Traipsing through some old Texas haunts

Paulette Jiles

If you’ve ever had your car dented by a six-foot tumbleweed while driving down 287 near Amarillo, if you’ve noticed how the grass turns from brown to green between Longview and Tyler, know how to pronounce Waxahachie, Montague, Nacogdoches and Mexia, know the origins of the names of Travis County and the towns Bowie and Crockett, then you probably will have a somewhat greater appreciation of and affection for Paulette Jiles’ novels “News of the World” and “Simon the Fiddler.”

Each book takes the reader on a jaunt through quaint and rugged post-Civil War Texas. They fairly reek of authenticity.

In “News,” former Confederate Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd earns a living by traveling to out-of-the-way towns, reading for 10 cents a head to small gatherings weeks old newspapers from the big cities. In Wichita Falls, Kidd is offered $50 to take a 10-year-old orphaned girl who had been captured by the Kiowa and her family killed a few years earlier to relatives near San Antonio.

The child was reluctant to leave the only “family” she knew. Sounds a bit like the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by a Comanche and Kiowa raiding party. She later married Peta Nocona and gave birth to Quanah Parker — two more Texas town names.

In “Simon,” former Confederate conscript Simon Boudlin survives by playing his fiddle in small bands for music hungry bar patrons while pursuing the hand of an Irish lass who is the indentured servant of a former Union colonel, hoping to settle on a tract of land near the Red River. Much of Simon’s repertoire will be familiar to fans of Celtic folk.

Both books take the reader along twists and turns not unlike the streets of San Antonio, which are said to have been laid out by a drunk (pick your favorite ethnicity to slur) on a blind mule.

Here is an excerpt from “News:”

Captain Kidd took off his hat and shook water from it. Britt Johnson had rescued at least four captives from the red men. From the Comanche, from the Kiowa, and once from the Cheyenne up north in Kansas. Britt’s own wife and two children had been taken captive three years ago, in 1867, and he had gone out and got them back. Nobody knew quite how he had done it. He seemed to have some celestial protection about him. He usually went alone. Britt was a rescuing angel, a dark man of the Red Rolling Plains, cunning and strong and fast like a nightjar in the midnight air. But Britt was not going to return this girl to her parents, not even for fifty dollars in gold.

Why won’t you go? said Captain Kidd. You have come this far already. Fifty dollars in gold is a considerable amount.

I figured I could find somebody to hand her off to here, Britt said. It’s a three-week journey down there. Then three weeks back. I have no haulage to carry down there.

Behind him Paint and Dennis nodded. They crossed their arms in their heavy waxed-canvas slickers. Long bright crawls of water slid across the livery stable floor and took up the light of the lantern like a luminous stain and the roof shook with the percussion of drops as big as nickels.

 

Here is an excerpt from “Simon:”

Simon stood on a flatbed wagon and poured the notes out into the overheated air, unmoving, straight-backed, his hat cocked forward over his face. He had a high-boned face, bright hair, and light eyes and his music was enchanting.

A banjo player sat at the edge of the wagon. He was an old man who tipped his head carefully as if there were water in it and it might spill over. He was trying to hear where it was that Simon was going with the melody and to follow if he could. Simon drew out the last note with a strong vibrato and bowed to the applause, and when he raised his head he searched out the edges of the crowd like a hunted man.

After a moment he laid his bow tip on the old man’s shoulder to get his attention and smiled. “How are you doing?” he said in a loud voice. “Could be you want a cold drink. They have ice, I saw it in a pitcher.”

“All right.” The old man nodded. “Yessir, doing fine, but I think they done come.” The old man kept on nodding. He was cotton-headed and partially blind.

“Who done come?”

“The conscription people.” Simon was still and silent for a heartbeat, two heartbeats. Then he said, “Well Goddamn them.”

A Memorial Day reflection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest are a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got to together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

(Reprinted from a previous post.)

Governor’s reopening decision leaves workers in the lurch

Gov. Steve Sisolak has gone off half cocked again.

