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Neither Books Nor Men

A few years ago, I posted two short stories by American author Kate Chopin (1850-1904): The Story of an Hour and Regret.” The first post, in case you’re interested, included a brief bio.

Chopin’s work appeals to me for two reasons.

First, her writing strikes me as more modern than most from her era. She comes across as ahead of her time, almost contemporary.

Second, when reading Chopin, I get the sense that I understand her thought processes and motivations, as if seeing into her brain. It makes her characters and plots seem more genuine. Truer to life. Closer to reality than fiction.

I get that feeling with “The Night Came Slowly.

———

The Night Came Slowly

By Kate Chopin
Published in Moods, Philadelphia, July 1895

I am losing my interest in human beings; in the significance of their lives and their actions. Some one has said it is better to study one man than ten books. I want neither books nor men; they make me suffer. Can one of them talk to me like the night — the Summer night? Like the stars or the caressing wind?

The night came slowly, softly, as I lay out there under the maple tree. It came creeping, creeping stealthily out of the valley, thinking I did not notice. And the outlines of trees and foliage nearby blended in one black mass and the night came stealing out from them, too, and from the east and west, until the only light was in the sky, filtering through the maple leaves and a star looking down through every cranny.

The night is solemn and it means mystery.

Human shapes flitted by like intangible things. Some stole up like little mice to peep at me. I did not mind. My whole being was abandoned to the soothing and penetrating charm of the night.

The katydids began their slumber song: they are at it yet. How wise they are. They do not chatter like people. They tell me only: “sleep, sleep, sleep.” The wind rippled the maple leaves like little warm love thrills.

Why do fools cumber the Earth! It was a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell. A man came to-day with his “Bible Class.” He is detestable with his red cheeks and bold eyes and coarse manner and speech. What does he know of Christ? Shall I ask a young fool who was born yesterday and will die tomorrow to tell me things of Christ? I would rather ask the stars: they have seen him.

The Night Came Slowly

In the last paragraph, Chopin refers to “a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell.” The meaning of that line eludes me. In this case, I’m not seeing into her brain very successfully.

 

This Just In

POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA — For the second time, a Florida man has been rescued by the Coast Guard after attempting to reach Bermuda and other ports in a giant inflatable “hydropod.”

Reza Baluchi, an endurance athlete, was rescued after he ignored a Coast Guard order not to undertake the journey. He was warned that the device was “manifestly unsafe” because temperatures inside his custom-made bubble easily could reach 120 degrees.

The hydropod resembles a giant hamster wheel and features “buoyancy balls” on each side. Propelled by pedaling, it is equipped with shark repellent, a GPS device, and a life jacket with built-in water filter. Baluchi said he wanted to raise money for “children in need.”

He made a similar failed attempt in 2014, when he was discovered near Miami, dazed and asking for directions to Bermuda. That rescue cost the government $144,000.

Hydropod

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Frantic campers at Centennial Park Campground called police in the predawn hours last month to report that a bear had attacked a tent, and a person may have been inside.

The bear was gone when officers arrived, and the tent was in tatters. When they poked a sleeping bag inside the tent, a 58-year-old woman popped her head out. She said she had been playing dead to evade the bear.

Noting that the campsite was littered with food and trash, which attracts bears, police issued the woman a citation.

Subsequently, they discovered an outstanding warrant on the woman for failing to appear on a disorderly conduct charge, and she was arrested.

Bear attack

HAWTHORNE, FLORIDA — A 49-year-old man phoned the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office last month to report having a violent reaction to smoking a narcotic he purchased from a former girlfriend. The man said he thought he was buying “crank,” but believed he was cheated. He asked if he could press charges against the woman.

A deputy offered to test and identify the drug if the man would bring it to the Narcotics Unit. The man complied, turning over a crystal-like substance wrapped in aluminum foil.

When the substance tested positive for methamphetamine, the man was arrested for possession without a prescription. He was transported next door to the county jail.

On its Facebook page, the Sheriff’s Office observed, “Remember, our detectives are always ready to assist anyone who believes they were misled in their illegal drug purchase.”

Meth

 

Out the Window

In 1866, the Civil War barely over, German immigrant William A. Breyer of Philadelphia was unemployed with a family to support. He got the bright idea of making ice cream in the family kitchen and selling it around the neighborhood.

Breyer made a variety of flavors, and he advertised that his home-made ice cream contained only the finest all-natural ingredients: cream, cane sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy, yummy flavorings.

Further, Breyer did not add egg yolks to the product for richness, which was the practice with the French style of ice cream popular at the time. (The Breyer style later became known as Philadelphia or American ice cream.)

