Thursday, September 21, 2017

Upsetting opinions

Liberals need to be very careful about how far they’re willing to go to extend hate crime laws in the U.S. criminal code. In Europe, where virtually no country has a tacit free speech protection equal to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, these same laws have for some time been applied in instances when unpopular leftist views were being espoused. In France in 2008, a leftist activist named Herve Eon was fined 30 euro ($39) simply for holding a banner up to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s car that read “get lost, jerk.” Eon’s words were echoing precise ones spoken by Sarkozy a short time before to a French citizen that had refused to shake his hand.

One of the most draconian restrictions across several nations has been hate speech laws applied to activists that have promoted the economic boycott movement against Israel. In 2009, several activists in France were convicted of “inciting racial hatred” for applying boycott stickers to pieces of produce imported from Israel. Contrary to popular belief, countries like France, Britain, and Germany are not necessarily more democratic than the United States, and with stricter speech laws on the books, none of these countries has seen a decrease in neo-Nazi activism, white nationalism, or in hate crimes.

But it could happen here. Virtually the whole of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate believes that this boycott movement against Israel, an apartheid state, amounts to anti-Semitism, and such hate speech legislation has already seen light in legislative chambers. Also in Congress we have seen a frightening number of representatives (that is, a number greater than one) advocate publicly for denying First Amendment protections to Islamic radicals based on the Constitutionally-flimsy pretense that these individuals don’t believe in free speech themselves and therefore don’t deserve it. It’s not an outsized leap to imagine a “terrorist” label applied to Black Lives Matters activists. Fourteen states have already seen bills introduced that would attempt to add police officers to hate crime categories as a way of targeting BLM activists with imprisonment. Here in Iowa (as in five other states), the legislature has seen fit to criminalize the secret video recording of conditions inside large hog confinement facilities with these whistle blowers and secret recorders identified by many as “terrorists.”

After Charlottesville, there has been a mushrooming advocacy, visible online and elsewhere, coming from the left end of the political spectrum to have private tech companies, and even the state, limit the platforms for speech. The fundamental concept of free speech, however, is to allow an open marketplace of ideas so that the best ones will win. And since Charlottesville, we’ve actually seen a powerful push-back against the mainstreaming of overt white supremacist ideas, and even a weakening of the “alt-right” and neo-Nazi movements-- effectively by splitting them. The term “alt-right” has become a political liability within a very short period of time. A large subsequent rally mapped for the west coast was cancelled, young anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activists have figuratively sprinted away from the Nazis and the KKK that helped populate the Virginia rally, the Breitbart news agency has now disowned the “alt-right” label, and the most visible member of the alt-right movement, Steve Bannon, was fired by a president that is loath to accept criticism or admit mistakes. None of this happened because viewpoints were suppressed in the legal code, but by the fact that protestors were met on the street by a larger number of anti-fascist and left-wing counter-protestors. Few of these nationalists have likely changed their minds and they certainly haven’t gone away as a whole, but they have gone running away from their “brand,” having lost an enormous number of moderate sympathizers in their cause. This is the marketplace of ideas at work.

It shouldn’t be necessary to list all of the once-unpopular views-- opposing war, racism, sexism, and homophobia-- that now hold majority support thanks to our Constitutional protections. That document does not exist other than to protect minority rights from the tyranny of the majority. For liberals, abandoning the First Amendment is abandoning the greatest tool that exists in this country to fight injustice.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nevertheless, she persisted-- in blaming everybody but herself

Hillary Clinton has retired to history as the woman who couldn't quite parlay her husband's marital infidelities into a presidential tenure of her own. Rather than ushering in the full consummation of her master plan, 2016 instead brought surprising and humiliating defeat before Alexander Hamilton's Electoral College and a divorce for the Weiner/Abedins. With the financial funnel to the Clinton Foundation now clogged perhaps for all-time by the two-time candidate's failure to grasp the United States presidency and then to parcel out weapons and munitions to tinpot dictators, Hillary has instead returned to the practice of pimping books to the upper-middle-class wing of the Democratic Party in her efforts to build a personal financial fortune.While she engages in that, Bernie Sanders moves forward a plan in the United States Senate to provide all Americans with health care coverage that's paid for by their taxes-- no copays, premiums, or deductibles.

