Charlottesville

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What I Wanted to Write About

This week I had planned to write about our garden. After a few years of heartache and disaster, I wanted to share a tale of success–the 18 lbs of peas we’ve harvested so far, the bucket loads of green beans, the beautiful squash, and the luscious ears of corn that have sweetened up just right and taste exactly like a Central Oregon summer.

But then Charlottesville happened, and a young woman named Heather Heyer was murdered by a serial loser named James Fields, a basement Nazi from Ohio. Fields managed to severely injure a lot of other people too, by plowing his car into a crowd of people rightfully, and thankfully, protesting the presence of Nazi sympathizers, white nationalist and supremacist jackwagons.

Charlottesville, if you haven’t been, is a wonderful place. Which is why so many fine people—and some not so fine—came out to counter-protest the presence of greasy jackboots marching around with tiki-torches, Nazi flags, and SS headgear. The not so fine element of counter-protestors included equally repugnant, and intellectually bankrupt superstars of the radical left–BLM and Antifa goons in their apparently mandatory Che Guevara shirts, Soviet flags, and bicycle helmets.

One side was pure fringe, and the other had just enough fringe that the resulting violence was probably inevitable.

We’ve seen this before.

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The Offending Edifice

We will see it again.  And again.  And again.

Coverage of the event followed the typical pattern. CNN instantly jumped the shark with their entirely droll “What We Know” and “What You Should Know” mastheads. Internet trolls and waxen network figurines almost immediately assailed President Trump—then assailed his condemnation of the violence, parsing it endlessly for hints of dog-whistling to the invisible army of white nationalists plotting a nationwide American krystallnacht.

To be fair, Trump’s original condemnation wasn’t overwhelming, and required a do-over, but anybody who thinks Trump is somehow a bagman for these morons hasn’t been paying attention.  Trump is a narcissist, not a supremacist.

Even David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the idiotic Klan, was trotted out and given air time, as if anything he has to say, on any topic whatsoever, deserves to be heard. You can assess for yourself why any self-respecting journalist would even bother.

Predictably, it didn’t take long for participants and observers alike to blame the cops for the outbreak of violence, even as two Virginia State Troopers were killed in a related helicopter crash.

What often gets lost in these events, and very quickly, is perspective.

The tragedy in Charlottesville, painfully real, is not representative of some alternative American reality, in which strictly white Americans have all just become very good at hiding their inherit racism and national socialist sympathies. Watching the network and cable news coverage, cynical people with a vested interest in pumping the story for every last advertisement dollar no matter how distasteful the angle, it would be hard to know that.

The city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee—the wisdom of which is something honest people can peacefully debate—was exploited by a small group of actual racist nitwits, most of them out-of-towners, to advance their vile ideology. But it was a very small group of nitwits, after all, and there were just enough nitwits amongst the counter-protestors to turn friction into an actual fire.

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Peaceful Antifa Protestors Set These Parisian Police Officers on Fire

Horrifically, this collision of stupidity cost Heather Heyer—who by all accounts was led by the same kind of sincere bias for liberty that saw thousands of men die storming the beaches of Normandy–her life.

America has individual racists. Every country has them. Every country will probably always have them. But America is not institutionally racist. Not anymore. While still imperfect, and to a degree that can and should be debated, America continues a historically remarkable record of self-correction in matters of race, and the real tragedy of Charlottesville will come if it is further exploited to suggest otherwise. That road leads only to more division and distrust.

No country with almost 400 million people is going to be without its radical fringe groups, whether it’s StormFront types from some rusting Ohio backwater, La Raza militants in Southern California, ISIS sympathizers in Minneapolis, or New Black Panthers intimidating voters in Philadelphia.

And in America, even when we don’t like it, even when their ideology is thoroughly and demonstrably stupid, they have as much right to assemble and make noise as anyone else.

But thankfully, that isn’t most of us, and not by a long shot. Many of us have relatives who fought against actual Nazis in North Africa, or Italy, or France, or against Japanese fascists and their brand of virulent racism across the Pacific. Some of you, reading this, are the people who actually did that hard work for the rest of us.

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American Paratroopers with a captured Nazi Flag.  The only time it should ever shown.

Most of us are repulsed by swastikas and by the nematodes who harbor the weak flame of that ideology in their hearts. Most Americans reject racism in all of its forms and understand the damage it does to real people, and therefore to the country we love. Most Americans, I strongly believe, reject fringe thinking no matter which end of the political spectrum it springs from.

