Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Status Update: The Big Wet Snow

A sponsor complained about what the sponsor mistook for the "good" posts I'd promised another sponsor. This one paid for two more "good" posts. I need to make this clear. This, like most of the other things posted here lately, is not a paid "good" post; the book reviews were pre-scheduled last spring, and the me-me-me posts are merely status updates. Before revising and posting things for which people actually pay, I'm just letting relatives know I'm still alive. (Now that I've written down what seemed worth recording as my brain thawed, it looks like a Makers and Takers post, but it really is just a free status update.)

The livelier posts are late. The fictive conversation guest posts I do for a commercial site are late. The review of an e-friend's hilarious book, Life Begins When the Kids Leave Home and the Dog Dies, is late. I've been busy opening the physical store, the Internet Portal, and this week the store's not even open due to fear that customers could be badly injured trying to cross the ice to get into it. Everything is late, if it's happening at all, because of this weekend's Big Wet Snow.

Despite the discomfort of celiac sprue I'm still young and perky enough to love a Big Wet Snow. If I didn't have writing jobs and a store to worry about I would have spent more time out on the road sawing up fallen trees to make the utility guys' job a bit easier for them. I love the way moving fast keeps my hands and feet warm enough to warm out soaked boots and mittens. (Yes, Nephews, your Auntie Pris is still a hottie--in the literal sense anyway.) I love the way even falling down in snow feels--hey, make an angel! I thoroughly enjoyed giving myself bronchitis, helping deal with a Big Wet Snow at seventeen, and I'd do it again. But I do have the writing and the store, so when my electricity went off at 6:30 on Sunday morning, I rushed down to town in search of Internet connections.

Those were hard to find. Living outside Gate City, I automatically assume that people in town will have electricity when I don't, or if they don't, people in Kingsport will do. This assumption is correct for most Big Wet Snows. This was one when it was not. People in some Kingsport neighborhoods actually lost their connections before I did. Gate City didn't even have traffic lights.

So it's officially time for our readers in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Sweden, Scotland, Russia, the Ukraine, Canada, etc., to enjoy their annual chortle at what counts as a winter weather disaster in Virginia. We are so pathetic when we get a tiny glimpse of what a serious subarctic winter is like. Everything was shut down for the weather emergency when we had a little over a foot of snow and temperatures averaging right about the freezing point, with snow melting in the daytime and freezing at night.

But for us this really is bad. Driving in snow? Hello, this is Virginia. Walking in snow? I enjoy it, but most of my townsfolk are much older and sicker or at least lazier than I am.

My lights blinked, then went off and stayed off. I looked out the window. Everything was white, with a good bit of hedge collapsing into the porch under the first foot of snow that actually fell. Snow was falling in an almost aggressive way with huge flakes pouring straight down, except when gusts of wind drove them straight in under my umbrella. I fed the cats, put on boots, packed up some books to read and some knitting to do if unable to connect to the Internet, and left home.

Deciding that those of my slightly-elders who live west of me could look after themselves (without verifying this), I knocked on the door of the first one between me and town.

"I'm trying to get to the store just to use the computer, but I'm sure nobody's shopping. You?"

"I still have an Internet connection you can use. There is no electricity or Internet in Gate City. It gets worse past this block. I know because the next-door neighbor just called to say she was stuck in the snow and ask if I could bring her in from town. She's on an oxygen tank but I expect someone else can take her to the hospital. I am not driving in this!!!"

"I wouldn't either. I would never ask anyone to drive in this--it's a blizzard, when that wind picks up, a real live blinding blizzard."

This person is not closely related to me; one thing we did during a long frustrating afternoon was confirm that. My Drill Sergeant Dad would have been burning up the phone lines looking for somebody who could rescue an old sick neighbor like that. That cousin on whom people look down because he's divorced would have been, and in fact was, risking his truck on errands of mercy all week. Some people are just wired to feel responsible for helping others, and some are not. I got the gene from Dad. I don't have much more than that hyperthyroid enjoyment of working in snow to offer, but I'm wired to feel that I ought to have. It has been a source of pain to me not to be able to provide anything better than their closer relatives have to offer, to some of my slightly-elders.

I can offer the following thought. Several people in Scott County, Virginia, have snowmobiles, which they are not legally allowed to drive on the main roads in ordinary weather. They buy these things for the mere pleasure of roaring around past other people's homes and being a nuisance. They ought to be organized into a Snow Militia who could rescue old, sick people who are stranded in falling snow. My own closest neighbor, who didn't try to drive his truck home all weekend, would have enjoyed taking his Sno-Cat out to haul that old lady and her oxygen tank to a place where she would have been safe and warm. I've never owned a snowmobile, or wanted one, but if I'd had one I would have gone after her myself, even though she's not my elder, or neighbor, or even a close enough acquaintance that I had a mental picture of her beyond "older woman stranded in truck in snow."

Anyway I shared this person's Internet connection for a few hours during which it kept blinking in and out, and very little was accomplished. During this time, I later found time to confirm by checking my own footprints, almost all of that first foot of snow melted while another foot of snow continued pounding down. Then the Internet went out and stayed out. Then the lights did. I spent the evening knitting by the light of a bottled-gas fireplace and talking the slightly-elder through hours of acute boredom.

"I should go home now. I am not looking forward to it, but once I crawl in under my hand-knitted blankets and stop shivering I'll be all toastyboasty for as long as I can stand to lie in bed. What I can't stand is lying in bed with my head covered up when I'm awake."

"Don't go after dark! You don't know what the road's like by now. Why don't you stay tonight and I'll run you home in the morning."

On Monday the electricity came back and we listened to the reports of which neighborhoods were still frozen in the dark. In town one fast food place had lights and a crowd, while the other one was dark and closed for business. Several stores couldn't have opened if they'd wanted to because their electric-powered doors wouldn't work. I went home long enough to feed the cats, then set the Sickly Snail (that's the individual name of my worn-out Dell Inspiron) in front of slightly-elder's gas fire and was able to do some cyberchores, but not to open the templates for the paid posts.

On Tuesday I was able to set up my main computer in the cafe. The store is on the shady downhill side of Jackson Street, where it's protected from cars rolling into it by steep, sharp, step-like cement curbs. The snowplows had piled three-foot snowbergs over those curbs, and another storekeeper was in the cafe saying "Don't anybody open today! Somebody'd come in just to fall on that ice and sue you--or me!" I wrote a batch of paid posts and did the Glyphosate Awareness chat in the cafe. Chat was easier because very few people in the Eastern States were online.

By Tuesday afternoon my next-door neighbor's porch light snapped on, and I was supposed in theory to join a car pool, buy my groceries for the week, and go home and start the next batch of paid posts. In practice the car didn't show up. I marched briskly out to the grocery store. On the way I met that relative who'd spent the week, so far, running errands of mercy in his truck. He was sitting outside watching the temperature drop below the freezing point, cooling off between errands, looking old and tired, but having fun. He has put a lot of miles on that Toyota Tacoma, and made some expensive repairs to it, over the many years he's had it, but it's still running over rough roads, ice, floods, falling snow, whatever, and he visibly enjoys being the one his neighbors call in a weather emergency. That is how I know for sure we're related. He was waiting for a stranded motorist he'd taken to work to get off work so he could take that one home.

