Live free and die hard

The world will little note nor long lament the death of 33-year-old Drew Grant in a two car collision on a lonely highway in Arkansas Saturday night. Traffic fatalities are all too common in autoAmerica and typically merit little media attention.

Anyway, most of us were too focused – at least for the moment – on the latest mass shooting: Three dead, including a six-year-old boy, and 15 wounded at a Northern California garlic festival.

Indeed the only reason Grant’s passing (by the way, the driver of the other vehicle died too, and three passengers, including a child, were injured) is that before he had his name legally changed, Grant, aka Andrew Golden, had gained national infamy as the “baby faced” killer.

Along with 13-year old Mitchell Johnson, Golden, then 11, shot and killed four fellow students and a teacher in Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, Ark, on March 24, 1998. At the time it was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, though not for long. Tried as a juvenile, Golden spent 9 years in juvenile detention before being released.

Some might consider Grant’s death by automobile poetic justice. It is certainly one of the most ironic exits imaginable. Young Andrew Golden lived by the gun in a country where some 33,000 people a year are shot. Drew Grant died at the wheel in a nation that shrugs off in excess of 40,000 traffic fatalities annually.

“Since January 2000, more Americans have died in car crashes than did in both World Wars, and the overwhelming majority of the wrecks were caused by speeding, drunk or distracted drivers, according to government data,” reports the Washington Post. “Where’s the social outrage? There should be social outrage,” said Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told WaPo.

Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured. The effects of gun violence extend far beyond these casualties—gun violence shapes the lives of millions of Americans who witness it, know someone who was shot, or live in fear of the next shooting.” This from the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety.

Indeed, death by gunfire and death by automobile are uniquely American ways to go. Statistically no other nation on earth can touch our fatality rates in either category.

Make no mistake, we Americans have it well within in our power to stop the slaughter on both counts. We could ban military-style assault weapons and “cop killer” ammunition. We could do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. We could impose sensible waiting periods and background checks. We could ban private “off the books” gun sales and more.

But we choose not to. Our politicians have long ago decided that a staggering body count is an acceptable trade off for our sacred right to pack heat. And they know that voters are far more likely to punish them than praise them for their pro-gun sentiments.

Likewise we have the technology to stop speeding and reckless driving. There is a reason why lawmakers are prone to ban cameras that ticket red light runners and speeders. Because they know that Americans get angry over mechanized “speed traps” and insist that they be ticketed only when cops actually see them misbehaving and chase them down for it.

Which is more sacred in America: The right to arm ourselves against government tyranny? Or the right to drive as fast and as much as we please?

And so 40,000 traffic deaths here, 30,000 gun deaths there. Call them acceptable losses necessary to preserve our freedom to drive and shoot. It is what the Founding Father’s fought and died for

What can be more central to the American identity than guns and cars? “Live free and die hard” might as well be our national motto.

Running from climate change

OTTY LAKE: ONTARIO: Now I am a climate refugee.

On this magical Sunday morning I sit on the porch of our rented cabin about 50 miles south of Ottawa. It is 71 degrees and a fresh breeze ripples the surface of this lovely clear blue lake.

And there’s a cold front coming, promising temperatures in the low 60s and little humidity.

Opening my e-edition of The Sun two headlines catch my attention.

Above the fold: “Celebrating a giant leap.” Ah yes, the half century anniversary of the moon landing.

Below the fold: “Brutal heat wave still grips half of U.S.” New York City canceled its man on the moon fest for lack of astronaut-like apparel to protect Mr. and Mrs. America from extreme temperatures.

No such constraints halted the annual Stewart Park Festival, in the nearby picture postcard town of Perth. Children frolicked in the cooling eddies of the Tay River, while their elders sat on lawn chairs and listened to Montreal’s alt-country folk band, El Coyote, sing of love, loss…and partying.

The news from Florida this brutal summer of our discontent has been unrelentingly bad. Still more flesh-eating bacteria victims. More toxic blue-green algae contamination. The reefs are dying.

“Forget eggs. If global action isn’t taken on climate change people could grill steaks on the sidewalk,” cautions another Sun story. “…scientists project ‘off-the-chart’ heat indexes of up to 130 degrees.”