I hope that I’m right about that.

Maybe no one has ever really loved America for what it is. It is a big, difficult, and sometimes violent and ugly place. But we had better not stop loving it for what it can be, for its limitless potential, and for what the overwhelming majority of us, quietly toiling away in our little gardens, taking care of our neighbors, and working for peace in our communities, still want it to be.

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Arrivederci, Scaramucci

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The Mooch, Getting Jiggy With It

I, for one, am going to miss Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci. If you didn’t know, The Mooch was sacked as White House Communications Director after an explosive and “colorful” interview with Ryan Lizza, a writer for The New Yorker.

The Mooch, raised on Long Island, was brought to us by Tufts University, Harvard, Goldman Sachs, and later SkyBridge Capital. He was a fundraiser and supporter for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, but may have fallen out of favor with democrats when he famously asked Obama when he was going to “stop whacking Wall Street like a piñata.”

Later, he endorsed Republican Scott Walker, and then Jeb Bush, and then told the Fox Business Network that Trump was going to be the “President of the Queen County Bullies’ Association.”

Somehow Scaramucci, author of such noted tomes as “Goodbye Gordon Gekko, How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul,” “Hopping Over The Rabbit Hole” and “The Little Book of Hedge Funds” (I couldn’t make this up if I tried) became Trump’s main communications man after calling the future President a “hack politician” and “anti-American” during the campaign.

What endeared The Mooch to many of us was the absolute sincerity with which he showed up to work, even though most everyone in the world could see that he was exactly, 100 percent, without question, the wrong guy for the job.

Somehow, I have to believe even The Mooch knew this. But then again, in the land of beltway egos and overwhelming Ivy-League hubris, maybe he was as tone deaf as the President who appointed him.

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The Mooch, Man of Letters

Scaramucci was so totally wrong for the job, so obviously unprepared in both intellect and temperament, one could only scramble to recover from a sudden onset of apoplexy at the announcement of his elevation.

But The Mooch, for all of his hand-waving bombast and immaculate suits, did give us a gigantic gift we can be thankful for.  He gave us, forever, a new term to describe a certain acrobatic feat of auto-fellatio: The Bannon.

What’s fabulous about “The Bannon” is how it can be deployed as a description, a directive, or a metaphor. We can also mix it up, as in “The Steve,” or “The Steve Bannon”.

As something of a traditionalist, however, I think I’m going to stick with just The Bannon, for now, and enjoy a loud laugh every time I think of the actual Steve Bannon knocking about in the West Wing in an ill-fitting suit, cradling a sharpie and a whiteboard, looking precisely as if he just woke up under a bench in the train station.

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Has Whiteboard, Will Travel.  Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist.

The Mooch’s run as Comms Director was not the shortest one ever. That honor goes to Jack Koehler, nee Wolfgang, who was born in Dresden, moved to the US after World War 2, and changed his name to John. Koehler became a journalist, and ultimately a bureau chief, general manager, and managing director of the Associated Press. He was pals with Ronald Reagan and lasted eleven days as Reagan’s Communications Director after it was discovered, or revealed, or leaked, or however those things work, that he had once been a member of the Deutsches Jungvolk, a Nazi youth group.

Koehler, who at least had legitimate bonafides in the world of directing communications, was caught wrong-footed, but tried to recover by saying that the group he belonged to was “the Boy Scouts run by the Nazi party.”

Speaking of tone deaf.

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Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell

It would have been interesting to be in General Kelly’s office—remember, in case you missed last week’s episode, Chief of Staff Priebus was disappeared after the Sean Spicer immolation and the Mooch elevation, then replaced by Ned Stark of Winterfell, I mean General Kelly—when he booted The Mooch.

I would like to have seen how Harvard Law stacked up against Quantico, and whether or not The Mooch took his beating from the White House’s newest enforcer with or without whimpers.

As sad as all of this is, and it truly is bad for the republic, don’t worry about Scaramucci. He will land on both feet, no doubt perfectly astride the rabbit hole he wrote about. He knows people, and doggone it, many of them like him, even if, as Felix Salmon from Reuters described his pre-White House financier activities: “He is putting people into hedge funds that really shouldn’t be invested in hedge funds. He has this extremely expensive smile and very good hair, and they trust him. And to the degree that he’s accomplishing it, he’s hurting America.”