I saluted him, left the laptop computer in his custody, and marched on through the fast-freezing snowbergs, and if I was thinking "People who don't dare to share their cars in a Big Wet Snow should not be driving them" with every step on one foot, I was thinking "I could be picking up groceries for other people, too, if we still had land phones and they'd been able to call me," with every step on the other foot. My blood pressure was up in that wonderful zingy way it goes up during a "runner's high." Warm? Nephews, I was radiant. The cousin wasn't sure I'd get back to where we left the computer in three hours. I was back to collect it in less than two hours.

The hard part was getting groceries and computer up the private road. "They have lights, so I should have lights too," I kept telling myself while baggage kept trying to slide down my arms and drag me downhill on the ice. I saw a patch of bright light ahead! Fifty more yards to my own warm office room with the Comfort Zone heater on its stand right beside the cot that serves as either workbench or bed. (Slip. Craaamp. Pause to rest.) Thirty yards more--likely even Serena could bring herself to snuggle up on my knee, chomping my arm in a friendly way. (Cramp. Pause to rest.) Twenty yards (cramp), ten (cramp, slide)...

That was not my light shining out the window, after all. That was the moonlight reflecting on the snow still weighing down the hedge.

As I pushed my way through bits of hedge that had broken down since Monday's visit home, I will confess, because confession is good for the soul, that I yelled some un-auntly words at the cats, on the general topic of keeping the bleep out from under my feet in this bleeping-blanking snow and bleepingwell waiting for their blanking dinner...

"Dinner? Yes! Dinner! Now now now!" squealed Traveller, running underfoot. Traveller is a natural-born pet, but not a Listening Pet. Anyone who wants to adopt that rare freak of nature, a lovable tomcat, should be prepared either to kick his little shins a lot harder than I've ever been able to do, or spend a lot of time stepping on him or falling over him. Samantha and Serena are intelligent cats who recognized un-auntly words as an indication that they should keep out of the way. They went back to the porch and waited, but I both stepped on Traveller and stumbled over him while crossing the yard.

No lights. No heat. No reason to bring the computer home except to test its ability to survive being frozen overnight. Slowing down enough to change boots for slippers made me suddenly feel cold and tired, with my blood pressure still up, but now in a bad way. I forced myself to feed the cats. I did not force myself to stuff my leather boots, which froze overnight and could not be stuffed in the morning and will probably fit a size 5 foot when they do dry out. I did not even force myself to clear the working documents off the cot. I spread a sheet and a stack of blankets over it and burrowed in for the night.

For the next hour or so my life was very unpleasant, as my legs kept cramping and my pulse and blood pressure stayed high and I wondered whether I was well insulated enough to sleep in a freezing-cold office after all. After shivering for forty minutes I even called the emergency medical service to ask if they could take me somewhere warm for the night.

"We've been taking people to [a certain] shelter in Kingsport."

"Kingsport? How are they getting back?"

"We have no information about that. Nobody else we've taken there is going to work in Gate City in the morning."

"Are a lot of people already there?"

"They're packing them in, so far."

I thought about spending a night packed in with old sick patients, like waiting in a hospital emergency room with a patient only moreso, and decided that I'd rather freeze in my own home than die from the sort of infection I'd be likely to get from a patient in a shelter where people were packed in. Anyway I could always put my coat and boots on again, and maybe the Blanket Shawl, and walk briskly until morning; maybe stomp around in the yard and burn some garbage. Once again, plans set up for a class of full-time professional "needers" have nothing to offer an active adult in a crisis.

Around the time I decided that, if I was going to freeze, that'd be the way I'd prefer to go, I warmed up enough to get to sleep. I hadn't slept well in slightly-elder's overheated house. For one thing a TV set to a movie channel had come on during the night, and I've never formed the habit of sleeping through what sound like people calling for help, even if they were only long-dead actors in a movie made before we were born. Once I got to sleep I slept for nine hours and woke up feeling sweaty enough to want a nice cool shower, which, of course, was still a non-option.

The view as I walked out was unsettling. Not just the little crumpled lumps of ice that had been my soaked suede boots--I still had the Neoprene pair, thank goodness, and I've had the suede ones longer than real leather boots can reasonably be expected to work for one person. Neoprene boots are wonderful things, however strange they smell. They shrink to a snug fit when cold, then start reflecting bodywarmth back to you in seconds, and then expand for ventilation. The view got worse after I'd walked out in the Neoprene boots.

I met the utility guys on the way into town--young, well insulated men in a truck, sipping coffee and making notes for their own status updates. "My lights are still off," I told them, "probably because there are cables lying across the road and along the creek almost all the way from that house to mine. Also at least one snow-covered log that looks smooth enough to be one of your poles is lying across the creek."

"We saw that yesterday," one of them mumbled, with his insulated hat amplifying the sound of his voice in his own ears.

"And a couple trees across the road," another one said, pointing up the other road that forks off from mine, and so exposing his notepad.

I looked at his notes. They showed the name of a hospital. Who had come to this neighborhood after taking a call from a hospital? Someone up the other road was going to the hospital. Not the one with the excellent cardiac unit; the generic one where people with random injuries and infections go.

I saluted the guys. They are in for a long day of hard work and I don't feel optimistic about getting my lights on tonight either. But they're young men, built to enjoy a long day of hard work. I would rather have been floundering around in their boots, today, than trying to thaw out my brain in front of the computer in my own (actually I pulled off the boots and put on sandals in the cafe).

Marching briskly toward town, realizing for the first time that after age fifty you really don't get all of your energy back after just one good night's sleep, I passed the home of the neighbor who was supposed to have gone to the grocery store. His truck was there; not a mark on it. The roads between his house and the store had been thoroughly scraped and salted. The snow in his driveway looked as if he hadn't gone anywhere last night. I said to myself, "Hmph," and was about to keep walking, lights were on in his house. Because of daylight, or because he was ill or injured? I stomped up onto the porch and banged on his door. I saw a human-sized shadow moving inside the house and started to walk away, then thought that if I'd interrupted an old man's favorite TV show I ought at least to wait long enough to yell "Just checking that you were all right" around his door.

Instead the old man said "Come in and sit down; I'll drive you into town," and I felt cold and tired enough that that sounded good. Before and during the drive I saw a few other slightly-elders driving past, obviously surviving this great and terrible taste of what much of the world has to deal with all winter.

Not to go into any personal details...the old man mentioned three or four other people, including a close relative of his, that he'd refused to help during the evening. He'd waited for me to call, he said, before going out on his own errands, which he'd be doing now. (I'd called him twice. As usual during any weather emergency, the primary function of new electronic technology is to break down.) Anyway he would have been able to help those people before, after, or during the trip to the store, but he had to take care of himself first, he said, and what he'd felt like doing was catching up on his Internet, TV watching, napping, and computer games, after the blackout.

"They'll find you frozen to death up there on the hill some day," he warned. "Look at that man over there; they're giving him a nice warm place to stay in the retirement project."

"That project already had rats and roaches thirty years ago, and now it has bedbugs," I said. "I'd rather freeze in my own home." I did not tell him that I'd seriously wondered whether I was going to.

"Well, I worked for years to take care of my children, and now other people can take care of me."