Breyer’s ice cream was a hit, and his business venture clicked. Family members pitched in to increase production. To reach more customers, Breyer purchased a horse-drawn wagon, insulated to hold blocks of ice and equipped with a dinner bell to announce its approach.

Soon, several horse-drawn rigs were in operation. Before long, the family opened a retail shop.

When William died in 1882, his son Henry took over the business. In 1896, the era of hand-cranked Breyers came to a close when the family opened a manufacturing plant.

In 1908, Henry incorporated Breyer Ice Cream Company. Trucks replaced the horses and wagons. By 1918, the company was producing and distributing over one million gallons of ice cream annually.

Through it all, the Breyers organization built its reputation on using only a few select, wholesome ingredients.

Even after Breyers was purchased by Kraft in 1926, the “all-natural”mystique was so strong that the ice cream remained relatively unchanged — carefullyunsullied by the sinister-sounding additives and preservatives that were creeping into competing ice cream brands.

You had to wonder how long that mystique could prevail over the baser instincts of capitalism.

———

As far back as I can remember, Breyers was the Smith family ice cream of choice. Flavor preferences varied, but, when it came to birthday parties and holiday get-togethers, only Breyers would do.

The brand became a family tradition because, first, it was great ice cream, and second, we admired Breyers for keeping the ingredients minimal and natural.

The label would read MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, VANILLA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, COCOA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES.

Sure, a random new ingredient would sneak in now and then — TARA GUM and SOY LECITHIN and such.

Sure, that was unsettling. But maybe, we thought, the additives genuinely benefited the product. Or perhaps they were required by some new government safety regulation. Besides, it still tasted like good old Breyers. So we looked the other way.

———

Clearly, Breyers was aware of the value of its “all-natural” reputation. A few decades ago, the company ran TV commercials featuring children struggling to read the names of the ingredients in competing brands. The ads were quite effective.

Those sentiments, of course, were phony. Sheer corporate crapola. They were ironic, too, considering the downward spiral, ingredient-wise, that Breyers soon would enter.

The decline of Breyers can be traced to 1993, when Kraft sold its ice cream brands, including Breyers, to the British-Dutch company Unilever. That was when the Breyers commitment to making ice cream with simple, all-natural ingredients went out the window.

Under Unilever, Breyers folded like an empty ice cream carton. Steamrolled, as it were, by expediency and the pursuit of profit.

Today, a Breyers product can contain up to 40 additive ingredients.

For example:

Breyers-1

Food additives fall into a range of categories: preservatives, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners, bulking agents, coloring agents, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and more. All have legitimate purposes.

But some varieties of Breyers now contain so little milk and cream that, legally, they no longer can be called “Ice Cream.” They are classified instead as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”

To be fair, Breyers branched out to market a range of dessert variations — Gelatos, CarbSmart, Lactose Free, Fat Free, Gluten Free, Non-Dairy, Non-GMO. In those cases, simple and all-natural are not going to happen anyway. But the classic flavors have been adulterated, too.

The company does its best to apply lipstick to the pig, but only embarrasses itself:

“Only the highest quality ingredients go into Breyers® original flavors. We start with fresh cream, sugar, and milk and then add ingredients like real fruit and chunks of chocolate.”

“Add ingredients,” indeed.

———

Speaking of additives, here are the ingredients of “Breyers No Sugar Added Light Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-2

And here are the ingredients of “Breyers Blasts! Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Dairy Dessert”:

Breyers-3

Indeed, the mighty have fallen.

At least William Breyer isn’t around to see what the suits have done with his legacy.

———

I close with one final observation.

Here are the ingredients of “Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-4

To the company’s credit, the ingredients are few and the additives minimal.

But please note that vanilla is not an ingredient of Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

The Questions…

1. The tradition of flying a flag at half-staff began in the 17th Century. It was seen as a symbol of respect and/or mourning, done to acknowledge some national event or the death of a notable person. What was the original meaning of the tradition?

2. What’s the difference between a nook and a cranny?

3. Chuck E. Cheese is the mouse mascot of the now-global restaurant chain bearing his name. His backstory: he is an orphaned mouse who doesn’t know his own birthday, so he hosts birthday parties for kids. What does the E in Chuck E. Cheese stand for?

4. Who was the youngest U.S. President?

5. What is the name of the business conglomerate formed by The Beatles in 1968?

The Answers…

1. Flying the flag at half-staff supposedly leaves space above it for “the invisible flag of death.”

2. A nook is a corner. A cranny is a crack.

3. Entertainment.

4. Theodore Roosevelt. He was 42 and serving as Vice President when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. FYI, John Kennedy was 43 when he took office, Bill Clinton and Ulysses Grant were 46, and Barack Obama was 47.

