Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mayors stepping in where SCROTUS fails

"Following the acts of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacist terrorist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, cities must act decisively and immediately by removing these monuments.” — Brandon Scott, Baltimore, Maryland city councilman

LIKE YOU, I'm inexpressively angry about the white supremacist terrorist attack that began August 11 in Charlottesville, VA.

But surprised? Not even a little. SCROTUS* has given racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, misogynists, bigots, isolationists, reactionaries, thugs and bullies permission to crawl out from the woodwork and brandish their hatred — as well as their baseball bats and torches — with pride.


In the midst of the worst in our country, hope is emerging from another source. Across the country mayors of American cities are taking forthright, corrective action.

When SCROTUS, in his bottomless ignorance and hubris, the depths of which appear limitless, betrayed Americans — not to mention the planet — by removing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, mayors from Seattle to Des Moines to Boston joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. (More about this in an upcoming post.)

And now mayors and city councils nationwide are removing statues and monuments that confer honor upon traitors and glorify a way of life built on human slavery. 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh directed the overnight dismantling August 16 of four Confederate monuments. I love it that Baltimore has black woman as mayor, and I applaud Baltimore City Councilman, Brandon Scott, for calling what took place in Charlottesville what it was — domestic terrorism.

Photo from The Baltimore Sun

The Houston Independent School District has renamed seven schools — four high schools and three middle schools — that had been named after Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson, John Reagan, Richard Dowling, Sidney Lanier and Jefferson Davis.

Hollywood, California has joined the national movement to purge street names of Confederate generals. Hollywood commissioners voted to rename streets bearing the names of three Civil War generals: Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan

Meanwhile Hollywood, Florida city commissioners also voted in favor of renaming streets previously named after Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

And so it continues across the nation. Why did it take this long and why wasn't I agitating for it to happen sooner?

Below is a map from The New York Times.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Total eclipse of the heart . . . I mean, sun

“There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you. It's the laws of physics that allow us to say exactly what time the sun is going to rise. What time the eclipse is going to begin. What time the eclipse is going to end.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author, actor, science communicator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City

I'M SURE by now you've heard that a total solar eclipse will be visible Monday, August 21 in an approximately 70-mile-wide strip from Washington State to Florida. I was fortunate enough to witness this natural phenomenon when I lived in Montana. Paul, however, has never seen one, and he does not want to miss it.

Paul's brother made hotel reservations months ago for somewhere in Missouri and invited us to join him, but Paul said that he didn't want to pay for a place in advance that might end up being clouded over when the big day comes. He's already watching the weather, and as soon as he knows what location will be both clearest and closest, we're headed out. We can sleep in the car or the van; I'm not fussy. 

Path of the solar eclipse

If you're planning to view it, here's a helpful article from The Planetary Society about how to view the eclipse safely.

Bill Nye's top eclipse tip: Protect your eyes

By Bill Nye

August 15, 2017

Greetings Earth's citizens,

If you're like me (and I know I am), you know next week's solar eclipse is going to be extraordinary. A total eclipse will sweep through North America, and millions of people in South America, Central America, even Europe and Russia can enjoy a partial eclipse. This is exciting, and it's time to prepare. 

There's a lot of information out there. So, keep one thing in mind: 

"Be wise; protect your eyes."

It is never safe to look directly at the Sun overhead without protective eyewear. The danger is simply that an eclipse is so fascinating, that we are tempted to stare right at the Sun for minutes at a time, much longer than we would even consider on any other day. Don't try to sneak even a glimpse. A direct look at the Sun can cause a lifetime of permanent eye damage. Let's avoid that.

Here are three things I recommend for safe solar eclipse viewing:


Before the eclipse, secure safety eyewear for your family, students or friends (including yourself, while you're at it). Everyone should have their own pair, even if you're watching with a small child. Check your glasses for scratches and scuffs, even if your glasses are brand new. Many places are selling and distributing free eclipse glasses. Check out the American Astronomical Society's approved list of safe eyewear distributors.