I don't know the genealogy, but he has the same general kind of face and is about the same age as the cousin I'd passed while walking to the store. He probably shares a fair bit of my DNA but I'm not sure he really is a relative. Well, to be fair, his truck is no Toyota Tacoma. In any case the contrast between the two faces was striking. Both men are biracial but look White, with blue-grey eyes and white beards. Both are handsome, if you look past greying hair and thinning skin. (Neither one is too old to catch the eyes of women who aren't already related to them.) Both are living with similar degrees of not-yet-disabling cardiovascular disease. The one who'd been thinking about others as well as himself looked as jolly as a slimmed-down Santa Claus. The one who was putting himself first looked terrible. You could have seen them down the block and known which one was feeling fine and which one was feeling old-and-sick.

Try a little public spirit, neighbor, I (didn't properly finish saying during this short conversation). Even if you do overdo the output of physical energy while fending for yourself and any other people you might be able to help in any way, public spirit feels good...ever so much better than lolling around being a taker.

I don't know whether I'll have electricity tonight. I don't know whether I'll get any offers to spend the night with anyone who has, or borrow a Coleman heater or a generator. (I don't know whether I'd dare to use either one.) I do know that if not invited to spend the night in a nice clean sitting room, and not able to spend it basking in front of a little electric fire, I'll spend it under that stack of blankets. And I'll probably be warmer, and certainly feel better in every other way, than that poor old fellow in the housing project, or even the one who's taking care of himself first in that house where his immediate family leave him alone.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Book Review: Ramona and Her Father

A Fair Trade Book (incredible!)

(There have been several reprintings of this book. This is not the one I physically own. As usual, readers who don't insist on one particular edition will get whichever edition is available.)

Title: Ramona and Her Father

Author: Beverly Cleary

Author's web site:

Date: 1977

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 0-439-14806-5

Length: 186 pages

Illustrations: line drawings by Alan Tiegreen

Quote: “Girls, you might as well know. Your father has lost his job.”

Ramona Quimby has enjoyed a pleasant day in second grade and is making out a Christmas wish list when the recession of the late 1970s catches up with the Quimby family. Her father has been downsized. Her mother will have to go to work. There will be fewer treats. Her father will spend more time at home; his cigarette smoking will annoy his wife and children more; when he stops smoking to save money he’ll be grumpy and backslide.

For several of Ramona’s fans, this was the volume in which Ramona went from being a character they enjoyed laughing at to being a character they could relate to. Not all readers appreciated the transition, although, when the Henry/Beezus/Ramona books were made into a television series in the mid-1980s, the more contemporary stories in this book were featured; Henry’s carrying a big dog like Ribsy in an open crate on the bus, all by himself without adult supervision, already seemed like something that might have happened a long time ago...

Ramona thinks she’d like to help the family by earning money. How do kids her age earn money? The only way she’s seen them doing that lately is by acting in TV commercials. Ramona practices acting and gets into a mess.

Beezus has to interview an older person and write a story the person told her for a school writing assignment. Ramona and neighbor Howie decide to have some frugal fun making the kind of toy the old lady describes. More mess, and this time they mortify Beezus’s early-adolescent selfconciousness, as well, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"—“People will think we guzzle beer,” Beezus whines.

Everything reaches a hilarious and happy ending at Christmas. (Is it fair, when the cover of the story doesn’t mention Christmas, that to the extent this book is a novel its climax involves a Christmas play? Ramona and Her Father is every bit as much of a Christmas story as The Shepherd the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog.)

What’s the best age to read the Ramona books? I discovered Ramona the Pest when Ramona was five and I was seven; Ramona was funny enough that I didn’t mind reading about a younger child. Now I’m over fifty and, when I reread Ramona and Her Father for this review, a funny scene I’d forgotten made me laugh out loud again. Quite a few adults laugh at this series, although the Henry/Beezus/Ramona series are “chapter books” for primary-school-level readers, rather than picture books or short novels, so adults who enjoy these books seem to find it useful to explain to other adults that they’re buying the books for a child. Bosh. I won’t tell if you don’t. If you missed this series as a child and don’t have a child to give the books to, buy them for yourself and donate them to a school library after reading. They are that funny.

They’re funny enough to challenge five-year-old readers, too, to sound out words like “pumpkin” and “pajamas” and “affectionate.”

The reason why some bright children, who understand words like “affectionate” and know the letters of the alphabet, don’t curl up with books on wet afternoons is that they are going through a temporary farsighted stage that will correct itself before age ten if they’re not burdened with glasses. This bears mentioning in a review of a book by Beverly Cleary because she also wrote a book called Mitch and Amy, about fraternal twins who live in California rather than Oregon. In that story, Amy loves reading and acting out novels, and is already reading the Little House books at nine, but her twin brother Mitch can hardly spell out words...until one day he gets interested in a book and finds himself reading it.

Regular readers remember that, although we weren’t twins, my brother and I had a similar experience. I was the child prodigy who could spell out words, if not make sense out of them, in our pediatrician’s medical journals when I was three. My brother was the more “gifted” of us in some ways, but he was still reading a few pages of a long book, then asking someone to read the rest of it to him, up into age eight. Then on one rainy Saturday he picked up an adult-size novel (Zane Grey, as I recall), prepared to read six pages and try to get me to read the rest of it aloud, and just spent the whole morning reading the whole book. He’d been understanding books more sophisticated than Zane Grey for years, but eight was the age at which he became able to read a full-length book without eyestrain.

So if I knew a boy like Mitch, or even a girl like Mitch (girls grow up faster, but not always all that much faster)...I wouldn’t say anything. I’d just buy books by Beverly Cleary, Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Jean Craighead George, Matt Christopher, and maybe Arthur Maxwell, and leave them lying about. Sooner or later a book will be funny, or interesting, or beautifully illustrated, enough to get a bright but slow-reading child to read. All books by Beverly Cleary are funny enough to be the one that changes a child’s life.

Cleary hasn't written a new book lately. I was quite sure she was dead when I typed this review into the system, but no, according to Bing, she's still alive--in between the typing of this review and its appearance on this web site, she'll be 102 years old. Awesome. That means any and all of her books, none of which is exactly new, can be bought here as Fair Trade Books: for most of them you'd pay $5 per book plus $5 per package (as many books as I can jam into the package) plus $1 per online payment, out of which this web site will send $1 per book to Cleary or the charity of her choice. Payment can be sent by U.S. postal order to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, or, if you want to order multiple books, by Paypal to the address you get from salolianigodagewi, as shown at the very bottom of the screen. To buy this book only, here's a new-style Paypal button:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Trump, Trans, and the Art of Persuasion

If you read a lot of nonfiction, Gentle Readers, you're probably aware of the quirks that can occur in the genes that give most of us mammals, birds, and insects our sexes. In fertile individuals there's a pair of chromosomes that look vaguely like either two X's, or one X and one Y (or sometimes even a V). In sterile individuals there are all kinds of other options. Nature really plays around with some individuals' DNA.

The first time I heard of these genderquirks was in 1971, when a health magazine mentioned that two "women" athletes, "sisters," had been disqualified and denied their medals because a chromosome analysis of their hair showed that they were "really" men. This is a gene, not merely the effect of taking steroids to build muscles; it doesn't always show, especially when teenagers are being blitzed with "Darling, you are growing up" material and they, in fact, are not, or not in the way the schools told them they would. These are not the visibly abnormal kids who don't seem to be growing up at all. They're not even (usually) the ones who look as if they'd be gender-confused. They're more likely to be asexual than to be lesbians. They can be pretty, girly girls who just don't develop the ability to have babies--or want to.

