The Art and Science of Ice Cream

I love ice cream. Ever since I was a kid, ice cream has been my “go to” dessert. My mom usually bought vanilla or French vanilla (I’m convinced we got French vanilla because my mom picked out the wrong carton by mistake), or on rare occasions, Neapolitan, that fancy ice cream with three different flavors in the same carton. It was a simpler time.

As I grew older, my palate matured and I started craving more complex flavors, including ice cream mixed with candy or fudge or brownies. The 1980s and 90s saw a boom in inventive ice cream flavors. My personal favorite: Denali moose tracks (vanilla ice cream, peanut butter cups, swirled fudge).

But to be honest, as much as I loved ice cream, I took it for granted. There was a whole range of different types of ice cream, but in my mind, I lumped them all together. To me, ice cream was ice cream was ice cream.

A few years ago, I began to open my eyes to various types of ice cream and what made them different. I’m not talking about different flavors. I’m talking about butter fat content, air percentages, creaminess, and base ingredients. There are big differences between various categories of ice cream.

This is by no means a comprehensive dive into all of the different categories of ice cream, but I hope it does provide a basic understanding of what you are eating the next time you scream for ice cream.

Let’s start with the term ice cream. So far in this essay, I’ve used the term incorrectly. For the most part, we in the United States think of the various different categories of frozen desserts as ice cream, but the truth is, ice cream is just one type of frozen dessert.

One of the main differentiators of frozen desserts is the amount of butterfat content it contains. Let’s start with the lowest butterfat content and work our way up.

Sorbet

In days of old, royal courts and wealthy elites would enjoy a dessert known as water ice. This was in the days before refrigeration, so water ice was a rare treat. It consisted of ice and sugar syrup for flavoring, then was whisked, to make the concoction scoopable. It was a simple, yet exotic dessert.

Sorbet descended from water ice, and to this day, contains no milk or cream, so it’s the perfect treat for those with dairy intolerances or vegans. In addition to ice and sugar syrup (a mixture of table sugar and corn syrup), sorbet also is made with fruit juice or fruit puree, and occasionally fruit pieces. Of all the different types of frozen desserts, sorbet has the lightest, iciest texture, and is often used as a palate cleanser rather than a dessert.

Sherbet (or Sherbert)

Sherbet originated in Turkey and Persia, and was introduced into Europe in the 17th century. By law, Sherbet must contain milk ingredients and milk fat, normally bringing the butterfat content in at about 1-2%. Fruit juice or whole fruit chunks are also normally added, giving sherbet a tart, tangy taste.

Sherbet (as well as sorbet) is normally served at 10 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than frozen desserts with a higher butterfat content, because colder temperatures would tend to make sherbet too dense and difficult to eat. The higher temperatures make sherbet much creamier than sorbet.

Frozen Yogurt

True to its name, frozen yogurt often has the same live cultures as regular, refrigerated yogurt. Frozen yogurt, also call “Froyo,” is often marketed as a healthier alternative to ice cream or other frozen desserts, since it normally contains around 2-4% butterfat.

Although yogurt has been around for thousands of years, it didn’t enter the dessert category until 1970, when entrepreneur H.P. Hood introduced “frogurt” soft-serve. Capitalizing on consumers’ desire for healthy foods, companies like TCBY took frozen yogurt mainstream in the 1980s.

Flavor-wise, frozen yogurt does have its perks. Tartness makes it one of the best dessert options for frozen berries and fruit flavors. Frozen yogurt ingredients and processing is not stipulated under the Code of Federal Regulations.

Gelato

Gelato is a frozen dessert made from a mixture of milk, cream, and sweetener. It originated in Italy and is widely sold in Italian shops called “gelaterias” around the country. Gelato means ice cream in Italian and is thought to have been born during the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century.

Two types of gelato were introduced to the United States in the late 1700s: one made by combining water with fruits and the other by mixing milk with cinnamon, chocolate, or different flavors.

