Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

27 September

Today, A Miracle Mile

by Jon Katz

A miracle is an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a natural cause. Such an effect or event might manifest itself to some people as a work of God.

One dictionary defines “miracle” as a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality, as in a miracle of modern acoustics. Or a miracle of modern science.

I experienced a miracle this morning.

I am well acquainted with the miracles of medicine, as several have kept me alive much longer than would have been the case even 15 or 20 years ago.

Maria’s appearance in the tiny hamlet of Hebron N.Y., where my first farm was located, was a miracle. It was the last place I expected to find a partner in life.

In a sense, I am a miracle. Wouldn’t it be nice if I were a manifestation of God? (Not yet).

I know the advances in heart medicine; I’ve read about them and lived them. My catheter “procedure” or “intervention” was one such miracle. So was open heart surgery, for that matter.

But Thursdays’ intervention was special. I saw my artery and heart come to life. My worldview changed.

I had another miracle this morning, I think,  when Maria and I got up early so, we could walk together on the nearby hilly country road that has long served as a barometer of my heart health.

I remember not being able to walk up that hill at all – it’s about a mile – six years ago before my heart attack and open surgery. I remember not being able to walk up that hill comfortable and without chest pain for most of the past year.

I always know how I am by how easily or painfully it is to walk up this beautiful hill.

Two weeks ago, after my first catheterization, I was able to walk up the hill. I did well, it was better, but I was out of breath at the top, and I was sweating. It wasn’t easy.

This morning, I sailed up the hill like a Man O’War in the British Royal Navy, setting out to battle the Spanish Fleet. Maria and I looked at one another, smiling and shaking our heads in disbelief.

“Wow,” she said, “I can feel this new energy coming right off of you.”

I walked at a fast pace.

I had plenty of energy left; I didn’t need to stop, take a breath, or wait for my heart to calm down. Maria always slowed down to match my pace, this morning I was walking as fast as she was, sometimes even faster.

When I got to the top, I had plenty of energy left over and kicked into a higher gear.

I went to the top and then some. I would say I had about 30 percent more blood coming into my heart than I did last Wednesday. And it is very different.

And when I got home, I had to lie down for two hours; I was so tired. Remember, said the doctor, you’ll feel better, but you’re not 25 years old. I forgot.

In the morning, another test, possibly another round. I am getting an ultrasound because my doctors realized I had never had my carotid veins in the neck tested.

The odds are they might be blocked as well, so we’ll see. Several people said they were praying that I didn’t need another cardio procedure.

But that seemed wrong to me. I am learning that the better care I  take of myself, the better I will feel, and the longer I will live productively.

I would happily underdo this additional procedure if it helped complete the repair work on my heart. And I would consider myself fortunate to have the chance.

27 September

Homeless Geranium Finds A Home

by Jon Katz

Maria has saved another living thing. Our dying geranium plant was plucked from the garden where it was dying and transplanted to our bedroom window, where it gets good morning sun and cool temperatures.

It is thriving and is the first thing I see in the morning. It gives me hope and comfort. Maria talks to the geranium every morning, I’ve only done that once, but I do sing to it.

26 September

I Got The Dog I Wanted

by Jon Katz

When Red died, I thought long and hard about the next dog I wanted. I didn’t want another Red; I don’t think that’s fair to the new dog. And I wanted a chance from border collies.

I decided I wanted a dog who was even and loving and trustworthy. A therapy dog but also a family dog. I didn’t want or need for the dog to be my dog only; I wanted a dog that Maria could love and that Bud and even Fate could be easy with.

I wanted a dog with extraordinary temperament and good genetics for the country’s sometimes rough life – a land of viruses, ticks, chicken droppings, feces, and wildlife.

I found Lenore Severnie, a breeder with more than 35 years of experience, a dog whose line I could trust, whose health and temperament I could count on, both for the therapy work and as my writing companion.

I spent months looking for the right breeder and studying different breeds. I know Labs well and love them and chose on Lenore as a breeder and a yellow lab as the dog I wanted.