Click here to read the whole article.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Aunt Sally's 90th birthday party

“I wish every person had an Aunt Sally in their lives, especially as a youngster.” — Micki Farichild Bradburn

SALLY RILEY FAIRCHILD, Paul's aunt and Micki's, turned 90 this year, and August 3 her six living children, Riley, Tim, Dana, Ralph, Anne and Forde and their spouses, hosted a spectacular party to celebrate her birthday. Included in the festivities held in a family-owned meadow west of Spirit Lake were a large tent complete with stage and sound system, a sod house, 
talent show, bagpiper, an Irish flag and an American flag brought back from service in Afghanistan hoisted 70 feet in the air, rubber duck races, and food, flowers, balloons and adult beverages.

Paul and I drove up the day before so that Paul, Anne and Ralph could rehearse and work on the sound system, and so we could have dinner with Micki, Anne and their nice husbands. Morning came a little early, but we were up and at 'em and in place in time for the party to start at 9:30. 

Here are some photos from the day and day before.

This American flag was brought back from Afghanistan by the youngest of Sally and Dan's children, Forde, who is serving as a civilian lawyer for the troops there. He flew 23 hours straight to get home for his mother's party.

Rehearsal the day before. Tim's wife Julie — who did so much to make this party happen — applauds, family friend Keith is behind her, and Sally's niece on the Riley side, Sara, and her husband Paul are standing.

The bagpiper was a surprise for Sally. That's Forde standing with his mom.

Sally's only daughter, Anne, on the left, Ralph in the middle with Dana's son Jon and family. 

Eldest son Riley and his daughter on the right and his step-daughter in the center.

Forde and Katie's oldest daughter Mary Grace with Katie's mom.

Dana's son Jon and his wife just had a new little baby girl. They named her Sally Danielle Fairchild after Grandma Sally and her husband Daniel who passed away years ago. 

This is the sod house that Tim and his sons built . . . four times! The first time a bull knocked it down, the second time a freak, severe wind storm (can anyone say climate change) blew it down, and the third time it rained and rained and washed it away. Tim said, "What could I do? I had to built it again; 
the invitations were already mailed."

I love this photo of Aunt Sally, Forde and his middle child, Francie.

Sally's husband Dan was Paul's mother's brother. Standing in back on the right is another brother, Estel. His wife Audry is in the wheelchair, their daughter Kathy stands behind her mother. On the left is Paul's double cousin Debbie . . . Paul's father's brother married Paul's mother's sister . . . with her husband. 

Dana on the right and Ralph on the left. It utterly captures the essence of these two mischief-makers.

Tim is a welder and a metalsmith. He made this troll gate across the bridge.

This meadow, which has been in the Riley family for generations, is special. It's never been tilled — ever.

The talent show! Ralph and Anne sang, and Paul played bass. 

Katie and Forde's children, Mary Grace, Patrick and Francie, performing Irish step dancing. Katie is an O'Donnell, so as near I can figure, these three are three-quarters Irish.

Micki Fairchild Bradburn, Paul's cousin by way of her dad Bob who was Paul's mom's brother, Teri who is married to Riley, Paul, Micki's husband Steve who's an operatic tenor and Ralph.

Left to right: Patrick, Mary Grace, Sophia (Dana's son Jon's daughter), Callyn (Tim's son Patrick's daughter) and Francie perform "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round".

Paul and Anne, who is a genuine, real-deal, jazz singer.

I brought bubble wands for the kids, and apparently for me too. Rubber duck races in progress.

Patrick in the background 
watches Callyn chase the bubbles I blew. 

There was no shortage of beautiful children.

Paul shooting the breeze with his cousins and their pals.

Katie and Forde and their three. I find this photo irresistible because of the look 
and bearing of Mary Grace.