(Grumble. I recently, as in since 2010, read a relatively new, as in since 2000, book in which an author who'd aged beyond writing young adult novels summarized the then-newest biological studies on gender issues. Fascinated by these girly-looking chromosomal males, she presented lots of information and even short interviews. I have the book at home where, like a lot of other books I've brought into my home since the last three or four people decluttered their home libraries into mine, it's been catalogued on my home computer and packed up in storage. But, having made no effort to remember it, I've forgotten the author's name. I remembered three authors of novels about baby-boomers as teenagers who've moved up into nonfiction; Amazon isn't showing anything like the book I have in mind at any of their pages. Instead Amazon is trying to sell me a lot of new novels. Feh. Instead, here's a vintage science fiction novel about a human-friendly alien lifeform whose genetic quirks put it completely outside the four normal gender roles for its imaginary turns out to be a "he" but it chooses a traditionally feminine name.)

Over the years, genetic research continued and science news revealed other ways humans and other animals can be born outside the whole question of "male" or "female." There are, for instance, butterflies who normally show conspicuous sexual dimorphism--males and females are different sizes and colors. Some individuals in these species have male-type wings on one side and female-type wings on the other. They can fly, and pollinate flowers; the only thing they can't do is produce more butterflies.

The vast majority of sterile individuals, in all species, are normal males or females who simply don't produce offspring. Others are sterile during some, not all, of their lives. Some individuals, like Abraham in the Bible, could have babies with some partners but not with the ones they've chosen. Only one or two people out of a hundred ever have any real confusion about whether they're male or female, although lots of people disagree with at least a few cultural expectations about what males and females "normally" do apart from sex, and as many as one out of ten may experience same-sex attractions. (If you've heard one out of three or even one out of seven, those figures were extrapolated from studies of young people who settle for homosexual activity when confined to single-sex institutions.) In the past, humans who were born with visibly gender-confused had a career cut out for them--as carnival freaks, flashing their private parts for coins per peek. Wotta career.

You would think that people who'd read the genetic science about this would at least want to be polite about it. Y'know, you don't walk up to people with different hair textures and say "I want to touch your hair," you don't just walk up to people with prosthetic legs and ask what happened to their legs, you don't give people a hard time about the fact that their asexuality is more than just a temporary effect of mononucleosis or something similar. If you know someone who appears to be a girl but has just found out she's a chromosomal male (hopefully before she's all grown up and married), and she wants to experiment with acting like a boy and asks you to call her "Jake" instead of "Jane" and so on, no problem. You wouldn't blare and bray about it and make person feel more like a freak than person already does. You'd know that person knows more than you know about what person is meant to be and do. You'd just wish person well and try to be a good friend no matter how strange Jane's or Jake's life may become.

You would imagine that even Donald Trump would do that. So you might have been startled, as I was, to read that Trump had issued some sort of order that people be locked firmly into the boxes of social gender, whether or not they have any real biological sex, on the basis of which sex they seem closer to.

In my family, and presumably in Trump's family, it's been quite simple. You stand up straight and look down at your feet and count the bumps in your clothes. One bump, male. Two bumps, female. So you might carelessly imagine that if people are less lavishly supplied with bumps, at least when they take off their clothes...well, that's not necessarily true either. So why would anyone give these people further grief for pity's sake? Trump's order looked a bit like something that might go on to specify what people have to do about microphthalmia or polydactylism...who knows, really, where that kind of order might lead. It did not look like the kind of order that would be issued by a very stable genius.

So I thought..."What's this all about, anyway? Oh, that orange extrovert from New York screeching for attention again. Ignore! Life's too short!" and I figured that, of all the Trumperies of this administration, a ruling that people must be permanently locked into identities as "he" or "she" was the least likely to need another blink of my eyes. The people who love any excuse to talk about sex would take it over. People new to this country learn to say "Trump is not a gentleman" before they learn to order a take-out meal, I've observed, so what else is new. I stuck to glyphosate.

As mentioned in several other posts, I'm not a great fan of President Trump, but I really detest the "politics" of personality cults. I like hammer-and-tongs debates, like the one my Twitter account has been documenting in Europe this year: to what extent does glyphosate harm people, must it be totally banned now, what are farmers going to do without it? I think a good debate where people are presenting facts is beneficial even if it raises people's blood pressure, but it turns ugly when people start bashing their opponents as human beings, screaming back and forth--"Your party's man is evil!" "Yours is a fool!" "Yours is a traitor!" "Yours is a murderer!" Etc. etc. etc.; it gets predictable, and lame, and it ruins the benefits of debating the facts.

Between the fact that some people love to show off how "liberal" they are about other people's sex lives and lots of people love to hate President Trump...well, I was appalled by Twitter's recent reaction.

Twitter has censored people who've observed that laudable efforts to protect (a very few) decent ordinary people who want a role in society other than carnival freaks have, in fact, inadvertently enabled people who are physically ordinary but not decent to do very bad things.

People who are genuinely, biologically, chromosomal men trapped in women's bodies or women trapped in men's bodies, or who aren't sure which is more alien because they're trapped in really unusual bodies, are not usually motivated to go into a communal restroom marked "Women" in order to expose their private parts. They're motivated to duck into a cubicle and latch the door before they unbutton anything, just as most normal women do. Likewise, if they have to spend time in jails or shelters, they don't spend that time hitting on young women or girls; they're motivated to look for ways to deflect attention from their bodies.

Then there are men who don't like or respect real women, who want access to "women only" space in order to harass women or molest little girls. These are extremely shabby specimens of manhood so it's not really surprising to learn that they're taking advantage of society's efforts to be polite about people with unusual bodies. While screaming that they are women, they've been doing things that would get a real woman locked up for life, if not lynched, and should have similar effects for men who want to put on skirts and claim to be "in transition."

(This web site does not encourage lynching. The position of this web site is that government should proactively discourage lynching by making sure that if, for example, a male body dressed in female attire is used to commit rape or child abuse, that body is immediately placed in solitary confinement, so the question of what to call it becomes permanently irrelevant.)

For those who don't go on Twitter, I recommend reading what's been tweeted using hashtags like #StopTheBias, #TwitterHatesWomen, #MeghanMurphy or @MeghanEMurphy, and more. People from different countries where public policy has emphasized tolerance are sharing statistics on the incidence of hatecrimes against women being committed by cross-dressed males.

Twitter has switched from a policy I've always endorsed (everyone should be free to say anything that can't be prosecuted as a crime, people can choose to filter out language or posters they don't want to see) to a policy of blatant censorship in support of the rapists in skirts.

Haters have shrieked that gender-confused teenagers are committing suicide because people aren't accepting whatever gender identity they're trying on that day. Statistics don't support this, probably because gender-confused teenagers are, like celiacs, rare enough that even if every single one reacts to certain things in a certain way it hardly makes a blip in the statistics. Statistics that concern society-as-a-whole are therefore irrelevant to questions about causes of death in really small minorities. Any real abuse of gender-confused teenagers is too much. But trying to force everyone to "call everyone else by their pronoun of choice" is no longer just statistically more likely to enable more real abuse to more teenagers than it would, hypothetically, coddle the feelings of a few. The statistics are in. Mistaking someone's gender identity, even if their gender identity is solid and the mistakes are blatant verbal abuse, is the kind of thing teenagers have to learn to laugh off. Admitting people who want to be identified as "women trapped in male bodies who are making the transition gradually" to women-only space is real abuse that can lead to permanent physical harm.