So there’s that to consider. And at any rate, it’s just a fact that political life-expectancy around this White House is short. You may recall that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn made it 23 days before he was forced to resign for allegedly cavorting with Russians.

But there was something special about Scaramucci. I’m not sure if it was the frightening thought that there may be no adults left in the White House, or the inescapable and inevitable air of Mafioso sleaze that he brought to the podium.  Maybe it was all of that. But at the very least, the Scaramucci era made for fascinating entertainment.

this post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 8 August, 2017

Lashed to the Mast

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Len Babb In His Studio, Paisley, Oregon

If you were ever lucky enough to live out on the great sagebrush sea, like I was during a certain vanishing era, you might have enjoyed a slice of old Americana in perhaps the rarest of ways: trailing cattle and working horses.

The outback was, in those days–and still is to some degree–a kind of underworld, a parallel universe, richly populated with characters and stories both real and imagined.

Most folks, I think it’s fair to say, travel through the desert without much pause. They might admire some dazzling vista, or stop at a favorite greasy spoon, or even camp for a night or two on a lonely butte, but mostly they pour coal to the fire and yawn at the empty miles.

But there is a real enough daily life out there on the big oceans of desert, and it was out there, last Friday, that I was blessed to spend some time with a real American legend, Len Babb.

I first started hearing about Len, and his magnificent saddles, in the long ago, when I rode the big empty with another legendary buckaroo named Bert Lambert. Bert was a Mescalero Apache, up from New Mexico, who could rope a tick off of a dog’s ass at a dead run, and whose stories were so outlandish, so outrageous, and so thoroughly questionable, that I actually started writing them down. I have an entire notebook I titled, way back then: The Bert Lambert Lies.

An example from the notebook: “Bert said today that he once rode an ostrich somewhere near Christmas Valley, up in Oregon. ‘Not much buck,’ he said, ‘But they sure do run fast.’”

Imagine my surprise then, all of these years later, when I finally met Len Babb in person, and was enjoying a fine lunch prepared by his wife Gloria, and learned that so many of Bert’s imaginative stories of mayhem were actually true.

What makes Len Babb a hall of famer in the buckaroo world is not just his wonderful artwork, his appreciation for fine horsemanship, or his work for storied ranches such as The Padlock, out in Wyoming, or the ZX here in Oregon. It’s the longevity of his career. Most buckaroo careers look more like mine did: a deep, and altogether too short, dive into the depths. With wages stuck forever in the 19th century, that’s really just a matter of economics, and very few ever accomplish what Len and Gloria did, let alone raise 6 children.

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Len Babb as photographed by Bank Langmore, in his landmark book:  Cowboys

Sipping root beer under the wind chymes on his porch—Len told me he had real beer, but we agreed the interview might go awry–I asked him the obvious question: Why did you stick it out all these years?

“Because I love it,” he said. Simple as that. And it filled me with a certain hard-edged, inexplicable personal remorse such that I couldn’t find a way to the next part of the interview. Len, mercifully, gave me an out. Bills are bills, he said, and then told a joke about his friend John Adamson, who was being interviewed by photographers out documenting the buckaroo life. They were curious about the changes John had seen in his decades as a working buckaroo. “Well,” John told them, “the wages are the same.”

I’ve long held a thought in my head, maybe too simplistic, that as soon as they start paving the roads, a mostly unexplored and unfamiliar and wide-open chunk of country is more or less finished. The mystery runs all out of it. At least for the folks that once enjoyed it for its demanding, and beautiful, remoteness. That’s possibly stupid, but when you’ve lived mostly horseback on a country, and learned its moods that way, there is more than a bit of remorse to see how easy it suddenly is to get from here to there.

We commiserated, just a little bit, on how the big ranches are breaking up and disappearing with increasing speed. We talked about how the country was filling up with people, “settling up” in Len’s words, and I mentioned, perhaps too bitterly, that “We can’t stop what’s coming.”

Len just smiled: “You can’t even slow it down,” he said. “Just be glad you got in on a piece of it. That’s the way I look at it.”

One of the things I love about Len, and it’s been true of so many of the real buckaroos of his generation, is how genuinely open-minded he is. “I never wanted anybody telling me what to do, and I never wanted to boss anyone,” he said.

A man like Len can say that without irony, and offer his life as proof, which makes him rare enough in the world.