Paul, armed and dangerous. He and the other boys took turns shooting at a container of fireworks. There had to be firearms and explosives involved because . . . it's the Fairhcihild boys, therefore something
 life-threatening or at least risky must be included!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel

“Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real.” — Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States

THE NEW YORK TIMES has obtained a final draft of a report on climate change written by scientists from 13 federal agencies. The report, part of the National Climate Assessment mandated by Congress every four years, has not yet been made public.

According to the Times, The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it, but they're afraid the White House will suppress it. This comes on the heals of Trump's calamitous decision to pull out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement

I've attached the intro to the Times article below as well as a link to the entire piece.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, a documentary produced by former Vice President Al Gore, a sequel to his 2006 award-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth, was released July 28, 2017. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power continues what has been a nearly life-long commitment by Mr. Gore, begun while he was a college student, to sound the alarm about climate change and work to combat it.

Mr. Gore has been making the rounds of the media and late night shows promoting this newest movie. He was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air August 2. 

I've attached a link for you to listen to it. It's worth hearing. I admit that I'm still mad at him for not fighting harder to claim the presidency in 2000 since he was, after all, the winner of the popular vote, but my gut reaction as I listened was overwhelming sadness. He is so intelligent and so thoughtful and so measured. How different would this country be right now if he'd become president instead of the shrub?!

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

By Lisa Friedman

August 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. It was uploaded to a nonprofit internet digital library in January but received little attention until it was published by The New York Times.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air.

Click Here to Read the Entire Article

Click Here to Hear Al Gore Interviewed on Fresh Air

Monday, July 31, 2017


“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. And that’s living.” — Ursula Andress, Swiss film and television actress and former model

WE HAVE four cats . . . or is more likely the case, they have us.

There's Shye, aptly named because she is.

Next came Shiva, also aptly christened. Shiva is the name of one of the principal deities in Hinduism — the "destroyer and the transformer." The only incongruity is that our Shiva is a she-god, not a he-god, but otherwise the name fits.

There's Sherman, better known as Boy Boy, who's gigantic, built like a tank, and consequently he too is aptly named.

Lastly, there's Shadow who is . . . you guessed it . . . also aptly named. He follows us and the other three around like a shadow, the loving-est cat there ever was.

We acquired the first two on purpose, adopted from the Animal Rescue League. We saved the last two ourselves, literally rescuing them from lives of disease and starvation. They were both feral. We live-trapped Sherman T. Boy Boy. Shadow on the other hand was eventually amenable to being lured inside. After months of feeding him outdoors, over time gradually moving the food dish closer to the back porch, one night I coaxed him onto it. I opened the backdoor into the house to see what would happen. He walked in. I thought, "Now what the heck do I do?!" I closed the door, and that's how Shadow joined us.

I said all that to say this: there's a lot of peeing, pooping and scooping going on at our house. With four litter boxes, we were going through mountains of cat litter — lots of work, hard to stay on top of it, but of greater concern to me was the damage all that kitty liter was doing to the planet.

In 1984 Thomas Nelson, a Baylor University biochemist and cat lover, discovered that bentonite clay formed clumps in the presence of moisture. Since then clumping litter has become the most popular litter on the market, accounting for more than 75% of all sales.

Although bentonite is a natural occurring substance (Wyoming contains 70% of the world's supply), the problem is that producers are strip-mining to get it. Over two million tons are gouged out of the earth every year.

According to Greenpeace, strip mining — also known as surface mining — is as bad as it sounds. Everything at surface level is bulldozed, then the topsoil (or mountain top, depending on the location) is removed down to the clay, destroying the local environment, displacing wildlife and contaminating the water table. In addition, there are enormous energy costs in mining the clay, baking it dry and crushing it into a marketable texture.

Then it all has to be disposed of after it's used. Some sources cite amounts as high as eight billion tons a year. Two cats can generate more than 300 pounds on non-biogradable cat litter in a year, and we have four! I didn't like the wasteful, destructiveness the six of us were responsible for. Bentonite clay cat litter is also known to contain silica dust, which is classified as a carcinogen.

