Patty Duke

I was saddened to read of the death of Patty Duke this week.  From the tributes about her, it sounds like she faced difficult challenges in her life, and in her death, but it was encouraging to read that her son thought her death brought her peace.

While most of the obituaries emphasize her Oscar win for The Miracle Worker, I’ll always remember her for The Patty Duke Show, which had one of the greatest ’60s TV show intros of all time.  We watched the show as children and wondered: could there really be identical cousins?  It was one of the most implausible TV concepts ever — right up there with My Mother The Car — but Patty Duke somehow made it work, playing both genteel Cathy and rockin’ Patty.  She was a talent.

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Dust-Covered

The work on our upstairs bathroom proceeds.  We knew it would take weeks, and that there would be workers in the house during that time, and that we’d need to use the downstairs bathroom, but the project had one byproduct I didn’t fully anticipate.

Dust.  Lots and lots of dust.

mezzanine_409When the tile was removed from the drywall in the bathroom, it produced dust.  So did pulling down the drywall.  So did prying off the floor tile, removing the shower basin and toilet, and taking the medicine cabinet off the wall.  I’ve concluded that most bathroom fixtures and coverings must be made of about 90 percent compacted dust.

And here’s another fun fact about dust that I’ve learned:  dust is adventurous.  Dust likes to explore.  Dust apparently wasn’t happy about being trapped in the bathroom for all those years, and now it wants to get out and see the world — or at least the upstairs of our house.  And dust must be curious, too, because it seems to be ending up in virtually every nook and cranny of our upstairs sitting room and bedroom and closets.

Every night when I walk upstairs, I enter the dust zone, and I think of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s and photographs of thin, sad-eyed women holding babies and children and staring forlornly into the distance.  There’s a fresh layer of fine dust everywhere, on the floor, on chairs, on my desk, and on the clothes in my closet.  We’re probably being covered with dust as we sleep, too.

But here’s the worst part — every time I see the dust, the Kansas song Dust in the Wind runs through my head.  It’s unquestionably one of the most morose, whiny, annoying songs ever recorded.  What could be worse that coming home from a hard day’s work and hearing Dust in the Wind, over and over again?  (Well, I suppose hearing Gordon Lightfoot’s  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but that’s a bit off topic.)

I’ll be glad when the bathroom project ends, and we can shake the dust off and move on.

 

Why I’m Glad The Republicans Of The Family Aren’t Around To See This

I’m glad the long-time Republicans in my family aren’t around to witness the 2016 campaign.

Don’t get me wrong:  I wish they were still among the living.  But, with every new slide into cheap slurs and sophomoric behavior, I can’t help but shake my head at how those lifelong Rs would react to what we are seeing.

trump-lead_3512719bTake Grandpa Neal.  He first voted for President in 1920, for Warren G. Harding, and I’m confident he voted Republican in every presidential election for the next 76 years, making his last vote for Bob Dole in 1996.  After the 1968 election, he proudly displayed a plaque he received for his contribution to the Nixon campaign on his bookshelf.  He was a banker who voted Republican because he thought it was the party of fiscal responsibility, growth, and individual initiative, the party of prudent foreign and domestic policy that didn’t go in for the flash and dash of the Ds.  The Republican Party and its sober image fit him to a T. He was a modest paragon of propriety, always carefully dressed and primly mannered, with no flashes of crude humor.  He and Grandma Neal slept in separate twin beds.

Grandma Webner also tended to pull the lever for the Republicans.  She despised the Kennedys for the ostentatious displays of wealth and power that she thought let them get away with murder, and she was appalled by the scandalous behavior of some Democratic politicians.  She thought the Republicans were the more respectable party.

So how in the world would Grandpa Neal and Grandma Webner react to a Republican contest that has seen the leading candidate make a not-so-oblique reference to his sexual capabilities during a televised debate?  Could they rationalize a campaign in which the appearances of candidates’ wives become an issue and where trading crass insults seems to have replaced knowledgeable discussion of policy?  How would they respond to a candidate who routinely brags about how much money he’s made, who was a reality TV star, and has encouraged thuggish behavior by his followers?

