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Wicked Week

I just got back from a road trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Most of it was new territory for me, so I went slow, took my time. I had a wicked good week.

The only downside to the trip was getting there from Georgia, which meant two long days of miserable Interstate driving. But, once I arrived, rural New England was peaceful, pleasant, clean, and green.

The residents probably would take offense at this, but I saw little difference between the three states. Basically, the terrain, the weather, the architecture, and the accents were all the same.

Everything there has a decided Yankee vibe. An interesting change from back home.

In New England, I noted, Dunkin’ Donuts is like McDonald’s in the rest of the country.

Firewood is for sale everywhere.

And I had the feeling that the locals were enjoying the pleasant summer weather only guardedly and temporarily. They were poised, I sensed, to switch back to winter mode at any time. After stocking up on firewood, of course.

 

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Typical green scene in Vermont. Or maybe New Hampshire.

Having no special agenda, I drove a number of off-the-beaten-path routes (as recommended by my copy of National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways) and ended up in some interesting places.

In Burlington, Vermont, for example, frivolity reigned.

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Burlington, I discovered, is a major haven for hipsters, hippies, and other free spirits. Back in the 80s, Bernie Sanders was Burlington’s mayor.

The highest peak in the region, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, is the “home of the world’s worst weather.” The summit is accessible via a harrowing eight-mile auto road, which was extra scary the day I drove it due to dense fog. I took these photos at the top in a chilly rain.

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One of the most magnificent places in the area is Acadia National Park, which takes up most of an island on the coast of Maine. It combines lush greenery with the rocky and majestic Atlantic coast.

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Probably not so serene and idyllic in January during a nor’easter.

Weather wise, this is the most pleasant time of year in New England, so Acadia was maxed out with tourists. Even finding a place to stop and get photos was a challenge. In another month, the crowds of leaf-peepers will triple the traffic.

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The tourist mecca of Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia. It’s a quaint harbor town and home to a sizable lobster fleet. Maine lobsters, they say, are more abundant today than ever before.

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Which brings me to another reason I made the trip: to enjoy an authentic New England lobster roll.

I succeeded. Three times.

FYI, lobster rolls come in two varieties: Connecticut style (served warm with melted butter) and Maine style (served chilled with mayo and a splash of lemon). Most locals prefer the Maine variety, and, in fact, I never came across a place that served them warm.

The first two times I had them, they were delicious, but somehow, a bit lacking. They were stingy on the meat, and the buns were lined with shredded lettuce, which diluted the taste.

Moreover, I had them in restaurant settings, which was all wrong. Too civilized. And the food was prepared out of sight and brought to my table like some ordinary meal.

I wanted genuine. I wanted rustic. I wanted the thing cooked where I could see it. I wanted it served outdoors, on a paper plate, as I assume all self-respecting Maineiacs prefer it.

And, fortunately, I stumbled upon a place that, in my mind, served lobster rolls in the proper manner.

It happened as I drove back to the mainland from Acadia. Up ahead was a small trailer in a gravel parking lot. A large, hand-lettered plywood sign out front read LOBSTERS.

The trailer was surrounded by tables and chairs under awnings, and a dozen people were queued up in a line that disappeared into the trailer. I pulled into the parking lot.

Behind the trailer, teams of people were carrying baskets of lobsters from several pickup trucks to a table behind a row of steaming pots.

Under a canopy, two men handled the cooking. Under another canopy, teams of pickers deftly collected the meat.

After a few minutes in line, I was inside the trailer. A stern, matronly woman with forearms like Popeye took my order: lobster roll, chips, a pickle, and a beer of my choice from the display case. The bill was $14. She took my money and sent me outside to find a table.

While I waited, I wandered around and observed the proceedings.

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Then, dinner was served.

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And wicked good it was. Ample meat, lightly seasoned, nicely chilled, no extraneous filling, and sublime taste.