Which direction should I direct my eyes?

The Intercept has a well-timed report on the push-back against the Bernie/Elizabeth Warren single-payer plan by the health care-for-profit industry. What's shocking, or maybe not so shocking, in the piece is how many of the lobbyists speaking up in opposition to health care as a human right are former congressmen-- and Democrats to boot. There's former Representative Bruce Morrison of Connecticut, now openly representing the American Hospital Association. And former Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who now lobbies directly for Aetna, AFLAC, and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals.

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, a Democrat in the most modern definition of the word, puts Bernie on blast for "misleading" people with his life-saving plan. If you can make heads or tails of Chait's argument, drop me a summary in the comments. New York's Rebecca Traister and Slate's Michelle Goldberg got a girlfriend's back as Clinton devotes several hundred pages in print to a lengthening list of people that are responsible for her electoral failures-- Sanders, who endorsed her to his own personal detriment; the New York Times, about which you could say the same; Vladimir Putin; Jill Stein; and Jim Comey-- none of them being her or a member of her campaign staff. Instead of writing about health care, or police shootings, or U.S. bombing campaigns that pause only to re-load, we get from both Traister and Goldberg's reviews that million dollar question: why isn't Hillary even angrier?! Hmm. I just don't know. I hate Donald Trump. That I know. Let me click on this link. These two journalists both ask also-- point-blank-- why are people so angry about Hillary's new book? It's a question that answers itself regarding a publication that never gets around to addressing the military policies Clinton has enthusiastically endorsed that kill tens of thousands of innocents in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, and Somalia, and that relentlessly and ruthlessly betray the Democratic Party's attempts to brand itself honestly as AN ENEMY of privilege, racism, and violence, even though the stated purpose of the book, by the title alone, is to tell us "What Happened."

Cognitive dissonance.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Complex questions, simple solutions

Here's a surefire way to avoid nuclear holocaust with North Korea-- don't fire first. This is the obvious solution. Kim Jung-Un is not going to drop an atomic fireball on Guam even if his nuclear reach stretches there. Do we really think that's a possibility? He bombs a remote island that affects the U.S.'s nuclear capability not in the slightest, and then we don't respond with a bomb directly on Pyongyang? That's stupid. All of the bluster is stupid. Our president is immature, insecure, and an emotional weakling, and Kim used to wear that crown.


"Now then: Boston and Philadelphia both claim to be the cradle of liberty. Which city is correct? Neither one. Liberty is only now being born in the United States. It wasn't born in 1776. Slavery was legal. Even white women were powerless, essentially the property of their father or husband or closest male relative, or maybe a judge or lawyer. Liberty was only conceived in Boston or Philadelphia. Boston or Philadelphia was the motel of liberty, so to speak.

"Now then: The gestation period for a 'possum is twelve days. The gestation period for an Indian elephant is twenty-two months. The gestation period for American liberty, friends and neighbors, turns out to be two hundred years or more!

"Only in my lifetime has there been serious talk of giving women and racial minorities anything like economic, legal, and social equality. Let liberty be born at last, and let its lusty birth cries be heard in Kingston and in every other city and town and village and hamlet in this vast and wealthy nation, not in Jefferson's time but in the time of the youngest people here this afternoon. Somewhere I heard a baby cry. It should cry for joy."--- Kurt Vonnegut, 1990

Monday, August 28, 2017

Adventures in autographing

I told you about the time I stabbed one-time Cardinals great Lonnie Smith in the eye while trying to get his autograph in 1988. Well, after a long layoff I think I've gotten a little better at hounding.

I went to St. Louis with a pal this weekend to take in a Cardinals' three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays-- they found the Lord a few seasons back and dropped the "Devil" from the Rays' name. The Cardinals lost more of the three games than I would have preferred, but there were highlights a plenty, including Friday's first-ever Pride Night at Busch Stadium. I bought our tickets before the announcement though so we didn't have the special ticket that would get us a rainbow-colored Cardinals cap.