I suspect that they would say that this is not their Republican Party anymore.

The Trump supporters say that he is giving the staid and stodgy Republican Party a much-needed shake-up and bringing new voters into the GOP fold.  Maybe that’s true — but maybe the Republican Party is just losing its way.  If Donald Trump is the nominee, what does the Republican Party stand for, really?  

Puppies Of The Permafrost

In the far northeast region of Russia, in an area called Yakutia, portions of the permafrost are melting.  From time to time, the melt exposes the tusks of long-dead wooly mammoths, which are prized by collectors, so local hunters regularly prowl the melt zone, looking for trophies they can sell.

information_items_3462Instead, five years ago the hunters found . . . a puppy, still locked in the ice but apparently perfectly preserved.

When the hunters made the find they alerted scientists who flew to the area and found another frozen puppy from the same litter nearby.  The puppies date back 12,460 years, to the last Ice Age.  The remains of the two puppies have now been extracted from the permafrost and are being studied by excited researchers.  Because the puppies apparently were killed by a mudslide and then immediately encapsulated in the oncoming ice, all of their soft tissue — brains, internal organs, fur, and skin — has been preserved, which is exceptionally rare.  Even parasites on the puppies’ bodies were frozen in place and are being studied.  (It makes you wonder how quickly the ice was advancing, doesn’t it?)

Because the puppies were found close to some butchered and burned mammoth bones, suggestive of the presence of early humans, scientists are very curious as to whether the pups were simply part of a wolfpack in the area, or were part of a wolf-like but separate species that already was allied with early humans and later developed into fully domesticated dogs.  The research on the remains of the two puppies will undoubtedly help in the broad ongoing effort to unravel where the modern dog came from.

It’s pretty amazing to see the body of a mammal so perfectly preserved from a time long before the pharoahs and the building of the Sphinx, when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers still roamed the planet.  It makes you wonder what other remains might be locked in the permafrost, waiting to be exposed in the gradual melt.  Could there be a perfectly preserved Neanderthal or one of those mysterious Denisovans who could teach us a lot about the dawn of humans?

Hillary’s Bar Exam Failure

Recently I was reading an article and ran across the statement that Hillary Clinton had failed the District of Columbia bar exam when she took it back in the ’70s.  I was startled because it was something I’d never heard about her background, so I actually did a search to check on whether the statement was true.

D03G3PBS07 A FEAIt was.  In the summer of 1973, Hillary Rodham took the D.C. bar exam.  817 people took the exam, and she was one of the 261 who did not pass.  She also took, and passed, the Arkansas bar exam, so rather than stay in Washington, D.C. she moved to Arkansas, where she and Bill Clinton later were married.  According to the link above, she kept the D.C. bar exam result a secret from her friends until she made a reference to it in her autobiography, Living History.

I mention Hillary Clinton’s bar exam failure not to bash her for something that happened more than 40 years ago — lots of famous and accomplished lawyers and politicians have encountered an initial failure at the hands of the bar exam — but simply to note how selective the reporting on political figures can be.  Story lines somehow get set, and facts that are inconsistent never get mentioned.  Hillary Clinton is portrayed as a brilliant law student at Yale who worked on one of the congressional Watergate committees, then went on to achieve great success with the Rose law firm in Arkansas before Bill Clinton was elected President.  Her failure on the D.C. bar exam is a clinker in that story line of unbroken accomplishment and gets discarded.  Do you think a failure on the bar exam by, say, a politician like George W. Bush would be overlooked — or that we would hear about it, over and over, as evidence in support of the narrative that he wasn’t really very smart?

