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Mendocino County Today: Monday, Dec. 27, 2021

Showers | Apfel Retires | Christmas PS | Boonvile Lights | Masks/Weed | Lake Mendocino | Lost Truck | Off Mendocino | Crazy Money | Ukiah Lights | Jim & Barbara | Comptche 1911 | Don't Look | American Nitro | Yesterday's Catch | Flood Damage | Covid Contradictions | Mendocino 1975 | Gun Shows | Big Kitty | NFL Expansion | Joplin Family | Pear Picking | Lighthouse | Salty Sweat | Santa Bar | 2021 Review | QAnon Shaman

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SHOWER ACTIVITY continues this morning then weakens during the afternoon, with localized clearing possible late this afternoon and this evening. Light precip is expected late tonight through Wednesday morning, possibly falling as snow in areas above a few hundred feet of elevation. Drier weather is possible late in the week. (NWS)

YESTERDAY'S RAINFALL (past 24 hours): Leggett 1.4" - Willits 1.3" - Laytonville 1.3" - Boonville 1.0" - Yorkville 0.8" - Ukiah 0.7" - Hopland 0.6"

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DR. MARK APFEL has announced his retirement from his many years at the Anderson Valley Health Center. Dr. Apfel was primary among the Center's founders when it was first located in 1976 in the now abandoned Ricard structure at the south end of Boonville. 

Dr. Apfel

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A Christmas post-script
As old Mr. Pickwick said
“Ah, this is comfort.”

— Jim Luther

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BOONVILLE, Christmas 2021

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BE CAREFUL OF WISHES

by Jim Shields

Anti-Maskers Remedy?

Last week I told you about a group calling itself “The Mendocino Patriots” who are staging no-mask, in-your-face protests in Ukiah stores that require customers to wear C-19 masks.

These “Patriots” are opposed to the state and county’s health orders mandating “universal masking” in “all indoor public settings.”

A reader sent me an email suggesting that all anti-maskers and anti-vaxers should “be banned from receiving hospital care if they contract Covid since they most likely are responsible for spreading the Pandemic to others who are following the rules.”

What do you think, is that what’s called poetic justice?

Or is it a case of desperate times call for desperate measures?

Seriously, most anti-vaxers who end up in the hospital with C-19 or a variant, convert quickly to true believer status and urge others not to follow their regretful example, and go get the Jab.

Be careful of weed wishes

Hang on a second while I tune up the world’s smallest violin so I can play the world’s smallest but saddest tune.

This sonata is dedicated to all the giant pot growers and corporations who’ve been issuing PR statements, letters-to-the-editor, Op-Ed pieces, and multi-media platform propaganda regarding their imminent demise because of alleged Draconian regulatory over-reach of state and local Weed Ordinances.

The Mr. and Ms Bigs of the pot industry are now demanding that state and local ganja officials send in the cavalry to rescue them because as Flo Kana execs announced recently, “We’re Not Going to Take It Any More.”

What Flo Kana is not going to take anymore, among other things, is paying their taxes under state and local pot ordinances.

They say they’re going broke, they’re downsizing and retrenching, all due to the monopolistic economic influences of the evil illegal black market which deals exclusively with tax-free weed.

Ipso-facto, the Bigs need to be unburdened of their over-burdened tax burden.

As Sonoma County-based CannaCraft, one of the largest cannabis businesses in the North Bay, put it in an opinion piece this past week, “It stinks to be in the cannabis industry in California right now. We aren’t just speaking metaphorically either. Four years after cannabis advocates and workers celebrated the opening of the largest legal recreational marijuana market in the world, misguided licensing and taxation policies have created an emporium of dysfunction. Today, hundreds of California cannabis farmers are choosing to let crops rot in the fields rather than risk a money-losing harvest or returning to the illicit market.”

OK, I’m going to keep this real short.

Here’s what you need to know.

All of what follows is what I’ve written and spoken about starting five years ago when the state and local governments initiated regulating cannabis.

State and local governments were motivated to enact pot ordinances because of the lure of easy money, i.e. greed, in the form of taxes and fees.

Growers were motivated by the lure of easy money, i.e. greed, in the form of cash revenue.

As I’ve said for many years to all the folks who clamored for legalization of marijuana, be careful of what you wish for. Because with legalization comes regulation, and with regulation comes taxes, code enforcement, licensing, inspections, and ramped up scrutiny from regulatory and enforcement agencies.

And they’re now discovering that the money is not so easily earned and it also comes with all kinds of consequences, including the unintended kind. For example, the county’s cannabis ordinance experiment brought in, and continues to bring in, unwanted outsiders, rogue growers, cartels, murderous violence, and the environmental degradation persists to the degree that the North Coast Water Board issued an emergency finding that our area is “inundated” with marijuana and watersheds and water sources are seriously degraded.

These are the basics of any regulatory scheme and framework: There is a cohesive system of regulations and the means to enforce them. They fit like hand and glove. You can’t have one without the other. Yet, that has been the very situation this county has been in since the cannabis ordinance was enacted nearly five years ago. The hand and the glove have never fit.

Economically speaking, without enforcement over-production of product occurs resulting in people and companies can’t move the product to the so-called legal market. That scenario leaves only one viable alternative. If you want to pay your bills and survive in some fashion, you access the black market.

Assuming this county would ever get serious about enforcement, I’ve estimated it would take five years to clean up all the illegal grows.

As you’ll find out in a second, it appears my clean-up estimate could be way off the mark.

Militating against that ever occurring is the county just doesn’t have the appropriate resources, funding or “can do” political will to administer and enforce any cannabis ordinance.

There’s also another prodigious fly-in-the-ointment regarding the likelihood of establishing a feasible, workable weed ordinance.

Just recently Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Louisville Courier Journal there are as many as 10,000 illegal grows in his county. He said he tries to target the worst 100, which is all his small force can handle in a year.

“I’m fighting a dragon with a needle,” Kendall said.

Based on Kendall’s estimate of targeting 100 grows a year out of a total of 10,000 illegal sites, it’ll only take 100 years to get the job done.

Now that sounds like a workable plan.

Don’t forget, when it comes to weed legalization, be careful what you wish for.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, observer@pacific.net, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)

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LAKE MENDOCINO, Dec. 26, 2021

photo by Kathy Wylie

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ASSIGNMENT: UKIAH - IN SEARCH OF LOST TRUCK

by Tommy Wayne Kramer

From the time I met him in the 1990s as a one-man stampede through local bars and saloons until they found him dead on his kitchen floor, he was a big, belligerent, malignant, wonderful caustic planet orbiting my life in erratic, chaotic, wobbly circles.

A handful of times he’d come bashing at my front door, like it or not, around 6 a.m. demanding I get dressed, give him coffee. (“Not so stingy with the f-ing bourbon this time!”) And order me into my car to drive him around.

Because he’d lost his truck. Again.

It was mostly lost on weekends, always at night, and usually it was last spotted, or maybe last remembered, many hours ago at a bar. At times he’d conjure up a few semi-reliable clues but unless his truck was miraculously parked in my neighbor’s driveway I knew I was in for a long morning. His truck was never parked in my neighbor’s driveway.

This time he’d given the keys and 100 bucks to a guy at Harold’s Club. Wearing a green shirt, maybe. And a hat. Lots of teeth missing. Midnight, maybe?

The guy was supposed to fetch some cocaine and come right back. Sipping bourboned coffee he thought more about it. He might’ve left a few minutes later with John Jensen to pick up some crab the Petersens had caught earlier that day down at the Water Trough.

I asked if the Petersens always caught crab down at the Water Trough.

It took him 30 seconds to finish swearing at me for trying to confuse him because by the time I’d established that John had to borrow someone else’s vehicle to go get crab out of the back of his own truck, and then suggested it had maybe belonged to the toothless wanderer. We were both mixed up but only one of us was angry because only one of us was still out $100 and missing a truck.

Then he thought maybe the $100 wasn’t for cocaine after all. Maybe he’d lost it betting on the Raiders.

“Exactly!” I beamed. “And you probably lost your truck in the same stupid bet, and if your imaginary friend without a tooth was smart he already took it to Alex Tsarnas’s junkyard to meet the crusher. And I’m not sure the Raiders played last night.”

He swore some more. We rolled through a mostly empty Harold’s Club lot, then went south to the Water Trough because that was the extent of our so-called clues. Then Club Calpella and Taylor’s Tavern.

Clarification: My friend wasn’t just a monster kept on a leash in the basement of an AA clubhouse; he was also a lawyer, one of the best in Mendocino County.

He practiced law fewer hours a week than anyone could imagine, including his boss. The rest of the time he dabbled in other fancies: First editions, rare marbles, exotic animals in his backyard ranchette, paintings, carpentry, pocket watches, pelts, skulls and schemes to retire early to run a bait shop in Florida. Today we happened to be chasing down a beater of a Ford pickup.

By the time we got to Vic’s Bar in Redwood Valley the local market was open so he trotted over and got a pint of medicine. Not like it would foul his mood.