I listen to my heart. When you find the right dog, it sings.

I never listen to people who tell me what dog I ought to get or that there is only one way to get a dog. As a steward, I owe dogs more thoughtful consideration than that.

I got precisely the dog I wanted in every way. When I come into my study and open the gate, she comes in with me. Like all of my dogs, she doesn’t move while I am writing; she will sit peacefully by my side for hours.

She loves therapy work and is perfect for it. She loves to play outside (no ball throwing or loud playing inside). She is best pals with Bud and is slowly charming the moody Fate.

She is happy in Maria’s studio, happy in my study, happy in the car, happy in the yard. I can also leave her off at the Mansion and next week, Bishop Maginn High School. She knows what to do and where to go, even though I can’t go with her.

I worked hard and thought long, choosing Zinnia. I got the dog I wanted. It is deep and easy love. This is what I needed.

26 September

Robin In Red Hook

by Jon Katz

I’ve always believed that the best photos that I ever take are of people that I love. All of my photos are about emotion, in one way or the other.

In recent months, my daughter Emma has been taking remarkable photographs of Robin, her four-year-old daughter, and my granddaughter.

The virus has been hard on Emma and Jay, Robin has not been in school since February, she started back this week.

I haven’t seen them since March, and between my surgeries and the virus in New York, I probably won’t see them for a good while yet, perhaps not until there is a vaccine.

Emma and I have drawn closer in recent years, but we never talk as easily as we communicate through our photographs. We are both good talkers, but not always with one another.

But when I see her photos, I hear her speaking to me. Love opens one up, and the camera catches it.

Photos like this talk to me, and I deeply touched by Emma’s feelings and rich creativity.

This shot is almost perfectly composed, centered, and full of feeling. I have no use for photographic conventions like thirds, but I’m very drawn to solitary and centered pictures with a lot of sky.

Red Hook is a waterfront a few miles from their Brooklyn apartment. They go places once or twice every weekend. I am grateful for these photos, they keep me close to both of them even when I can’t get to see them.

They are so rich with feeling, and they fill me with feelings.

26 September

One Man’s Truth: Trump: “Do You Want To Be A Dictator?”

by Jon Katz

“Donald Trump does not want to be a dictator,” said one of the most respected scholars in the world on TV the other day, “he just wants to play one on TV.”

These are perhaps the wisest words yet spoken about our roller coaster, the sometimes terrifying upcoming election, and the leader of the Free World.

Harvard Philosophy Professor Michael Mandel, a long-time online lecture  and academic star, has written a new book called “Does Meritocracy Destroy The Common Good?”

In it, he joins the growing and frustrated list of writers and thinkers (me too) who think it is more important to explain and understand Trump than take his bait, play his game,  and rage on and on about him.

Hating him is simply not useful, especially now. Understanding his appeal is the very key to defeating him. He’s trying out the next version of his hit reality show: “Do You Want To Be A Dictator?”

In Mandel’s book, he argues that the growing economic and cultural divide between winners and losers in America poisons our politics and pulls us apart. And it gives rise to demagogues like our President.

There is no common sense of good any longer, he claims, just elites at the top and angry, aggrieved, and humiliated people at the bottom. And it isn’t just about money. It’s very much about pride and hope.

Our culture has come to define money as the very and only definition of success, and money makes the people who have it feel superior; their success is morally justified.

The people who don’t have it, and in fact, have less and less all the time, feel left behind and despised.

This widening divide has, at least since the ’90s, created a country of increasingly unequal people.

Many were quite ripe for a Donald Trump to come along and speak to them, and for four years, humiliate and enrage the elites who they believe have been looking down on them for years.

He turned the tables on the people they see as their tormentors.

For generations, American family farmers were considered the country’s most valued citizens.

People without property couldn’t even vote in early America.

There are hardly any family farmers, and the farmers who are hanging on are at the bottom of the social pecking order left to fail slowly and die out.

