  It would become the healthy blood nourishing platform for what would come four months later.

The next step involved removing a cuspid tooth from the jaw, complete with roots and part of the bone.  The tooth was then ground to the desired shape and size.  A hole was drilled into the tooth, which received a plastic cylindrical optical lens.  The next step was to embed the tooth somewhere in the body where the roots would continue to receive nourishment, and the tooth would grow a thin protective sheath.  For this patient, it was in his substantial cheek tissue.
For four months the oral tissue grew in the eye, and the tooth remained “alive”, embedded in the cheek.  Then it was time: Let there be light!

In the final surgery, the new corneal replacement tissue in his right eye (the tissue from his mouth) was peeled back.  Then the tooth (yes, quite literally an eye tooth) — with an optical canal filled with a plastic lens, and coated in a thin layer of sheathing — was removed from his cheek and embedded in the new corneal replacement tissue.  Positioned just so, in his eye.

When the bandages were removed, light passed through the canal of the tooth, onto his retina.  He saw his wife, and she was beautiful.

Over the months, as his retina is re-trained in seeing, his vision will grow keen.

This process is called Modified Osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (or MOOKP).  It works.  The eye is not likely to reject tissue from the same body, and the plastic lens – coated by a thin sheath that was grown in while in his cheek – is not detected by the eye.  [Sources and resources for this story below, in bibliography].

A Very Happy Man: Sees because he has a tooth in his eye

A Very Happy Man: Sees because he has a tooth in his eye


The severe and crippling colitis was the result of a raging C. diff infection, short for Clostridium difficile. The human gut is full of many trillions of bacteria – more than 1,000 different types in the large intestine alone – and they are mostly beneficial to humans.  They inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  For digestion, they produce enzymes that degrade the largest biomolecules.  It is a weird little ecosystem in our guts: bacteria thrive on some of our food, but the waste they generate is in turn food for us.  Life for humans could not exist without these beneficial bacteria.

As humans, our western doctors tend to prescribe a lot of antibiotics.  Perhaps too many and too often. One possible negative consequence of taking antibiotics is that too many of these beneficial bacteria are killed – and get flushed out with the poo.  A mild case might result in tummy rumbles and a period of diarrhea, until the body can rebalance itself.  Gone too far, and the body’s last feet of the alimentary canal can be taken over by the opportunistic  C. diff bacterium, well known to lurk around hospitals where sick people with weakened intestinal bacterial can succumb to a new unwelcome colonization.

Our young mother was treated with antibiotics for an oral surgery several months ago.  An extreme case C. Diff resulted, taking over her intestines and causing a raging case of colitis that crippled her, and brought her family’s lives to a stop.

The process for jump-starting her healing began only a few days before the big procedure.  First a donor was selected. Usually it is someone close like a spouse or family member.  For our young mother it was her husband.  The process requires the donor to produce and submit a healthy stool sample for the necessary lab work.

Meanwhile, the patient has started a gastro-intestinal purge – a process that someone preparing for a colonoscopy might find familiar, if not uncomfortable.  Two days of fasting and treatments with colonics has done the trick.  It wasn’t fun, but months and months with debilitating colitis wasn’t fun either.

Cleared for the procedure, the patient is anesthetized.  The process is not that dissimilar, again, from the colonoscopy.  A tube — inserted through her anus, past her rectum and up through the colon in to the intestines — delivers a slurry.  It is a sort of blenderized purée made from her husband’s feces.

This slurry contains several trillion healthy and benevolent bacteria.  Within hours, in fact before she awakes, they have begun colonizing her entire bowels – large and small intestines.  The C. Diff is forced out by the more vigorous bacteria, “donated” by her healthy husband.  In just a few more days her family will get her back —their mother – his wife. She will get her life and vivacity back.  Delivered from despair by a poo transplant, or more officially: a fecal microbiota transplantation.


Every human mind is full of creative potential, fueled by imagination, life’s experiences and observations, — and each individual’s needs, goals, desires, hopes, dreams.  For 18-year old Mary Shelley it was a deep, cold, dark summer.  For doctors, it is their bravery to see beyond ordinary disgust and seize upon truly innovative methods to bring health to suffering humans.

What will it be for you?