Inevitably we drove over to the Broiler just because we were within a mile of it, unlikely as it would be that the missing truck would turn up there. I asked why we kept looking in parking lots because wouldn’t the guy have to drive back home from whichever joint it was? And by the way how did your teethless pal get to Harold’s Club if he didn’t have a car in the first place and had to borrow yours?

“Good question,” he said, and it must have been pretty good because he quit cursing for nearly a minute while sweating out an answer. The healing powers of bourbon had revived him and he was feeling a spark brighter. Several more seconds of silence slipped by, then he looked up and said: “Alice.”

Alice ran Harold’s Club. Alice might know the name and/or whereabouts of the mysterious truck borrower.

“Yeah, Alice!”

Solved! I agreed, and suggested we hurry straight to her house. One of us could knock like hell on her front door Sunday at 7 a.m. while I waited around the corner.

He may have been offended at the heavy whiff of sarcasm, or my cheerful lack of loyalty, or maybe it was the recent infusion of his 80-proof breakfast smoothie. No matter. The phlegm-dimmed tide was loosed and out flooded nonstop waves of cursing mingled with threats, like diarrhea from a lard-fed goose. His swearing was always a thing of inspired beauty even when I was being targeted, as in here and now, including the flecks spattered on my windshield.

One who’s never experienced such verbal blasts cannot appreciate the rich imagery of his cursing, though it takes a hard shell to weather insults directed at your ancestral roots, your filthy sex habits, your deviant spouse, always culminating in predictions I’d spend eternity roasting in the fiery pits of Cleveland. Delivered with typical gusto, they were awesome marvels of the profane orator’s art.

Anyhoo, visiting Alice was off the list.

We always found his truck, each and every one of the six or twelve times I was called upon to serve in his two-man posse of repo men. One time we got back home, defeated and insulted because he knew someone was out there driving his truck, burning his fuel, probably heading for Reno with a hooker and a glove box full of cocaine.

Inside his house, a tiny red answering machine bulb blinked. A voice said the truck was behind the T&C Club a few hundred yards south of the kitchen we were standing in. Parked at 1:30 last night. Keys above visor. All’s well, etc. Also, the personal hangover I’d been hauling around all morning had been curbed by gnarly slashes of whatever cheap brown liquid had been in that pint bottle.

Over and out. And that, my friends, was distilled, 100-proof BS at his finest.

(Tom Hine misses him daily; TWK sez it would be nice to wish him a Happy 68th Birthday.)

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SUNSET OFF MENDOCINO

photo by Virginia Sharkey

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CRAZY MONEY

by Paul Modic

I first heard about “crazy money” when I showed up in Northern California and started living in the hills, another barefoot white middle-class hippie fresh off the highway from Indiana. It was called ATD then, Aid to the Totally Disabled, one of the “scams” people ran to get paid by the government.

What you did was go into the Social Security office and make an appointment to see a shrink. If he decided you were mentally or physically disabled then a check from your good Uncle Sam would come in your mailbox or bank account every month. In 1976 that was about $221, not including a rent allowance which was also available.

What put me in such dire straits? I had been fired from my New York taxi job for accidents. I had been waiting in front of Grand Central Station eating the sweet potato bean pie I had made a few hours earlier and hauled to the taxi company on my trusty blue Schwinn five-speed that had served me well in Indiana. I checked in at the garage and began a period called “shaping up” where I and my fellow cabbies sat around for two hours waiting for the day shift cars to come in so the night drivers could pick up their cars and head out. I got there around 1:30 so I could be out on the streets by 3:30-4:00 to catch the rush hour business. I often ate my sweet potato bean pies while shaping up.

We all waited in front of Grand Central though it was technically illegal and when the cop came by to move us along I put down my bottle of Louisiana hot sauce and drove over to Penn Station to continue my lunch in the officially sanctioned taxi line.

Usually we cruised the streets and were hailed by customers: Go around the block, stop at a red light, then turn onto a broad avenue and hope someone was waiting down the street with his hand in the air. I was so on edge that someone standing by the street would reach up to scratch her nose and I'd screech to a stop. There were also customers who only wanted a Checker cab, not my old Dodge--maybe they had a large group that could be accommodated by the Checker. I would stop for their hail but then they waved me on as the more desirable Checker cruised in behind me. (The last Checker left the streets of New York recently, though there are still a few scattered around the country in operation.)

On my way to Penn Station I was a bit frazzled from waiting half an hour only to be told to leave by the police and I turned down Broadway instead of 7th Avenue and came to a stop at the light. I turned right and broadsided another car, correcting just enough so our sides smashed together. There wasn't much damage but when I saw that little kid in the back of the car it shook me up enough that I drove back to the garage and turned in my crunched car.

I never drove again. It was April and I got a ticket on the hippie bus called The Grey Rabbit, $40 to California. The seats of the old bus had been cleared out and there were just mattresses. As we headed out of New Jersey the bus began to groan up a small hill and thus began a journey including many stops at mechanics along the way. The driver assured us that everything would be fine but he was lying like Nixon about Watergate and it dawned on me that now that they had $40 from forty travelers they had the money to fix the bus.

They tried, but after many stops and delays the Grey Rabbit, cousin to the Green Tortoise, finally died by the side of Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas. Fortunately a step van pulling another step van soon picked us up and gave us all a ride to Los Angeles, although San Francisco had been the original destination.

I had become friendly with a girl on the bus named Francine Forim. She had a big yellow dog and played guitar. I was coming back to the hills of Whitethorn and Whale Gulch while she was headed up to Black Bear Ranch in Siskiyou County. We hitched together up the coast to San Francisco and stayed at the “town house” of her Black Bear friends. (I tried to visit her later that summer at Black Bear but she wasn't around after I hiked six miles in.) 

I arrived in Whitethorn on April 13, 1975 where a softball game was going on at the school. Everyone was on acid and Richard Enright ran the bases backward. I ran into Dale and Buffalo who let me rent the treehouse on their back forty for $25 a month. It seemed pretty cool at first but it got a little old going up and down those stairs for every little thing. (The treehouse had been featured in the book HandMade Houses which came out several years before.)

Dale and Buffalo had all kinds of scams going on. Dale was on ATD for diarrhea and when the rent was due Buffalo went over to the Four Corners house, removed some two by fours, hammered them onto the wall of their rental, and told the landlords that that improvement was good for the rent that month. I refused to go along on that board-harvesting venture and after a month couldn't afford the rent for the treehouse and moved out.

I got on food stamps and moved into Elaine's abandoned plastic house back in Thompson Creek above the Big House where I had lived the summer before taking care of incorrigible teenagers, a foster care situation run by Nicki and Tess. (The year before that I'd worked at their daycare center for room and board.)

Those teenagers were pretty bad, ditching us in town so we'd have to run around looking for them. Once Andre, who was dating Elaine, took us out for a field trip on his salmon fishing boat. (She was fifteen or sixteen and he was in his mid-twenties but the dating pool was pretty shallow in those days so no one thought anything about it, certainly not her mother who I romped with in the bushes one afternoon spouting extemporaneous poetry as she rode me. Today they'd probably clasp the cuffs on him and it would be all over Facebook and trending on Twitter.)

Andre didn't catch anything until I started vomiting over the side, then he filled the boat with pretty silver salmon and I wondered if I had helped with that?

When we got back to Shelter Cove he loaded the dingy with fish and rowed us onto shore. We unloaded the fish and Andre said, “Okay, now go back out there and get those kids.” What? I'm going to row a boat in the fucking ocean? But I did it and brought those terrible teens back to shore. (They teased me about my hippie name Zukini, calling me Zu-weenie and other creatively rude variations.)

Nicki and Tess and her teenage kids were all gone by '75 when I moved into the plastic house by the creek. For drinking water I hiked up the spring a ways and got a gallon or two. When my clothes got dirty I put them in the creek with a rock on each, then the next day hung them up to dry.

Patti Lee was living in a plastic house nearby, making blackberry wine, and rearing her kid Orion. She hiked by a couple times a week to water her pot patch a couple hundred yards up the mountain. When she and some other Gulch denizens moved to Petrolia the next year I took over her garden. There was a spring just above the patch that flowed into a fifty gallon pickle barrel. The barrel was plumbed with an adapter screwed into the bottom, then black plastic hose ran twenty-five feet down to the plants. It was a sweet little setup repeated by thousands of hippie gardeners across the coast range in the years and decades to come.

Once there was a fire on that mountain and the community got together to fight it. It was the usual chaotic Gulch scene and though the most direct route was up the trail through my pot patch I shamefully led the group the long way around so they wouldn't see my little garden. I grew that cute but shady patch for a few years then sold it to Mem for a hundred dollars.

When I left New York I was pretty rich—I had saved over $500 driving taxi. I had made about $120 driving three nights a week and saved half of that renting a slum apartment at 533 East 13th Street and then rooming with a succession of fellow cabbies. (For one year I lived at the corner of First and First with Heather and Liev Schreiber when the future actor was seven.)

When the money ran out I was getting $42 a month in food stamps. I somehow made another twenty dollars a month and survived alright.