Mandel agrees with me about one thing: there is a lot of truth behind the rage and frustration driving the loyal followers of Donald Trump, something very few progressives have been willing to accept or understand or work to fix.

One of the fascinating things about the election to me is that Joseph Biden Jr., who I would not put up on the same thoughtful plane with Mandel, gets it.

He is not taking the bait. He is campaigning on his narrative, not on Donald Trump’s preferred narrative.

Biden is simply offering a better agenda, focusing on issues people care about,  something that Hilary Clinton, the media, and the Democratic party have not consistently do.

Clinton had a million new plans, but nobody knew what they were, and too many people disliked her and thought she was contemptuous of them.

Biden’s vibe is just the opposite. He seems to care about everybody. Trump, as we clearly see, is madly in love with Trump.

The President has a genius for pulling his enemies off their enraged pedestals and sucking them into his one never-changing plan: grievance. No conversation doesn’t begin and end with him.

The more we hate him, the more they love him for it. If we hate him, he must be all right. If he loves them, he must respect them and care for them.

Liberals and progressives are the enemy, the snobs, socialists, and betrayers. The party of Franklin Roosevelt seeks, they believe,  to take away the crumbs they have been left and give their taxes to immigrants and people of color.

This isn’t just about money; it’s about pride and value.

This is how far the progressive ideal has drifted from the very people it is supposed to help. It will take a much smarter person than me to say precisely how this happened.

I am working on it. There are clues.

Interestingly, in this turn,  this Supreme Court fight offers us the very first opportunity to see what happens when the resistance doesn’t take the bait and play Donald’s Trump game.

So far, it’s working, and it is making him crazy.

Trump has become the world’s leading whineass, singing the song millions of people have been waiting to hear, his true campaign slogan: they’ve screwed us. He has come to their rescue. He alone hears and sees them. He even blamed Biden for being a shortage of masks; he hasn’t been in office for four years.

All those snoots and ivy leaguers and entrenched bureaucrats and reporters can all go and fuck themselves.  They are the true enemies of the people. Never mind, Putin.

No demagogue I can find in the history books has ever exploited the anger of the people on the bottom better, so much so that they can’t yet see that he is the problem, not the solution.

And they don’t believe any of the people telling them otherwise.

The Republicans decided in the 1950s that farmers and the white working-class were no longer efficient in the new economy.

Then they persuaded white workers without college degrees that it was all the fault of Blacks and immigrants like Mexicans that their jobs were gone.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the Democrats promised them the global trade agreements would be good for everybody. It wasn’t, it was great for billionaires and CEO’s and corporations, and just about every small town in America was emptied, along with everybody’s jobs.

In this period, a college degree offered the foundation of a new cultural divide. College degrees got graduates into those well-paying jobs in cities, and those graduates became winners, believing they had earned their success through their own talent and hard work.

Mandel says he saw that happening in his Harvard classrooms. The new elite was coming up right under his nose.

Everybody else was a worker bee; they lost their status as their jobs migrated worldwide, and the party of Franklin Roosevelt did this with great enthusiasm and little thought.

The legacy of these often mindless and brutal policies is shorter life spans, the highest unemployment, no health care or hospital care, epidemic drug use and alcoholism, horrendous schools, and vacant Main Streets.

Yes, other minorities suffer greatly in our country, but does it have to be a contest to see who suffers the most?

I’ve heard what my neighbors say about  San Francisco, New York, Seattle,  Los Angeles, Austin, where modest homes cost millions, and tens of thousands of people sleep on the streets and defecate there.

The well-educated elites have never done better, even during the pandemic. The poor and the “lower classes” have never done worse or worked harder for less.

I heard a young man in my town said his great hope was for an Amazon warehouse to come near so his children could have health care. Imagine praying for a job when you have to keep moving every minute, or a computer attached to your waist will turn you in and get you fired.

People use drugs, legal and illegal because their lives are intolerably painful or dull,” wrote Wendell Berry in The Art Of The Commonplace.

They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional in healthy societies, whereas, among us, it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.