We are like frogs in a pan of cold water. So far so good, but the temperature keeps inching up by degrees.

And Canada isn’t immune. Ottawa is having its hottest July ever. Montreal just recorded its highest temperature period. There have been 54 heat-related deaths in Quebec…so far.

Like much of the American west, forest fires have been taking their toll up here too. Tick-related Lyme Disease is on the, um, uptick. Arctic ice is melting. On Wolfe Island, in the St. Lawrence River, Big Sandy beach was closed due to flooding and erosion.

And, our neighbor solemnly informs us, the corn is late this year.

But at least Canada admits it has a problem and is trying to confront it. The most striking visuals on scenic Wolfe Island are the 86 giant wind turbines thrusting up out of the wetlands and into the sky. Part of Ontario’s commitment to phase out coal fired plants.

And so far no reports of increased cancer cases among the islanders, Donald.

Listen, nobody up here minds my sort of climate refugee. We bring assets and can be counted upon to go home.

Our county commissioner, Robert Hutchinson, and his wife Meg rented a houseboat on the St. Lawrence for a week and were able to download an app that made moving back and forth from the Canadian to American side no trouble at all.

“The differences between the northern and southern borders of the US couldn’t be more stark,” Hutch posted on Facebook.

But that could change. A fair number of the masses trying to get into the U.S. via Mexico are already climate refugees. And whose to say that, in a generation or so, Canada won’t be similarly deluged as south-of-its-border hordes flee an unlivable Arizona, Florida, Utah or Louisiana?

In Kingston we toured Ft. Henry, part of a chain of ramparts built by 19th century Canadians who feared a U.S. invasion. The day may come when our friendly neighbors to the north will start talking about their own wall to keep us out.

Oh Canada.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Published in The Sun July 28, 19.)

Adrift on Otty Lake

This is truly a lost summer. We have been on Otty Lake, just south of Perth in Ontario, since July 5. One day seems to melt into the other. The water. The wine. The sun. These hours melting away. Most days there is a cool breeze rippling the lake. And not to mention the sunsets. Riotous splashes of pink, purple and blues and reds and golds.

Gainesville is far to the south. More a memory than a physical place. I keep in touch via the E edition of The Sun. And I find that all of the university city weirdness still remains even when I am not there to comment upon it.

I mean, some guy is running around town flushing mops into toilets. Because….Tom Petty is dead. The Gators are down but not out. But we still keep coming up with stuff to make our little college berg stand out. Harold Saive wants us to know that Mayor Lauren Poe’s recent trip to Hawaii was scandalous because….carbon footprint. And for all I know he’s right?

But never mind that. I’m on Otty Lake with the loons and the ducks and the deer flies. Here’s what passes for frenzied activity on Otty Lake.

Which is not to say that this place can’t be a beehive of activity. Just last weekend we went to the Stewart Park Festival and it was like Woodstock all over again. I kept waiting for County Joe and the Fish to appear but what we got was some alt-folk-rock band from Montreal called El. Coyote. The place was rockin’.

And that was just the adults. The kids were performing some sort of pagan ritual on the nearby River Tay. Hippy wanna-bes.

Listen, I don’t want to say that Perth is a sort of mini-Peyton Place but this town has a dark legacy involving rival law students, the love of a good school teacher, hot lead on a cold morning and death by duel. Canada’s last affair-of-honor-to-the-death match took place here in 1833, and it is so notorious that they ended up naming a beer after it. Oh the humanity.

And that’s not even to mention the Affair Of The Mammoth Cheese. But never mind that. The point is that Perth is nothing if not a simmering pot of intrigue approaching full boil. All of that friendliness and affability is just a facade. They coulda filmed “Blue Velvet” here and still not scratched the surface. We’re talking intrigue, mystery, deflection and haircuts.

But I digress. On the other hand, can we really digress? What is digression, after all, if not a escape mechanism? How deep is that?

Let’s see…where was I. Oh yes, adrift on Otty Lake. Which as we all know is fed by the Stream Of Consciousness. I’m getting drowsy.