In his hand-built log studio, which could easily stand in for a perfect bunkhouse on any ranch I’ve ever known, Len has an old FA Meaney saddle sitting on a rack. It has the WT mark on it, meaning it was built in the Wyoming Territory, probably in the 1860’s, and most likely in Cheyenne, by Frank Meaney—another legend of the cowboy underworld. He has a collection of beautifully crafted rawhide reatas—which he still ropes with—beautiful enough to make a sadsack towny like myself cry out loud. He has a pair of big-rowelled spurs that his father traded off of a Sioux Indian back in Wyoming, a rack of muzzle-loaders that he has killed bucks with, and a single skylight that throws the heavenly desert light down onto his canvas while he works.

Winters, he sits by the big wood stove in the middle of the room, turning beeswax into beautifully sculpted horses.

He has a buckaroo’s hands, lithe and precise, soft in a horse’s mouth, steady for brushstrokes on canvas, but hard enough in the right places to knock a rude man into next Wednesday.

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Len Babb, Buckaroo Legend, Artist of the West, photo by the author

Len focuses his work on the early years of the open west. “After the automobile came in, the glamor of cowboying went out the window,” he said. “I did a lot of good cowboying, but not like you wanna draw pictures of. People come around and say, ‘Well, Len, I guess you get a lot of ideas out there,’ and I tell ‘em I really don’t because what would you paint? Somebody getting out of a horse trailer? An old black cow staring at you?”

Len wants his paintings to sell, and they have, and I’m confident he’s on the edge of something much bigger, once the world finds him, but that isn’t why he does it. “The people I’ve associated with could count all their money without taking their hands out of their pockets,” he said. Which is the same motivation a buckaroo finds when he is moving three hundred pairs alone, miles from anywhere, up-canyon in a storm blowing sideways. Money isn’t the reason a man signs up for that kind of thing. It’s passion, a deep, abiding, unwavering passion.

My own grandfather begged me not to go out into the desert. “You’ll never have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of,” he said. He was right about that, and I knew it, but we both knew that it in my case it wouldn’t matter. You either hear the siren song or you don’t. And if you look out into the desert and hear it, and chase it down, lashed to the mast like Ulysses, it alters forever the way you see the world.

What informs Len Babb’s art, his drawings, paintings, and sculptures, is that siren song. He’s heard it his entire life, since the day his father moved the family from South Dakota into Glendo, Wyoming, hauling one truck full of horses, and one full of cattle, and stopping every now and then to pour water on the over-heating engines.

And then Charlie Russell came into Len’s life and threw gas on the fire.

Len Babb truly is a legend, and a man I am honored to have shared a few laughs with on a beautiful desert afternoon. He has heard those beautiful sirens of the outback singing in his ear, been lashed to the mast, and has sailed as close to the shores of Titan as a man in the modern era ever will.

this post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 1 August 2017

Famous Mayoral Meltdowns

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Former Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, Blazing Some Rock For the Common Man

Video that surfaced this week, on BookFace, of Sisters Mayor Chuck Ryan in a rant directed at one of his neighbors was certainly evidence of bad behavior, most likely personally embarrassing, and definitely intriguing, but hardly worthy of a 60 Minutes segment.

If you haven’t seen it, I strongly encourage you not to bother. The background story, as I’ve learned it, is fairly mundane, and open to all kinds of interpretation. It’s barely even a story, really, except that Mr. Ryan is the Mayor of Sisters, and therefore ranting at a neighbor from his porch becomes, at least briefly, flashy news.

Whatever the origins of this bubbling neighbor vs neighbor pot that sadly boiled over, the Mayor’s behavior in the video—now taken down—is clearly not his best foot forward.

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Marion Shepilov Barry, Banging the Pipe

And also, we can probably just mute the apologists, who in these pages frequently offer the notion that volunteering for political office somehow excuses bad, or at least ridiculous, behavior. It doesn’t. Reserve Police Officers don’t get paid either, and offer themselves up for community service in frequently far more demanding and truly dangerous circumstances. But when they step in it, they are subject to all of the same rules as the deputy who collects a check.

The real lesson from this sort of interpersonal micro-drama is that whatever good work we do–and one thinks our Mayor probably does a lot of good and wholly unacknowledged work–it can easily be overshadowed by even the briefest regrettable video posted to Al Gore’s internet.

One suspects that is the case in this event. And one hopes the fallout from it is as brief as the video, with lessons learned on all sides.