I had become a classic dirty hippie, showering once a week and smoking pot whenever it was available. A neighbor, Nancy, offered her modern shower to the community including a little can in the bathroom which said “25 Cents.” (Adjusted for inflation it went up to 50 Cents in the '80's.)

Winter came and I moved into the tiny cabin that would drive me legally crazy. It was a ten by eight shed and I convinced myself it was a good place to live. (It reminded me of the Jerzy Kosinski story about the poor young man working at the ski lodge. He felt demeaned and intimidated by the well-off skiers there and so he practiced a specific little jump every night when no one was watching. The jump landed on a precarious ledge but after much repetition he landed safely every time. He challenged one of the rich young skiers who saw what the poor guy did, scoffed, tried it himself and went down in a heap with a broken neck.)

The year before this guy named Jerry had lived there so I figured after he left I could move in. But Jerry had close friends nearby where he went and hung out in their comfortable house every day. I didn't realize that and rotted away all winter in that little cabin.

The money ran out, the taxi company refused to give me unemployment, and said I had been fired for misconduct. I appealed and lost the appeal. Were accidents misconduct? I guess so.

So what to do for money? I had heard people talking about this ATD thing and knew a few people scamming it—it seemed like a good option. Crazy? Probably. I researched what to do or say at my appointment with the shrink and asked Tuna Jackson, a notorious ATD scammer, how he did it.

“Well, it's not called ATD anymore,” he said. “Now it's called SSI.” He sang the first notes of Beethoven's Fifth: ESS ESS ESS eye. “I just told them ‘I don't want to blow it’.”

“I don't want to blow it.” It sounded like good advice. I went into Social Security and made an appointment.

My first meeting with the shrink went well. I walked in there and said, “I don't want to blow it,” very seriously and dramatically. I told him that I had lice, scabies, and crabs and lived in a little shed in the woods. When he mentioned my mother I started crying, channeling my time a couple years earlier when I happened upon this “crying cult” in upstate New York called The Path.

I came back for a followup appointment a few weeks later and checked in at the reception window. Instead of finding the waiting room I walked into the psychiatrist's office by mistake and there was my file on his desk. It was a one page indictment of this poor sad soul living in the hills in a little dirty cabin.

I took the page, left his office, crawled beneath the reception window, and snuck out the door. I found a copy place, made a copy, folded it up, stuck it in my pocket, and went back to the doctor's office. I crawled back beneath the reception window, placed the original back on the shrink's desk, and went to sit in the waiting room.

The thing about ATD/SSI was that they almost always denied you, then after your appeal they usually denied you again. You appeal again and by that time someone up there in the bureaucracy finally says what the fuck, stamps you crazy, and the checks start rolling in. The first one includes back pay up to the day you originally applied so all these scamming hippies were getting big checks for sometimes thousands of dollars.

I got the letter denying my request for benefits. I was a healthy, able-bodied young man twenty-two years old but I must have been somewhat crazy to even apply in the first place, right? Mustering a modicum of self-respect I decided enough, and didn't appeal.

A few months later I got my first check from the government for $1066, which included about five months back pay. I was rich! Every month I received a pretty green check for $221, a princely sum back in 1976. No longer did I have to worry about somehow making another $20 a month by sewing bull rush mats or hoping for a small check from home.

I walked into the Pie-In-The-Sky Cafe in Briceland and announced that I had successfully gotten crazy money! I was met with disapproving looks from the denizens within, especially Autumn Wind. Oh. Maybe it wasn't so cool. Hmm…

I got a bank account and for three years I was on the dole, the checks automatically deposited. My gardening career took off as I was able to buy all the chickenshit I wanted. When I found five acres in the hills to buy I phoned Social Security and told them to stop sending the checks.

Thirty years later and well-established I got a letter from Social Security saying that they had miscalculated my benefits back then and I was owed an additional thirty thousand dollars, or more. Really? All I had to do was come in and be re-examined. Hmm, I don't know, it sounded fishy. I called them up and turned them down. “Are you sure?” they asked.

I was telling my mother this story last year and Googling welfare fraud. I found nothing to worry about. “Well, you're probably a little crazy, anyway,” she said.

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PROFESSOR COSMOS NOTES:

Unsolved mystery over south end of Ukiah Valley last night… Some commentators think lanterns, but that’s unlikely given they disappear into clouds far higher than 1600 feet height capacity of lanterns. 

Includes film: mendofever.com/2021/12/26/mendocino-county-help-us-determine-the-source-of-the-unexplained-light-formation-seen-above-the-ukiah-valley-last-night/

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JIM & BARBARA

I've just heard my good friends Jim and Barbara, at Caspar Beach RV Park died several days ago from COVID. They had both gotten the fist variant early last year, and made it through with flying colors in spite of being in their 80s. These are two people who were incredibly active and vibrant, and always seemed to me as nearly indestructible. Their loss is devastating, and heart breaking. I will miss them more than I have words to say. Please people, Omicron is different. Please get the vaccines. Get the boosters. Protect yourself, your family, and your friends. This is going to get worse before it gets better. 

— Marie Tobias 

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Camp B, Comptche, 1911

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DON'T LOOK UP, a review: I tried to watch ‘Don't Look Up’ [Netflix] last night but could not sit still for it. It was filled with on-the-nose messaging that was completely artless. Written by smug lazy liberals. Two downward facing thumbs. (Mike Kalantarian)

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BILL KIMBERLIN: George Lucas made "American Graffiti" and I made "American Nitro". It was my take on American car culture at the height of the late 1970's gas crisis. It was distributed to theaters all across the country and around the world, and it still sells well.

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CATCH OF THE DAY, December 26, 2021

Brown, Golithon, Jones

SCOTT BROWN, Fort Bragg. Domestic battery, great bodily injury during commission of felony, probation revocation.

BRANDON GOLITHON, Sea Ranch. Domestic battery.

LAMONT JONES, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, suspended license, probation revocation.

Solda, Sotelo, Willis

MICHAEL SOLDA, Potter Valley. DUI-alcohol&drugs.

KALEB SOTELO, Hopland. DUI, no license. 

SCOTTY WILLIS, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, resisting. (Frequent flyer.)

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FLOOD DAMAGE, ALBION LUMBER CAMP

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CAMILLE'S CONTRADICTIONS

Editor: 

In a recent letter to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Camille Harris tells us that she is fully vaccinated at age 78. She also supports those demonstrating in Healdsburg in opposition to vaccination mandates, saying that mandates are un-American. We have had vaccination mandates for years in the U.S.: vaccination for schools, military, travel, health care workers. It is not un-American.

Secondly, the data she cites regarding Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are straight from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ social media blitz. Yes, in Florida right now the numbers look good, because there is a cyclical nature to the ebb and flow of the virus. However, if you look at the overall numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, Florida’s death rate is eighth worst in the U.S. and 54% higher than California.

As far as comparing Florida’s economy to California’s economy, we have a $31 billion surplus, don’t we?

Maria Battista

Santa Rosa

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East Mendocino, 1975

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THAT WAS WHEN I BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND the mood of the gun show. It was not about guns. Not about ammo, not about knives. It was not about shooting lead into perceived enemies. The mood was apparent in the way these men walked and spoke: they felt beleaguered, weakened, their backs to the wall. How old was this feeling? It was as old as the South, perhaps, for all they talked about was the Civil War, and they were oppressed by that and everything that had happened since, a persistent memory of defeat.

For the gun-show-goers the Civil War battles might have happened yesterday. Perhaps that’s how it is with defeats, how they rankle, how the bitterness of humiliation never subsides. A person snubbed in childhood often carries the hurt through a whole life. The civil rights movement was another defeat for these Southerners who were so sensitized to intruders and gloaters and carpetbaggers, and even more so to outsiders who did not remember the humiliations of the Civil War. The passing of the plantation was another failure, as was the rise of opportunistic politicians, the outsourcing of local industries, the sinking of catfish farms, the plunge in manufacturing, and now this miserable economy in which there was so little work and so little spare money that people went to gun shows just to look and yearn for a decent weapon that they’d never be able to buy, an illusion of protection, a symbol of independence.

Over this history of failure was the scowling, punitive shadow of the federal government, hovering like a predator. “They’re fixing to change this whole bidniss,” as the man at the Charleston gun show had said — to take away the last vestige of Southern manhood. The general attitude wasn’t one of defiance; what I sensed was the frustrated scowl and shallow breathing of people who felt lost and trifled with. The gun show was the one place where they could be themselves, like a clubhouse with strict admission and no windows. Yet the atmosphere was unmistakable: it was airless, self-conscious, rueful, watchful, and impoverished. Even putting on a brave face, the gun-show people radiated the feeling that throughout their history they had been beaten by outsiders and made to conform to laws that had no precedent and half the time caused more problems and required more laws — their world turned upside down.

The gun show wasn’t about guns and gun totin’. It was about the self-esteem of men — white men mainly, the dominant ethnic group of the South, animated by a sense of grievance (“the heart of the Southern identity,” according to one shrewd historian) — who felt defeated and still persecuted, conspired against by hostile outside forces, making a symbolic last stand.