Now, do you have another definition for “eye teeth”?  The next time someone comes up with an outrageous yet creative idea, will you say “pooh”?  Or “Good for you”?

Joe Girard © 2013


Story Sources:

Feces transplant sources

Discover Magazine, “The Healing Power of Poop”,

Michael Mann (of Hockey Stick fame) on the Little Ice Age, and other global weather and temperature periods pre-1900.


The IT Security Crowd

Tax Time and the IRS has untold terabytes of information on all of us.  How secure do you feel about that?  The Government Accounting Office has audited the IRS’s security efforts and procedures, and found them to be sorely lacking, leaving Taxpayer personal information insecure.

Among the vulnerabilities identified in the GAO report are easily-guessed passwords, passwords that hadn’t been changed in almost two years, and storing unencrypted user names and passwords in a file with a revealing name. …The IRS also has been lax with data encryption and in controlling access to databases, servers, and systems,…

Rest easy though, the GAO report “makes no mention of actual security breaches during the period audited.”

Over at the US government Commerce Department’s NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology — sort of a very high tech outfit) they had the wherewithal and awareness to maintain a database of all our vulnerabilities.  Turns out that database was hacked… penetrated by malware anyway  (which is pretty dang serious in a supposedly high secure environment).  Don’t worry.  Nothing bad happened … this time.  Just that someone’s software penetrated the servers that store our government’s thoughts on our own National Vulnerabilities.

Not done yet.  A guy named Wronald Brest, of MPD — a high-tech design and engineering firm in Owensboro, KY — was caught using pirated software he had obtained from Chinese and Russian programmers.  Turns out he paid them to reverse engineer his favorite software, then used that software to do design work on Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Missile components, the President’s Marine One and many other programs, many of them classified.

It’s no secret that the Chinese are trying to hack into our most secure industrial and government databases — this guy is inviting them right in.  And who has a name like “Wronald” anyhow?

The wars of the future will almost certainly involve cyber tactics and strategies.  Are we ready to play the game?

Over at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, they’ve teamed up with the National Security Agency to set up Toaster Wars — a weird nickname for what amounts to Hacking War competitions among high schoolers and middle schoolers.  Look for IT Security to be the next really, really big thing — could even replace “the military industrial complex.”

Ready or not, here comes the future.

Joe Girard (c) 2013


Well, Starbucks can’t seem to make anyone consistently happy.  At least anyone with excitable political views.  They do keep making money however. (SBUX up about 55% in last 2 years).

For the longest time it was hip among the Left to eschew Starbucks; they were polluting all the high traffic areas with look-alike stores making look-alike coffee specialty drinks.  Call it the “too much like Wal-mart” problem, but it was cool to scorn Starbucks and their regular customers.

But wait, Starbucks actually looks out for their employees, providing much better benefits than typical behind-the-counter grunts.  An impressive list: Retirement plans, sick leave, vacation, management opportunity.  Fortune rated Starbucks one of the best companies to work for in America. So that’s way better than most employees get at, say, Wal-mart or Staples.  So, good for Starbucks, from the Left.

Then Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz came out strong in favor of “gay marriage.”  Wow, Yay for him and Starbucks (says the Left); and then he and Starbucks get the scorn of the Social Conservative Right.Female_homosexuality_symbol.svg

Now Starbucks has announced that they will permit firearms in their stores — even open carry — if the weapon is carried by a person  consistent with the jurisdiction’s laws and regulations.  So now it’s all “how evil is Starbucks?” on the Left and “Rah-rah for Starbucks” from the liberty wing of the Right and the NRA crowd.

If the two ladies behind the counter serving coffee are married to each other, does that make coffee taste any better, or worse?  If the CEO supports same-sex marriage, does that really affect anything either?

For me it’s simply about cost for value, taste and convenience.  Starbucks is kind of expensive, so I don’t go there often.  But it’s convenient, so I do pop in from time to time — and now I (sheepishly) admit that I have the Starbucks app on my smartphone.

And to be honest, if it turned out that someone in Starbucks was packing, that would actually make me feel quite a bit more safe. [I am not a gun nut, own no guns and am not an NRA member, although I do occasionally enjoy squeezing off a few


rounds].  Gun owners are easily the most reserved, practical, careful and responsible people I know.  Consider the average coffee shop, especially a Starbucks.  It’s a place where reasonably affluent people lounge around chatting, surfing the web and generally not paying attention to the commotion around them; as such, they present a rather soft target for a whack-a-doo or a terrorist to shoot up.