For perspective, there have been far greater, and far more consequential Mayoral Meltdowns. Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, may he rest in peace, is probably my personal favorite in the modern era. Ford loved gang members and crackheads, and refused to enter rehab even after video of him hitting the pipe like a deranged Chris Farley in the Viper Room consumed large chunks of internet bandwidth.

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Nothing to See Here…NYPD Officers Turn Their Backs on de Blasio…Again

Mayor Bill de Blasio, of New York, is another uber-modern example of mayoral lapses in judgment. Last week, for instance, he winged over to Germany to hob-nob with the assembled Molotov cocktail-throwing nihilists and black bloc anarchists at the G-20 meetings — the day after the killing of Miosotis Familia, a veteran New York policewoman and mother of three who was assassinated in the mayor’s own city.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who is a study in political hubris, continues to defy calls to resign, even after apparently substantiated sexual abuse claims from a number of victims.

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Anthony Weiner, aka “Carlos Danger”, Who Ran For Mayor, and Other High Offices

And who can forget the delightful former Mayor of Washington D.C., with the suspiciously Russian middle name of Shepilov, Marion Barry, who was polite enough to smoke his crack, and take his bribes, in hotel rooms with hookers, rather than befoul his own Georgetown manse with questionable dalliances and the particularly rancid odor of rock cocaine.

In the film Red Dawn, Mayor Bates of Calumet, Colorado, was a real cautionary tale. A spineless collaborator with Russian Paratroopers (oh good God, the Russians again) who talked his son into swallowing a tracking device–an act of astonishing betrayal that saw most of our partisan Wolverines killed by Spetsnaz commandos.

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Wolverines!!!

Anthony Weiner, who preferred the moniker “Carlos Danger” when texting underage girls, ran for Mayor of New York, which qualifies as a scandal on an unprecedented number of levels, even though he wasn’t elected.

The list of famous mayoral indiscretions is virtually endless.

But there is, at least in literature, an alternative narrative. Mayor Orden, for instance, hero of Steinbeck’s “The Moon is Down,” for which the author received one of Norway’s highest honors, the Freedom Cross, comes to mind. A quiet, well-considered model-train enthusiast, the mayor resisted the Nazi invaders to the bitter end, reminding the groupthink jackboots that “to break man’s spirit permanently” is impossible. Orden encouraged his fellow citizens to resist—even while under arrest and threat of imminent execution—and all in the Socratic spirit.

But our local guy, in the video at least, was none of those very serious criminal or anti-heroic characters. He was, it appears, having an un-extraordinary bad day, and most of us do that from time to time.

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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Who Dropped His Trousers

If anything, and if only for liability’s sake, he should probably be counseled, by someone, that invective offered in a distinctly east-coast and adolescent falsetto is never quite convincing as a truly menacing affront. Especially out here, in Sisters, home of the Outlaws, after all, with our Wild-West storefronts and Quilt Show blowouts.

And maybe the neighbor who filmed the freakish episode and posted it on social media should figure that out too.

But still, things being equal, it didn’t look too good. Any town’s Mayor will always be held to a higher standard than his neighbor—it just comes with the billet, and is better accepted and embraced as the price of public service, voluntary or otherwise.

Probably, and I’m just guessing here–the winds of Sisters being what they are–a public acknowledgment that the Mayor’s recorded behavior was, ahem, not exactly mayoral material, would calm the aggrieved.

And then perhaps we can all collect ourselves, and begin the real work of sandbagging our bunkers, and storing fuel, water, and food, for next month’s Eclipsalypse.

 

Don Junior Goes to Hollywood

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Bat Boy also has a “Sketchy CV”

For sheer overwrought political drama, vigorously milked for every last drop of click-bait and ratings potential, last Tuesday was certainly a hoot.

Revelations that Donald Trump Jr. “took a meeting” with the mysterious Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya created the largest case of mass apopolexy in the politico-media machine since the final, uninspiring episode of Seinfeld.

Veselnitskaya, methinks, has received precious little attention, as the major organs of American information post breathless headlines such as “Donald Trump Jr., What We Know,” or the more pressing version: “What You Should Know About Donald Trump Jr.”.

Then there is my personal favorite, and by far the most insistent: “Smoke Meets Fire!”

At any rate, Veselnitskaya carries a “sketchy CV,” according to hedge fund manager William Browder, who probably carries one as well, given his slimy tentacles in the world of global finance.