— Paul Theroux, "Deep South" (2015)

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ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY

Watching the Browns vs. the Packers in another “epic” NFL match up like few million other lethargic Americans on this rather slow (thankfully) Christmas Day, and wouldn’t you know it, my mind starts wandering in its usual “what if” kind of way. I realize that this is slightly off topic as strictly defined, but indulge me if you will, while I exercise my MBA training; perhaps it will be illustrative of the mindset.

Observations: 

No matter what you think of its validity, “The Covid” has certainly taken its toll on the NFL this year.

Likewise, huge salaries paid to “superstars” who often turn out to be anything but, have as well (Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., among MANY others).

Similarly, replacement players, who are to be had at a bargain, often turn out to be veritable “superstars” in their own right (D’Ernest Johnson) when given a chance.

Concerns:

The NFL would like to increase revenues and increase player and fan “buy in” by increasing the number of regular season games that count and decreasing the number of preseason games that don’t, while simultaneously maintaining over all quality of the games played, or at least not watering them down so much that fans would object.

Opportunities:

There is a GREAT underclass of unemployed would-be NFL players out there to be exploited. When given an opportunity, as they have been recently due to unfortunate circumstances, they have proven to be EVEN MORE profitable than they’re more famous and ever-so-slightly more talented counterparts. Nearly as much talent for a whole lot less money. What’s not to love?

Suggestions:

The NFL should immediately begin negotiation of an 18, 19, or even 20 game regular season, with the players union, in order to maximize both TV and ticket revenues, eliminating meaningless preseason games in the process.

Accordingly the NFL should propose GREATLY expanding the rosters of teams, to at least double the current maximum amounts of active players (53 to 106)

Anticipated Outcome:

So-called “Superstar” Players’ impact on the game would be somewhat minimized, although likely not nearly as much as expected, while newcomers’, who arrive on the scene every year unexpectedly, will likely more than fill the void.

Overall competitive continuity will be greatly increased, greatly smoothing possible viewer level and profit margins.

Many new “semi-star” players will be developed at much less cost overall, greatly increasing overall depth and quality of product.

Continuity of guaranteed profits will be ensured against further risk off societal disruptions.

* * *

JANIS JOPLIN HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, 1967

* * *

PEAR PICKING

by Don Samson

I’ll tell you how it happened…

I was working fruit that summer, moving from orchard to orchard, picking crops as they ripened: first apricots, then peaches, and I was picking pears when I fell in love.

Emily, a local girl just out of high school.

She was working at the weighing station of a small-town packing shed in Arkansas. Each time I came through the line with a load of pears I gave her a wink and a smile just to let her know I was there, waiting, watching.

I didn’t have a lot of time. Pear season was only three weeks long, and we were well into the third week before I got up courage to make my move. 

“Hey, where’s the best pizza in town?” I said on my way through.

“Enrico’s.”

“Where’s that?”

“Franklin Street. Right around the corner from the bank.” 

“I don’t think I can find it alone.”

“Then maybe you’re not going to find it,” she said, but her smile gave me hope.

The next time through I said, casual-like, “Hey, how about you and me go to this Enrico’s place Friday night and I buy us some pizza?”

She laughed like she thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard, but she knew I was serious, and she didn’t say no.

I stood there, waiting for an answer until the guy behind me, someone who knew nothing about love, poked me in the back and said, “Goddamn it, you’re holding up the line…”

So, I had to move on.

But on Friday afternoon, on my last trip through, I said, casually, just like we had a date already, “See you at Enrico’s tonight at eight…”

I didn’t wait for an answer.

When I got my final pay, I drove out to the river where I’d been camped out with the other pickers. Tomorrow we were all heading north to pick apples, the last crop of the season.

After that, for me, it was Mexico for the winter. I stripped down, bathed in the river, then put on the wind-stiffened shirt and pants I’d washed the night before and set out on a tree limb to dry.

Fresh, clean, sweet-smelling and in love, I drove back into town, bought a pint of whiskey, shoved it down in my pants pocket and went to Enrico’s. It was ten past eight. The place was crowded. I looked around. Emily wasn’t there. I got a tall beer and sat alone at a table, cursing myself. I’d finally found what I’d been looking for, what I’d been dreaming about – found it, of all places, in a pear shed in some godforsaken town in the middle of nowhere – and I’d dallied until it was too late…

Or, had I?

Suddenly, there she was, standing just inside the doorway with some girl I’d never seen before.

I waved. Emily saw me. They came over.

“Nice to see ya!” I said, standing up like a guy’s supposed to when women arrive.

“This here’s Lena,” Emily said, introducing her not-so-good-looking friend. “I wanted her to meet you.”

“Nice to meet ya, Lena,” I said, trying not to look at the mole on her cheek.

I got the picture right away. It was going to be a threesome. Lena was there to run interference, to protect Emily from all those things I’d been thinking about.

You know the routine.

But what could I do? We got Hawaiian pizza, extra pineapple on the side. The girls were too young to drink, so I spiked their Cokes under the table with whiskey, and they liked that, I could tell.

A little alcohol and we all got a little loose.

I could see Emily was giving me the close up. Checking me out. So I put on my best self and talked on and on about where I’d been and what I’d seen and all the great and wonderful adventures I’d had, and how, after the apples were in, I was going to go spend another winter on the beach down in Mexico…

They were impressed, I could tell.

After a couple of whiskey-and-cokes, we went across the street to the park and sat on a bench, Lena in the middle, all of us sipping whiskey straight from the bottle while some old folks in funny costumes played umpah music up on the well-lit bandstand. When the time was right, I said, as if it had just occurred to me, “Hey, how about when I’m done with apple-picking, we all get in my rig and drive down to Mexico?”

They got ‘em laughing.

The very idea of it.

They liked that kind of talk, though – I could tell.

“I’m serious,” I said, bearing down. “You want to spend the winter here freezing to death? … Or, you want to spend the winter down on some Mexican beach, sipping margaritas and eating mangoes?”

Oh, they liked it all right, so I kept right on.

“Shoot,” I said, “I know some great beaches down in Baja. We can park the van, set up a tent right by the ocean and do whatever we want and no one's ever going to bother us…”

I had them going now. Laughing, smiling, giggling – small-town girls who’d never been anywhere, and here I was talking about the stuff of their dreams. And all the while I kept thinking how much I wanted to smother Emily’s smile with some good old-fashioned lip-and-tongue action.

I could see that wasn’t going to happen, though – not with Lena around. And there didn’t seem to be any way to get rid of her.

So we sat there, the three of us, laughing and talking and nipping whiskey from the bottle until the bottle was empty and we were all pretty well lit.

It was quiet suddenly. No more music. The old folks in funny costumes were putting away their instruments. Then the bandstand lights went out.

There comes a moment in such evenings, a moment when the timing seems right, a now-or-never moment, and that moment had arrived.

“How about this?” I said, as if the idea had just occurred to me. “Let’s get another bottle and drive out to the river for a quick swim?”

The girls looked quickly at each other.

Then Emily said, “We can’t. We have to get home.” 

I could tell by the way she said it they’d talked it all over beforehand, like girls do.

They only lived a few blocks away, and they’d walked to Enrico’s. 

But I was desperate, so I said, “Hey, let me drive you home,” figuring I’d drop Lena off first.

Emily said, “Okay,” and I thought maybe it was going to happen that way.

But it didn’t.

Emily directed me to her place first, leaving me to drive Lena home, and that’s where we were headed, Lena and I, towards her place, when I looked over at her, I forget what for, and saw something I hadn’t seen before.

I’m not sure exactly what it was, but when I saw it, I heard myself say, “Are we in a rush?”

And I heard her say, “No.”

So we drove out to the river and went for a swim.

And after I was done picking apples, I came back through that godforsaken down in the middle of nowhere and picked Lena, so to speak, and we went down to Mexico and spent the winter there together, eating mangoes and drinking margaritas…

You asked me and I told you.

Now you know.

* * *

* * *

HUMANITY REEKS OF SALTY SWEAT

written by Manuel Vicent, translated by Louis S. Bedrock

When I saw a black cloud advancing along the asphalt on the Avenue of Celestial Peace in Peking, which was long and wide like the runway of an airport, I recalled that Ortega y Gasset had defined China with two words: The humanity. Indeed, that black cloud was all of humanity which was descending from the horizon in a swarm of bodies riding bicycles. As the swarm passed by, heading in the direction of the Avenue of Eternal Harmony, it left a trail of salty sweat in the air.

Ortega himself had written that the rebellion of the masses consisted in the feeling of fullness that had taken over the space. This was evident in Peking because wherever you went, a million Chinese had arrived before you. That salty sweat that humanity emitted was the emulsion that had dissolved the thought of Confucius and of Lao-Tse of 4,000 years ago with state capitalism and the desire to become a millionaire. In the end, the silhouette of a temple always emerged above the surface of the people.

...