He has said that some of the businesses he ordered closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus may reopen Saturday, but what if some workers fear for their health and that of their families? Will they no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work? Will they have to take a pay cut?

According to the morning paper, Sisolak doesn’t yet have an answer:

As for employees concerned about being required to go back to work, Sisolak said that “is a very difficult situation.”

“If they’re offered their job back, and they don’t take their job back, their eligibility for unemployment comes into question,” Sisolak said, adding that the administration was working with Nevada’s federal delegation and the Labor Department on a fix.

“I want people to feel safe when they go back to work,” he said. At the same time, “a lot of people are going to go back to work and make less than the thousand dollars a week that they’re making now, and you can say, ‘Why am I gonna go back to work?’ Those are difficult situations that we’re going to be facing in the future.”

As for the high-minded life-is-more-important-than-profit stance Sisolak and other Democrats have taken, columnist Victor Joecks takes the current hypocrisy apart:

Make no mistake: Sisolak’s decision to move Nevada into Phase 1 will increase the number of coronavirus infections. “We would anticipate an increase in new cases if mitigation efforts are lifted,” state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said in an April email.

According to no less an authority than Sisolak himself, this is unacceptable.

“I am not going to allow our workers to be put in a position that they have to decide between their job, their paycheck and their life,” Sisolak said last month on CNN. “That’s not a fair position to put them in, and I will not allow that to happen.”

But that’s what he’s allowing to happen on Saturday. That’s what he did by allowing construction to continue on the Raiders Stadium — despite workers testing positive.

Sisolak isn’t the only one who’s promulgated this standard. “Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice” was the headline of a piece in The Atlantic on the decision to reopen by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No one is expendable. No life is worth losing to add one more points to the Dow,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden tweeted Wednesday.

Sisolak’s actions on Thursday show how bogus this rhetoric is — and his own hypocrisy. Even he couldn’t live up to his own standard.

Yet the governor is requiring people to choose between a paycheck and their life without knowing all of the ramifications. Will unemployment be denied if they refuse to turn to work? That would be a key criteria in making such a decision.

Siam Square restaurant workers move tables to prepare for possible reopening Saturday. (R-J pix by K.M. Cannon)

 

Governor won’t even ‘permit’ discussion?

Many people are aghast that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has had the audacity to suggest the coronavirus shutdown might not have been necessary in the first place and reopening should begin soon — even suggesting Las Vegas could be used as a placebo or control group to compare the impact of reopening to staying shutdown.

People have called on her to resign, have called her suggestions reckless and deranged. A television interviewer called her ignorant for saying Las Vegas is not like China.

But what I found disturbing was a quote in the morning paper from Gov. Steve Sisolak, “I mean, there is no way I would even permit the discussion about using the city of Las Vegas as a control group in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. That’s beyond the pale. I can’t even imagine someone even contemplating that.”

He would not “permit” the discussion? He would silence debate? You know what they call people who do that.

He further declared, “You cannot allow our citizens, our folks, to be used as a ‘control group’ in this unscientific experiment that she’s talking about, relating to the spread of the virus. That’s just simply not allowable.”

Unscientific? What are control groups? They are the ones who do not get the experimental treatment, but perhaps a placebo, so the effectiveness of the experimental treatment can to compared to doing nothing.

Goodman may well be wrong. Granted, she is probably wrong.

But somewhere someone needs to contemplate a gradual return to normalcy. Whether some businesses reopen tomorrow or six months from now there is likely to be an uptick in contagion. At which the doomsayers will declare, “I told you so.”

In a separate story in the morning paper Sisolak was quoted as being dismissive of suggestions by the Elko mayor in a letter in the Elko Daily Free Press that said the sparsely populated and less affected rural counties should not be treated in the same manner as the more densely populated areas.

Elko Mayor Reece Keener wrote in an open letter to Sisolak:

It is a given that we will see outbreaks and “hotspots” into the foreseeable future. This virus is tenacious and will continue to be a threat until we have either better medicines or a vaccine. However, we cannot and must not continue to put our lives and civil liberties on hold until it is deemed “safe” to resume a semi-normal state. If, and when we experience an increase in new infection rates, we will be prepared to dial things back accordingly in a measured response.