5. Apple Corps. A Granny Smith apple is its logo. The company’s primary business is Apple Records, but other divisions have included films, music publishing, a recording studio, a retail store, and electronics. Over the years, Apple Corps and Apple Inc. (the iPhone/Mac people) have sued each other regularly for trademark infringement and violating settlement agreements.

Half-staff

Apple Corps

 

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

— William Arthur Ward

###

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

— Winston Churchill

###

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

— Isaac Asimov

###

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

— Robert Louis Stevenson

Ward WA

Ward

Stevenson RL-2

Stevenson

 

Joliet Jake

Hello. This is me:

Jake-1

This is to let you know that I have a new home, a new human, and a new name.

My new human is an old guy with a beard. He calls me Jake. Joliet Jake.

The living arrangements at the new place are pretty great. It’s just me and the new human. The house is nice, and I have plenty of dog toys at my disposal. I get treats all the time, without even asking.

Plus, the house has a fenced yard that backs up to a big woods. I see a lot of critters out there — birds, squirrels, cats — all ripe for herding. Not to mention frogs, lizards, and even deer sometimes.

And the food — wow! The new human feeds me this crunchy kibble stuff three times a day. What a sweet deal.

Yeah, I do need to put on some weight. Back when I was on my own, I missed too many meals. Seemed like I was always hungry. Not any more.

Speaking of my previous life, the new human knows nothing about that. You see, he rescued me from a dog prison, where I was locked up for, like, a week.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how things went down…

One day, I was wandering around as usual, exploring, checking things out. I was what you call footloose and fancy free.

Then I surprised a couple of cats in somebody’s back yard.

Boy, those cats could run. Naturally, I took off after them. They’re cats, right? They’re made for chasing, right?

Anyway, I treed the cats, and while I sat there keeping an eye on them, this white truck drove up, and a man in a uniform got out. He seemed friendly, so I went over to him to get petted.

Oh, he petted me, all right. But then — oldest trick in the book — he slipped a noose around my neck. Game over, man. I ended up in the back of the truck in a cage.

Then the man in the uniform took me to that dog prison I mentioned. What a terrible place! It was a giant room full of cells, one dog per cell. I couldn’t see the whole thing, but I could hear and smell all the other dogs. It was nuts in there.

Now and then, a human would walk past my cell. Some wore uniforms, some didn’t.

The routine, I figured out, was to feed us in the morning and hose out our cells in the afternoon. Other than that, we just sat there with nothing but a water bowl.

I tell you, being in that prison was awful. It shouldn’t happen to a dog.

Jake-2

My prison mugshot. I was plenty scared.

Well sir, after a few days in the lockup, I saw my new human for the first time. He was walking slowly past the cells, looking at us dogs one at a time.

He stood in front of my cell for a long time, talking real nice to me. I had no way of knowing he’d be the one to spring me, but he was. And look at me now.

On my last morning in prison, one of the uniformed guys took me out of my cell and drove me to a vet clinic. I’m not sure why.

The humans there seemed nice enough, but they gave me something that made me sleep.

When I woke up, I was dizzy, and my private parts hurt. But, when I tried to lick myself to make it better, they stuck a plastic cone on my head so I couldn’t!

After that, it was back to the dog prison and into my cell again. That’s when the new human appeared and got me out of there for keeps.

That was about a week ago. I’m settling in now, getting familiar with the house, the yard, and the new human’s routine and habits.

Jake-3

One of my favorite things we do is the morning walks. Most days, before it gets hot, we go for a stroll somewhere around town. I like that.

So, that’s the story. Things are going fine here. It looks like I got lucky — wallowed in something and came up smelling like a rose.

And the new human finally stopped making me wear that stupid cone. Good riddance, I say.

Cheers, and I’ll see you around.

Joliet Jake Smith

Jake-4

Hello. Rocky here.

Jake is either a Blue Merle Border Collie, an Aussie, or a mix. He was picked up by Jackson County Animal Control wearing no identification. Nobody showed up to claim him, so I adopted him.

The vet says Jake is about three years old and in good health, needing only to gain a few pounds.

Jake is happy, friendly, and housebroken. He never messes with anything in the house, unless he mistakes it for a toy. For example, I kept Paco’s old dog toys in a wicker basket until Jake decided the basket was a toy, too, and I had to put it away.

Most days, I leave him at home, loose in the house, while I run errands. When I return an hour or two later, nothing is out of place. Knock on wood.

Typical of a herding dog, he’s very quiet. I’ve heard him bark only once, at something in the woods.

About every other night, he wakes me up to go outside for a potty break. I have no problem with that.

On his first vet visit after I adopted him, he encountered several kids and dogs in the lobby, and he showed zero aggression.

On his 2nd day here, he escorted a cat out of the back yard. It happened in a blur lasting about half a nanosecond.

He also treed a squirrel and routed some birds from the feeder. He spends a lot of time patrolling the back yard, alert for any movement.