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Lobbying is complicated

Here’s a quick cast of characters involved in the kerfuffle, which I offer mostly for amusement: Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison, the aforementioned William Browder, who was Magnitsky’s boss, Rinat Akhmetshin, a fixer for Russian oligarchs, and a guy named Denis Katsyv, who apparently launders money obtained in tax fraud schemes.

Toss in former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, MSNBC, and Paul Manafort, and we have the makings, for those of us who view the faraway land of Washington with a shrug and a bemused smirk, of a perfect situational comedy.

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I’ve actually met and talked with Dick.  Nice enough guy, but definitely concealing some hybrid characteristics.

Mostly, I’m interested in how Phil Donahue handled the pressure of accurately handling the revelations, given his continued, ahem, relevance to the fourth estate.

Leaping in with the collected teppichfressers of an over-heating American media zeppelin, Mr. Donahue–moral lamplight of the hard left who, without irony, brought us KGB talk show host Vladimir Pozner during the Cold War–opined on MSNBC’s “Morning Joy” program that: “This is the darkest political moment in American history.”

In his defense, maybe Mr. Donahue’s shoes were too tight.

He might have, after taking a deep breath, and embracing the now passé journalistic requirement to provide broad historical context, mentioned some of the truly dark political moments our republic has endured.

The events between December 20, 1860, and June 8, of 1861, for instance, when eleven of the United States seceded from the Union and sparked a Civil War that killed an estimated 620,000 people—which in today’s numbers would be the equivalent of 6 million of our countrymen.

Or, he might have, for historical accuracy and at least a modicum of balanced reasoning, mentioned Wounded Knee, the Bud Dajo Massacre, the Teapot Dome Scandal, the McCarthy hearings, Watergate, or the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr..

But none of that contextualizing sells very well, or quickly, and the Russian meme is in equal parts built on speed, money, fascination, and pandering.

So Mr. Donahue joined the chorus, doubling-down on the hype and hysteria to grace us with his summation of the Russian question–with all of the same discernment and studied gravitas with which he investigated Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation’s sex and steroids scandal in 1992.

At least he is consistent.

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Phil Donahue.  Historically chummy with the KGB.

Which is more than can be said for many of the Deep State retreads who populate our news networks with a dirt-track variety of hourly smashups that pass for reflective, responsible, and intelligent reporting of national issues.

The legendary combat correspondent George Weller, who saw everything and met everyone, once wrote: “Everywhere I go in the world I marvel at the narrow margin by which the truth gets into print, when it does.”

Boy, howdy. And it appears now, in the Twitter age, that we must all just learn to live with the burrs of instant punditry.

Never mind the damage it is inflicting on our republic.

Holman Jenkins, writing in the Wall Street Journal, suggested that: “If there was ever a need to rein in the supercritical hysteria that the websites of the New York Times and the Washington Post and MSNBC on-air feed when their competitive dander is up, Tuesday showed it. To their credit, all three have since calmed down. Or maybe it’s post-coital lassitude…Scoops are overrated—the public is not worse for learning the news at 6:30 pm, instead of 11:30 am, especially if somebody with a brain has had a chance to reflect on its presentation.”

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A well made and properly worn Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie (AFDB) can help prevent media saturation and “Collusion Sickness”, which is highly contagious and debilitating.

Which isn’t to suggest there isn’t something rancid in the center of this big babushka doll. There might be. Heck, there probably is. And what thinking person would be surprised?

But let’s at least be honest with each other about our expectations: Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington anymore. At least he doesn’t last there very long, and particularly if he doesn’t take a few meetings with the holders of sketchy curriculum vitae, which fairly describes most everyone killing time in the capitol rotunda.

And who, out here, in the rain shadow of the Cascades, honestly believes we will ever know the truth about any of it?

So I’ve come full circle. Maybe Elvis really does live in Alaska.  Maybe Hillary Clinton really did adopt an alien baby.  And maybe this whole Russian thing really is just another episode of Seinfeld, which was, after all, “A show about nothing.”

this post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 18 July, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baron Von Ripper

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Baron Rudolph Von Ripper, at work in his studio.  Majorca.

Occasionally, in the heat of summer, life will throw us a gift. Such a thing happened to me the other night, as I sat on the back porch in the golden light, watching a squadron of swallows dive-bombing around the barn and reading from Ernie Pyle’s magnificent collection “Brave Men.”