Plenty of other free stuff was parceled out during the weekend, though-- Friday was also Mystery Hall of Fame Manager Bobblehead Night, and I'm happy to say I wound up with a Whitey Herzog model. The other possibilities were bobbling likenesses of  Red Schoendienst, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa. Whitey was my first choice, with all respect to the other gentlemen, and it came to pass that we would be united. Sunday's freebie for all of us at the park was a Mike Shannon-themed alarm clock. Mike's the Cardinals play-by-play man on the radio, on the air each year since the very early '70s. His most frequent home run call on the radio is "Get up, baby, get up!" So alarm clock.

Other weekends, that alarm clock might have dwarfed all else, but not this one. On Saturday, I woke up at the crack of eight and walked from the Value Inn, a dusty motor lodge almost hilariously located in the literal shadow of the towering, modern, and elegant Four Seasons abutting the Laclede's Landing neighborhood. The lady's voice inside our car mapping system got all excited as we approached our lodging destination for the first time on Friday afternoon and then she started to cry. So I hit the pavement in the morning with my coffee and milk drink that costs six dollars and I'm going to stand in line to get a free autograph from former Cardinals great Jim Edmonds at the team's Hall of Fame and Museum. This is where our real story begins. You can line up beginning at 9:30, somebody has said, but at 8:45, I'm about the 330th person in line. I find out that number later. It seems they will give out 320 autograph tickets at 10, then it comes down to time after that-- how fast will Jimmy be able to sign, and will I be willing to stick it out in line with no guarantees that it won't all be for nought at noon.

It's team Hall of Fame Weekend for 2017 and superstars Mark McGwire and Tim McCarver are going to be inducted, along with the late Pepper Martin, who will be represented in the proceedings by his daughter Jenny Weathersby. I'm going to guess that Jenny is in her 70s, and there's something that I find eternally charming about an older lady when she starts talking about "daddy." The big annual event is why the autograph line is so long. The ceremony itself begins at 2pm. A game tonight at 6. While standing in line, I make fast friends with the surrounding people. Great people, great Cardinals fans. Jim Edmonds fans.The time goes by swiftly because of the company, but it does go by. It's now 11:30, there's been a lot of standing, and I have progressed in the line into the museum itself and up a staircase, but not yet reached the admission desk. And my cluster of associates and I have still not earned the tickets that guarantee and foreshadow an Edmonds signature.

Then who should come up the steps behind my group but another familiar face, one of today's honorees, Tim McCarver, the starting catcher for the Cardinals in 21 World Series games during the 1960s and a television broadcaster for so long after that that he retired from the national work having broadcast more World Series on television than any man or woman that ever lived. He has come into the museum, along with a videographer and a Cardinals P.R. representative to see his Hall of Fame plaque for the first time just prior to the ceremony. And this guy here-- me-- has an ace in his pocket-- in a plastic shopping bag, to be more precise. About seven years ago, in a moment of almost-sickening foresight, I saw fit to spend some money online for a compact disc that featured Tim McCarver singing. You never knew this, but Tim put this collection out into the world and it's called "Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook," and upon its many grooves, Tim interprets such chestnuts as "On a Clear Day," "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You," and "I'll Remember April." Well, it seems that within any given-- moderately-sized-- group of Cardinals fans, I'm the only one that owns one of these-- and, and... just happens to have it on his person. Since I've already bragged about this item to the people standing around me, they practically push me over to where he's standing. "But I don't have a Sharpie," I object, which was true. "Here, use mine," cries out the greatest saint in this region since Louis.

I make my way over to Tim, who has now offered to sign for people. Fans were initially hesitant to approach him because he's looking officially at his plaque, but Tim is the one that breaks the ice. "Would you like me to sign that?" he says to someone. He signs a first baseball, one that was probably intended for Jim Edmonds, and I stick my compact disc of his into his purview as he peers down signing his second baseball. Not too elevated with the disc now, Moeller, don't stab him in the eye. He sees the disc out of the corner of his eye, and he doesn't say anything, but he throws his head back and lets out a big laugh. He's charmed-- and I detect, humbled. After signing the baseball that's in his hand, I'm telling you, he reaches past four or five, maybe six other baseballs, right over them, to grab my CD and sign it. The paper cover is out of its case, but the case is there for physical support, and he puts a fresh Tim McCarver right on there, just below his name as it already appears in white font on the cover and partially across the cheek on the face that smiles back at us in the photo. Big loops and stuff. The little 'c' in "McCarver" is underlined.