In contrast, in the garden of a Shanghai pagoda where a jade Buddha was worshipped, there was a smell of nutmeg spirituality; there, in the shade of a sycamore tree, sat a blind monk whose corneas were as white as the eggs of a dove. He was ageless. A thousand years seemed to have slipped through the collar of his brown habit. I thought to myself that I had found a golden occasion to ask him the futile question that troubled the entire world.

—What should I do to be happy? —I asked him.

The monk sensed my presence. He searched for me with his hand. He said after a long silence:

—Don't ever think about the things that you have not accomplished. Success only produces indigestion. Be amazed at the miracle of being alive. Be conscious of your breathing and forget about everything else.

This is the same thing that the Buddha Gautama said to his disciple: you have your homework for today: Breathe in; breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out.

From that moment on, I realized that breathing is a very difficult exercise because it is the way that the consciousness burns every five seconds.

...

On the Aberdeen in Hong Kong, I attended a funeral being held on the deck of a barge. The mourners were dressed in white and threw blue flowers into the putrid water, while the presiding clergyman, wearing a priestly cap, showed the family a flaming doll which perhaps represented the soul of the deceased who was purifying himself; with it, the priest traced mysterious signs in the air.

In a basket hanging from an awning, the dead man's belongings were also being burned: portraits, clothes, glasses, and sandals. How old might the deceased man be? Since I arrived on the island of Hong Kong. I haven't seen anyone older than forty. Everyone was young, men and women, wearing clothes by Gucci or Valentino, all of them carrying shopping bags from luxury stores. The subway spit out mouthfuls of young people and adolescents who filled the platforms on their way to work. I asked again and again where I could find an old person. No one knew how to answer me. An old person in Hong Kong? It's going to be very difficult to please you, sir, they told me. You will only be able to see some old man if you go to the Khating fortress, which is in the New Territories.

...

Kowloon City was the most rotten neighborhood imaginable. Its tangle of streets resembled a fermented Gruyère cheese. No one who was not an assassin, explorer or missionary would be able to penetrate this cul-de-sac. At the entrance there were Buddha altars on the steps of which the desperate ones burned chips of incense and acquired slips of paper inscribed with phrases of consolation, auspicious omens, verses of legend. There, a monk with a saffron colored tunic would tell stories of far off princesses from the Ming Dynasty. In the middle of his talk I told him that I had not seen a single old person on the isle of Hong Kong. Where are they? No one knows he told me. It's the most closely guarded secret.

...

Meanwhile, in Peking at six o'clock in the morning, you got the impression that all the old people had been evicted from their homes. At that hour, a multitude of seniors were in Carbon Hill Park practicing Tai Chi Chuan synchronizing rhythmic movements to a sweet song that apparently narrated the exploits of a famous warrior who was killed in battle. A woman dressed in white and wearing black gloves was leading in an authoritative manner that melodious, slow, and uniform exercise routine to loosen the cartilage of those old people over whom she seemed to enjoy complete control. In Bamboo Park too, at dawn there was a legion of retirees performing martial arts with cardboard swords. Other old people would simply walk around with a bird in a cage — or a cricket in a cage, and spend the morning confiding secrets of the soul. Talking to a cricket and having it give signs that it understands your problems is the ultimate circle of perfection at the end of life.

* * *

New York City, 1968

* * *

VACCINES, VARIANTS AND SUPPLY CHAIN WOES: A look back at the past 12 months

by Dave Barry

Is there anything positive we can say about 2021?

Yes. We can say that it was marginally better than 2020.

Granted, this is not high praise. It’s like saying that somebody is marginally nicer than Hitler. But it’s something.

What was better about 2021? For one thing, people finally emerged from their isolated pandemic cocoons and started connecting with others. Granted, the vast majority of the people who connected with us this year wanted to discuss our car’s extended warranty. But still.

Another improvement was that most stores got rid of those one-way anti-covid arrows on the floor. Remember those, from 2020? You’d be halfway down a supermarket aisle, and you’d realize that you’d gone past the Cheez-Its but you couldn’t turn around and go back because you’d be going AGAINST THE ARROWS, which meant YOU WOULD GET COVID.

Ha ha! Was that stupid, or what? Fortunately in 2021, we followed the Science, which decided that the coronavirus does not observe floor arrows. On the other hand, the Science could not make up its mind about masks, especially in restaurants. Should everybody in the restaurant wear them? Should only the staff wear them? Should people who are standing up wear them, but not people who are sitting down, which would seem to suggest that the virus can also enter our bodies via our butts? We still don’t know, and we can’t wait to find out what the Science will come up with for us next.

Anyway, our point is not that 2021 was massively better than 2020. Our point is that at least it was different. A variant, so to speak. And like any year, it had both highs and lows.

No, we take that back. It was pretty much all lows, as we will see when we review the key events of 2021, starting in …

… which dawns with all eyes on Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump, as chief executive of the most powerful nation on Earth, is trying to get somebody to answer the intercom. This is difficult because pretty much everybody in his administration except Melania has bailed. The only people still in contact with Trump are the members of his inner circle of trusted wack jobs, who are counseling the president in his ongoing effort to prove that the presidential election was RIGGED in a massive conspiracy that — although too complex and sophisticated for the so-called “courts of law” to understand — is transparently obvious to the My Pillow guy.

On Jan. 6, Congress meets to certify the votes of the so-called “electoral college.” Meanwhile Trump gives a lengthy speech to a Stop the Steal rally, declaring repeatedly that the election was a fraud and somebody needs to do something about it. He concludes by telling the fired-up crowd to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and get violent.”

Okay, he didn’t say those last words out loud. But soon afterward the Capitol is invaded by thousands of people who are fiercely loyal to Trump and determined to ensure that his enduring legacy, as president, will be that he inspired a tragic, futile and utterly stupid riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Okay, that wasn’t their goal. But it is what they accomplished.

The Capitol riot is widely condemned, with much of the blame falling on Trump. He swiftly receives the harshest punishment allowed under the Constitution: He is permanently banned from Twitter, the first sitting president to suffer this fate since Chester A. Arthur. Also he is impeached again. Two weeks later Trump leaves the White House for good, with only quick action by the Secret Service preventing him from being hit by the screen door on his way out.

Trump swiftly receives the harshest punishment allowed under the Constitution: He is permanently banned from Twitter. Also he is impeached again.

The spotlight now shifts to incoming president Joe Biden, who takes the oath of office in front of a festive throng of 25,000 National Guard troops. The national healing begins quickly as Americans, exhausted from years of division and strife, join together in exchanging memes of Bernie Sanders attending the inauguration wearing distinctive mittens and the facial expression of a man having his prostate examined by a hostile sea urchin.

Meanwhile on the pandemic front, there is good news and bad news. The good news is: Vaccines are increasingly becoming available to senior citizens, and they can make vaccination appointments on the Internet. The bad news is: Many of these seniors are still trying to communicate with their computers by shouting into the mouse.

In financial news, the big story is the spectacular rise in the stock price of GameStop, a video game retail chain that has not sold an actual video game since the Clinton administration. The skyrocketing stock price is the result of small investors taking advantage of a short squeeze margin-call algorithm to leverage the arbitrage and thus create a classic liquidity debenture. In other words, we have no earthly idea what is going on with GameStop, but it seems to be interfering with the efforts of wealthy hedge-fund people to get even wealthier, so we are all for it.

Speaking of business, in …

… with many difficult challenges facing the nation, Congress finally sets aside the bitter bipartisan wrangling of 2020 and moves forward to the pressing business of holding another impeachment trial for Donald Trump. In a scathing indictment of his involvement in the Capitol riot, the House Democratic impeachment managers charge that Trump, by feeding the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally “wild falsehoods” about the election, “is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

No, wait, those aren’t the scathing words of the House managers: Those are the scathing words of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell! Who then votes to … acquit! McConnell is part of a broad ideological coalition consisting of 43 Republican and zero Democratic senators, which means Trump joins the distinguished list of U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, who technically were not convicted of anything. And thus our political and media classes, after literally years of obsessing about Donald Trump, are finally free to continue obsessing about Donald Trump for the foreseeable future.

A massive ice storm blasts much of the nation, taking an especially brutal toll on Texas, where record-setting cold temperatures knock out power to large areas and wreak devastating havoc upon millions of cells in the brain of Sen. Ted Cruz, who, despite being (Just ask him!) the smartest person on the planet, decides this would be a good time to dash off to Cancún. Meanwhile the management of the Texas power grid is harshly criticized by members of Congress who could not personally reset a home circuit breaker without the help of at least four consultants and a pollster.

In the month’s most positive news, the NASA rover Perseverance, after traveling 293 million miles through space, lands safely on the surface of Mars. Technically it was supposed to land on Venus, but as a NASA spokesperson observes, “a planet is a planet.” The rover sends back breathtaking video revealing that Mars has an environment consisting — as scientists have long suspected — of dirt.

In sports, the ageless Tom Brady leads the Tampa Bay Tom Bradys to victory in the Tom Brady Bowl, with the MVP trophy going to Tom Brady, who celebrates with his supermodel wife, Mrs. Tom Brady.

Bite us, Tom Brady.