Pronoun errors happen to people if, say, their names are unusual or are not strongly identified with one gender or the other. No matter how famous people like Alexis Xenakis, Lindsey Graham, or Tatum O'Neal become, they learn to laugh off the people who either mis-guess their (obviously normal) gender, or pretend to mis-guess it just to be tiresome.

Then, of course, there's the tradition that screen names and images not only don't have to indicate Internet users' real gender (or species) but may deliberately misrepresent it. Quite a few people like to go online for the express purpose of finding out whether people would react to their personality differently if people thought their gender, or age, race, nationality, etc., were different. Some writers used to hang out in forums and chat rooms where they deliberately enacted fictional relationships among their male and female, younger and older and same-age, multiethnic personas. If you have absolutely nothing else to do and live in a place where US pennies will buy lunch, there are still forums where you can pick up a few pennies this way--say five cents a day for your "chats" as Chat Mama, then five cents for reactions as Chat Papa, five cents for more comments from Chat Son, and so on. It can add up. (My own paid guest posts in the form of conversations aren't usually gender-specific, but they could be--it's called writing fiction.) Accordingly, one reason why people on Twitter can't be expected to know or care about each other's "pronoun of choice" is that we all know that some Real Twits are using fictional personas.

@Cheerios is obviously neither a "he" nor a "she"; it's a box of cereal used as the Twitter identity of various company employees who post comments in aid of a brand. @5PriscillaKing is in fact the Twitter identity of a woman, but Twits have to take my word for that, because it was not the name of a real woman in my part of the world when I registered it as a brand. (It was the name of a little girl in Tennessee who is now a woman; I've never met her.) In the English-speaking world it would be hard for anyone to think that my screen name could be masculine or ambiguous, but it may well read that way in China, where English Bibles are not abundant and English dictionaries list "king" as a masculine noun. Strangers address me, collegially, as "King" now and then. If they extrapolate to "King...he," am I going to go crying to Twitter Safety that, ooohhh, they've huuurt my feeelings by assuming that I'm male? In real life, if someone looks at me in a group and says "you guys," I do usually stare and say "Guys?" or "Only the guys? What about us gals?" I do mind. But in cyberspace nobody should have the information that my body shape gives people in real life. In cyberspace, if someone guesses I'm a "he," I think: "Person doesn't know." That doesn't hurt my feelings; if the person has read only one tweet, it's the way things should be.

Cyberspace ought to be uniquely hospitable to the gender-confused because it offers a rest from having to have a gender at all. On Twitter, if Bruce Jenner hadn't already made a real-world show out of his surgical makeover, he could just have set up an account for Caitlyn and been instantly accepted as a "she." He could have set up an account as a box of cereal, a plant, a car, any kind of object, or animal or space alien from a genderless planet, and been accepted as an "it." Early adopters of computer technology tended to be people who preferred creativity and humor to conformity, and some bloggers have actually been using screen names like "Wetdryvac" or "Amoeba," with appropriate images, longer and more successfully than others have used "sexy" names and images. In cyberspace, science fiction fans can be "Hivemind" and other fans of the same sf series will happily visualize them as a swarm of bee-like alien lifeforms and call them "they." On Twitter, I imagine @Cheerios really is a "they" (written by several people) but its image clearly says "it." In cyberspace it's acceptable to be an "it."

Kardashian in-law Bruce Jenner, missing the attention he used to get as a champion athlete, adopted a female alter ego he calls Caitlyn. Being rich enough to get away with anything, he's had an extreme body makeover, with surgery and hormone treatments, to make the old man whose parents named him Bruce look like a daughter he never had who seems to be permanently stuck at about age thirty. I find Caitlyn Jenner easier to look at than I found the middle-aged Michael Jackson, although his abnormality was hereditary, in no way a parody of anything. Actors have the right to adopt new stage names; Bruce Jenner playing Caitlyn is most definitely an actor, like Flip Wilson playing Geraldine. When people persist in calling Jenner "Bruce," as when they persisted in calling The Artist Formerly Known as Prince "Prince," we're making a critical statement about his act. He may resent that, but if he were as good an actor as Flip Wilson he'd respect the audience response and learn from it. If he wants to stay in character as Caitlyn, he should let "her" laugh, as Tatum O'Neal, Meryl Streep, Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster, and Dale Evans all laughed, at the "mistakes" made by people who hadn't seen them and thought their names looked masculine. His surly response to being called Bruce while he's trying to play Caitlyn is one of the several ways we know that Caitlyn is not really a "she." Some celebrities' acts, like Dolly Parton's, Roy Rogers', and Ronald Reagan's, have been plausible, even improvements on those people's real looks and personalities; Jenner's is not in that class. Some find Caitlyn sexy, some find "her" offensive, and I personally find "her" a dead bore. But I find it very offensive that people's opinions of a third-rate TV act can be confused with the way they treat people with minority genes.

Twitter's Jack Dorsey might have admitted the "safety" policy dictating that people use other people's "pronouns of choice" just to humor Bruce Jenner's amateurish reaction to people's opinions of Caitlyn, but I wonder. Given the surreal quality of Twitter "conversations" among apparent humans, objects, and cartoon characters, the "Pronoun Police" policy seems a bit extreme even if the muddled old actor were a major stock holder. It seems more likely to be a display of what Scott Adams calls Trump's form of persuasion. You tell a lot of people who've become comfortable with role-playing and animated "it" characters, "You must all know everyone's 'pronoun of choice' and use it exclusively, overnight, or we'll accuse you of hatespeech and ban you from the site!" ? ??? ???!!

That's not going to make the school bullies lay off a gender-confused teenager. School bullies spend their extra time at school thinking of lots of different ways to make a victim cry. If insisting that young Jake can't be "Jane" (even on Twitter, where the rest of the world are seeing "JHSGiraffe") is specifically banned, they can just move on to "Who tripped over own ft in assembly" and so on. Instead, it's going to generate, it is in fact generating, a lot of attention for an otherwise unexceptional young writer, Meghan Murphy, who's been wrongly banned for outing a cross-dressing child molester as a "he." It is in fact calling a lot of U.S. Twits' attention to the hatecrimes against women that have already been committed by cross-dressers in countries where public policy has tried to pamper the gender-confused. And it is in fact bringing a lot of socially liberal thinkers, who believe in "live and let live" and would no more persecute people for having ambiguous private parts than for having surplus fingers, to see Trump's point of view:

Whatever you feel like being, today, the private parts of your body can be described in one of three ways: they look male, they look female, or they're too close to call but in any case they're not positively male enough to be used to commit rape.

If they look male, then as a matter of policy you can't be admitted to women-only space.

In private, informal situations, of course, who gives a flyin' flip. You rush into the nearest public bathroom, slam the door, throw yourself at the toilet, clean yourself and the toilet cubicle as best you can, and shamefacedly walk out--people are more concerned about avoiding your norovirus than about what you might have looked like with your pants down, so nobody cares. Or you get into a lively online conversation while using your opposite-sex persona, and someone says "You're awfully well informed and you look like a movie star. Let's do lunch," and you shamefacedly admit that in real life you don't even know the name of the movie star whose public-domain image you used, but nobody cares much. Trump's edict, annoying and orange though it was, is not addressed to that. Neither is it addressed to the person whose private parts, when viewed, give people something to think about, but what they're thinking is not that you're likely to commit rape. It is addressed to men who want to violate "women only" rules in order to violate women and children.