Well, I'm blissed out. I'm back to my spot in line graciously saved for me-- and I'm a hero to boot-- the guy that owns a rare compact disc that has now somehow been lifted from the category of priceless to more priceless. I hadn't expected to get within 100 feet of Tim McCarver today, especially on what was to be one of the most important days of his baseball life. But still I had it with me. On Thursday night, as I was pulling a framed Jim Edmonds photo off the wall in the bedroom, contemplating this particular weekend to come, something-- or someone-- told me to go to the basement of the condo, dig through the disc collection that had been banished there by my interior decorator wife, and pull that disc back out and pack it up for its ultimate life's adventure. Be prepared. That's the boy scout motto. Be prepared.

Now the rest falls into place. Not minutes later, a museum door opens and Jim Edmonds autograph tickets appear for me and for all my friends. We move through the gates and very soon I'm doubling my good fortune by being before Mr. Edmonds. As he signs-- and here's a fun fact for you-- Tim McCarver and Jim Edmonds both wore uniform number 15 as members of the Cardinals, each assigned by the clubhouse manager almost 40 years apart... as he signs, I pour out my heart to him in Twitter space or less. "Jim, I love you", I say-- a man should never be afraid to tell one of his favorite baseball players that he loves him-- "But I love that you and your wife appeared on Real Housewives. My wife is from Kenya and I can't get her interested in baseball at all-- but she knows who Jim Edmonds is!" Jim's been signing autographs for almost two hours at this time so he smiles but his reaction is understated, plus the guy ahead of me has Down syndrome so that sort of overwhelms my thing. But I got another one! Not even two for two today. Two for one. Then the Cardinals Hall of Fame does an almost incomprehensible thing--  it gives me a free bottle of iced tea on my way out the museum door. This is insane.

Would you even believe it if I told you that I then made my way over to the ceremony and my pal had secured us the perfect balcony view of an extraordinary civic event? And for good measure Tony LaRussa walked right past me and I shook his hand? And he was actually smiling? And McCarver's speech made me laugh? And then Mark McGwire's made me cry like I was a little baby? And McGwire cried too? Just like he used to? And some of those other Hall of Famers sitting up there on stage, looking like-- to steal a line from Jack Buck-- some diamonds in the window of a jewelry store-- looked like they might cry too? And Jim Edmonds sat behind McGwire, his former teammate, on the dais and rallied the standing ovation that would come flooding in for one of the greatest men that ever played the game? And then the baseball day was capped, about five hours later, at about 9 o'clock Central, when Tommy Pham hit a walk-off home run for the Cards in the bottom of the ninth inning after we had been behind by as many as three runs? And then I ate some hot fudge and pecan custard at a parlor that is also a Route 66 landmark called Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard? I don't think you would believe it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar eclipse

Cinemaphiles in France famously believe Jerry Lewis to have been a genius upon the screen, a second-coming of Charlie Chaplin. I don't know if they're right. I haven't seen several of the critical movies on his resume, but take a look only at The Bellboy and you're liable to believe that the frogs are on to something.

Like those of Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the French auteur Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle), The Bellboy is a pantomime comedy. It's Lewis' first as a director and it was famously shot in less than a month at the Fontainebleau Hotel on the beach in Miami in 1960, where the movie's story also takes place. Lewis' character, whom he has named Stanley after Stan Laurel, is mute almost for the entire film. The movie is a series of vignettes, and stars of the era and the location, Milton Berle and Walter Winchell, have cameos. As ridiculous as it may be to believe, Lewis shot the movie in only 28 days at the hotel, without a script-- while also performing every night on stage in the hotel's main theater. He put nearly a million dollars of his own money into the movie after Paramount said it didn't want to fund a silent movie. This is the stuff of legend.