Speaking of victories, in …

… congressional Democrats pass the Biden administration’s covid-19 relief package, which will cost $1.9 trillion, which the United States will pay for by selling baked goods to foreign nations. In a prime-time address after signing the bill, President Biden says there is “a good chance” that Americans will be able to gather together “by July the Fourth.” He does not specify which one.

Meanwhile, as millions more Americans are being vaccinated every day, medical experts on cable TV unanimously agree on the following facts:

⋅ The situation is definitely getting better.

⋅ Or not! There are all these “variants.”

⋅ If you are vaccinated, you may resume leading a normal life.

⋅ NOT SO FAST, BUCKO.

⋅ At least we can stop wearing these masks pretty soon.

⋅ Or maybe we should keep them on! For years!

⋅ Although nobody knows why, since — to quote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — “most of you morons are wearing them wrong anyway.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose leadership during the covid-19 crisis has been (Just ask him!) so excellent that he was able to publish a book about how superbly he handled the crisis way before the crisis was anywhere near over, comes under intensified scrutiny over allegations of sexual harassment and underreporting of nursing-home deaths. Cuomo resists calls for his resignation but puts a temporary hold on development of a “Hamilton”-style musical based on his life (working title: “Cuomo”).

International shipping is seriously disrupted when the Suez Canal, which a lot of us forgot about after ninth-grade history class, is blocked by a container ship.

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in their ongoing effort to escape the unbearable scrutiny resulting from their association with the British royal family, spend two hours on national TV talking with Oprah Winfrey about the British royal family. Plans are announced for a concert to benefit the beleaguered couple, headlined by Willie Nelson.

On the wokeness front, Dr. Seuss joins the lengthening list of individuals who are deemed to be Problematic, which also includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Pepe LePew and Mr. Potato Head. Also people are starting to take a hard look at the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and if you have to ask why YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

International shipping is seriously disrupted when the Suez Canal, which a lot of us totally forgot about after ninth-grade history class but apparently is still a thing, is blocked by a massive container ship that became wedged sideways after the pilot attempted to take a shortcut suggested by Waze. After six days of frantic efforts, tugboats are finally able to free the ship, aided by an unusually high tide and what maritime experts describe as “a really big jar of Vaseline.”

Meanwhile the situation at the nation’s southern border rages out of control. We are referring here to Miami Beach, although things are also not great on the Mexico border. The big debate in Washington is whether to describe the border situation as a “crisis,” which is a solid indication of how likely Washington is to actually do anything about it.

But as winter turns to spring, the national mood begins to shift, and in …

… a new spirit of racial harmony spreads across the land, a spirit that is best described by the words “April Fools.”

But seriously, the national mood remains racially tense. A major issue is Georgia’s new voting law, which critics say targets minorities, and which prompts Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. There is no comparable effort to move the Masters golf tournament, which by long-standing tradition is held in 1958.

Meanwhile in a Minneapolis courtroom: Whew.

There is some welcome news on the covid-19 front as the CDC declares that it is not necessary to wear a face mask “provided that you are fully vaccinated, and you are outdoors, and you are part of a small gathering, and everybody in this gathering has also been fully vaccinated, and all of you periodically, as a precaution, emit little whimpers of terror.” The CDC adds that “we, personally, plan to spend the next five to 10 years locked in our bedroom.”

President Biden, in his first speech to Congress, promotes his infrastructure plan, which would cost $2.3 trillion, and his American Families Plan, which would cost $1.8 trillion, with both plans to be funded by what the president describes as a “really big carwash.”

In other executive-branch news, Major, one of the two official Biden administration German shepherds, is sent away from the White House for what a spokesperson calls “additional training.” Since moving into the executive mansion, Major has bitten two people, one of whom was a Secret Service agent, although reportedly not the same one who was bitten by Rudy Giuliani.

In Congress, a group of Democratic legislators introduces a controversial bill that would add four justices to the Supreme Court. This bill is expected to be hotly debated, especially since, under a provision inserted by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), it would also permit the New England Patriots to have 15 players on the field.

The Census Bureau announces that some states will lose seats in the House of Representatives because of a nationwide population shift toward what demographers categorize as “regions with Waffle Houses.”

In other state news — this is a true item — Randy Quaid announces via tweet that he is “seriously considering” running for governor of California against Caitlyn Jenner. We see no need to add a punchline here.

In space news, the NASA Mars rover Perseverance deploys Ingenuity, an $80 million mini-helicopter that becomes the first aircraft to make a flight on another planet, ascending to an altitude of nearly 10 feet, from which vantage point scientists on Earth are able to determine that the Martian environment consists of what a NASA spokesperson describes as “even more dirt than we originally thought.”

Speaking of scientific developments, in …

… the CDC further relaxes its covid-19 guidelines in response to new scientific data showing that a lot of people have stopped paying attention to CDC guidelines. At this point these are the known facts about the pandemic in America:

⋅ Many Americans have been vaccinated but continue to act as though they have not.

⋅ Many other Americans have not been vaccinated but act as though they have.

⋅ Many of those who got vaccinated hate Donald Trump, who considers the vaccines to be one of his greatest achievements.

⋅ Many who refuse to get vaccinated love Donald Trump.

What do these facts tell us? They tell us that we, as a nation, are insane. But we knew that.

In a chilling reminder of the U.S. infrastructure’s vulnerability to cyberattack, Colonial Pipeline is forced to shut down a major East Coast fuel pipeline after suspected Russian hackers break into the corporation’s computer system and obtain naked photos of top executives with a duck.

We’re kidding, of course. The duck was fully clothed. In any event, the pipeline is reopened after Colonial pays the hackers a ransom of nearly $5 million, thereby sending a stern warning to any would-be future hackers that this is an excellent way to obtain money.

President Biden proposes a fiscal 2022 federal budget of $6 trillion, to be raised by what the White House describes as “an exciting new partnership with Herbalife.” In other administration news, Major the former White House dog escapes from his rehabilitation facility and robs a convenience store.

The big story is the rise in the stock price of GameStop, a chain that has not sold an actual video game since the Clinton administration.

The northeastern United States witnesses a majestic natural phenomenon that takes place just once every 17 years as trillions of Brood X cicadas emerge from the soil, shed their skins and — like countless generations of cicadas before them — are harshly criticized for their lifestyle decisions by millennial and boomer cicadas.

The world heaves a sigh of relief after a huge rocket booster, which had been in an unstable orbit, plummets to Earth without hitting an inhabited area. Many scientists believe that the rocket was launched by China, but the Chinese government insists that it most likely originated in a bat.

In other space news, the Mars rover Perseverance deploys Courage, a $53 million blender that becomes the first appliance to successfully produce a frozen daiquiri on another planet.

In sports, the Kentucky Derby is again tarnished by scandal when drug tests reveal that the apparent winner, Medina Spirit, was carrying, instead of a human jockey, what race officials describe as “a highly modified Ken doll.” But the PGA Championship has a happier ending when Phil Mickelson, in a feel-good story that inspires older guys everywhere, loses to Tom Brady.

Speaking of older guys, in …

… President Biden goes to Europe to participate in an important and historic photo opportunity with the other leaders of the Group of 7 economic powers, which are Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Google, Facebook and Mattress Giant. In a formal joint statement issued after the meeting, the leaders declare that everybody had, quote, “a nice time.” Biden also meets with Queen Elizabeth II, who has met with every U.S. president since we started having them.

Biden then goes to Geneva for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which Biden warns Putin that these darned Russian hackers better stop hacking into the U.S. infrastructure, or by golly we are going to call shenanigans. Putin insists that Russia has nothing to do with the hacking or “any future hacking incidents currently in the planning stages.” Putin offers to help investigate the problem by means of a special investigation app that he helpfully installs on Biden’s phone. The two leaders then engage in a ceremonial exchange of Social Security numbers. Both sides describe the meeting as “fruitful.”

In sadder administration news, Champ, the other White House dog, passes away. Major, speaking through his legal team, declares that he has an alibi.

New York City holds a mayoral primary featuring several thousand Democratic candidates and an estimated one Republican. The big issue for voters is the rising crime rate, as exemplified by the discovery that Staten Island is missing. In an effort to make the election more exciting, the city decides to use a new “ranked choice” voting system scientifically designed to eliminate the possibility that anybody will ever know for sure who actually won. The Democratic front-runner is believed to be either (A) former police captain Eric Adams, who is the Brooklyn borough president as well as possibly a resident of New Jersey, or (B) the late Ed Koch.

U.S. intelligence officials release a much-anticipated report on UFOs contradicting speculation that mysterious aerial phenomena observed by military pilots are extraterrestrial spacecraft. “In fact,” concludes the report, “it’s dragons.”

In other space news, the rover Perseverance celebrates its fourth month on Mars by deploying Fortitude, a $279 million rotating multifaceted reflective sphere believed to be the first fully operational disco ball on another planet.