Paco has been gone for two years. That’s a long time. It’s good that dog is my copilot again.

 

Fealty

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a rant about the noxious, obnoxious gasbag now serving as President. I haven’t felt the need, really. Most of the country opines about Trump non-stop, ad nauseam.

And it’s the same old story. The conservatives and their propaganda outlets — Fox “News” et al — stand obediently and cynically with dear leader Trump. So do the dim bulbs who voted for him.

Meanwhile, normal people and the real news media see Trump for what he is. Normal people and the real news media rightly are outraged, indignant, dismayed, appalled, and disgusted that Trump is in the White House.

Donald Trump. My God.

Let’s be real here. Trump is not only the worst president ever, but he also is a corrupt, immoral, incompetent, contemptible human being. He has no class, no scruples, no integrity, no shame. He has been that way all his adult life. He will never change, because being Trump got him where he is.

Thanks to the aforementioned conservatives and dim bulbs, aided by the artful interference of Russia’s gangster-led government, Trump is President.

And, as was easily foreseeable, he is careening through his term, wrecking norms, damaging institutions, straining alliances, and expressing a sick admiration for despots and autocrats.

But this week, I feel compelled to post another Trump tirade.

Why? Because he went to Helsinki and, publicly and shamelessly, expressed fealty to Vladimir Putin. If anyone had lingering doubts that Trump is beholden to Putin in some unsavory way, those doubts should be gone now.

Trump confirmed his true loyalties by ignoring the fact that Russia insinuated itself into our 2016 election in order to tilt the outcome in Trump’s favor. The meddling isn’t conjecture; the American intelligence community has presented ample proof.

Yet, Trump accepts Putin’s word that Russia is innocent. Astonishing.

(When he began taking fire for kowtowing to Putin, Trump responded by proposing a second summit. It was the kind of “Oh yeah? Take that!” reaction we’ve come to recognize as typical Trump modus operandi.)

Why Trump is under Putin’s thumb, we don’t yet know. I suspect Putin owns Trump by virtue of the Russians having propped up Trump’s businesses financially for several decades.

Also, being a KGB guy, Putin probably has personal dirt on Trump that could bring him down and/or put him in jail.

Is Trump guilty of treason, as some now claim? Legally speaking, apparently not. Treason can happen only when we are at war. Putin is a thug and a threat and a menace to us all, but Russia and the U.S. are not at war.

But this is what really matters: it is beyond contempt to side with Putin, a murdering gangster, over the country you swore an oath to defend.

At the very least, Trump is guilty of dereliction of duty. He has failed to confront Russia for cyber-attacking us in the past, and he has failed to take steps to protect us from future cyber-attacks.

It comes down to this: Trump is unfit to serve as President. He jeopardizes the safety and security of our country, he should be booted from office as soon as legally possible, and he should face all criminal and civil charges that the courts allow.

How this squalid business ends is anyone’s guess. The outcome largely depends on the results of the Mueller investigation and how, ultimately, Mueller’s findings play out legally.

Trump could face any number of charges, from plotting with the Russians to influence the election, to illegally enriching himself at public expense, to laundering money for the Russian mob. That list is just off the top of my head.

Up until now, the right-wingers have choked back the bile and stood by this terrible man, no matter how scandalous his behavior, how incompetent his performance, or how brazenly he uses the Presidency to benefit himself and his friends.

And, frankly, if the conservatives didn’t abandon Trump after the Access Hollywood tape went public, they never will.

Think what reacting to that tape with a shrug says about a person’s character and integrity.

Clearly, the Republican politicians and their allies — the NRA, the big-money donors, the Christian evangelicals — have sold their souls for political advantage. History will judge them as contemptible hypocrites.

As for the people who voted for Trump, and who support him still, my view is marginally more charitable.

As a group, I don’t consider the MAGA crowd to be hopelessly malicious, unkind, or prejudiced people, although many undoubtedly are. Rather, I see them as short-sighted, ill-informed, and misled.

Many are blinded by bitterness. They resent minority populations for diluting their European-based culture. They resent the liberal snobs who look down on them. And, after four decades, they still aren’t over their deep hatred of the hippies.

Speaking as a liberal and probably sometimes a snob, I can report that I don’t disrespect conservatives or hold them in contempt. Except when they earn it.

Lately, a fantasy has coalesced in my head, and it is this: one day, when the legal noose tightens beyond the comfort level of the Trump family, they will flee the country. Defect.

Possibly to Saudi Arabia, but more likely to Russia, where Putin and the oligarchs can welcome them, openly at last.

It’s only a fantasy, mind you. But if that’s the way this sorry episode in our history ends, fine.

In fact, the sooner it happens, the better.

Trump-Putin