Reading in the backyard, Racine, Wisconsin, July 2024

July 3, 2024: Reading in my Racine, Wisconsin backyard.

Another Week: Number 80

by | July 7, 2024

After all the hysteria over cicadas this year, I finally heard one. It was on Wednesday afternoon, as I sat reading in my zero-gravity lounge chair in the shady corner of my backyard. A tiny chainsaw started and rose in one of my neighbor’s trees, then slowed and stopped. It did not interrupt my bliss, but added its own vibrations to the encompassing chord of wind and birds and airplanes, passing traffic and children’s voices.

The weather alternates between rain and humid sunshine. Some mornings, I water my garden. Others, I weed. The focus of all these efforts this year has been attracting hummingbirds. The only hummingbird visitor I’ve had this season was last seen June 11th.

On Thursday, the Fourth of July, I visited my mom to have dinner and watch a movie (On Moonlight Bay from 1951). One of her neighbors entertained his small son out on the sidewalk with small fireworks. It reminded me of my own childhood.

Returning home, the streets of Racine were thick with smoke. Rockets whistled and bombs shook the walls well into the night. It reminded me of Apocalypse Now, and I waited for a water buffalo to be ceremonially butchered in my street. We should seriously consider stiffer fines.

Saturday morning, I joined my nephew Brad for a 3.97-mile walk around Kenosha’s Lakefront and through Kenosha HarborMarket. Haley Klinkhammer was playing there and part of me wanted to stop and listen, but it was weird because she was in a vendor booth and there was no seating.


WTF with Marc Maron: Jewel

Sunday morning, while doing some weeding, I listened to Episode 1550 of WTF with Marc Maron — his conversation with Jewel.

I have Jewel’s Pieces of You album from 1995 and play along with “Who Will Save Your Soul” now and then. I know she was raised in Alaska, lived in her car for a time, and was somehow betrayed by her mother or something.

But I was not ready for all the twists and turns her life story has taken as detailed in this interview. It’s an astounding tale, and she’s a courageous woman with some unique observations on the human condition.


US Supreme Court: Presidential immunity

When the 2016 presidential election was called for Donald Trump, Amy was despondent. Her sense of doom was so intense that — between sobs — she blurted out, “I hope my cancer comes back.”

I was dumbfounded by the news, but I tried to assure her that this too would eventually pass.

Her words were not petulant denial, they were an analogy. She had just spent three years undergoing chemotherapy and numerous surgeries aimed at eliminating cells in her body that had gone rogue, multiplied wildly, finagled their own blood supply, and invaded her lymphatic system.

Voters eventually removed Donald Trump from office in 2020, but in the meantime, he changed the DNA of the American government. He remade the Republican party into his own personality cult, and he established a pack of rogue members in Congress and the judiciary. He appointed three members to the U.S. Supreme Court, including one stolen from Barack Obama.

On Monday, Trump’s rejiggered Supreme Court ruled that presidents have immunity from the laws of the United States, and I felt the same sense of doom that Amy experienced eight years ago. Donald Trump is attempting a comeback. In the meantime, the mutations he foisted upon our vital systems are imposing radical changes that would make his return all the more malignant. As Trump continuously projects, “You won’t have a country anymore.”

If the court really needed to protect “official acts” from legal punishment, we already have an established group of decision-makers perfectly capable of such determinations: the jury. We don’t need to have a lower court hold a separate mini-trial on each aspect of a case to resolve whether it constitutes an “official act,” and then have those decisions appealed. No — in the same way that a defendant can be found not guilty by reason of self-defense or insanity, a president could be acquitted for an “official act” necessary for the general welfare of the nation after making that defense during the trial.

Instead, the president is simply above the law. Nothing he coordinates with his Justice Department can even be considered as evidence. That is the sickening new menace under which we now must live.

Of course, Joe Biden immediately took to television to assure us he would not exploit this appalling new power. I wish he would, though. I would like to see President Biden have his Justice Department seize and impound Clarence Thomas’s motor coach on suspicion that it was improperly obtained, just as a quick demonstration of what a law-free executive can do.


Tour de France

This year’s Tour de France began on June 29, but I have been watching it on a delayed basis via Peacock. Amy watched it with me for years, since the earliest days of Lance Armstrong. In 2004, we visited the beautiful city of Florence, Italy — which is where this year’s Tour began. It will finish on Sunday, July 21 — not in Paris, for the first time ever, but in Nice, because Paris is busy with the Olympic Games.

176 riders started the race this year, which stretches 2,170 miles over its 21 stages. Each stage is different. Some stages are time trials, rider by rider, at top speed over a short route. Some stages are relatively flat runs of a hundred-plus miles. One stage this year included a bunch of gravel roads. And then there are mountain stages, with riders grunting up a winding road high up in the Alps, then rocketing through tight turns on the way back down.

All of this takes place in the European countryside, with camera shots from motorbikes among the riders and helicopters above them. Both the scenery and the racing are breathtaking.

Announcers Phil Liggett and Bob Roll call the race from their little broadcast box near the finish line of each stage. They are like old friends to me after all these years. Phil is a Member of the Order of the British Empire with a polished and proper style. Bob is a product of Oakland, California who had a seven-year professional cycling career and famously accompanied Lance Armstrong on the grueling rides that brought him back from cancer to competition.

Bob — who is a day older than I am — rides a portion of each stage before the broadcast, and comes across as the most down-to-earth, regular guy you can imagine. Nevertheless, his life and travels have allowed him to accumulate a stockpile of knowledge in several languages, including French and Italian.

This was Bob Roll’s commentary during Stage One, 26 miles outside of Florence at San Godenzo:

This is the area that Dante Alegheiri wandered before writing the Divine Comedy and bringing the Tuscan dialect of the Italian language in the forefront of Italian literature and eventually becoming the agreed-upon language after centuries of very different — and even to this day the dialects across Italy vary wildly from Sicilian to Bergamasca.

Toscano is pretty straightforward. It does have its own idiosyncrasies, but Calabria, Umbria, the Veneto, dell’Alto Adige, even a little bit further north, close to Austria, Romansh is still spoken. It was the language of the Roman soldiers that were stationed there 2500 years ago.

So, a wild variety of languages in Italy — but Dante Alegheiri, in all of these towns he wandered through, the itinerant poet, and finally settled down and wrote the Divine Comedy — a great book by the way. I recommend it highly.

Okay — thanks Bob. I did look at Dante’s La Vita Nuova back when I was reading lots of Joseph Campbell. Maybe it is time I finally read the Divine Comedy.

What a sublime moment from my favorite cycling commentator.


Dante: Inferno to Paradise

Before committing to a three-volume read, it seemed smart to get an overview of what I’d be tackling, so I searched the PBS app for “Dante,” and sure enough, there was a Ric Burns documentary that premiered just this past March.

Dante: Inferno to Paradise is a production in two parts, a little under two hours each. It tells Dante’s personal story, as well as the story of his famous poem, using experts and reenactments in Italian locations.

It was fine — a little corny, but pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

I watched it as fireworks exploded outside my house in every direction.



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