My beverage, by the way, was from Sea Dog, a brewery in Bangor. I chose Wild Blueberry in honor of the small, sweet New England variety of blueberries currently in season.

I savored the meal slowly and deemed the trip a success.

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Finally, what road trip would be complete without souvenir t-shirts?

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For the return to Georgia, I decided to follow the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina. This would take longer, but it would spare me a lot of Interstate driving.

I was rewarded with an early-morning bear encounter on the Skyline Drive. That story in my next post.

 

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Giraffes

Crazy voices

Honk if

Alcohol

 

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How the Game Changed

I’ve been a news junkie for, essentially, my entire life. The habit surfaced early, when I got old enough to be curious about, and have opinions about, what was going on in the world.

For a long time, I got my news from a variety of media — certain newspapers, news magazines, and news shows on radio and TV. Not that the source really mattered. In the old days, after you discounted the gossip magazines and garbage like the National Enquirer, journalism was journalism.

And I know whereof I speak. I understand the profession better than most. My college degree is in journalism. I spent most of my working life in the business.

Journalism, like science, medicine, law enforcement, and other fields, can be done properly or poorly. For decades, most American news operations performed as intended: they presented the news honestly and truthfully.

Most news organizations took pride in being non-biased. They reported the facts and told the truth, and when they found BS, they called BS.

Those were the years of the Watergate reporting, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and others. Those were years when my chosen profession made me proud.

Then, the game changed. With the rise of the 24-hour news channels came the need for a faster news flow. More and more airtime on the news channels was padded with whatever worked — frivolous stories, entertainment, celebrity news. Soon, this became the norm.

As competition in the business increased, stories were further sensationalized to attract viewers. News crawls and graphics took over the TV screen.

Then someone invented the concept of having two talking heads debate opposing views, which falsely implies that the views are of equal merit. This, too, became the norm.

While this was happening, the political right wing realized it could use a combination of advocacy journalism and propaganda to appeal to the frightened, gullible, easily-led conservative masses — and, not coincidentally, relieve them of money.

The result was Fox News. To the conservative base, Fox became, and still remains, the only source of information they trust.

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Personally, I don’t and won’t watch Fox News, which is the literal embodiment of fake news. Fox is an insult to the news profession. I deleted it from my cable lineup years ago.

Which leads me to another branch of journalistic evolution: MSNBC.

In the opinion of most people, MSNBC simply is the opposite of Fox, the voice of the lefties. And the network does, indeed, have a liberal/progressive viewpoint.

But the thing is, folks, nine times out of 10, the liberal position is factual and correct. That’s reality.

MSNBC has its faults and biases, but it practices what you learn in journalism school: report the facts, tell the truth.

Four examples easily come to mind.

(1) MSNBC reports the liberal view that human-caused global warming is a real and present threat to Planet Earth (or, more specifically, to life on Planet Earth) because 95-plus percent of scientists — scientists! — are screaming that it’s true.

Fox and the conservatives deny that global warming is real. They dismiss science and the scientists. Really? When you claim to know more than the experts, you’re either stupid, a fool, or a shill for a profitable industry that contributes to global warming.

(2) U.S. military spending is now about $600 billion annually. $600 billion is equal to the annual military spending of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the U.K., Japan, and Germany, combined.

MSNBC and the lefties conclude, correctly, that the U.S. military budget is obscenely bloated; that we already are capable of stomping any conceivable enemy 10 times over; that those billions are largely enriching defense contractors; and that the money could be used to solve a boatload of the country’s real problems.

Fox and the conservatives claim that our military is weak and ineffective, and the need is critical to boost military spending even further. It came to them in a fever dream.

(3) Consistently, MSNBC has supported the Democratic/progressive position that Obamacare was a modest first step toward better, cheaper healthcare for everyone, and it can be made better with the proper modifications and fine-tuning.