While gelato does have a custard base like ice cream, it also contains less milk fat. Both gelato and ice cream contain cream, milk, and sugar, but gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream. Gelato contains 4-9% butterfat, while ice cream contains 14-25%. Also, gelato is traditionally served at a slightly warmer temperature (about 7 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to ice cream, which gives it a bit softer feel and why it looks glossier.

Gelato is churned, very much like caramel, which reduces the air content during freezing, creating a very dense & creamy end product. Unlike other frozen desserts, there are no laws concerning the ingredients or process used to create gelato in the United States. Because of this, products marketed as gelato can vary wildly.

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FUN FACT:

The higher the butterfat content of a frozen dessert, the less chance there is of suffering from brain freeze

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Ice Cream

America had its first accounted taste of ice cream in the 1740s, according to a letter dated 1744. The dessert went on to impress some of the most recognized figures in American history, including George Washington, who purchased $200 worth of ice cream in 1790, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Ice cream’s popularity and accessibility increased as technologies evolved. But as the base of ice cream fans grew, so did the number of fakes. That’s why the government standardized the dessert as part 135.110 in the Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations, which includes stipulations on ingredients, production and composition.

Today, about 16.3 billion liters of ice cream are produced worldwide each year. By country, the United States leads in ice cream production with an estimated 4.4 billion liters per year.

The core ingredients for ice cream are milk, cream, sugar and air. Eggs are often used in higher quality ice cream, as well. Air can make up between 30 and 50 percent of the ice cream’s volume. The higher quality the ice cream, the less air it will have.

Ice cream is served at the coldest temperature of most frozen desserts, between 6 degrees and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This affects its flavor, as the cold temperature numbs the taste buds and doesn’t allow intense flavors to come through in ice cream as well as they do in gelato, sherbet, or sorbet. Ice cream is incredibly versatile in flavor and can include anything from caramel to strawberry to pistachio to chocolate.

Soft Serve

Soft serve ice cream came about in the 1930s. It was very popular at fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, and even restaurants. But as you probably suspected, there are a couple of differences between soft serve ice cream and regular ice cream.

First, soft serve generally contains less milk fat than its harder, denser counterpart. It also contains more air than regular ice cream, which makes it less dense and less expensive to produce. Otherwise, it has a minimum of 10% butterfat, and like regular ice cream, can often be between 14-25%.

Other than that, soft serve ice cream is actually the exact same thing as regular ice cream. The machine that is used to make soft serve ice cream keeps it soft, with a smoother texture. The machine is also responsible for not allowing the ice cream to harden very much by keeping it cool enough, but not too cool.

Frozen Custard

Frozen custard was first seen in France in the middle of the eighteenth century and termed “fromages glacés,” which translates to “cheese ice.” Frozen custard had its commercial debut in the United States in New York City, but really came to prominence in Wisconsin, which is now considered the Custard Capitol of America.

Frozen custard is similar to ice cream in ingredients and flavors, but according to the Code of Federal Regulations part 135.110(f), specifying that it must contain at least 10 percent butterfat (usually 14-25%) and more than 1.4 percent egg yolk by weight of the finished food. Anything less, the dessert cannot be called frozen custard, and instead, it would fall under the ice cream category. The egg lends the custard-like flavor, while also supplying an emulsifier called lecithin. This gives custard its distinct smooth texture compared to ice cream.

Frozen custard has a chewier mouthfeel because of the addition of egg yolks. This thick, creamy and eggy dessert pairs well with flavors and add-ins like caramel, chocolates, cookie dough and peanut butter. And, frozen custard often has a lower overrun percentage than ice cream, meaning it contains less air.

Frozen custard is frozen at 16 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit as it churns through the barrel freezing faster and creating a much smoother product. It is then stored at 18 degrees Fahrenheit, maintaining the soft, dense, and creamy texture until it is served.