Many folks know of Ernie Pyle, the humble journalist who followed American GI’s throughout World War 2. He wrote about them so endearingly that he was embraced as a comrade in arms by “the violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets”, and by millions of Americans at home who eagerly awaited his columns.

In “Brave Men” Pyle touches briefly on an extraordinary man with whom he was acquainted. Baron Rudolph Von Ripper. “He was so fabulous,” Pyle wrote, that “a man might have been justified in thinking him a phony until he got to know him.”

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Baron Von Ripper

It isn’t hard to see why, as Von Ripper, even before his legend grew in the Second World War, had already compiled the kind of resume that would be difficult even for Hollywood screenwriters to imagine.

Consider: In 1905 Von Ripper was born into Austrian aristocracy. His father was a General in the Imperial Austrian Army, his mother a baroness. Von Ripper eschewed the potential for luxury his family wealth afforded and ran away from home when he was fifteen. He worked variously in sawmills, as a garbage collector, a circus clown, and a coal miner. He studied painting at the Dusseldorf Art Academy before joining the French Foreign Legion, where he was wounded in action while fighting Druze tribesman during the Great Syrian Revolt.

Shot in both the knee and the chest in Syria, Von Ripper deserted the Legion and left for Berlin. He took up with a German actress. Wanting to make documentary films, Von Ripper skipped off again, this time to China where, instead of making movies, he joined a syndicate of gunrunners in Shanghai. Ultimately, and only after his American gang-leader was killed by rivals, he returned to Austria, married the daughter of a playwright, indulged all of the vices of the Weimar epoch, and was ultimately arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 on charges of treason.

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Von Ripper illustrated Time Magazine’s cover for its Man of the Year issue.  The Man of the Year was Adolf Hitler.

Von Ripper had used his prodigious artistic talent in drawing cartoons satirizing the ascendant Nazi’s. He was tortured mercilessly during his interrogation and sent to a concentration camp, where he was repeatedly beaten, and languished for months until the Austrian government secured his freedom.

The Baron then fled to Amsterdam and Paris, and finally to Majorca, in Spain, where he continued to work on his art, which a critic called “horrific” because of the stark depictions of Nazi brutality.

In 1936 Von Ripper joined the Republican Army in Spain, fighting against General Francisco Franco and his Nazi and Italian allies. Though he had no love for communists, Von Ripper became a machine gunner on a Soviet bomber, and in 1937 was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, receiving 21 shards of metal in his leg before parachuting into the city of Madrid.

He abandoned the field hospital when doctors suggested they would need to amputate his leg.

He landed in Greenwich Village, in New York, where he won a fellowship to the famous Yaddo artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs. From there, Von Ripper moved to Connecticut and lived in a barn, working on his drawings, until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.

Von Ripper’s German made him an ideal interrogator for the 34th Infantry Division, then gearing up for the invasion of Italy. Von Ripper made the landing at Salerno, and fought continuously at the front during the horrible slog up the Italian peninsula.

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The Baron painted many images of the Italian Campaign.

For his leadership of a patrol that involved intense, close-quarters combat, the capture of 11 prisoners and numerous weapons, he was awarded a Silver Star and a battlefield commission.

“He was a bit of John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent van Gogh, all wrapped up into one avenging presence,” wrote Colonel Robert J. Berens.

After leading numerous patrols Von Ripper was wounded again in an ambush. He was shot four times by a German wielding a machine pistol, bullets tearing into his hand, his leg, and disfiguring his face.

By this time Von Ripper was a notorious individual. The “Bravest man I’ve ever seen,” said General Lucian Truscott.

And then he disappeared from the front, and no one really knew where he had gone.

Von Ripper had joined the OSS–forerunner of today’s CIA—and parachuted into Nazi-occupied Austria with a radio and a cyanide capsule in order to organize resistance and make reports about the conditions on the ground to higher headquarters. Von Ripper worked diligently behind the lines, was captured and released by the Gestapo, and his final official evaluation summed up his career this way: “Outstanding in fieldwork, but too restless for staff work”—which is perhaps the perfect professional epitaph, and one I might like to borrow.

When the war ended, Von Ripper divorced his wife and married a California blonde, won a Guggenheim fellowship for his artwork, and finally moved back to Majorca, where he was ultimately arrested by Spanish police and accused of smuggling gems in what appeared to be a revenge scenario for his role in the Civil War.

In July of 1960, out on bail, his wife found him dead in the garden, the victim of a heart attack. He was 55.