But the news turns grim again in …

… as covid-19, which we thought was almost over — this is like the eighth or ninth time we have thought this — appears to be surging again in certain areas because of the “delta variant,” which gets its name from the fact that it is spread primarily by fraternities. The problem is that many Americans have declined to be vaccinated, despite the efforts of pro-vaccine voices to change the minds of the skeptics by informing them that they are stupid idiots, which is usually a persuasive argument. In response to the surge, the CDC issues new guidelines urging Americans to “do the opposite of whatever we said in our previous guidelines, not that anyone is paying attention.”

In the month’s most upbeat story, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) pioneer a new era in billionaire leisure travel by going up in private suborbital spacecraft. The two flights are radically different: Branson’s takes off in New Mexico and returns to Earth in New Mexico; whereas Bezos (who we remind you owns The Washington Post) takes off in Texas and comes down in Texas. Space enthusiasts say these missions will pave the way toward a future in which ordinary people with millions of spare dollars will be able to travel from one part of a state to a completely different part of that state while wearing matching outfits.

In other space news, the Mars Rover Perseverance celebrates Independence Day by deploying Intrepid, a $172 million laser-activated extruded-meat cylinder believed to be the first hot dog successfully prepared on another planet. Unfortunately, because of a software glitch, Intrepid’s $37 million Condiment Propulsion Module (CPM) overshoots its target and squirts 27 grams of specially engineered space mustard onto Valiant, the $52 million first-ever extraterrestrial picnic blanket.

In Tokyo, the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympic Games (motto: “Later, Smaller, Sadder”) finally get underway with the majestic Nasal Swab of Nations. This is followed by the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic Torch, which for safety reasons is a small vanilla-scented bath candle that is immediately extinguished to prevent it from attracting crowds. Let the Games begin!

In other sports news, major NCAA rules changes allow college athletes to cash in on name, image and likeness for the first time ever, wink wink. The biggest beneficiary, signing a sponsorship deal estimated to be worth more than $100 million, is the University of Alabama’s highly touted incoming freshman quarterback, Tom Brady.

The month ends with the delta-variant surge worsening, bringing back mask mandates and social-distancing requirements as health experts, government officials and the media join together to convey the following clear, consistent and reassuring message to the public:

⋅ You should get vaccinated, because the vaccines will make you safe.

⋅ But remember that even if you get vaccinated, you can still get infected.

⋅ Also you can infect others and kill them.

⋅ So just because you’re vaccinated, don’t go around thinking you’re safe.

⋅ NOBODY IS SAFE, YOU FOOL.

Speaking of confusion, the big story in …

… is the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, a country that, thanks to 20 years of our involvement, has been transformed — at a cost of many lives and more than $2 trillion — from an undemocratic society into an undemocratic society with a whole lot of abandoned American military hardware lying around. Most Americans agree that we have accomplished our mission, which is the same mission that the Russians had in Afghanistan before us, and the British had before them; namely, to get the hell out of Afghanistan.

The Biden administration, noting that the president has more than 140 years of experience reading teleprompter statements about foreign policy, assures everyone that it has a Sound Exit Plan allowing for Every Possible Contingency, and insists that the withdrawal is going well. This assessment is confirmed by observers on the ground, particularly Jen Psaki, with the ground in her case being the White House press briefing room. Observers who are actually in Kabul paint a somewhat darker picture of the withdrawal, more along the lines of what would have happened if the Hindenburg had crashed into the Titanic during a soccer riot.

It is a tragic time for America, particularly our military, but it is also a time when we are reminded that when things go bad, we are a nation whose leaders can be relied upon to step up and not take personal responsibility. The Biden people blame Trump, for naively making a bad deal with the Taliban; the Trump people blame Biden, for botching the exit.

So in the end — this is the beauty of our current political environment — everybody has somebody else to blame, and nobody is responsible. American leadership has come a long way since the days of Dwight Eisenhower, who, on the eve of D-Day, wrote a short, plainly worded letter, to be published if the invasion failed, in which he said that the blame was his alone.

What a loser.

The Milk Crate Challenge briefly takes center stage as the latest fun new way for Internet dimwits to injure themselves.

In more positive news, the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, a move that opens the door, at last, for millions of unvaccinated people to come up with a new excuse not to get it.

Meanwhile the delta variant continues to surge, especially in the South. Among the worst-hit states is Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis, faced with skyrocketing case numbers, focuses, laserlike, on the root problem: local school boards flagrantly attempting to make decisions about local schools.

In other state news, Andrew Cuomo announces that he is resigning as governor of New York because he is a warm and loving human being who did absolutely nothing wrong.

On the fad front, the Milk Crate Challenge briefly takes center stage as the latest fun new way for Internet dimwits to injure themselves. There is no conclusive proof that all of these “challenge” fads — the Tide Pod Challenge is another example — originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but you have to wonder.

Meanwhile global climate change continues to be a big concern as scientists release disturbing satellite images showing that the Antarctic ice sheet, for the first time in thousands of years, has developed a Dairy Queen.

Speaking of disturbing, in …

… the coronavirus vaccine controversy escalates when distinguished rapper/epidemiologist Nicki Minaj issues a tweet stating that her cousin in Trinidad had a friend who got vaccinated and became impotent and his man fruits swelled up and his fiancee canceled their wedding. We are not making this up. The Minaj tweet instantly becomes international news, receiving more attention than any statement made in the past year by Anthony Fauci. Numerous health authorities dispute Minaj’s assertion, including Trinidad Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who states that the nation has had no known vaccine-related cases of masculine balloonage. Nevertheless Minaj stands by her story and posts another tweet, using the hashtag #BallGate (we are still not making this up), stating that she has been invited to the White House to discuss the situation. Questioned about this by reporters, press secretary Jen Psaki says that the White House offered to arrange a phone call between Minaj and a White House doctor, producing forehead slaps from millions of Americans who cannot speak to their own doctors without spending roughly a month on hold. Eventually the story peters out and America moves on, but not before our national average IQ has dropped at least 15 points.

In the ongoing 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump — who insists that there was MASSIVE FRAUD in Arizona and he actually beat Joe Biden — is finally vindicated when a company hired by the Republican-controlled state Senate to review the ballots concludes that …

Okay, it concludes that Trump did, in fact, lose; in fact he lost by even more votes than originally reported. Trump, reacting to this finding, declares that it proves there was MASSIVE FRAUD in Arizona and he actually beat Joe Biden. And thus the healing begins.

In other state news, voters in California, which operates under the Perpetual Recall system of government, decide that for the time being they will keep Gov. Gavin Newsom, who campaigned on the slogan “The Other Candidates Are Even Worse.” (We feel compelled to note here that “Gavin Newsom” is an anagram for “Veganism Now.”)

In space news, the Mars rover Perseverance deploys Excelsior, a $141 million robotic leg developed for NASA by Nike, and uses it to successfully kick what appears to be the first-ever field goal on another planet, only to have it nullified by a holding penalty.

The month ends with major drama in Washington, where Democrats are locked in a vicious ideological battle with … okay, basically with themselves, over how to pass two spending bills, one for infrastructure costing $1 trillion and one for miscellaneous items costing $3.5 trillion, which sounds like a lot of money until you understand that the entire amount will be funded by leprechauns. It’s an exciting time to be alive if you’re the kind of person who enjoys — and who doesn’t? — interminable slogs through an incomprehensible legislative process.

The excitement continues to build in …

… as the Democrats spend the entire month engaged in increasingly frantic efforts to reach some kind of budget agreement with themselves, even going so far as to consider reducing the $3.5 trillion to only $1.75 trillion, which in Washington is viewed as barely enough for gratuities. Meanwhile the Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, sit around getting pedicures. President Biden, for his part, takes several trips to Delaware. Vice President Harris also engages in important activities.

But the big story is the worsening economy, which is showing a number of disturbing trends:

⋅ Inflation continues to be a pesky problem, with food prices soaring and gasoline approaching $4 per gallon everywhere in the nation except California, where, for environmental reasons, it is $137.50.

⋅ The labor shortage has become so severe that for the first time since it began keeping records, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces a monthly report on the nation’s employment situation, does not have enough workers to produce the monthly report.

⋅ U.S. consumers are seeing more and more empty store shelves caused by disruptions in the supply chain from China, which despite being our global archenemy currently manufactures every product consumed by Americans except Zippo lighters. Economists warn that the supply-chain problems threaten to put a damper on the holidays, a time when Americans traditionally gather together in big-box stores to fight over TV sets.

The delta variant gets its name from the fact that it is spread primarily by fraternities.

Speaking of threats: American military and intelligence officials express concern over reports that China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, although a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson states that it was “probably a bat.”

In other disturbing developments, Facebook suffers a worldwide outage lasting several harrowing hours, during which billions of people are forced to obtain all of their misinformation from Twitter. Later in the month Facebook Chief Execudroid Mark Zuckerberg announces that, to better reflect Facebook’s vision for the future, the parent company is changing its name to the Washington Redskins.

In sports the “feel good” story is the New York Yankees, who, for the 12th consecutive year, do not even get to the World Series (neither, incredibly, does Tom Brady). The two teams that do qualify are the Houston Astros, whose players openly carry wads of cash on the field so they can bribe umpires, and the Atlanta Braves, whose home field is in Atlanta, Ga., a location that was morally unacceptable to Major League Baseball in April but is okay now because, to quote an official statement issued by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, “shut up.”

