Guns & Massacres & Priorities

Photo by maxzzerzz ❄ on Unsplash


We’ve had a flurry of mass shootings in recent days here in sunny California, the state with the most restrictive gun laws in the country. And it’s not yet February.

In California’s population of nearly 40 million, more than 4 million own a gun (more shotguns & rifles than pistols, but of course all of them kill people).

Nationally, we have more guns than civilians.

In Japan, where almost nobody packs heat (.03 guns per 100 civilians) there are fewer than 10 gun deaths annually. In the U.S. we have more than that every day, any day.

We’re on track for more gun deaths, more mass shootings, more carnage-by-trigger than ever in 2023. The figures generally go up every year.

And all we can talk about is background checks and mental health?

Did the Founding Fathers Miss Something?


Rep. of San Marino Postcard (Author photo)

The above postcard recently arrived from my world-traveler grandson with the opening line: “Continuing the tradition of sending you postcards from only the world’s finest microstates . . .” Microstates? Who knew?

Certainly not this grandmother. So I went straight to the internet.

What I learned led me to re-think the socio-political systems of my beloved U.S.A. Which systems, when you think about it, have invited a lot of re-thinking recently anyway.

In case you (also) didn’t know, San Marino is the world’s fifth-smallest country. Vatican City and Monaco are #1 and #2; at 23+ square miles, San Marino beats out 62-sq-mile Liechtenstein. It is officially the Most Serene Republic of San Marino — and for openers, what if we became the Most Serene United States?

As do we, San Marino has a constitution with which it has governed itself for centuries. But here’s the deal: their constitution specifies that San Marino’s democratically elected (goodbye, electoral college!) legislature must choose two heads of state every six months. These are known as captains regent. Clearly every red-blooded American would aspire to be Captain Regent so the issue of unqualified candidates would take care of itself once and for all.

Actually, the voters elect the legislature, from which the captains regent emerge. The Great and Central Council (doesn’t that beat ‘House’ and ‘Senate’?) is a unicameral legislature with 60 members. Elections are held once every five years — imagine 3 or 4 years of peace without campaigns.

There is proportional representation in all nine administrative dstricts. In other words, no district with teeny tiny population gets to tip the governmental scales. If you’re 18 in San Marino you get to vote, and your vote is precisely equal to that of every fellow citizen.

Here, though, is the icing on this political cake: The Great and Central Council chooses those two captains regent. They get to serve as heads of state for exactly six months. How much trouble can you cause in six months? Meanwhile, they share power equally, so they have to get along. Think Shumer and McCarthy — or maybe don’t.

Admittedly, this might work more easily in a country of 33 thousand than one of almost 33 million. Still, it has promise. I’m considering sending a suggestion to my own representative, who’s taken on impossible tasks before. Her name is Pelosi.

Meeting Mother Nature in Montana


Author photo

Big Sky Country! I’m a native Virginian transplanted long ago to San Francisco, and hadn’t met anything quite like Montana’s Bridger Mountains. But on a recent first-time visit I was enchanted by the ease and comfort with which the disparate members of Mother Nature’s family — flora and fauna alike — coexist. Here are a few of the fellow creatures that hang around my daughter’s new home:

For starters — brown bears. This one was investigating the indoor cat, or it might have been the other way around. Having a window in between was probably a good thing.

Christine Pentecost, Bridger Mountain Photo

The local brown bears, grizzlies by proper name, can be a curious sort. But you might not want to engage them, as they weigh an average of 290 lbs (the females) to 440 for the males. Living in bear country means being very careful to protect their habitat and never leaving garbage or food available — they make their own dietary choices, which may or may not include house cats. According to the Montana Field Guide, they have “light to medium grizzling on the head and back and a light patch behind the front legs.” Plus “varying levels of grizzled hair patches.” I now know where the grizzly bear got his name.

Author photo

And then there are rabbits. Other than the Easter bunny, a very distant kin, local rabbits are not always welcome. (But you have to admit they’re cute.) They get along just fine, insulated by all that fur and layers underneath, in Montana’s sub-zero winters, dining on tree bark, twigs and needles, but once the gardens begin to flourish, all those delicate sprouts look pretty yummy. . . .

Author photo

The resident rabbit likes to settle in daily by the back door, sunning himself (or herself, as the case may be) for a while and perhaps finding something interesting falling from the bird feeder above.

Christine Pentecost, Bridger Mountain Photo

Mule deer and white tail deer are common to the neighborhood, and they like to nibble too. My daughter’s new house is the beloved old house carefully designed and built by a noted photographer (and her husband,) who generously shared images of visiting creatures.

Montana being big game country, humans and deer coexist not always on equal terms : deer are speedy, but hunters have guns. Hunting is regulated, however, and hopefully humankind is looking to preserve these particular fellow creatures.