We accept the responsibility, and with this, we need the flexibility to have local decision-making authority for our reopening timetables and planning. Please consider that a “one size fits all” approach does not work for a largely rural and sparsely populated Nevada. A statewide extension mandate will further deepen the economic damage that we have already incurred, plus it will be a huge psychological blow to the citizens that have diligently complied with the orders. Crucially, a statewide extension will invite civil disobedience and unrest. As mayor, I do not want to place our police officers in the untenable position of having to enforce state directives that are unpopular and impractical for our community.

Keener also pointed out, “Despite the best of intentions, the models and projections have been grossly overstated.”

But the governor reacted by saying, “If you open up Elko County, and you don’t open up Clark County or Washoe County, and in Elko all the stores are open, the restaurants and bars, all the entertainment’s open, well, then the people from the other counties are going to go to Elko County because they’re tired of being locked up in their houses, and they want to experience that, and they’re all going to go back to their counties and then the virus is going to continue to spread. So that wouldn’t work.”

He added, “It’s not just that we don’t want them to open. It’s just that it has to be done in a way that it doesn’t negatively impact that county or the surrounding counties.”

And what way is that, pray tell, and when, if ever?

Las Vegas can’t reopen, Elko can’t reopen. Who can? When? How long must everyone cower in the corner?

Who will “permit” at least a discussion?

Mayor Goodman interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN

Don’t wait for proof positive, give this combo a test in real world and real time

Two doctors writing in The Wall Street Journal today say a combination of two currently available drugs is helping cure coronavirus in a matter of days instead of requiring 14-day quarantines.

Getty Images via WSJ

A recent French study used hydroxychloroquine — a malaria treatment that has been used since 1944 with little side effect — in combination with azithromycin, brand name Zithromax Z-Pak, to treat a small number of COVID-19 patients. Of those treated with the combo 100 percent were cured by the sixth day of treatment. Of those treated with hydroxychloroquine alone 57.1 percent were cured, write Dr. Jeff Colyer, a practicing physician and chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Rural Health, and Dr. Daniel Hinthorn, director of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“A couple of careful studies of hydroxychloroquine are in progress, but the results may take weeks or longer,” the doctors report. “Infectious-disease experts are already using hydroxychloroquine clinically with some success. With our colleague Dr. Joe Brewer in Kansas City, Mo., we are using hydroxychloroquine in two ways: to treat patients and as prophylaxis to protect health-care workers from infection.”

They say their experience suggests the drug cocktail be a first-line treatment, but there is a shortage of hydroxychloroquine, which prompts the doctors to call on the federal government to immediately contract with generic manufacturers to ramp up production and release any stockpiles.

A successful treatment could get laid off workers back to work and open shuttered businesses and schools.

Colyer and Hinthorn conclude:

We have decades of experience in treating infectious diseases and dealing with epidemics, and we believe in safety and efficacy. We don’t want to peddle false hope; we have seen promising drugs turn out to be duds.

But the public expects an answer, and we don’t have the luxury of time. We have a drug with an excellent safety profile but limited clinical outcomes — and no better alternatives until long after this disaster peaks. We can use this treatment to help save lives and prevent others from becoming infected. Or we can wait several weeks and risk discovering we didn’t do everything we could to end this pandemic as quickly as possible.

 

Is the lockdown of schools and businesses creating more problems than it solves?

Writing in The New York Times Friday, Dr. founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center at Yale University in Connecticut, suggests that the all-out war against the spread of the coronavirus just might result in greater danger to those most vulnerable to the disease in addition to devastating the economy and destroying countless jobs and individual well being.

Katz is urgently calling for a more “surgical strike” approach, instead of this carpet bombing approach adopted by the governors of Nevada, California, New York and Illinois — closing businesses and schools. “This can be open war, with all the fallout that portends, or it could be something more surgical,” Katz says. “The United States and much of the world so far have gone in for the former. I write now with a sense of urgency to make sure we consider the surgical approach, while there is still time.”