Von Ripper’s artwork today is highly prized and valuable. And it isn’t hard to believe that this is the legacy that would mean the most to him, if we could ask. It was why he fought, after all, against the book-burners and assassins and the corruption of ideologues.

Watching the swallows from my porch, gobsmacked by a life so thoroughly lived, I thought you should know about Baron Von Ripper, just in case you didn’t.

 

 

The Summer of Women

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Big Lake, Oregon, June 2017

Here on the Figure 8 it is the summer of women. I admit to difficulties in the transition. For lengthy seasons in this life I have operated outside the influence of women altogether, marooned entirely alone on the desert, for instance, or crammed into a warship with a battalion of humorless leathernecks. And if anywhere there is a man’s world, look no further than the Marine Corps berthing spaces on-board Naval Shipping–it is like living in a bobbing jar full of angry hornets.

But this summer my daughter is here. An adult now, she is training and studying for the demands of the hard career she has chosen, and together with my wife they have—either by accident or design–embarked on an aggressive plan for my re-education and re-integration.

I am being “mainstreamed.”

Thus far, my faulty grocery-shopping strategies have been corrected. I now understand that the shortest distance between two points is not, after all, a straight line, but rather a meandering, philosophical, ingredient reading, chatting, back-tracking, calorie counting, and randomly deviating course between the sour cream and the salad dressing.

I have been wrong about that for years.

Also, there are certain things that must never go in the dishwasher, ever, under any circumstances, for reasons that are apparently classified. This is also true of the microwave. And, alarmingly, there are strict procedures and protocols involving various detergents and temperature settings on the washing machine.

In my own defense, I have always done my own laundry. For years I just used shampoo because I couldn’t see any reason to buy ten different kinds of soap. I mixed colors and washed everything with warm water. It worked. I have now learned that this was bad behavior.

I think I still have the dogs on my side, but ultimately they are, as well as the colt, eunuchs, which isn’t helpful when I try to build a coalition of men to defend my less-considered tendencies.

And it isn’t just my wife and daughter who look at me sideways. Elsewhere on the rancho there are two agitated mares, 7 attitudinal chickens, and a lunatic barncat–who kills things daily—all of them serving to remind me of Karen Blixen’s marvelous line from Out of Africa: “You know you are truly alive when you are living among lions.”

Women, I think, have consistently failed to realize and exploit their full powers. Women stand poised on the very precipice of world domination. It’s likely they always have, and even more likely that they already know this. I don’t know why they haven’t taken over yet–unless it is because they’d just rather not.

Please don’t misunderstand. I haven’t simply turned in my man-card and given up. I resist this new wife-daughter axis daily, in guerilla fashion, occasionally and weakly resorting to a rather juvenile kind of muttering under my breath. Which is probably better than caterwauling and throwing fine china at the menials like Richard Burton on a three-day bender in St Tropez.

Meanwhile, when the women blast off to yoga and I am allowed to peek at the news, I see that the President of the United States continues tweeting like a 6th grader who just swallowed a lemon, and the entire State of Illinois has been downgraded to junk status. A strange summer, indeed.

I’m exaggerating all of this, of course. But it does raise a poignant question: what would I do without these lovely women that I love? I have some ideas, none of them good, and most of them involving strange visions of myself wandering aimlessly through the Nevada desert in torn trousers and ratty slippers, looking like a bald, piratical hybrid of Harry Dean Stanton and Edward Abbey.

The truth is, I am enthralled and grateful daily, and despite the corrections–some harsher than others–of my attitudes and behaviors, I am in full admiration and appreciation for the women in my life. While it is true that they occasionally drive me to the slippery edge of total insanity, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I feel like the speaker in Jim Wright’s poem “A Blessing”, who is approached by horses in a spring pasture. Their world, he knows, is entirely their own. “There is no loneliness like theirs”, he says, accepting that there are things about them he will never understand. But even across that gulf, they have walked over and welcomed him as a guest, and he longs most to be amongst them.

He stands admiring them for the longest time and then, suddenly, realizes that his love for them is so encompassing, so joyful, so powerful, that: “if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom.”

And so it is these warm summer evenings, with the dogs napping and shadows stretching across the grass, when we gather on the porch to unwind the day and find each other again, that I listen to my wife and daughter quietly talking and laughing, and watch them when they don’t know it, and feel every cell in my body beginning to bloom.

this post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 3 July 2017