Arizona has rather liberal gun-carry laws, even open carry.  I’ve been hiking near Phoenix and come across others who are open carrying.  Didn’t cause me the least bit of stress or concern.  Had a nice talk with one fellow about picking encelia for use as a spice in cooking and for medical use (good for skin and minor wounds); he was carrying several stalks he had “harvested”, and quite proud of it — taking several minutes to explain to me how to spot it and how to cook with it.

This is all fine with the classical liberal.  Pretty much live and let live.

bis bald!

Joe Girard

(C) 2013


Current currency

What, exactly, is money? And what does it mean to “save”?  Does this help?

A penny saved is a penny earned.

An old proverb, often attributed to good ol’ Benjamin Franklin.  Another, older version is:

A penny spared is twice got.

An old 17th century aphorism, collected by George Hebert.

That’s back in the days when a penny actually meant something.  Now Canada, whose dollar trades roughly on par with the US dollar, has ceased minting pennies.  The US should soon do the same, but they won’t — penny wise and dollar foolish, I suppose; it costs about two cents just to mint a penny.

Once upon a time, long ago, logic prevailed.  People who worked hard and saved their money were rewarded with the glories of delayed gratification.  By saving their money they could build a house,  buy a car, build a business.  They could fund an education.

But that was long ago, before central banks, currency manipulation, and before the PIIGS.  For 100 years now savers have been punished by central banks who have the authority to conjure up money from thin air.  Savings now not only don’t grow, they are slowly nibbled away, like Hemmingway’s Old  Man and the Sea.  To work and amass a respectable sum of money is a de facto surrender of those funds — slowly, almost painfully — to faceless government bureaucrats a thousand miles away.

This year alone, the US Federal Reserve Bank will “create” over one trillion dollars — partly in purchase of government bonds, and partly in purchase of mortgage backed securities.  And Mitt Romney called the Chinese “currency manipulators.”  HA!.  The yuan is up 10% against the dollar in the past year.

Even the Swiss panicked, devaluing their franc (CHF) this past year, since a currency strong in relation to others leads to expensive (and hence weaker) exports.  Next the Japanese, under Abe, are creating yen at Indy 500 pace, and the yen is down 15% against the dollar in the past few weeks.

It is indeed a race to the bottom.  Many times in economics there are winners and losers.  In this game, it is the saver who loses.  And the debtor (mostly national governments) wins.

But now, over the past weekend in Cyprus, any veil of fairness and even-handedness has been violently ripped away.  As a condition of EU and ECB (European Union / European Central Bank) bailout, Cypriot bank deposits will be summarily and immediately “taxed” between 6.5% and 9.9%.  Simply extracted.  Banks are closed, to preclude runs on the banks.

No story is simple and clean and easy to tell.  Cyprus — that weird sort of two-state island, but not really a two-state island, that was somehow allowed into the euro-zone — is an off-shore banking center that would make the Grand Caymans proud.  They’ve attracted lots of dodgy “dirty” money, particularly from crony-capitalist Russian magnates — so certainly there are “black hats” among the losers.

Nonetheless, here is a bald-faced signal that the world’s general governance is unfriendly toward savers.  The euro dropped 1% today, March 18, as savers (i.e holders of euros) fled to US Dollars and gold.  Imagine saving for your child’s braces, or your grand-child’s college education, house down payment, engagement ring for your financee’.  And governments around the world are either printing money faster than you can save it, or confiscating it directly from your deposits.  What would you do?

What happens in a world where no one wants to hold on to money?  We buy things faster than we ought.  We invest in other instruments faster than we ought.  That’s what “they” want.

At this writing, Cyprus could still deny the EU and ECB their “down payment cum confiscation.”  Banks are closed until Thursday (another 3 days).  We shall see.   To deny Brussels their “cut” would certainly risk eviction from the euro-zone.

On another front: a remarkable new party has sprung up in Germany, populated by intellectuals and economists, that favors dissolution of the current multi-nation euro; and — if that can’t be done — perhaps Germany should return to the Deutsch Mark. Oh, fun.