In the Bridger Mountain area of the state, what most strikes a newcomer is the endless display of Mother Nature’s bounty, and the possibilities for human and non-human creatures to coexist while appreciating each other. The creatures may not always appreciate the human invaders — other than the welcome availability of birdseed throughout the snowy season — but up close and personal, coexistence is pure joy.

Elections Fair & Square

When is an illegitimate winner not a winner?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

When I was a kid, Fair & Square was the rule.

“She won fair & square!” was the undisputed last word, whether it was a game of kick the can or a closely fought race for president of second grade. The winner accepted the prize, the loser scuffed his toe in the dirt but sat down — each with some degree of grace and compassion.

Admittedly, it’s been a very long time since I was a kid.

Still, pity poor Tom Suozzi. Tom Suozzi, whose name I would not have recognized before January 2023, served for six years in the U.S. Congress, representing the people of New York’s Third District. Most recently he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York. But he is proud of his record representing the folks in the jaggedy-shaped congressional district (aren’t they all?) that includes a sizable area of Long Island’s North Shore. And now he is less than happy about his successor.

“It saddens me,” Suozzi wrote in a recent New York Times op ed, “that after 30 years of public service rooted in hard work and service to the people of this area, I’m being succeeded by a con man.” Yep. The district elected someone whose name by now we all know: George Santos.

Mr. Santos skipped the Fair & Square classes.

The congressman-elect is now widely renowned for lying about his education, his work history, his finances, his achievements, his mother and possibly his name. If his victory causes distress to Tom Suozzi, it cannot be easy for businessman/activist Robert Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman, the Democrat who opposed Mr. Santos, conceded defeat after a race that now hardly seems to have been won fair and square. Mr. Zimmerman, though, has yet to submit an op ed to the Times (as far as I know.)

“Yet, I am clinging to my sense of optimism,” Suozzi writes. “I believe that as slow and frustrating as it sometimes is, our democracy, our free press and the rule of law work.” (This reporter is always looking for notes of optimism.)

Suozzi concludes, “One of my favorite lines from the 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has always stayed with me: ‘Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.’ That’s how I feel about America right now.”

Having somehow missed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this reporter nevertheless is going with Suozzi’s argument. “It’s not a naïve idea,” he concludes; “it’s what keeps us sane and able to keep moving forward in the age of Mr. Santos and Mr. Trump. The system works — if not right away, then ultimately. It has worked throughout our history, and it will work now.”

Well, okay. While trying to stay sane and able to move forward, let’s hear it for the Third District of New York somehow getting a legitimate Representative, fair & square.

Weather Weirdness for Humankind

A report from beautiful snowy Montana

Author photo

“It’s going up — (UP!) — to zero tomorrow,” said one adult in the room; “we can go sledding!” Two other adults, along with one 8-year-old, gleefully began planning routes. This reporter was planning to watch from indoors.

Author photo

Human beings, IMHO, are not designed to function in temperatures of 30 degrees below zero. Or “negative 30,” as it’s called by the good people of Montana, where I was spending the recent days of weather weirdness. Other parts of the world, including my beloved California with its recent cabinet-jostling earthquakes, have had their own weirdness problems:

Dense fog advisories, wind chill warnings, red flag alerts, assorted advisories and warnings on everything from floods to blizzards to hard freezes to a hurricane watch or two. Mother Nature is not pleased. Unwilling to send us all to our rooms — say, Mars or Jupiter or wherever — She called a December time out. Which, in Montana’s case, spells the deep freeze.

Game camera photo

Mother Nature designed all manner of creatures, not including humans, to function just fine in Negative 30 weather. Rabbits, for instance. The resident rabbit (above) is happily self-insulated and we presume warmly housed somewhere underground. As are the itinerant bears, deer, magpies and the rest of the Montana flora and fauna.

Humans, however, are on their own. When even the ski slopes are closed by the cold, that leaves throwing boiling water into the frigid air. And making plans to go sledding when things warm up to zero.

Author photo

Help Celebrate Hug A Cloud Day!

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

You can do this! Cloud-hugging (instructions below) benefits all of humankind.

Hug A Cloud Day came about because this is the 250th anniversary of the birth of English chemist/amateur meteorologist Luke Howard, the man who named clouds. The above puffy/fluffy ones are cumulus — if I’m not mistaken — from the Latin cumulo. On Hug A Cloud Day — or any other day, for that matter — it’s okay just to call them beautiful puffy things in the sky. But thanks to Luke Howard, they have names. This information is courtesy of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Photo by Michael & Diane Weidner on Unsplash

Everything I know about clouds comes from British-based Cloud Appreciation Society, of which I am Member #45,662. (Everything, that is, except for Hug A Cloud Day; I just invented that.) Largely it comes into my Inbox every day in the form of the Cloud of the Day.