Hot passion and cold lead

Perth: Ontario: It was a Canadian crime of passion. 

Messy and old fashion.

That’s what the people say.

How memorable is Canada’s last known duel to the death, played out on the banks of the Tay River on the dewy morning of June 13th, 1883? Just ask the proud people of Perth, this charming, and otherwise peace-loving, town south of Ottawa and north of the St. Lawrence River.

Why, they’ve got a Last Duel Park and a Last Duel Cemetery. They drink Last Duel Lager (“Raise pints not pistols”). They have a Last Duel historical marker and Last Duel downtown wall art. Indeed, the actual pistols fired are still on display in the town museum.

Listen, Perth’s Last Duel is celebrated proudly, right along with its Mammoth Cheese (“A slice of history”). 

This was no gunfight at the OK Corral, but rather a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions. 

We’re talking rival law students. The love of a good school teacher. And an enthusiastic second to help keep the pot a boil. Yea, an affair of honor in true Victorian fashion.

Imagine if you will John Wilson, aka, the aggrieved party of the first part (law students, remember?) Hopelessly in love with the fair Elizabeth Hughes. Besotted, infatuated, dumbstruck.

How besotted? Wilson was given to writing long, bittersweet poetic odes to the fair Elizabeth.

What can it be that makes me sad?

“I surely can’t be turning mad.

“And yet indeed, ’tis very plain

“I am in love; let me think again.”

Then into Wilson’s subarctic Garden of Eden slinks Robert Lyon (the aggravating party of the second part). 

Lyon, we are given to understand, was “a suave well-heeled young man who liked to flirt” took a fancy to the fetching Liz, and ultimately ended up bad mouthing her.

One can only imagine the bitter verbal fusillade that led to an exchange of, um, lead. Indeed, it would likely have warmed the cockles of the Bard himself.

Lyon: “This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure.”

Or words to that effect.

Wilson: “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

Or words to that effect.

And then there was Henry Le Leivre, Wilson’s buddy and duly appointed second in this affair de honour. He was said to be a “bellicose army veteran,” who, we are told “aggravated” the dispute with fatal consequences. 

Le Leivre (to Lyon): “Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch!”

Or words to that effect. 

Oh the humanity! This “sorry affair” could only end one badly…at least for the party of one of the parts.

“Lyon was killed in the second exchange of shots,” we are reliably informed via historical marker, “while Wilson was acquitted on a charge of murder, married Miss Hughes, and became a member of Parliament and a Judge.”

Nonetheless, insists Perth, “theirs was not a happy union.” 

Small wonder. Bloodstains on one’s dress shirt being more indelible than lipstick on one’s collar. 

The people of Perth were undoubtedly shocked (shocked) by all of this. But in true Chamber of Commerce fashion they have resolved to make the most of this “harsh form of male pride, frontier justice and elite bravado.”

Be sure to visit the Last Duel Cemetery to see the engraved marker of Robert Lyon; see Inga-Va _ the house where the couple lived; or go to the Matheson House – home of the Perth Museum where the actual pistols are on display.”

Oh, and did I mention the Last Duel Lager? Pretty tasty that. 

This I Do Believe

Cycling down a Canadian country lane I came upon a strange looking tree with elongated cone-like appendages sticking out every which way.

It occurred to me that this was no earthly plant, but rather an alien presence. And those odd appendages embryonic life forms that, once matured, would proceed to wipe our species from the face of the earth.

Or it might have been a common Canadian tree with which I, a Floridian, am unfamiliar. But, really, what are the odds of that?

Like Alice’s Red Queen I am perfectly capable of believing six impossible things before breakfast. Which is to say that I am a Post Truth Age American. We all having tumbled, not down the rabbit hole, but rather into a credibility gap as wide and deep and serpentine as the Grand Canyon. 

Which, by the way, I believe was excavated out of the desert floor by ancient Egyptians and their laser-equipped flying saucers.

The advantage of living in our Perception Is Reality Fantasyland is that, unloosed from the factual bonds that once weighed us down like some sort of ethical gravitational field, we are all now perfectly free to believe whatever we care to and live our lives accordingly. Ipso facto. 