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

Never heard of liquid nitrogen ice cream (LNIC)? You’re not alone. LNIC is a relatively new concoction which incorporates a delicious frozen dessert with a science experiment.

Technically, LNIC is ice cream, but it’s made differently. The ingredients are still milk fat, sweeteners, cream, sugar, stabilizers, and eggs. And the butterfat content is still at least 10% by law, and often 14-25%. But rather than churning and freezing, liquid nitrogen is added to the mix to produce the frozen end result.

The process begins by taking a molten mixture of cream, full-cream milk, sugar, and flavoring of your choice and churning it with liquid nitrogen at an exact temperature of -195 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the well below freezing temperature of the nitrogen, the mixture freezes instantaneously. It is a quick process, but unlike ice cream and gelato, which contain around 30% to 50% air after the churning process, it is essentially air free. This results in a creamy, dense texture.

Part of the allure of LNIC is the showmanship that goes into creating it. Employees of LNIC shops are trained to make a performance out of mixing and freezing the ingredients that go into your cup of goodness.

Here’s what it looks like to create a cup of LNIC, courtesy of LNIC franchise, Chill-N‘:

 

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Thank You, Dr. Who

When my ex-wife and I split up, our son was 15-years old. He was just starting high school and was at an age where he was moving from being a momma’s boy to having more interest, and more in common, with his dad.

At the time, it was heartbreaking on several levels. Not only was my marriage breaking up, but my kid’s family was being torn apart. I felt horrible that I wasn’t able to keep our family together and to provide my children with the stable family life they were used to and which they deserved.

Because of the split, I didn’t get to see either of my kids as much as before. My daughter was off at college and was old enough to view her parent’s separation from a more mature perspective. But my son was at a tender, impressionable age. He didn’t yet have the maturity to adequately deal with the split. That fact haunted me.

Thanks to modern technology, I was able to stay in touch with my son even when I wasn’t physically with him, but it wasn’t the same. I could feel us drifting apart, losing the bond that we had been building, and which had been interrupted by the divorce. I was desperate to find a way to connect with him, to share a common interest, even during those times we weren’t together.

Enter Dr. Who.

In case you’re not familiar, Dr. Who is a BBC TV series that has been airing since 1963. It’s about a Time Lord who travels through space and time, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent from evil villains like daleks, cybermen, Weeping Angels, and other assorted bad characters.

I became aware of Dr. Who when I was about 13-years old. Several of the smarter kids in my middle school were fans and they encouraged me to watch the show, which aired on the local PBS station on Sunday nights. I was not one of the smarter kids, and I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the show. I know that sounds foolish now, but I didn’t want to prove my ignorance to my friends. Instead, I refused to watch the show and voiced my opinion that it was only for nerds. (I was a precocious young lad, wasn’t I?)

Years later, Dr. Who came to Netflix, and my son became a fan. I’d find him binge watching several episodes at a time, and he’d try to explain to me what the Doctor and his various sidekicks were up to. I rarely understood what he was talking about. What was a dalek? Why was the Doctor using a sonic screwdriver? What’s the deal with that magic paper? I didn’t have a clue.

But when my marriage broke up and I was desperate to connect with my son, I started watching Dr. Who. I was surprised that I not only quickly came to understand the show, I actually liked it. The Doctor wasn’t human (He was a Time Lord), but he embodied the best human qualities, like empathy, charity, generosity, and, dare I say, love. The shows were campy science fiction, but they spoke to the deepest hopes and fears and dreams and shortcomings we humans here on earth share.

When I was away from my son and the conversation wasn’t coming as easily as I’d like, we’d talk about Dr. Who. We began mirroring each other’s watch schedules so we could talk about the last show we had each seen. Somehow, through space and time and the magic of television, Dr. Who helped me save, and build, my relationship with my son.