Of course Jerry was also great when Scorsese directed him in The King of Comedy in 1982. That movie is in my top 50. Along with Hugo, it's an underrated Marty masterpiece. Lewis plays the role that was offered to Johnny Carson that would have essentially had Carson playing himself, and Robert DeNiro plays Rupert Pupkin, the would-be comedian that takes his big break on a nationally-televised late night talk show, and whose name now represents a certain type of person in the larger culture. Jerry's character is understated and played to perfection. He's also called "Jerry" (Langford, in this case) because, during a scene in which Jerry is filmed actually walking the streets of New York, real Big Apple residents can be reasonably expected to call out his name, and several of them do in the final cut of the movie-- "Hey, Jerry!"

Jerry Lewis may have raised more money for charity than any entertainer in American history, and of course, I'm about to skip quickly over facts about him and periods of his life, which are individually, enough to have made him famous if any of them were all he had ever done-- the Colgate Comedy Hour and his nightclub partnership with Dean Martin, which some consider to be the greatest stage act in show business history, the extraordinary run of comedy films he directed, wrote, and starred in during the 1960s, his revolutionary invention of a video playback machine for film directors, and his several decades as host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. He is as synonymous to the Labor Day holiday in America as George Washington is to President's Day.

I saw Jerry Lewis on stage in Ames, Iowa in 1993, and holy Jesus, I'm glad I did that. I was in college and I went by myself because I had not met any Jerry Lewis fans during my first two months on campus. (I can't confirm that I ever did.) I don't remember much about the night except that he chatted with us, he did some bits, he sang in front of a large orchestra, and at one point, he brought his infant daughter, Danielle, out on stage with him. For comedic purposes, he handed the girl back to her caretaker using only one hand and making us all fearful, on purpose, that he was going to drop her. That was part of the show. Funny what a guy remembers. Jerry is one of six Oscar hosts (in 1956, 1957, 1959) that I've seen perform on stage. The others are Frank Sinatra (1963, 1975), Diana Ross (1974), David Letterman (1995), Steve Martin (2001, 2010), and Chris Rock (2005, 2016). I consider Jerry my greatest "get." I still have the ticket stub. It's a pretty great boast to own for the rest of my life for the price of only $12.50.

Lewis died at the age of 91 yesterday at his home in Las Vegas. The cause, they're saying, was ischemic cardiomyopathy. This heart-related death took place 57 years after the comedian's first heart attack in 1960 during the filming of Cinderfella. He had previously survived prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, viral meningitis, and a prescription drug addiction. That list adds to the disbelief that he has died.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The hack that wasn't?

You wouldn’t know it from reading the center-right papers, but The Nation, a politically-liberal periodical that serves as the oldest continuously-published weekly magazine in the U.S. (1865), has set forth a report that stands to debunk the entire narrative of Russian election hacking. The Clinton-bots were wrong, and this blog was right in its skepticism of the Commie plot that now seems to have been orchestrated instead by CIA spooks.

According to The Nation, a group of former U.S. intelligence officials have presented forensic evidence that the so-called “hack” of the Democratic National Committee in July of last year was not a hack at all, but an insider leak, one conducted in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States, by somebody with physical access to the DNC computer. The group is called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and was founded in 2003, when they quickly debunked the theory that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons. The new report contradicts the unsubstantiated “intelligence” we've been told about, but not shown, that the hacker Guccifer 2.0 did any hacking of the DNC or turned over documents to WikiLeaks. Further-- and this part is crucial-- investigators found that some of the “Guccifer” files had been deliberately altered by copying and pasting their text into a word-processing document that had Russian-language settings.

It seems that the FBI never even investigated the DNC servers after John Podesta's email was hacked, and Vladimir Putin has been set up. His fingerprints were manufactured, and we can only assume that these Cold War-era war games were only performed with the purpose of cranking up tension between the Russian Federation and the United States. A substantial number of officials within the Deep State were spoiling for a standoff with Russia over the territory of Crimea and over expanding Russian influence in Eastern Europe, with our Cold Warriors backing a group of anti-Russian neo-Nazis in Ukraine, and Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat in November was a proverbial gut punch to that entire initiative.