In view of which, it's not such a bad policy after all.

If you were an young involuntarily celibate male, or an aging postsexual male, you may well be unhappy enough to consider trying to "make the transition" to having yourself remodelled into what looks like a woman. You probably will never scrape up the money to have yourself rebuilt into a glamourpuss like Caitlyn, and even if you did you wouldn't be able to maintain that look, but you might enjoy acting as your female persona enough to stay with a surgical makeover. Or, more likely, you might not. Few people really care, as long as you confine "experiments" and "transitions" to ordinary social settings. If you're tired of being Jake the Stockboy, why not stop trying to hide your upper-body flab, buy a bra, and be Jane the Cashier at a different store; beyond an occasional "Do you have a brother who used to work at the other store?" you're still middle-aged and largely invisible to strangers, and no great surprise to your friends.

But once you get within range of official policies, this should change. Go to a prison, homeless shelter, or hospital, you should expect to be stripped, inspected, and, as long as you have a male-looking body, put on the men's side. Harass even one woman with your surprisingly male-looking body in any "women only" area, you should expect to go to either a prison or a hospital and stay there for the rest of your worthless life.

Donald Trump has made a career of issuing edicts in a voice-of-God tone that he knows, and his employees know, his employees are going to have to tweak and adjust to reality. He once railed against having Braille buttons in elevators--"People who stay in this hotel aren't going to be blind!" He got attention for saying that, while the hotel staff quietly kept the Braille buttons, and the people who love to hate him quietly continue to hope that cataract surgery will leave him...well, he would sort of deserve it. Similarly, I wouldn't expect that people would let Trump's gender edict be used to harm gender-confused teenagers. In practice it will work to protect them, too, from exploitation and violence.

Twitter is going to have to drop its "preferred pronouns" policy, and not wait much longer, if it wants to survive...meanwhile, let's salute the way Jack Dorsey has managed to serve his most famous customer's purposes while building his own credibility, on the opposite side, as a good Trump-hater who risked even corporate profits to show how profoundly he wanted to disagree, etc. etc.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Correspondents' Choice: November Books

Gentle Readers, Amazon Associates who publicize books that reveal the facts about glyphosate are being attacked. This post contains a link to a book that reveals facts about glyphosate. I've had to complain both to Amazon and to Google about malicious code being inserted into links to other books that reveal facts about glyphosate; I had to complain about malicious code being inserted into the link to Marion Nestle's new book, also. I urge those who have e-money to spend to buy this book, just because!

From Mises...Amazon will try to sell you the Kindle. You can buy this one as a real book. Real books are always better.

This web site linked to the British edition of this book last year. Now it's pleasant to see a U.S. edition available!

We've all heard a lot about bad Catholic priests lately. Is it time we heard about some good ones?

New by Barbara Kingsolver...I often disagree with her politics, but I always enjoy her writing style.

Recommended for phenology enthusiasts, a year in the life of a tree:

Probably not a fun read, but worthwhile...

Stories (and road trip tips) from a modern hillbilly:

Malala Yousafzai's memoir for children:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Book Review: The Shepherd the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog

A Fair Trade Book

Title: The Shepherd the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog

Author: Dave Barry

Author's web site:

Date: 2006

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 0-399-15413-2

Length: 111 pages

Illustrations: many period-reprint graphics, some in color

Quote: “My mom laughs at the commercials, especially the actress pretending to be the mother, who’s wearing a dress and pearls...when Mom drives us to school she’s usually wearing a bathrobe and hair curlers.”

A big part of Dave Barry's Christmas comedy novelette is the 1960s nostalgia. Illustrations start with Santa Claus smoking a cigarette, and continue to be period-specific to the point of parody, throughout.

Then there’s the early adolescent narrator, Doug Barnes, who is at the stage in life where he’d like to impress people by being mature and sophisticated, but the next best thing is to impress them by being silly. In a previous Christmas pageant he offered the doll representing the baby Jesus a Rolodex instead of a package representing myrrh. Though bratty at times, Doug is beginning to feel some vestiges of empathy for his baby sister and their old dog Frank, the “cross between a Labrador retriever and a Saint Bernard and an aircraft carrier” who “wasn’t doing so good...just getting too old.”

You know the sort of thing Dave Barry is going to do with this material. For details, read the book. It’s funny and heartwarming, full of love-of-dogs-and-children, as you would have expected.

Anyone who’s not already read this book would appreciate finding it in their Christmas stocking. If you buy it now, you’ll have plenty of time to read it first...but read carefully: my copy of this book was definitely not built to last.

Actually, for a novel about members of a church, in which the plot features a Christian holiday and the climactic scene takes place inside the church building, this story still manages to seem more comic than religious. the spirit of a joyful religious holiday incompatible with the spirit of laughter?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Should K.A.T.S. Buses Come to Gate City?

Regular readers may remember that once, long ago, I blogged about being able to ride a bus to a computer center where I could do this web site justice.

Then later...I don't remember whether or not I blogged about the computer center not being open on the same schedule the bus ran, and about getting free rides to and from the computer center on some days but not knowing which days those would be in time to arrange individual bus service a day ahead, and about scheduling a bus for one individual passenger not being a very Green alternative to car-pooling or walking, and about the Yuma (Virginia) computer center being only two hours' walk from home in any case, and about its being shut down for lack of patronage anyway...but all of those things happened.

Bottom line, as a good Granola Green I made a real effort to support what my home town has in the way of bus service, and I found it to be...more like a disservice.

Some days I walked to Yuma in the rain or snow. Many nights I walked back in the rain or snow, because there was no night bus and nighttime was when the computer center got what other patrons it got. The Yuma Road is a winding two-lane road with no berms, no sidewalks, large rocks and deep puddles right up to the paving, and a lot of incompetent night drivers who actually brighten their lights to make it harder for anyone to walk along the road after dark "because that was the only way I could see you."

The "public-private partnership" mess that may beg some of you for money in the name of "Mountain Empire Older Citizens" is not interested in expanding to provide a Green alternative for shoppers and commuters. They say they do that, but they don't. Staff are trained to think of themselves as overseers managing the "needs" of full-time professional welfare dependents, not employees working for customers. They do have a schedule, although it's not full, but they don't disclose that schedule. You practically have to pull their teeth to get information like "We have a bus going from point A to point B at ten o'clock on Thursday." They want to know all about you, first, who you are and where you're going and what kind of disability you have, and they're obviously not comfortable with the idea that you're an able-bodied, competent, cash-paying passenger. By way of restitution for having destroyed the locally owned independent taxicab service, they will--grudgingly--accept cash payment from someone who's not claiming a disability pension, but they can't seem to shake off that attitude that they're the responsible adult in charge of transporting brain-damaged patients to their occupational therapy sessions. They actually get more money in subsidies for hauling those brain-damaged patients, so their interest in transporting, e.g., working adults from Gate City to and from evening classes at Mountain Empire Community College, is subzero.