In one sense, Donald Trump is a drug. They love him because they hate their lives. They are estranged from their own country and the people who run it.

Biden grasps this; he is chipping away, perhaps because he knows what it is like to be peed on by the elitists and the rich.

When Hilary Clinton dropped a line about Trump’s “deplorables,” she condemned herself and many of us to four years of chaos.

That is precisely what white working-class people all over American thought the people on top of the pile – me and many of the people reading this –  thought of them and say about them all the time.

That is going to take a lot of hard work, much listening, and real change.

Trump took Clinton’s affirmation and ran with it all the way to the top.

One of the richest and most arrogantly elitist snobs in our country – he won’t even physically touch a real working person for fear of germs – is now our leader and has become the new Woody Guthrie of Washington.

I guess you have to either love politics or hate politics. There is really no middle right now, or maybe never.

In recent years, argues Mandel, money has come to define “good” and merit, and most of that money has flowed into our major cities while rural America, bleeding and abandoned, has been drained of work, money, and most important, politically, self-esteem.

This sense of grievance – against the media, the highly educated, the Democratic Party, immigrants, refugees, African-Americas, all of whom they see as getting better treatment than them –  has been the Republican Party’s main political strategy years.

It is one of the many reasons the party and this President – and all those aggrieved people –  have fused almost seamlessly.

For the first time in my memory, this strategy is not working as planned. Working-class whites are much more worried about the pandemic than Mexican “rapists” or Blacks storming their suburbs.

Yet old and bad habits die hard.

The Democrats could blow it all by obsessing on the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court today. Like Trump himself, Democrats and progressives have always been skilled at defeating themselves.

This Supreme Court fight is pointless. Mitch McConnell has already won.

The fix is already in.

The Republicans have the votes and support to nominate Judge Barrett and appoint her to the Supreme Court. I’ve been reading up on her. She is said to be brilliant, deeply religious, reliably conservative, and personally kind and generous.

It is almost certain she will help shred abortion rights, favor discrimination against gay and transgender people on the grounds of religious freedom, try to strangle Biden’s agenda, help Trump ignore the pandemic, and possibly destroy Obamacare.

To progressives, liberals, Democrats, many women, this is a catastrophe. And that is true.

Maybe it will be as awful as feared, maybe not. I have little respect for hysteria.

Nobody really knows what justices will do when they get on the Supreme Court – look at Neal Gorsuch and John Roberts. The coverage demonizing her seems near or over the top to me.

Her students love and respect her.

In any case, and the short term, there is little point in turning the campaign upside down to try to deny the appointment.

It won’t happen. The savage attacks on her, if they occur in public hearings, will inflame Trump’s supporters and, as he has inflamed Democratic women after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Call it a draw. If you care about the Supreme Court, shut up about it.

I think that the wiser heads are learning what Trump knows:  that most voters don’t care about the things the so-called “elitists” care about the most. The progressive agenda is not the same as the working-class agenda.

We saw their agenda changing in the 2018 election, and so did Nancy Pelosi. Voters were interested in health care, good jobs, and the widening income gap between the very rich and everybody else. Women wanted a kinder nation.

And women beat up on the Republicans and helped take control of the House of Representatives.

Today, the focus is also clear: the pandemic and health care. Many people say they think the President should have waited to appoint a new justice until a new President was chosen.

It’s not a time for panic, but calm and focus. Stay strong. Stay calm.

Going after Justice Barrett will not drive undecided voters to vote for Joseph Biden in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Florida. To his credit, Biden seemed to grasp this from the beginning.

He stayed cool all summer and permitted Trump to crap on himself, something he is quite good at doing when he runs his mouth.

. Now Biden is talking about new manufacturing jobs,  health care, and Trump’s handling of the pandemic, all broken promises or weaknesses of the President.

Biden is not talking about the Supreme Court much.

I think Joseph Biden is correct in steer progressive people and Democrats away from hyperbole and hysteria.

Things are bad enough without a pointless meltdown and enabling the distraction Trump so badly wants, and that has always worked for him.