Fox and the conservatives staked out the position that Obamacare is evil incarnate and must be summarily exorcised. It’s a convenient, knee-jerk rationale for the Republicans, some who don’t believe healthcare is a human right, some who don’t want government involved in providing healthcare, and some who oppose it because Democrats are the enemy.

(4) MSNBC reports the liberal view that the concept of “voter fraud” is a fabricated, virtually non-existent threat, because, like, you know, the actual evidence proves it.

Fox and the conservatives insist that voter fraud is real, because it gives them an excuse to suppress voter registration and voter turnout when and where it favors Democrats.

In fairness, I’ll put it this way: the progressive view isn’t correct all of the time; just most of the time. Conversely, the conservative view isn’t wrong all of the time; just most of the time.

Which leads me to CNN and the news divisions of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

For starters, I give CNN bonus points because Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs are gone. On the other hand, CNN and the networks are straining hard to be viewed as “fair and balanced,” and they aren’t.

All four are guilty of, first, blending news and entertainment in pursuit of ratings and, second, giving bogus, laughable opinions equal airtime with the facts — with no caveat to identify the actual truth.

Their specialty, using “analysts” to discuss the news, is a joke. Professional operatives don’t analyze the news. They dissemble and distort issues in their favor, based on their chosen politics.

The only way a normal person can derive value from the input of such people is to sift through their comments, assess and weigh their prejudices, and try to separate the truth from the baloney.

If I analyze the comments of a “strategist” thusly, I may be able to discern a kernel of truth. But why should I have to do that?

This is where the news networks — all of them — fall short of practicing genuine, honest journalism. MSNBC does a reasonable job here, but the rest of them lack the will, or fortitude, to report the news honestly and factually. Instead, they present opposing political views, claim to be presenting both sides of an issue, and walk away.

Every news operation employs people who can be, if permitted, objective and professional. People who are quite capable of presenting and explaining the news with clarity and accuracy. Most of them would relish having that freedom.

Finally, a thought about public broadcasting.

Although Fox News and the conservatives have always hated PBS and NPR, and Republican lawmakers constantly scheme to defund both, public television and public radio are still alive.

PBS and NPR are still places where real reporters present real news. There is no fluff, no entertainment, no political hackery. With minor exceptions, the only analysis is done by historians. God bless public broadcasting.

And I sure wish He would get American journalism back on track, too.

Not long ago online, I found the mission statement below, dated 1963. It may be old and quaint, but the sentiment is inspiring.

Mission statement

Ironically, Milner’s newspaper is the Prince George Citizen, based in British Columbia.

 

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The Robber Baron

William Andrews Clark, Sr. (1839-1925) isn’t the best-known of the American robber barons, but he’s a classic example of men of his era who became wealthy through ingenuity and ruthlessness.

Clark made a fortune in mining, railroads, banking, newspapers, and other businesses. He is among the 50 richest Americans of all time, and he rose to the top by being shrewd and unscrupulous and never looking back.

Clark was born in Pennsylvania, and as a young man, briefly taught school in Iowa. In 1862, he headed west to seek his fortune mining gold.

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William Clark (right) in Bannack, Montana, 1863.

During the Montana Gold Rush, he had modest success panning for gold. But he saw greater potential in supplying goods and services needed by the prospectors and miners.

He also began loaning money to the men of the boom towns. When a miner defaulted on a loan, Clark repossessed the man’s claim. Thus, he found himself in the mining business. Within a decade, he had expanded into smelting and transportation.

In Montana, he bought several played-out silver mines, which the owners were relieved to sell for next to nothing. He then made vast profits by mining them for copper.

At its peak, Clark’s copper mine in Jerome, Arizona, yielded some $400,000 per month. Clarkdale, Arizona, is named for him.

When he needed a watering stop on his rail line from California to Jerome, he built it next to a remote trading post in Nevada. The spot grew to become Las Vegas. Clark County, Nevada, is named for him.