Street Dancing

Driving around Arlington and Falls Church, VA today, only a spit from the District, especially with gusty winds.  One thing we spotted around town, as back home in Colorado, was panhandlers at traffic lights, looking pathetic and holding up signs “Homeless, Hungry, please help”, “Anything Helps.  God Bless” and the like.  What was interesting is that in many cases just across the street, or  50 meters down the street, was another person dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, or Uncle Sam, or a Giant Dollar Bill, or an Eagle, also with signs, encouraging passersby to drop in and get their income tax forms filled out by a tax service.

There seems to be some controversy as to how long the tax code is.  The US tax code — that is Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations — is some 13,000 pages long (Reference here, and at  But to really understand it, you’ll need to read all the commentary on adjudications and judgments, bringing the tally to nearly 80,000 pages.

Really?  No wonder people are intimidated and feel like they have to succumb to a solicitation of someone dressed up like a statue.  Ironic, isn’t it, that the “sign flipper” encouraging people to drop in to get their Form 1040, Schedule A, B, C and D, and perhaps all those 1099 forms sorted out is dressed up like the STATUE of LIBERTY — the very symbol of freedom in America?  And we are so beholden to a tax code so long and incomprehensible — and a federal organization so intimidating: The IRS — that we pay billions of dollars to such companies like H&R Block and Liberty Taxes to help ensure that we compute our taxes correctly and don’t end up in a small room with an IRS auditor.

I don’t know if Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would have worked.  Maybe 17-17-9 (sounds like a fertilizer maybe, no?).  But a massive overhaul and simplification has got to be in everyone’s best interest — except of course the “special interests.”  And it would free up more money for investment and saving.  The Laffer Center estimates the cost of confusing and convoluted tax regulation at close to half a trillion dollars a year, over $30 billion of which goes to professional services like the company paying the guy to dress up like a statue and flip signs.  No wonder they can afford to pay someone $8 or $10 per hour to stand out in the cold wind and flip signs while looking silly.

I’m  looking at the homeless guys on street corners holding signs in a whole new light.  At least they don’t represent legal efforts to unproductively suck billions of dollars from the economy.

I’d still rather just give them a pair of socks and a granola bar.  A lot less than my accountant.

Joe Girard © 2013



Oh Antietam

The wind, she  blows cold across the hills of Maryland and West Virginia,

Scurrying clouds along their way, from northwest to southeast.

The sun seems like a furtive guest in the sky,

But it’s the clouds who are playing the game.

Antietam is different in March than in August, the last time I was here.

How long ago was it?

The trees are bare this time of year; the corn stalks are laid low; the bean vines are gone.

And yet …

The old Dunker Church still stands, marking the spot of Lee’s defense.

The land still falls away …

to the east, the creek …

to the west, and south, the Potomac …

and rises, after slight dips to the north, to Hagerstown.

The spirits still speak, betraying the secrets of the blood spilled here.

At Burnside Bridge we cross the creek, and take a moment.

We pause, reflect, take pictures.

The creek runs high from last night’s rain.

Just as it ran rich with blood, that September afternoon in 1862.

Twice might be enough; I many never visit you again Antietam.

Still, I carry your message, your pain, your story with me,

Ever onward.

We are here for a purpose.  God I hope so.

Joe Girard © 2013

[1] Essay, America’s Bloodiest Day, Girard


Sowell on Sequestration

Thomas Sowell has a way of explaining things to bring them into clearer focus. Even though most of us weren’t lucky enough to be among his students in our own college careers, he still writes columns and books, giving us the opportunity to be his students now.

Budget Politics
by Thomas Sowell

“Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do?”

Read the rest at TownHall

Conservatives, meet Classical Liberals

If American Conservatives could find common ground with Classical Liberals, we could see a whole new world.  Maybe this is a start?

By Jessica Chasmar

The Washington Times

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Conservative political commentator S.E. Cupp announced Tuesday that she is declining her invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference until it allows groups that advocate for gay marriage.

Read the rest > Cupp pulls out of CPAC

Stupor Bowl


Well, you know that I was quite a sports fan while growing up in the ‘60s.  It seemed like such a healthy distraction.  Living most of the decade in Wisconsin, I was conflicted by familial ties to the Chicago teams, where my paternal ancestral roots lay, and the Wisconsin-based teams of my friends.