As the month ends, Biden heads to Rome for a Group of 20 summit with the top leaders of the world’s most important economic powers, except for China, Russia, Japan and Mexico, whose top leaders are unable to attend because of previously scheduled dental appointments. Nevertheless the president is able to successfully participate in a series of discussions that are characterized by the White House communications staff as “verbal.”

The nonstop presidential action continues not stopping in …

… as President Biden heads to Glasgow, a city located in Scotland or possibly Wales, to participate in COP26, a 190-nation conference on climate change attended by more than 30,000 political leaders, diplomats, bureaucrats, experts, spokespersons, observers, aides, minions, private-jet pilots and of course Leonardo DiCaprio. After an incalculable number of catered meals and lengthy impassioned speeches making the points that (1) the climate crisis is real, (2) this is an emergency, (3) the time for action is NOW, (4) we cannot afford to wait ONE DAY longer, and (5) WE ARE NOT KIDDING AROUND THIS IS SERIOUS DAMMIT, the participating nations hammer out a historic agreement declaring, in no uncertain terms, that they will definitely, no excuses this time, gather next year for another conference, which, in a clear indication of progress, will be named “COP27.” Take that, climate change!

But the big November excitement takes place in Washington, where Congress finally passes the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, intended to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges through the acquisition and deployment of 48 billion rolls of duct tape. This is the first big legislative win for Biden, who travels to New Hampshire to promote the new law by making a speech on a bridge constructed in 1939, which immediately thereafter collapses.

During this time Vice President Harris also is very involved in various things that she is doing.

In a stunning political upset, Terry McAuliffe, the heavily favored Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, is defeated by Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political novice. Exit polls show that the deciding issue, especially among independent voters, was the fact that the letters in “Glenn Youngkin” can be rearranged to spell “Nun Lying On Keg,” whereas “Terry McAuliffe” gives you “A Firefly Rectum.”

As the busy holiday travel season gets underway, millions of travelers flock to the nation’s major airports. This comes as a big shock to some of the nation’s major airlines, which apparently had not been informed that the holidays can be a busy travel time. As one distraught airline executive put it: “Suddenly all these people just showed up with tickets they apparently purchased from us. How in God’s name is anybody supposed to plan for THAT?”

In other holiday news, Joe Biden, carrying on a fun presidential tradition, ceremonially “pardons” two Thanksgiving turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, who are sent off to retire on an Indiana farm, where they are eaten by Major the former White House dog. On Thanksgiving Day itself, families all across America pause to observe Thanksgiving just as the Pilgrims did, by buying things on the Internet.

On the economic front, the Biden administration, seeking to counteract the steep rise in gasoline prices, orders the Department of Energy to release 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Within minutes a dozen towns in East Texas are flattened by an oil wave estimated to be 200 feet high. “Apparently,” states a red-faced department spokesperson, “you’re supposed to release the oil into a pipeline.”

Meanwhile, in response to a global shortage of maple syrup, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers announces that it is releasing 50 million pounds of syrup from its strategic reserve. You probably think we are making this item up, but we are not.

As the month draws to a close, anxiety mounts worldwide over yet another coronavirus variant, called “omicron,” which we are pretty sure is also the name of one of the lesser villains in “Avengers: Endgame.” Everyone — government officials, medical authorities and the media — assures the public that while the new variant is a cause for concern, there is no reason to panic because OHMIGOD THEY’RE BANNING TRAVEL FROM AFRICA THE STOCK MARKET IS CRASHING THE VACCINES MIGHT NOT WORK WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE POSSIBLY AS SOON AS THE MONTH OF …

​… which begins with the nations of the world united in a heartwarming humanitarian effort to make sure that omicron stays in the other nations of the world. The U.S. government considers tough new restrictions on international travelers, including requiring their planes to circle the airport for seven days before landing, but eventually settles on a compromise under which the planes will be allowed to land, but the passengers must remain in the airport eating prepackaged kiosk sandwiches until, in the words of a CDC spokesperson, “all of their germs are dead.”

​President Biden, in a reassuring address to the nation on his strategy for dealing with a potential winter coronavirus surge, urges Americans to “do what it says on the teleprompter.”

​Meanwhile the media, performing their vital, constitutionally protected function of terrifying the public, run story after story documenting the relentless advance of omicron, with headlines like “First Omicron Case Reported in Japan,” “Omicron Now Reported in California,” “Omicron Heading Your Way,” “OMICRON IS IN YOUR ATTIC RIGHT NOW,” etc.

​On the legislative front, congressional leaders, facing what we are required, by the rules of professional journalism, to describe as a looming deadline, work feverishly to prevent an unprecedented partial shutdown of the federal government for the 27th or 28th time. Finally they hammer out a deal under which the government will be temporarily funded via a loan from an individual named Vinny, to be repaid in cash by Feb. 18 or else Vinny takes legal possession of the nuclear aircraft carrier of his choice.

​No, that would be insane. Although not as insane as the way we actually fund the federal government.

On Thanksgiving Day, families pause to observe Thanksgiving just as the Pilgrims did, by buying things on the Internet.

​In other economic news, investors are alarmed when the Federal Reserve Board issues a formal statement declaring that it has no earthly idea what a “bitcoin” is, and it’s pretty sure nobody else does either.

​In holiday-season news, travel in the Midwest is snarled when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to alleviate a shortage of Christmas hams, releases 17 million head of pig from the Strategic Pork Reserve, blocking every major road into and out of Iowa and causing the region to smell, in the words of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, “even worse than usual.”

​Finally, mercifully, the troubled year nears its conclusion. As the nation prepares to celebrate New Year's Eve, the mood is subdued and thoughtful. People are still getting drunk and throwing up, but they're doing this in a subdued and thoughtful manner. Because nobody knows what 2022 will bring. Will it suck as much as this year? Will it suck more? Or will it suck a LOT more? These appear to be our choices.

​Perhaps, as we face the new year, we should look beyond the confines of our troubled planet for reasons to hope. Perhaps we can turn for inspiration to the plucky NASA rover Perseverance, which, as 2021 draws to a close, sends a message back to Earth across millions of miles of space. It's a simple message, but one that resonates deeply with all of humanity: Perseverance has detected omicron on Mars.

​Okay, so that’s not very hopeful. But don’t let it stop you from ringing in 2022 on a festive note. For one night, forget about the bad things. Be festive, party hard and, in the words of Anthony Fauci, “remove your mask before you throw up.”

​Happy new year.

(washingtonpost.com)

* * *

Jacob Chansley, QAnon Shaman

15 Comments

  1. George Hollister December 27, 2021

    Jacob Chansley, QAnon Shaman looks like a certified nut case, and not a serious insurrectionist, or leader of a government coup.

    • Marshall Newman December 27, 2021

      Actions speak louder than appearance.

  2. Dave Smith December 27, 2021

    Agree with Mike on Don’t Look Up. You want to be entertained by great actors but I shut it off from pure boredom before half time… It reminded me of a book I read many, many years ago The Big Eye had a large planet headed towards earth to collide at a specific time. The scientist who calculated it knew it was going to just miss the earth but announced its collision as a personal scientific experiment. That kept my interest throughout…

    • Bruce McEwen December 28, 2021

      Seven or eight years ago, the rumor that a comet was coming at Earth was rife w/ my pals at the Water Trough. We’d all order another round of drinks and get roaring drunk — well, and why not? If it’s the end of the world, what the hey? Why worry about your health or family w/ a comet on collision course w/ our beloved Mither Mirth! Little did we know we were going to go out w/ a whimper of Covid-19 rather than in a blaze of glory from outer space.

  3. Marshall Newman December 27, 2021

    A salute to Dr. Apfel for his service to the Anderson Valley community. Enjoy retirement.

  4. Marmon December 27, 2021

    Dr. Anthony Fauci has become the “one-all and be-all” for everything COVID-related, and his “arrogance” is keeping people from caring what he has to say, including on vaccinations.

    Marmon

    • Bruce Anderson December 27, 2021

      Speak for yourself, dude. Thank the goddess for Fauci, I say.

      • Marmon December 27, 2021

        History will not be kind to Dr. Doom.

        Marmon

        • Harvey Reading December 28, 2021

          Depends on who writes it, if anyone…

    • Marshall Newman December 27, 2021

      Of course, you and your ilk can always get your COVID advice from the “My Pillow” guy or Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Doing so will make each and every one of you potential Darwin Award winners.

  5. Jim Armstrong December 27, 2021

    Dave Barry has always been fun to read, but what happened to brevity’s being the soul of wit?
    Thanks for posting his new book.

  6. Stephen Rosenthal December 27, 2021

    Can’t help but think that Janis Joplin and her siblings look genuinely happy, her parents not so much.

    • Lazarus December 27, 2021

      I was a participant in and of the 60s. Few parents were happy about their kids.
      Laz

  7. Wess December 30, 2021

    Replace Molinari and Campbell.

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