By the 1890s, Clark had developed political ambitions. At a time when senators were appointed by state legislatures, he pressured Montana legislators to send him to the U.S. Senate. In 1899, they did.

But soon, proof went public that Clark had bribed many of the legislators with envelopes of thousand-dollar bills. Clark’s response: “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.”

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Senator Clark speaking to a crowd in 1905.

The result of the Clark bribery scandal was the 17th Amendment, adopted in 1913, which provided for the election of senators by popular vote.

Clark has the distinction of being the first person caught using bribery to become a U.S. Senator, but, in fact, the scheme didn’t work. When the truth came out two months into his term, the Senate ejected him.

Clark promptly ran for the Senate again, supposedly without resorting to bribery this time. He secured the appointment and served in the Senate from 1901 until 1907.

In 1911, Clark moved to New York City, and he set out to build the most elaborate, most magnificent mansion money could buy. The structure was indeed elaborate, with 25 guest bedrooms, 35 rooms for servants, and all the outlandish adornments Clark could dream up. He spent several years personally massaging and revising the plans to make the building more opulent.

But when his dream house was finally completed, New York society ridiculed it mercilessly. Critics called it tacky and out of style. It was “an architectural aberration,” “inexcusable,” and “an appropriate residence for the late P. T. Barnum.” The building came to be known as “Clark’s Folly.”

Clark died in his mansion in 1925. His widow promptly sold the building and moved away. It was demolished in 1927 and replaced with a luxury apartment building.

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“Clark’s Folly” at Fifth Avenue and East 77th Street.

William Clark was a product of America’s Gilded Age, when enterprising men took advantage of the country’s feverish expansion, wild-west mentality, and rapid industrialization to amass great wealth by any means, ethical or otherwise.

Even then, Clark was a larger-than-life villain, reviled for his shady, underhanded tactics in business and politics.

And it’s only natural to compare him to Donald Trump. The similarities between Clark and Trump in personality and behavior are striking: swaggering, self-absorbed, braggadocious, combative, ostentatious, amoral. No sense of shame or regret. Masters of conspicuous consumption.

I don’t mean to suggest that Trump is a modern-day robber baron. That would be an insult to robber barons. Trump lacks the necessary competence and focus.

In truth, Trump has more in common with P. T. Barnum, who once said, “I am a showman by profession, and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.” That’s a perfect description of Trump, and we all know it.

But back to my comparison of Clark and Trump. The differences between the two men are interesting, too.

— Clark started with nothing and clawed his way to the top; Trump was born rich and has made a career of keeping himself in the public eye.

— Clark, probably for reasons of ego, sincerely wanted to be a U.S. Senator; Trump, I suspect, also ran for office for reasons of ego, but never thought he would be elected President. He probably longs to have his old life back.

— Clark was known for his intellect, attention to detail, and an uncanny sense of when to take a risk; Trump is known for a stunning lack of curiosity, shooting from the hip, and a history of business failures*.

In 1907, William Clark’s final year in the Senate, Mark Twain published an essay entitled “Senator Clark of Montana.” He assessed Clark this way:

He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.

I wonder how Twain would assess Donald Trump.

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William Clark, the quintessential American robber baron, and his Trumpian hair.

* Trump is now indebted, to a degree we don’t yet know, to a host of international banks and foreign interests, including a number of Russian oligarchs. Putin and the oligarchs are, in case you don’t know, literal gangsters, ruling Russia like a criminal enterprise to line their own pockets. The fact that Trump does business with them and mixes with them socially is a disgrace. There. I feel much better now.

 

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More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

Tanks

Warning sign

Socks

Opposable thumbs

Blonde power

 

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The Minions Speak

Donald Trump, the most laughable President in U.S. history, met with his full Cabinet for the first time recently. Since then, the meeting has been thoroughly covered in the news and mocked repeatedly, and there’s little reason for Rocky Smith to chime in about it, but I can’t help myself…

Trump, the Orange Vulgarian, never operates in a remotely normal or dignified manner, so it came as no surprise that his first Cabinet meeting was so cringe-worthy.