It is preposterous to believe that man actually set foot on the moon. Sorry, Warren.

Are you telling me that the same scientists who are lying to us about climate change were telling the truth when they say they hurled a human-filled capsule across the abyss and then brought it back again like some celestial boomerang?

Why, I might as well believe that terrorists, and not our government, blew up the World Trade Center. Deep State, dude. 

This I also believe:

That the real United Nations agenda is to make us all ride bicycles and live in biodomes. Which, by the way, I’m in favor of. 

That Donald Trump is not a philandering, racist, compulsive liar but simply an average Joe who tells it like it is because the rest of us are too afraid to. Because Deep State.

That the United States will never be a socialist country. Public schools, Medicare, Social Security, public highways, postal service, federal disaster relief and whatnot notwithstanding.

That Democrats have finally come out of the socialism closet but are waiting until the day after the election to go full commie.

That all of the toxic chemicals, effluvia and noisome gasses we are spewing into our water and air makes us healthier and wealthier. Because what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. 

That because some terrorists are Muslims, ergo all Muslims are terrorists. All 1.8 billion of them.

That fluoridation is chemical indoctrination, and vaccines cause autism.

That Putin is our friend. 

That Jesus died for our right to possess fully automatic assault rifles.

That white Anglo-Saxon congressmen are also people of color. 

That there are very fine people standing on both sides of the bigotry barrier. 

That we need to send The Squad back to where they came from because they hate America. 

But this I believe above all other things.

That if, after all he has said and done and lied to us about, we still insist on reelecting Donald Trump we will get the President we so richly deserve. 

And that the United States of America will cease to be. And rightfully so. 

Because mass, willful ignorance will have well and truly destroyed whatever vestiges still remained of the American Dream.


autoAmerican anarchy

The cyclists are revolting against autoAmerican anarchy. Up the revolution!

In New York City hundreds of cyclists laid down for a “die-in” at Washington Square Park after three cyclists were killed in just one week (15 Big Apple cyclists dead so far this year). “People are literally dying on the streets because they’re not being adequately protected,” Joseph Cutrufo, of Transportation Alternatives, said. Biking “shouldn’t be seen as a dangerous behavior.”

In Boston cyclists formed a human chain to protest the city’s decision to install painted bike lanes on dangerous streets. According to the Boston Globe “The 8 a.m. demonstration consisted of more than 100 people standing in the roads near the intersection of Fenway and Brookline Avenue during the busy morning commute to ‘highlight the dangerous conditions cyclists face every day when given no protection beyond paint.'” Paint isn’t enough, protestors say, they want bike lanes that are physically separated from cars. 

These protests follow a well-attended “Rally For Streets That Don’t Kill People” in Washington, D.C. “Cyclists laid down in the street, and activists read aloud the names of 128 people who have been killed on D.C. roads since” 2016 reports USA Streetsblog. 

Meanwhile, an NYC cop intentionally ran his patrol car into a cyclists who had apparently ignored an order to pull over. The cop later told the cyclists in front of witnesses “you’re riding recklessly, and you’re refusing to stop after multiple lawful orders that you acknowledged. So I am going to use whatever means necessary to stop you, OK? And that’s for your safety.” On the plus side, at least he didn’t shoot the guy. 

In Florida’s Indian Rocks Beach 17-year old Sophia Delott was riding her bike home from school when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Delott was well known in the community as the only girl on the Seminole High football team. The team posted on its Facebook page: “Last night, one of our own was taken from us by a drunk driver. Sophie was a Warhawk through and through…Most of all, she was our family.”

The City of Orangetown, NY, has passed an ordinance requiring cyclists to ride in single file or suffer penalties of up to $300 in fines and 30 days in jail – this despite a state law that stipulates otherwise. “Apparently, upstate motorists were upset that cycling tourists wouldn’t move out of the way of cars,” reports Streetsblog USA. Oh the humanity.