For all these reasons, I lobbied Paul to purchase a CatGenie, a flushable toilet for cats. He was skeptical, but it's been a success.

Here's how CatGenie describes its product: 

"It acts like a cat box, cleans like an appliance and flushes like a toilet. It's an automatic cat box that uses litter-like, permanent, washable granules that never need changing and are 100% dust free, biodegradable and septic safe." 

It scoops itself, washes and dries the granules, then pipes the effluent into the toilet. It can be set to clean every four hours or after every use. 

Naturally we were unsure whether our cats would take to it, but we figured that if even one or two of them used it some of the time, it would reduce our environmental footprint. My guess was that Shiva would figure it out pretty quickly, and she did. Shye was next. Sherman T. Boy Boy is just plain too big to fit in it, and we haven't quite determined whether Shadow has mastered it. Even so, we're going through a heck of a lot less cat litter, and spending way less time scooping and sweeping. 

A word of advice if you're considering purchasing one: I went to the CatGenie website and thought, "Yeah well, I can probably find one cheaper somewhere else." 

Paul, however, was diligent in his research, read various blogs and comments and learned that if you buy one from somewhere else online, you might not be getting the genuine article; you might be getting a knock-off that turns out to be a non-returnable, inferior product. Meow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Take me out to the ballgame

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” — Yogi Berra, American professional baseball catcher, manager and coach, almost as famous for the things he said

PAUL LIKES baseball. So do I, actually. He's a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan; meanwhile I root for the White Sox. Paul calls it a mixed marriage.

As usual, I have really sound reasons for my preference: I like the name better. 

Calling a team of grownups the Cubs is just too cloying, cutesy, yuppie and syrupy for my tastes, and when I hear them referred to as the Cubbies, that's exponentially worse. Ewww! Plus the White Sox are blue-collar, south side, working class. They're a better fit for my philosophical shoes. (Little pun there . . . sox/shoes . . . you get it.)

I keep telling Paul that we need to drive into Chicago when the Cubs and White Sox play each other and catch two games: one at Wrigley Field and one at . . . wait . . . hold on a minute. Comiskey Park is now Guaranteed Rate Field? That's a game changer . . . literally! When Comiskey was rebuilt in 1992, it retained the old name at first, but as of 2016 it's GRF — can't bring myself to say it. That's it. I'm picking a new team.

In the meantime a high school classmate of mine, Jim Kinney, who is a serious baseball fan (he has a collection of signed, major league baseballs currently numbering at 1035) and is even more an earnest and committed Cubs and Iowa Cubs fan (he buys three season tickets every year) — invited us to attend an I-Cubs night game as his guests July 18.

A couple of rabid Cubs fans.

The Cub Club offers a stunning view of the field.

And what a game it turned out to be! We had dinner at the Cub Club before hand; when we relocated to our seats in the stadium, we discovered they were first row seats directly behind the Cub pitcher's bullpen. 

It was fun sitting so close.

The game started precisely at 7:08 (games always start at eight minutes after the hour because TV 8 is a sponsor), and we got home . . . at midnight! And not because we went anywhere afterward! The game lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes, the longest nine-inning game the Iowa Cubs have played in over five years.

I thought we'd never get out of the first three innings. 

1st inning: 7 hits, 5 runs, 1 error

2nd inning: 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 error
3rd inning: 8 hits, 6 runs

Things calmed down in the 4th with 1 hit, no runs 

5th inning: 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 steals 

The 6th inning was quiet with only two hits

7th inning: 6 hits and 1 home run

8th inning: 3 hits, 2 runs
9th inning: 1 hit 

There was, in short, what we doctors call A LOT of activity: 37 hits, 23 runs and 4 errors. And oh yeah, the Cubs won 16 to 7.

A new pitcher just brought up from the Double-A Chicago Cubs affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, pitched the 8th. I thought he looked like he's got the right stuff, and as it turned out, whoever wrote the game story on the I-Cubs website agreed with me: 

"Dillon Maples made his Triple-A debut and was the most effective pitcher of the night, retiring the side in order, two on strikes."