This reality is a significant failing by the news media and the punditocracy, and it does a disservice both to political candidates — whether they have a positive narrative or a negative one — and to the public.  It assumes that the general population can’t really sift through the good and bad of a public figure’s life and reach a fair judgment about them, so facts get edited and blemishes get removed until the story line leads inexorably to one conclusion.  We’re told, over and over, that someone is a genius or an idiot — and then, when contrary facts are disclosed, it comes as a shock.  I’d much rather get the facts, good and bad and in-between, and come to my own conclusion.  And by the way, stories where people overcome some adversity tend to be much richer and more interesting than airbrushed sagas of ever-increasing triumphs.  Take Lincoln, for example.

 

A New Bosch Book

The Parsons branch of the Columbus Public Library system prominently displays “new arrivals” on a rack facing the door, presumably thinking that people coming in might pick up a volume on impulse.  Yesterday, when Kish and I stopped by for some browsing, I was delighted to see a new Harry Bosch book had come out, called The Crossing by Michael Connelly.  I greedily snatched it off the shelf before somebody else beat me to it.

IMG_0763Years ago, the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor recommended the Bosch books to me.  They’re a series — I’m not sure how many there are now — that follow the career and exploits of Hieronymus (“Harry”) Bosch, a long-time police detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.  I started with the first in the series and was immediately hooked, and ever since I’ve happily followed the jazz-loving, uncompromising Harry through multiple partners, tragic deaths, love affairs, family dramas, political intrigue in the LAPD, and countless other back stories as he searches for clues and carefully solves grisly murders.  It’s been a terrific series.

I like the plotting in the books, I like the characters, and I like the way the books always provide some interesting insight to how police detectives work and police departments operate.  But more than anything else I really like the prose.  Connelly writes in short, declarative sentences — a very Hemingwayesque style — and I always enjoy the way he describes what Bosch is doing.  Too often, modern fiction is so focused on trying to plumb new depths in depressing modern relationships that the authors fail to give any kind of physical description of the setting, the characters, and their actions.  Connelly, on the other hand, always provides a rich account of what the characters are doing and how things look.  It’s wonderful to read his depiction, for example, of how Harry Bosch opens an envelope, organizes the papers inside, and then lays out the photos of a crime scene.

So excuse me, for now.  It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day, I’ve changed into my shorts, and I’m going to go outside and dive into the world of Harry Bosch.  I feel like a kid with a full Easter basket.

Traveling As A Message

In the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist bombings, some of our friends have decided to cancel planned trips to Europe.

Obviously, that’s not an unreasonable decision.  They’ve confirmed that Americans were among those killed in the Belgium attacks, and police raids that have occurred following  the attacks are indicating the existence of a large terrorist network in western Europe.

Stitched PanoramaCombine those facts with the overall perception that Europe is struggling to deal with the latest flood of immigrants from the Middle East and didn’t effectively screen the incoming refugees, that Muslims in Europe are not integrated into European society, and that the European police forces haven’t done a very good job of identifying and tracking terrorists, and it’s not surprising that people are deciding that now is not the time to venture across the Atlantic.  And when you read that European police efforts are handicapped by laws that seem motivated more by political correctness than by an honest effort to promote security — like the Belgian law that prevents police raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. — you could easily conclude that if the Europeans aren’t interested in effectively dealing with terrorism, why should I take the risk?

Kish and I are in the opposite camp.  She’s a rationalist who notes that, even with the recent attacks, you’re still statistically more likely to die from a bathtub fall or a traffic accident on the way to the grocery store than a terrorist bomb, and I’m a fatalist who believes that your number could called anywhere, anytime, so why not see the world a bit before your time is up.  Plus, I don’t want the terrorists to think they’ve won and achieved the broad societal terror that is their primary goal.  If no one from America travels to Europe, ISIS, al Qaeda, and their terrorist brethren will chalk one up in the win column.

We weren’t planning a visit to Europe because we’ve had several wonderful trips there and we were interested in going to some place in the southern hemisphere, because we’ve never been there and, as a bucket list item, I would one day like to see the constellations in the southern sky.  Now I’m thinking that maybe we should consider putting a trip to the Old Continent on the calendar, as a way of telling the terrorists to stick it.