He notes that data from South Korea indicate 99 percent of cases are “mild” and do not require medical treatment. It is the older population that is of greatest risk — “those over age 70 appear at three times the mortality risk as those age 60 to 69, and those over age 80 at nearly twice the mortality risk of those age 70 to 79.”

According to Science magazine, South Korea has been highly successful in battling the disease through its use of widespread testing. “The country of 50 million appears to have greatly slowed its epidemic; it reported only 74 new cases today (March 17), down from 909 at its peak on 29 February. And it has done so without locking down entire cities or taking some of the other authoritarian measures that helped China bring its epidemic under control.”

South Korea tested and isolated those carrying the virus. It conducted 5,200 tests per million people. The U.S. has tested 74 people per 1 million.

Katz further pointed out that closing businesses and schools winds up putting family members in close proximity. Because of the lack of testing asymptomatic youngsters may be infecting parents and grandparents.

“I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned — will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself,” Katz warns. “The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.”

Worse, he says, we are actually doing little to contain the disease itself.

In fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that closing schools has little affect on the spread of the coronavirus. “Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi [epidemic] curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modelling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore),” the CDC reports.

Katz concludes:

This focus on a much smaller portion of the population would allow most of society to return to life as usual and perhaps prevent vast segments of the economy from collapsing. Healthy children could return to school and healthy adults go back to their jobs. Theaters and restaurants could reopen, though we might be wise to avoid very large social gatherings like stadium sporting events and concerts.

So long as we were protecting the truly vulnerable, a sense of calm could be restored to society. Just as important, society as a whole could develop natural herd immunity to the virus. The vast majority of people would develop mild coronavirus infections, while medical resources could focus on those who fell critically ill. Once the wider population had been exposed and, if infected, had recovered and gained natural immunity, the risk to the most vulnerable would fall dramatically.

A pivot right now from trying to protect all people to focusing on the most vulnerable remains entirely plausible. With each passing day, however, it becomes more difficult. The path we are on may well lead to uncontained viral contagion and monumental collateral damage to our society and economy. A more surgical approach is what we need.

Medics transport a patient in Seattle. (Reuters pix via NYT)

 

 

Editorial: Voters don’t need protection from free speech

Democrats never let the inconvenient facts get in the way of their blindly held firm belief that money is the root of all evil and the ultimate bane of democracy.

You know, beliefs like the one that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — that found a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster — was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 5-4 Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the FEC barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Democrats have been fighting against the ruling ever since, claiming it lets the rich and powerful and deep-pocketed corporations buy elections. They’ve even floated the idea of amending that portion of the Bill of Rights prohibiting Congress from abridging freedom of speech.

Of course, Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Congress has been in the thick of it. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have signed on as sponsors of the proposed amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Cortez Masto proclaimed, “A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Rosen chimed in, “Our elections should be decided by the voters — but because of Citizens United, billionaires and corporate interests can spend as much money as they want to elect politicians to do their bidding.”

Pay no attention to the fact President Donald Trump was outspent two-to-one by the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.

Over on the House side Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford have co-sponsored the 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” which, along with other things, would require increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers.

All in the name of muting the power of money’s influence over elections.

Pay no attention to the facts just presented by the outcome of the Democratic presidential nominating process.

According to news accounts, former New York mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg recently dropped out of that competition after spending somewhere between $500 million and $700 million of his estimated $60 billion net worth. That netted him a grand total of 61 delegates out of the nearly 4,000 delegates awarded thus far.

Then there is the case of Tom Steyer, who is said to be worth a paltry $1.6 billion but spent more than $250 million of his own money on his failing presidential campaign through the end of January. He netted no delegates whatsoever.

Both of the these candidates were allowed the freedom of speech to disseminate their messages and arguments loudly and frequently. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion in Citizens United, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

The poor pliable voters don’t need to be protected from political speech. They can think for themselves — as the facts have again borne out.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Branco cartoon

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