People with progressive ideals and progressive politicians have to learn how to talk once again to the disenchanted and diminished working-class and the rural Americans who flocked to Trump as if he was the Messiah. To many of them, he is.

No one ever changed anybody’s mind by calling them stupid and ridiculing them. They must be offered something tangible and something better.

In July, Biden offered a $2 trillion energy plan in Ohio, a clean energy plan that is still drawing praise from organizations that work with coal communities on economic transition.

Coal executives were wary.

The platform frames decarbonizing the economy as a jobs creator. Of note, the plan calls for a carbon-free power sector by 2035, upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherproofing 2 million homes, and boosting investment in zero-emissions transportation.

The plan also explicitly mentions a commitment to invest in coal country and workers who may be displaced by a shift away from fossil fuels.

This is just what the Democrats didn’t do in the ’80s. Labor organizations and coal workers are still talking about the jobs Biden dangled in front of them. During this speech, he never mentioned Trump.

Trump has shown us that his followers have felt their dignity has been taken from them.

Living in the country, I see they have a point. I have heard too many smart people refer to rural people as bigoted and dumb. That is also what urban people say about Trump, and the more people say it, the more he is loved.

There are lessons for everyone in the rise and looming fall of Donald Trump.

I agree that Trump doesn’t want to be a dictator and couldn’t handle being one. He wants to be seen as the John Wayne of the working men, their hero rushing to rescue the natives from their increasingly dreary lives at the bottom of the pile.

In a world with San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Austin, Charlotte, and Miami, life can look pretty harsh in the country’s middle.  There are very few pockets of wealth.

The fact that Biden seems to get this has put him in the lead for months now. The best polls say he has a 77 percent chance in 100 of winning close to the election date.

What do we expect in a country where one percent of the people control nearly half of the wealth?

And where thousands of communities have no jobs, no health care, no Main Streets, no pride. Black Lives matter more than ever. So do other lives.

I put my faith in the very polished and persuasive data I read and the things that I see.

Trump will defeat Trump, not Biden. Biden will make it easier. The challenge is too not help the President to win by doing his dance with him.

Once again, Trump has chosen to build his campaign around the idea that he can use the most aggrieved and humiliated Americans to humiliate and denigrate everybody on the other side.

He seems to have absolutely no vision beyond that, but to many Americans, that is more than enough.

The debates will be important. Trump is good at dominating and being loud, confused, and provocative, but Bide (mostly) good at being calm when his family isn’t being attacked, comes off as decent, and with an increasingly clear vision for dealing with the problems many people in the middle actually care about.

We know Trump will turn the election into a bitter and prolonged nightmare.

He will almost certainly be the first President not to leave office gracefully.

I have not seen anything that persuades me to believe he can overturn the election and seize power. The media is delighted with this rating grabber. They are doing everything possible to promote more panic.

I have to be honest and say there is absolutely nothing in Judge Barrett’s background. I have seen to suggest she would acquiesce in a political coup d’etat like the media keeps talking about, one that would destroy our democracy.

Agree with her or not, there is nothing in her life or work to support that idea.  She is a lifelong conservative, not a fascist or a Nazi. Truth is truth, and it doesn’t make sense to condemn Trump as a liar while lying to do so.

Trump is not strong enough or focused enough to take over a country; it would be ungovernable for many years, if ever. If he really tried to do it,  it would destroy him, along with many other things.

He is not a strong man; he is a weak and fearful and insecure man.

With just a few weeks to go in the campaign, none of his histrionics, lies, or brazen maneuvers suggest there is a Hitler or Mussolini or Ceaser in his broken psyche.

Mandel was spot on. President Trump doesn’t want to be a dictator; he wants the starring role once more in the new TV Reality show. He’ll jump off the island if he even gets close.

If Biden wins, his hard work – and ours – really begins. He will have a tough time persuading nearly half the country – especially when they just lost their last hope –  that they can share equally in the new and very lopsided American Dream.

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