This was always the more plausible narrative-- that a DNC official, likely pissed off over Candidate Clinton’s coronation within the DNC power structure in opposition to the upstart, outsider campaign of Independent presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, slipped the embarrassing emails to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has claimed very openly since the beginning that his source was indeed someone from inside the DNC. Track back to June 12, 2016-- Assange announces that he has documents that will deeply damage the Clinton campaign-- and Clinton is not yet nominated by the party. Two days later, with the DNC having been placed on notice, Crowdstrike, a private company that does cybersecurity and is in the employ of the DNC, announces that they have found malware on the committee’s servers and begins claiming immediately that the Russians are responsible for such. The FBI relies entirely upon the reports of Crowdstrike and the media moves to focus its attention on the “hack” that can be pinned to the Russians, rather than on the contents of the emails themselves that are, indeed, deeply embarrassing to the Clintons and her advisory team.

We believe what we’re told to believe though. And we’re most gullible to believe what we want to believe. This is a deeply embarrassing report for the DNC, coming as it does from a news outlet that holds high favorability with the Left. This is also embarrassing for the news media, which again has been caught marching unquestioning in lockstep with the Intelligence State. The media has largely ignored this new information a year later because of course it has to. Not only does its existence reveal yet another failure of the political news media to act as the watchdog it pretends to be, but it shows that the gatekeepers of official information have been duped for the better part of a year over a story that turns out to be as fictitious as that saga of Iraqi WMDs. The president has been labeled a Russian agent. Assange has been labeled a Russian agent. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has been labeled a Russian agent. One of the only news agencies to pick up the story is Breitbart News, so of course this stands to lift the standing of that organization to the exclusion of almost all others-- and again, this is a report published by a highly-respected left-wing news organization. Notice that the report (linked above) makes no effort to name a culprit, only to debunk a faulty theory, revealing an absence of political motivation.

The damage that has been done by the Russian panic should be obvious. An authoritarian president with racist sympathies gets re-enforced behind his most powerful and substantive rhetoric-- that his enemies are out to get him, and that he is being sabotaged by Washington insiders, which in this critical instance, is the truth. And to what end? To further protect the political career and legacy of Hillary Clinton and the DNC establishment, which has done more to damage the cause of progressive action in this country than any other entity. The misinformation campaign has also ratcheted up the tension between two countries with very powerful military arsenals during a politically-dangerous time, and has served to again distract from real scandals involving the current administration and from truly-impactful electioneering upon the U.S. system by foreign governments the likes of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ain't nobody here but us chickens

The missus and I have a unique house-sitting assignment this week. We are about 30 minutes from home out in the country, at the home of my cousins, and in the company and thrall of seven chickens. The starting lineup is a rooster named Oreo and six hens, Tilly, Cici, Salvy, Rex, Olive, and Checkers. And did I mention that they have names? That places them securely in the category of the luckiest one percent of one percent of one percent of chickens living in the United States today. Chickens without names tend to not it as good as these chickens have it, or if their names are something along the lines of Extra Crispy, same thing.

And these chickens do have it pretty good. There's a coop armed with a pair of oscillating fans. An adjoining cage, or run, as they say. The water and grain is replenished at least once a day, ice packs added to the water at other times, and carved watermelon from the freezer fills the void left by afternoon tea and crumpets. We have it pretty good in the house too, with seemingly all-you-can-drink beer and wine.

Allow me to say though that the sexual politics of the chicken coop are a bit unsettling and they required advance warning. Oreo the rooster is-- at least by the standards of the office where I work-- a sexual predator. He acts the pimp, and I admit I had never before fully picked up on the symbolism of the dress style of the stereotypical 1970's-era street pimp, or phrases like cock-of-the-walk. There's no procurement to be had down these mean streets, but he seems to be rather abusive and certainly possessive. Part of it seems appropriate according to human standards. He keeps an eye on them. He tries to step between the girls and any potential danger. At night, when they retire up into the coop, he goes with them, then comes back to the door flap and gives it one more look to make sure everybody is there. (I decided that he can't count to seven, but he can count to one, so if he comes back to the door, and doesn't see any stragglers, all is good.) Most of the hens don't stray too far from him, but then he orchestrates these surprise sexual attacks on them from behind-- I told you this was unpleasant-- they squawk, the couple has physical contact for about three seconds, they both flap their wings for a moment, then remember that they don't have the capacity for flight as their body weight is too great, and then everything is done and forgotten, and both parties return to pecking at the ground. No litigation.