They run one bus between Gate City and Big Stone Gap. It arrives too late for any morning classes and leaves far ahead of any evening classes. It's pretty well filled up by brain-damaged patients, although the patients ride only as far as Duffield. It guarantees anyone from Gate City more time on the bus to and from than they'd actually be able to spend at the college. Not only are the drivers not trained to discourage the brain-damaged patients from harassing any paying passengers willing to ride with them, they're ordered to limit the number of competent people they haul and make sure they prioritize the "needs" of geriatric patients over any, y'know, workers or students or anything, who (according to greedhead-as-opposed-to-Green thinking) ought to own and drive their own cars anyway.

I don't know about M.E.O.C., which is actually part of an alleged charity that solicits money for "Poor Appalayshia" in New England. Whenever I've talked to anyone about them, any year since at least 1991, I always hear "They weren't of any use to me but they do good things for other people." Which other people would those be, exactly? I've never talked to anyone who knew any of them personally. I've talked to people who were promised visiting nurses who never visited, people whose sensitive personal information was blabbed to total strangers just because a bus driver thought it was an interesting story, people who were not rehired to visit patients who wanted them back after they'd taken leave or not given extra time to weekend "team-building" activities...the Older Citizens with whom I've worked, and the bus riders who were sane enough to be asked, always saw a lot of room for improvement. Nobody who had an alternative ever stayed with M.E.O.C. long, either as a visiting nurse or as a patient. I would warn you readers against giving money to M.E.O.C. or its parent organization, "Oxbow."

I would warn everybody against supporting any alleged community service that is oriented toward helping people depend on handouts rather than on becoming self-funding, or even profitable, by working with people who work, go to school, and pay their own way. The Southern Appalachian Mountain region is infested with more than one so-called charity whose actual goal seems to be keeping people trapped in welfare-cheating addiction rather than helping them get out of it.

Anyway, M.E.O.C. does run buses between Gate City and Kingsport, but...a few years ago, when I was commuting, we even considered that option. Could they arrange regular commuter bus service between, e.g., a convenience store in Gate City and a convenience store in Kingsport? "We don't just set people off on corners. We take you from your home to her home (or vice versa). We need your actual street addresses." We decided they did not need any old lady's street address, name, or day's itinerary, to broadcast over the radio and generally bandy about. When my visiting and working with and for one of my favorite living people in all the world became a problem, M.E.O.C. "service" was not an option we considered again.

Years ago, before "Agenda 21" had been officially denounced (but not really abandoned) by the United Nations, activists alerted me and I checked: Yes, there were people who saw themselves as "regional planners," with an actual unstated goal of interfering with anything managed by state governments, who really had made it a funding goal to recast Gate City, Virginia, as "a suburb of Kingsport, Tennessee" rather than a town in its own right. Their goal was to wipe Duffield off the map and to discourage any connection between Gate City and Big Stone Gap. They succeeded in getting federal financial aid rules rewritten to subsidize in-state tuition for Gate City students who wanted to go to East Tennessee State University. They did not subsidize transportation for those of us who might have wanted to take classes at E.T.S.U., which isn't really all that much further away than M.E.C.C., but only takes longer because of traffic, while working and living at home in Gate City.

I never found out what plans they had for Big Stone Gap or for Mountain Empire Community College, exactly, but those plans did not include allowing Gate City students to take junior-college classes in our own state school system, starting where our high school leaves off, and paying fees students can actually hope to afford. Obviously E.T.S.U. offers more advanced classes for more adults in search of continuing education credits, but, I've been credibly informed, for Gate City High School students in search of degrees, their junior college classes are mostly review and a dead bore. And even in-state tuition at E.T.S.U. is not kept down to a level a typical 18-year-old freshman could reasonably expect to afford. University is, by definition, for rich people's children and for people who are already earning a good living with the skills they learned in college. But that's a separate rant.

Well...Grandma Bonnie Peters, who has contributed nothing to this blog since telling me to stop doing it out of her home office, is still alive and alert and has a visiting nurse of whom there've been no complaints. (She's been the perfect visiting nurse for a lot of people, for a long time, and would, I would imagine, be the perfect patient. She likes doing everything she can possibly do for herself, before anyone helping her arrives, and using the person's working time to do things they can agree are fun.) However, at least two sponsors have cornered me, this year. "We want more GBP. It's not right to deprive readers of their role model of How a Healthy Celiac Grows Old in Style. GBP is a Treasure, like George Burns or Betty White or the Delany Sisters. Besides, admit it, you miss her. Besides, admit it, all able-bodied people who are even a tiny bit Cherokee have a sacred duty to spend time with their Elders, and although GBP is not even a tiny bit Cherokee, she is an Elder of yours."

My not spending time with GBP has been by her own request, and part of my responsibility to her. If someone wants to pay for land phone lines, which neither of us has any more, or cell phone minutes, which cost a lot, GBP would probably still be willing to talk to this web site on the phone. She wouldn't be typing or editing--how could she, I'm using her computer--but the last time I saw her, she was still walking and talking, having recovered completely from bronchitis. She has always hated being fretted or fussed over and always hinted that, in old age, she intended to become one of those eighty-or-ninety-year-old types who are more concerned with saying goodbye, making sure their friends are going to be able to say goodbye, than with holding together. Her silence is a message. "One of these days, it won't be too long, they will look for me and I'll be gone...on my way to Heaven." Rather than clutching on to our ideas of what might or might not make her more comfortable in this life, she is, to some extent, telling us to prepare to look for her in the next one.

Some Elders truly want to be visited only if and when younger people truly want to spend time with them (as long as that's not so often it makes them feel more tired). That thought deserves a paragraph to itself, to encourage people to consider to what extent it might be true for them or their Elders.

"Well, yes; but you do truly want to see her," one sponsor persisted, "and so do we."

This is true. I don't know how much energy GBP has left after riding around with her visiting nurse and talking on the phone to her grandchildren. I know her reactions to glyphosate-tainted foods were much more drastic than mine, three years ago. Mine have become more frequent and worse due to the increased use of glyphosate as a preservative. I've spent a few days at home when I would have yelled out the window, if anyone had come up to visit me, "Go away or I'll call the police!" because...I wasn't unfit to walk, talk, write, or even do yard work, but I might at any moment have become unfit to be around. Unpleasant as it is to clean up your own celiac sprue effluvia, the idea of anyone else seeing it is worse. If you're too sick to stand on your feet, you will crawl on your knees to clean up your own mess before you let other people see it. So I don't know when or how much GBP wants to be seen face to face. I'm fairly sure that that's not what she wants readers to remember about her, but it's part of the reality of growing older and slower with out-of-control celiac reactions.

Still, I've not heard that she's given up walking to Wal-Mart, or seen any evidence that she's less than delighted to meet friends at Wal-Mart. (Large public restrooms, as accessible as restrooms can be, not far from benches where people can sit and chat for an hour. Indoor and outdoor tables where they can eat while they chat. Free water from fountains built at different heights. Rows of emergency phones along walls. Bus stops about ten years from the door. Nobody can say the newest Wal-Mart outlet wasn't designed for an aging clientele in increasingly precarious health.) GBP hasn't been making dates to meet anybody, but by going to the right Wal-Mart at the right time I've been able to meet her every few months. So far, even when I'm having celiac reactions, I've been able to walk nine miles to Wal-Mart and nine miles back...but during the week that leaves no time for either the blog or the store, and on weekends GBP is usually out with friends from church. (She sings, when she's feeling fit to go to church, in two choirs.)