Want to know why the simple act of walking on public streets is hazardous for your health? Consider these survey results from Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. Despite a “must stop” law requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, fewer than 1 out of 5 Chicago drivers do so. “Compliance is really, really low,” says Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Kyle Whitehead in a classic understatement. 

Speaking of pedestrians at risk, Strong Towns poses the $64,000 question with this recent headline “Why are U.S. drivers killing so many pedestrians?” U.S. pedestrian deaths have increased 51 percent over the last 9 years. Meanwhile the pedestrian death rate in Europe is steadily dropping. “It’s worth noting that this trend is occurring even though walking is far more common in Europe, streets are generally narrower, and in older cities, there aren’t sidewalks, but pedestrians share the roadway with cars.” Hey, if you don’t love autoAmerica, Pal, go back where you came from. 

On the plus side, police in five southeast states are cracking down on speeders – for exactly one week. “The speed limit is the speed limit,” Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Derrick Rahming said in announcing Operation Southern Shield. “We are going to be focusing on drivers who are failing to observe posted speed limits…to make sure the roads are safer during this season.” It’s rather like declaring a hunting season when you can bag your limit. The rest of the year we call ’em “speed traps.”

What’s eating Florida?

For a long time I’ve been arguing that our official state motto ought to be: Florida: Whatever you don’t eat will eat you.”

Course I was just talking about Gators, mosquitos and no-see-ums (oh my). But nature has a more lethal sense of humor than any mere mortal.

So now we’re talking about flesh eating bacteria. And it’s no laughing matter.

Of late there have been a handful of cases on southwest Florida beaches. A 77-year old woman died of it. A couple of other cases were successfully treated. Amy Barnes, 45, survived thanks to four weeks of antibiotics. “I want people to be aware of this stuff because it’s real and it will kill you,” she told reporters. “It will eat you up before you even get a chance.”

To be sure these cases are extremely rare. So rare that state health officials don’t even bother to keep track of them. (Rather like the Mayor of Amity, in “Jaws,” didn’t want to make too much of shark bites for fear of scaring off the tourists.)

But now the secret’s out thanks to press coverage. And you have to wonder how it will affect attendance at Florida’s beaches during this long, hot, fetid summer. 

And it’s not only the odd case of Necrotizing fasciitis that ought to worry virtually anyone who goes to the beach or makes a living catering to sun worshipers. Between red tides, blue green algae and beach closures due to high bacteria content (poop in the water), Florida has been getting so much bad press of late that tourism officials in California have to be smiling. 

Algae Blooms. Iguanas heading north. That’s climate change.” That Tampa Bay Times editorial neatly summarizes the sodden mess we are all making of our once pristine peninsular paradise. “Whether it’s leaky septic tanks, runoff from our lawns or too much farm waste flowing into waterways, we’ve created conditions ripe for algae to take hold. And don’t forget that a 2014 Climate Assessment Report predicted more blooms in Florida as the globe warms.”

Oh, and about those big exotic lizards that are making themselves to home in South Florida? The iguanas are slowly migrating north, and they’ve gotten so bothersome that the state wants Floridians to start killing them off. 

“Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible,” says a Fish and Wildlife Commission press release. 

In a heavily armed state like ours, declaring open season on these south of the border exotics should make for some interesting misadventures. I can see the headlines now: “Florida man nails six iguanas with assault rifle in crowded mall parking lot”.

But I digress. 

The point is that we are slowly turning our Florida Eden into a polluted, overcrowded, dangerous and miserable hellhole. In this brave new world, a python can strangle a baby in its crib. Boa constrictors are eating the gators in the Glades. Florida mosquitos can make you scratch and itch, but they can also pass on chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and Rift Valley fever.

And don’t even get me started on the ever-growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just another day in paradise. 

The blue-green algae mess has gotten so bad that even our “anything for business” politicians have been forced to take notice. The Legislature threw some money at clean-up this session, but did nothing to stop pollution at its source. That would have been bad for “bidness,” not to mention their campaign contributions. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has created a Blue Green Algae Task Force, so he’ll be kicking that can down the road for a while. 

But while we’re waiting, DeSantis and lawmakers have launched a new era of super highway construction, are continuing to gut Florida’s growth management laws and have otherwise done all they can to ensure that Florida’s despoliation will continue apace.