In lieu of the daily cloud, though, my Inbox recently brought a portait of Luke Howard, and the information that he’s the guy who, back in 1802, came up with the idea of giving clouds Latin names like those for plants and animals.

Photo by Anna Spencer on Unsplash

So now we have Cirrus, Cumulus, Stratus, Nimbus and endless varieties, all worth appreciating. Or hugging. Here are the benefits of cloud-hugging: a healthy stretch, exercise time if you add a little happy dance, a chance to commune with the universe and balm for the soul. Plus, it’s free.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Here’s how to hug a cloud:

Go outside. If you can’t go outside, go to a window.

Look up.

Stretch out both arms as wide as you can.

Smile at a cloud. It can even be a rain cloud. You don’t have to call it by its proper name; clouds don’t really care.

Wrap your arms around your shoulders.

You have now celebrated Hug A Cloud Day. Your cloud, happily hugged, can now float off and around the planet, to make itself universally available. Free hugs, humans everywhere. Imagine.

The Joy of Supplements

Today’s random health report

Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

Dietary doomsday may be upon us. For instance, how’s the eicosapentaenoic acid?

And should we be REALLY worried about it?

There’s food — as in breakfast, lunch, dinner, nosh — and there’s Supplement. I grew up on meat & potatoes plus a few vegetables, old-fashioned stuff you cook and eat. But the world seems to be geared to popping pills for daily needs, so I supplement with the best of them today.

One of my children told me to take turmeric with curcumin, so I started swallowing those yellowish pills a few years ago. I have no idea why; sometimes I think they give me desert-sand breath.

Then there’s fish oil. Does everybody take daily fish oil? I sort of think so. That’s where you get the eicosapentaenoic acid. It’s a “fatty acid,” which doesn’t sound particularly yummy when you think about it. Plus, I used to take pride in never having dropped acid.

I am more than a little suspicious of it all. Big Pharma, I think, did a mind control thing on my primary care doctor, the one who said I really should take extra iron, and calcium with vitamin D, and if I’m not mistaken she threw in the fish oil. There is no fish oil capsule smaller than a quail’s egg. After I while, I got a new doctor.

Mostly, I am fascinated with CoQ10. Seriously, now. Had you ever heard of CoQ10 before it began starring in every other commercial on MSNBC?

CoQ10 — I’ve been researching this, no easy task — is an enzyme. More specifically it is “Coenzyme Q, also known as ubiquinone . . .” Most healthy people have plenty of it, but maybe — maybe — scarfing a little more might help with one’s blood pressure or metabolism or headache. Apparently, nobody much knows. Just reading about it gives me a headache.

In the small print of the CoQ10 packages are warnings about diarrhea, nausea and heartburn, little things like that. As to whether taking this happy little supplement can actually do any good, phrases like “the evidence is conflicting,” or “it’s uncertain that adding CoQ10 will have any effect” proliferate.

Maybe we should go back to kale and blueberries.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles+

A 3-day Getaway trip that’s all about the journey

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

You’ve gotta love Scenic-Route trains. Or maybe you don’t, if you’re some sort of a lumpy impassive immovable home-bound sedentary stick-in-the-mud grump and bless your heart. But I simply love trains.

Salt ponds with coastal mountains & the City receding at the start of the journey south 

It began, therefore, as a bucket-list trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from San Francisco to San Diego. Fourteen hours’ worth of California the beautiful: Bay marshes, salt ponds, golden hills, picture-perfect rows of vegetables and vineyards, tunnels through rugged mountains and finally the indigo grandeur of the Pacific Ocean, right there where it’s always been — albeit still on the wrong side of the street for this East Coast native. 

Vineyards near Paso Robles

Late fall colors, the passing scene 

All that should, truthfully, have been enough. Get on the train, restore the soul, fly home — and that was the original Plan. But it grew exponentially, transportationally-speaking, into a couple of addenda that are worth mentioning.

For starters, the ferry. Maybe there’s one near you. If not, just come on to San Francisco. From Gate G at the Ferry Building, catch the 4:30 eastbound to Jack London Square in Oakland. On a late autumn afternoon, this features a receding view of the sun setting behind the cityscape. Whew.

Ferry view of San Francisco

After the ferry, after the train, it’s likely you will add in a taxi ride or two or (in my case, because something was interrupting the train tracks between Los Angeles and San Diego) a FlixBus, a few cars driven by friends, a couple of hotel rooms and a good bit of old-fashioned walking. I was also treated to a trolley cart of some sort that careened us for what seemed at least a half a mile from train stop to actual station in L.A. — but that was a vehicle not worth a photo.

At the end, fully restored, there’s no place like home.

An end-of-trip Pacific sunset, this one from above San Francisco

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