A few Packer highlights from Super Bowl I will always be in my mind: Max McGee’s in particular.  First was his one-handed behind-the-back catch of a Bart Starr pass for a touchdown, and later a juggling catch for another dramatic touchdown.  Also, Jim Taylor, and later Elijah Pitts (twice), scoring touchdowns on the classic “Packer Power Sweep.”  [Indeed my recall is pretty good; you can watch some of those plays at the link below].


The next year, I remember watching the famous “Ice Bowl” game played on the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field – the NFL championship game of 1967 – played in Green Bay, Wisconsin on New Years Eve between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys at a temperature of -13F degrees.  Or was it -16?  Freaking cold, and windy too.  The winner was to go to play in the 2nd Super Bowl (then known as The Championship of American Professional Football, or something like that) against the AFL champion, the Oakland Raiders.

Since the Bears couldn’t be in those first two Championship Games, I was happy that the Packers were in, and that they won – although I wish the Chiefs and Raiders had been more worthy opponents.

Less memorable was Super Bowl II.  And to be honest, the halftime shows weren’t very memorable either.  Pretty much the tame standard fare, with marching bands moving into various fancy formations.  They played contemporary tunes with banners waving and batons twirling.  Mostly the announcers talking about how the game was progressing with entertainment in the background.  Carol Channing came out in a fur coat and sang a few songs at least once.

One piece of early Super Bowl history entertainment that was pretty “out there” was when Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen (famous trumpeters of the day) had a sort of dueling trumpeters competition.  Al Hirt was a fairly regular halftime entertainer in those days, if I recall correctly.  Dude could blow.

What’s going on today is really “out there.”  I cannot imagine what I would have  been thinking (and wondering and fantasizing) as a 10 to 14-year old lad if I’d had to watch what passes for halftime entertainment in recent Super Bowls.

In case you missed this year’s, I start by saying just three  letters: (1)”S”; (2) “E”, (3) “X”.  Beyonce’ was the focus of the halftime show.  She’s one beautiful woman – amazingly only one year after giving birth – and her attire and gyrations made every effort to show off her voluptuous yet lithe sexy body; and no effort whatsoever to cover even a single centimeter of her sensationally (sensually) tone legs, leaving her exposed pretty much right up to where her legs come together.

Some other female singers (Destiny’s Child) came up on stage with her and gave no relief: just more scantily clad women dressed “to kill” and scintillate. Or titillate.  More legs and scarcely clad torsos.

Really NFL?  Really?  Why do you do this?  Once or twice a year America is on display to the world … and you do this?  And in our country, young men, adolescent and pre-pubescent males, are watching this game – perhaps fantasizing about playing football in the limelight. And now you’ve got ‘em fantasizing about…        <?>; not football.

You could’ve put an end to this BS in 2004 when Jackson/Timberlake had that little “wardrobe malfunction” during a song with the lyrics: “gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” [Rock your Body].  How’d that work out?

It’s a twisted world — with rampant failed relationships, domestic abuse, date rape, no-dad families, socially maladjusted young men — and you are now officially part of the problem.  And shame on Beyonce’ and Destiny’s Child too, for further objectifying women.  I pity the parents who are raising boys who simply enjoy football and have to watch such bilge.  I guess I’m being a bit sexist — there must be some girls who enjoy watching football too, and they have no need for this, do they?

With Beyonce’, I suppose low moral values comes as no surprise, since her husband is Jay-Z.  That’s the guy who “sings” rap full of the “F” word, the “N” word, brags about his net worth, raps about totin’ guns, raping and killing women AND children, pillaging villages … WTF<?>.  And this is the man/wife-team that President Obama goes to hang out with when Benghazi is burning. The team he wants to hang with at his inauguration.  Evidently Michelle and Beyonce’ are all kissy-kissy too.  Oh well.

I’m warming up to that Christian mantra:

I am in this world, but not of this world. (adapted from John 8:23).

     I truly wish you peace, and a safe separation between what you value and what the world thinks you should value.  And I wish that sports could be a safe distraction, once again.

Joe Girard © 2013



[1] A few videos of early “Super Bowls”: here at]
Other essays (and screeds, diatribes, rants) at my old googlesite: essays
or my main Girardmiester site: Essays