I hate to sound cynical about all this, but the fact is that we could see this coming for a long time. For at least the past two decades politicians have been sacrificing our natural environment so as to accommodate big developers, big ag, big sugar and other generous special interest campaign donors. And we Florida voters have done nothing but reward them with reelection and advancement to higher office (hello Sen. Rick Scott).

No, the politicians haven’t sold us out. We did it to ourselves by not throwing the rascals out. And if there is anything like a  “green wave” constituency out there to set things right, it’s moving slower than an iguana in a Florida cold snap. 

So what’s eating you Florida? The list is long and growing, but the short answer is all too painfully obvious.

We are.

The parade we deserve

Why must it always fall to me to rise to the defense of the indefensible? It is my burden to bear I suppose.

Thus in the face of almost universal condemnation of Donald Tump’s crass appropriation of D.C.’s Fourth of July parade to simultaneously glorify himself and America’s awesome military might I must counter: In your face, America. 

Trump gets our essential ethos better than we care to understand it ourselves. 

Tanks for the memories Donald. Jets to the Chief. Rockets red glare and all that it entails. 

The only puzzling thing about Trump’s Independence Day triumph is that he is seemingly giving credence and credibility to – gasp! – another president. And a Democrat at that. Oh the humanity!

America is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” was Jimmy Carter’s recent Sunday School message. And who can argue with that? We are, after all, the only nation in the history of human civilization to split the atom expressly to commit mass slaughter. 

Not only once, but twice. 

Yes, I know, we like to think of ourselves as always ready to march “over there” against tyranny. To fight the Kaiser. To send Hitler and Tojo packing. To wage the “good wars” in defense of freedom. 

But what if there are no good wars handy? No problem. Take Hawaii for the pineapple barons.  Or Cuba for Big Sugar. Or steal from Mexico for Manifest Destiny’s sake. Or invade the Philippines or the Dominican Republic or Vietnam or Panama. Or Grenada for a boost in the polls (one of my favorite political cartoons: Ronald Reagan musing “Fabulous, a crisis coming to save me.”).

And when there are no foreign despots or leftist regimes handy, we Americans are quite content to take our blood lusts out on each other. (Washington Post: “More Americans were shot to death by March 6 this year than died on D-Day.”)

Too self-absorbed to appropriate somebody else’s homeland? No problem. We are also Arms Merchant To The World. We will happily and simultaneously arm an ally, Israel, as well as its sworn enemies  (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) because, well, business. 

My only beef with Trump’s obsession with big hulking tanks is that it’s so last century. Trump hates to give any credit at all to his immediate predecessor, but it was Obama who normalized drone attacks so as to wage war by other means without the messy necessity of actually putting American boots on the ground.

If anything, Trump’s “In Your Face America” parade underscores his own reticence, at least thus far, to indulge in mechanized mayhem for the sake of saving his own political bacon. Bush The Younger didn’t throw a parade – he just invaded the wrong country to boost his post 9-11 poll numbers. LBJ sacrificed his Great Society on the alter of Vietnam. Nixon bombed the country next door, Cambodia, because..well why not? When Teddy said “Bully!” he wasn’t kidding. At least Jefferson had the good grace to pay cash for the Louisiana Purchase. When Polk wanted more land he just took it from Mexico.  JFK’s only unAmerican sin was not showing up for the Bay of Pigs affair. And now there is the Forever War to preoccupy us. Like Abrams tanks, the Peace Dividend was so last century. 

So happy Independence Day America. Trump is going to give you the show you deserve. 

And question my patriotism if you will. But I enlisted right out of high school. While Americans were putting boots on the Moon I was on a destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin shooting at things we couldn’t see. My taxes have paid for many many adventures abroad since then, and I’ve reached an age when it bothers me not at all to hear someone say “If you hate America why don’t you leave?” 

I paid my dues and I’m staying, thank you very much. Rather than wrap myself in the flag I prefer the comforting embrace of the First Amendment.

So happy birthday America. And tanks again for the memories Donald.