At this point one sponsor pounced. "The town planning committee is working on a plan to extend the Kingsport Area Transit System to include a Gate City route!"

One thing Washington, D.C., and Gate City have in common: You get used to thinking of state lines as just another landmark. You know there's no reason why interstate bus service should be a special problem; if safety standards differ, you hold the bus to whichever standard is higher.

In fact, although I've been thinking for years about ways the railroad that currently blights the heart of Gate City could at least be earning its keep, we used to have an interstate bus line. The company called itself "Bristol-Jenkins," Jenkins being the name of a town (at least back then), but what I grew up seeing in Gate City were commuter buses between Gate City and Kingsport. In 1976, when my family were the only passengers on the full-sized bus (perpendicular bench seats for 40 adults or 60 children) up from Kingsport, the driver told us "These buses won't be around for long." They weren't. If not the last passengers on that route, we were among the last hundred.

The median age was younger, then; relative to the national average, the median income was higher. More people were working rather than "retired." Everybody could afford to buy their own car, if only a clunker, and there was tremendous social pressure to let everyone see that you had your own car. I knew a lady who must have been only sixty or seventy years old at the time. She could still walk, and leap in and out of farm trucks, and sling bales of hay around, on her husband's farm. She did those things. But when she was at her house in town, she would never walk down the block to the convenience store for a loaf of bread, any more than she would bake her own bread. She had a big gas-guzzling car, and enough money to buy air-puffed chemical-preserved bread, and she hadn't worked long and hard on the farm to leave people in town in any doubt about either of those things. No bus, no car pool, for her! So help her, she had arrived! That kind of thinking is one thing about the 1970s that I don't miss at all; it belongs in the same sewer with "Married women shouldn't have jobs" and "All Black people have low I.Q. scores."

I've ridden K.A.T.S. buses at times. Not often, because they only run around Kingsport and I can still walk across Kingsport more easily than waste a dollar; but if I'm in a hurry or with someone who doesn't want to walk, in Kingsport I'll catch a bus. By comparison with D.C. Metrobuses, K.A.T.S. buses are smaller--vans, really--and, well, less satisfactory, with radios and video displays that never stop and silly rules about how many bags each passenger can carry; but they are real commuter buses. They run from point A to point B. The drivers watch the road and don't ask questions. There's a schedule that applies equally to everybody. If you want to ride, you wait at the bus stop until a bus stops. If a friend is driving the way you want to go, you hop into the car, with no worries, because the bus has not been specially arranged and (normally) nobody is looking for you. If you decide not to go, for any reason or none, you just stay home, or go somewhere else, or whatever; no questions are asked.

That's the kind of bus service that is a service, rather than a disservice, to a community of competent adults. "Anyone who meets the bus, and pays cash or shows a prepaid bus pass, can ride" and "No questions are asked" are key concepts. We are not talking about the demographic group "people who have been legally ruled incompetent ever to make decisions for themselves." In order to improve traffic conditions and reduce air pollution, riding the city bus needs to be as independent, as private, as driving is. Maybe more so; K.A.T.S. could take a tip from Metro about making buses soundless except for quiet private conversations between passengers, losing the video displays, selling the idea of a bus commute as a place to listen to your own headset and think your own thoughts. Greyhound has done well with images of people napping or reading on buses and the slogan "Leave the driving to us."

Kingsport's little commuter/shopper buses, with the cartoon "Kats" painted on them, are earning their keep in Kingsport and would probably earn their keep in Gate City, too. More young people are rethinking the idea of driving their own car everywhere, and, more to the point, more of the majority generation are no longer young. A few weeks ago I heard someone younger than I am admit, "My night vision is going; I really shouldn't be on the road at 5:00 in winter." As a bookseller I'm growing unpleasantly familiar with the refrains, "I don't read books any more," or "Let me see that one--no, not that one--what about that one, and that other one, and that one over there?" as it becomes obvious that a shopper who'd like to read anything in a certain genre is looking for the book printed in the largest type. As someone who wants to be a permanent paying passenger rather than a driver in any car pool, I'm also growing familiar with, "I didn't see that!?! Why don't you drive?"

As long as I can still read any book that appeals to me, and set the computers I use to display my "signature" 8-point font at 80%, I do not intend to sacrifice any visual acuity to the "adjustment" to special glasses that, I'm told, might or might not offset my astigmatism and allow me to drive without eyestrain. I enjoy reading. I do not enjoy driving. Nufsed. I'd rather ride a bus. I'd rather let the people who are no longer willing to do all, or any, or able to do all, or any, of the driving, in the ever-decreasing number of car pools, ride a bus.

More people are living on disability pensions now than in 1976. More people are in fact disabled than in 1976. So some of the talk we hear about "If I could get to (whichever town I don't live in) I'd like to shop at the stores A, B, and C..." is merely wishful thinking from people whose money is all spent for them, usually before they get it, by the medical industry. But some people do in fact want to be able to shop in both towns; some can even afford to shop in both towns. Especially if they don't have to pay for gas, insurance, and maintenance on a car they really need to hand down to a younger relative.

More shopping in Kingsport? Meh. "I don't know why you want to open a store on Jackson Street anyway," a shopper said last month. "When I shop I always drive to Kingsport." Hmph. Time for some reciprocity on that. I'll make Kingsport an offer. When five people from Kingsport have spent $50 or more, apiece, in my store I'll go shopping in Kingsport. In recent years the only store I can afford to visit there has been Wal-Mart, except once in a while when I get a giftcard for Michaels. I can't even afford to prowl through the bookstores any more. I would like to change this.

But shopping is not the only reason why people from Gate City go to Kingsport, and why the need to limit or give up driving seems like a hardship.

* Most people in both towns have close friends and relatives in the other town. Many personal relationships (e.g. my love life for the past three years) are currently being strained by the "I'd like to go (wherever) with you, but I (can't afford the gas, can't afford the repairs, don't have a car, don't believe I'm fit to drive, all of the above)" refrain. For a lot of people who really need to sell their cars now, giving up driving currently means giving up visiting parents or children.

* What do students do when they don't find the right books in one town's library? (The different selections of books in the Gate City and Kingsport libraries used to amaze me until I realized it was planned; one library tended to get the book the other one didn't.)

* What happens when typical 18-year-old students can get the trade school courses they want at the community college extension in Kingsport?

* Kingsport has a very extensive, self-supporting, "activities" club for people over age 55, with enough members who live in Gate City that they've worked out a special fee schedule just for us. What happens when club members are still fit to participate in their favorite weekly activities, but not to drive?

* I even know people who live in one town who've become active members of churches in the other town. I don't understand this. Driving fifteen miles to listen to a sermon? I'd ask someone to record it, thanks. But some people are intensely involved with their "church families" and/or loyal to their denominations; some people will drive thirty miles to get to their favorite church. Those people usually participate in church activities during the week. Car pooling to the regular service is seldom a problem, but they're the ones who can't bear to give up the business meetings and sewing circles and service projects that churches usually leave to housewives and "retirees" to do during business hours.

I think K.A.T.S. buses should come to Gate City, and the sooner the better. No special subsidies should be necessary. The extended bus service should pay for itself in increased shopping, patronage of "services" that are subsidized per user (parks, libraries, the community college), and traffic safety. Just make riding a bus as unobtrusive and comfortable as driving, and people will ride the bus.

A vote for more GBP at this web site is a vote for more of those little van-sized buses.