We were told that Tilly, I believe Tilly, was the runt of the litter-- even though runt of the litter is entirely the wrong expression-- and that every chicken in the coop picked at her. That's why I want to say that it's Tilly that's involved in this next story, but I can't be sure. We were left by our hosts with a list of the names that also included their (to me) very-similar physical descriptions. This implied that we were encouraged to learn their names, but aside from Oreo, they all look remarkably alike. Tilly, we'll say, was minding her own business one night early this week. She was free ranging outside the cage, as they all were and are permitted to do during the day. (Incidentally, chickens have a remarkable ability to bring themselves back to the coop at the same time each evening. As reliable as the mighty ocean, they come home to roost, just like Obama's pastor said they would.) Meanwhile, I was positioned comfortably in a folding chair about four feet from the run reading one-time pitching prodigy Rick Ankiel's book about his struggle with the mysterious anxiety condition called "the yips."

On the opposite side of the vast chicken structure, Oreo starts running his game on Tilly. Again, I say it's Tilly because this appeared to be more of an attack to her front then her back. He's pecking at her head, and as I said, we were told that all of the other chickens, even the ladies, had picked on her, at least back during her vulnerable infancy in the spring. (Tilly, it was also explained, is the only chicken that has spent an overnight in the house-- in the bathtub, when she was young and sickly.) She does the wing flap, and glides towards me in the chair after the Oreo assault. She stops about six feet away and gives me a side-eyed look. (They all look at you sideways because their eyes are on the sides of their heads.) And that look, I believe, is one that's saying, "Are you going to do something about this?"

Now I was not told that this sort of thing was something I needed to concern myself with so I'm resolved not to get myself involved in this affair in the slightest. Also, I decided in advance of our stay, though I never expressed it verbally to anyone, that I would not be touching the chickens. If they get out of the cage when I open the door in the morning to fill up the water and the feed, then the free-ranging starts early today and they're out for the rest of the day, until they march back in there themselves, like clockwork, at about nine o'clock this evening, and then I'll close and lock the door behind them. Not to make this too much of an Iowa thing, but I'm just here to keep one eye on them and one on the sky to make sure they're safe from Hawks and Cyclones, as it were. So Tilly and I make eye contact for about five seconds, and then I slowly raise my book from my lap to my face and that breaks our staring contest. I'm here, but I'm not here. You feel me?

Tilly continues her wobbly trot clockwise around the run and the coop. She completes the revolution and I return to my reading. But not ten seconds later, I hear the squawk, look up and again Oreo is on her head and she flaps away in my general direction. This time it plays out differently though-- she jumps at me. She's not attacking me, of course. I'm not in danger. It's more of a "save me" leap into my arms. I fend her off quickly and now Oreo and a couple other hens have her down in a sort of headlock. Oreo is pecking at her head as she squirms and the others are joining in. It's as if they're saying to her, what did you just do? You just jumped on the water and grain guy. It's all nuts. Sure I feel a little guilty that I couldn't do more, but I was not told it was a possibility that the chickens would come at us. The chicken scrum is short-lived, as they all are, and soon all seven are back to pecking at the ground, and I'm dusting myself off. There's no blood. The skin was not penetrated, but there's a forever-chicken scratch, about an inch long, at the top of page 133 of my Rick Ankiel book (in the narrative, that's situationed after the pitching meltdown in 2000, but before Rick the Stick's triumphant return as an outfielder and home run slugger seven years later).

Things haven't really been the same on the farm since. A couple days after, Oreo leaped at my wife while flapping his wings. She doesn't know what caused him to do that, but ever since, she doesn't feel comfortable walking across the yard during free ranging time unless she's gripping the garden sprayer.

Farm time ends tomorrow. Our hosts return and we'll say goodbye to perhaps the best possible "stay-cation" that can be had around these parts. The chickens were a pleasant experience to contend with, I guess, overall, despite the episodes. They're interesting. But they also make one appreciate more the relaxed elegance of the Great American House Cat. There's one of those here too, but no stories to be told. She's just a cuddly, widdle sweetee, aren't you, kitty?