Pitching coach, Rod Nichols, was amazingly patient with prankster pitcher David Rollins.

Thanks, Jim

I got curious as to what the longest professional baseball game was. It took place between two Triple-A teams: the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings. Beginning April 18, 1981, it wore on for 32 innings before being stopped. It was resumed June 23 for the final inning, settling the game in Pawtucket's favor, 3 to 2 in the bottom of the 33rd inning — a total of 8 hours and 25 minutes of playing time!

I also got to wondering what the record for highest number of hits in a single game was. Here's a chart.

Perhaps there's a future in baseball for me. Oh wait. Tom Hanks said there's no crying in baseball. I'm out.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The risks of staying safe

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” — Mark Twain

IN CASE you're in need of some encouragement to make that move you're been considering, or perhaps you could use a little validation for having already taken the road less traveled . . . here's an op-ed piece from The New York Times about the risks of staying safe and the merits of taking a risk.

Credit Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

How the Modern World Made Cowards of Us All

By Arthur C. Brooks
July 21, 2017

BACK in the late 1980s, Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live” used to do a funny impression of President George H. W. Bush, in which the character would justify his own supposed timidity by muttering “wouldn’t be prudent” to himself about every small risk. The impression neatly captured the contemporary notion of prudence: faintheartedness, caution and a general bias against action.

So perhaps it seems odd that this is my advice for young people heading out of school and into the world: Be prudent.

Yes, it sounds boring, but it may turn out to be a more radical suggestion than most graduates hear.

I thought prudence was not my cup of tea. When I quit college to go on the road as a musician, I was being imprudent. When I quit music to go back to school in my 30s, it was imprudent. When I left a tenured professorship for an unsecure job? You guessed it — imprudent.

Then I had an epiphany. When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition.

The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom.

Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk.

In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today?

A new study by the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt helps answer this question. He started with the premise that people who agonize over important choices may systematically make wrong decisions, defaulting to either “yes” or “no” with too much regularity. To investigate, Mr. Levitt found several thousand people in the throes of a difficult decision, weighing choices like job offers and marriage proposals, who volunteered to let him make the decision for them — with the flip of a coin.

Heads meant to decide in the affirmative; tails meant to decline. (Let it sink in that thousands of people agreed to have their most important decisions made by a stranger — worse, an economist — flipping a coin.) When given heads, Mr. Levitt found people were much more likely to take the decision affirmatively than they would be if left to their devices, so the experiment was effective.

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But the really interesting result concerned the participants’ happiness. In follow-up interviews six months later, Mr. Levitt found that the average “heads” person was significantly happier than the average “tails” person.

Here’s what all this means: Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.

Once you start looking for this imprudently risk-averse behavior, you see it everywhere, particularly among young people. According to data from the General Social Survey collected by the National Opinion Research Center, people under age 30 today are almost a third less willing than under-30s in 1996 to relocate for their careers. And as the economist Tyler Cowen observes in his new book “The Complacent Class,” the fraction of people in this age group who own their own businesses has plummeted by about 65 percent since the 1980s.

Economic changes have contributed to both trends, to be sure. But there is another culprit: a diminishing frontier spirit and an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps.

Family formation, perhaps the ultimate personal leap of faith, looks to be another victim of this imprudent hesitation. Census Bureau demographers recently reported that while only a quarter of 24- to 29-year-olds were unmarried in the 1980s, almost half of that age group is unmarried today. And delaying the jump to adulthood has real social consequences. Last August, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the United States fertility rate had fallen to its lowest point since they began calculating it in 1909.

My checkered past, it turns out, may not be a litany of imprudent decisions. True prudence means eschewing safety and familiarity in favor of entrepreneurial living. It requires clear eyes, a courageous heart and an adventurous spirit.

So take a risk. Be prudent. Don’t wait for social scientists to flip a coin on your behalf. Choose heads.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

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