After patting himself on the back for a host of phantom accomplishments, Trump asked the assembled minions to say a few words. They did. All of them.

In my considered opinion, these minions are an especially villainous bunch, not only ill-suited to serve, but salivating to wreak havoc while they can. (You know, like Scott Pruitt cheerfully dismantling environmental protections.) I expect only the worst from them.

And the worst is what we got. What transpired was an example of shameless sycophancy — of a roomful of toadies competing to out-brown-nose each other and impress Dear Leader Trump.

Through it all, Trump listened, nodded, and smiled with satisfaction. No doubt it reminded him of his glory days on The Apprentice.

Here are some lowlights from the meeting.

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Mike Pence, Vice President:

“It is just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as the — as vice president to the President who’s keeping his word to the American people and assembling a team that’s bringing real change, real prosperity, real strength back to our nation.”

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture:

I want to congratulate you on the men and women you’ve placed around this table. This is the team you’ve assembled that’s working hand in glove with — for the men and women of America, and I want to — I want to thank you for that. These are — are great team members and we’re on your team.”

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General:

“We are receiving, as you know — I’m not sure the rest of you fully understand — the support of law enforcement all over America. They have been very frustrated. They are so thrilled that we have a new idea that we’re going to support them and work together to properly, lawfully fight the rising crime that we are seeing. The response is fabulous around the country.”

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services:

“Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador:

It’s a new day at the United Nations. You know, we now have a very strong voice. People know what the United States is for, they know what we’re against, and they see us leading across the board. And so, I think the international community knows we’re back.”

Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator:

“I actually arrived back this morning at 1 o’clock from Italy and the G-7 summit focused on the environment. And our message there was the United States is going to be focused on growth and protecting the environment. And it was received well.”

Rick Perry, Energy Secretary:

“America is not stepping back, but we’re stepping into place and sending some messages, that we’re still going to be leaders in the world when it comes to the climate, but we’re not going to be held hostage to some executive order that was ill thought out. And so, my hat’s off to you for taking that stance and presenting a clear message around the world that America’s going to continue to lead in the area of energy.”

David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

“Mr. President, thank you for your support and commitment to honoring our responsibility to America’s veterans. I know that this is personally very important to you.”

Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget:

“Thanks for the kind words about the budget. You’re absolutely right, we are going to be able to take care of the people who really need it. And at the same time, with your direction, we were able to also focus on the forgotten man and woman who are the folks who are paying those taxes.”

Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury:

“It was a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year and an even greater honor to be here serving on your Cabinet.”

Mike Pompeo, CIA Director:

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to serve as your CIA director. It’s an incredible privilege to lead the men and women who are providing intelligence so that we can do the national security mission. And in the finest traditions of the CIA, I’m not going to share a damn thing in front of the media.”

Rrrrreince Priebus, Chief of Staff:

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda.”

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To be fair, a couple of the minions maintained a modicum of integrity and wouldn’t play.

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James Mattis, Secretary of Defense:

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense. And we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength. Thank you.”

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State:

“Thank you for the honor to serve the country. It’s a great privilege you’ve given me.”

————

Even so, the fact that most of them DID play, and that Trump clearly expects such fawning, is a sorry spectacle.

Years ago, when I was a green lieutenant in the Air Force, I was having lunch with a colonel who was head of the base Legal Office. I don’t recall the subject, but I observed that, in some situation or other, we had reached “rock bottom.”

“Bottom?” the colonel replied. “Rocky, wake up. There is no bottom.”

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More Proof

Here’s more proof that money and power can’t buy class, character, manners, or a sense of decency.

Class, character, humility and integrity have to be earned, but some people are destined to remain callous, small-minded jerks. That’s just the way it is.

Sad.

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