One of my favorite episodes is called “Vincent and the Doctor,” and involves the painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The plot of the story is that the Doctor notices an alien creature in a Van Gogh painting (“The Church at Auvers”), and travels back in time with his pal, Amy Pond, to investigate. They meet Van Gogh, who is the only person who can see the creature, known as a Krafayis (Which might explain Van Gogh’s mental illness), and they ultimately save the day. But the end of the episode is the most touching part of any episode I’ve watched.

The Doctor realizes that Van Gogh dies without ever knowing how popular and respected he would eventually become. He lived a miserable life, full of pain and mental illness, convinced that his art would never amount to anything. So, the Doctor whisks Van Gogh through space and time to an art gallery in Paris that features many of the artist’s paintings. Here’s how the episode ends:

Thank you, Dr. Who, for saving the universe over and over again, and for saving my relationship with my son. I am forever grateful.

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The Future of the Supreme Court

A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay about what I expected to happen in Congress concerning the Supreme Court in the wake of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. September 2020, when the essay was written, was a different time. Amy Coney Barrett had yet been confirmed to the Supreme Court, and the 2020 Presidential election hadn’t yet taken place. In addition, the January 6 insurrection was still nearly four months in the future and the Republicans’ attempts to explain it away or excuse it had not yet happened. Finally, the new Supreme Court had not yet weighed in on exactly how conservative they were going to be.

If you read my earlier essay, you may have come away thinking I was a little naïve about what was in store for the Supreme Court and our nation. I’d tend to agree. The past year has proven that things can get much worse than I was willing to conceive or admit. So, on that count, guilty as charged.

Recently, Steven Beschloss, an award-winning journalist and professor at Arizona State University, wrote an article asking whether his readers thought the Supreme Court should be expanded beyond nine justices. That got me thinking again about what is happening with the Supreme Court and what, if anything, should be done about it.

Before I examine the question Steven Beschloss proposed, let me share a small part of my essay from last September. In the essay, I didn’t yet know if Amy Coney Barrett would be confirmed (She had just been nominated), but I made the following predictions of what would happen if she was:

  1. “Democrats will move to admit Washington, DC and Puerto Rico as the 51st and 52nd states in the union. This will add four new senators, and with both areas being heavily Democratic, those new senators will also likely be Democratic.
  2. “Democrats will vote to end the Senate filibuster, an arcane Senate rule that allows the minority party to hold up legislation not to their liking.
  3. “Democrats will vote to enlarge the Supreme Court. There is no law that says the court has to have nine members, so if Democrats increased the court to 13, they could add enough liberal judges to swing the court to a one vote liberal majority.”

As I stated in the essay, these predictions were contingent on 1) Joe Biden winning the presidency, and 2) Democrats gaining control of the Senate. We now know that both of those things happened.

I have to admit that I am surprised that Democrats have not come close to doing any of these things. In fact, I’ll further admit that I’m surprised at how few things the Democrats have been able to accomplish. They control the presidency, the House, and the Senate, yet they can’t seem to achieve many of the things they campaigned on in 2020. That’s an essay for another day, but I have to admit I don’t completely understand their reluctance or inability to do what they set out to do.

For now, I’d like to focus on the possibility of expanding the Supreme Court. First, a little history:

  • Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the Judicial Branch of the government. The Constitution only requires one court (the Supreme Court), but gives Congress the authority to not only establish other courts, but to determine the number of justices on the Supreme Court.
  • When the Supreme Court was first implemented in 1789 by the Judiciary Act of 1789, it had just six justices.
  • In 1800, the Congress reduced the number of justices to five in an effort to prevent incoming-President Thomas Jefferson from appointing a new justice.
  • In 1801, the Congress repealed the previous reduction in the number of justices and returned the number to six.
  • In 1807, Congress increased the number of justices to seven, giving Jefferson one additional appointment.
  • In 1837, the number of justices was increased to nine, giving President Andrew Jackson the opportunity to appoint two additional justices.
  • In 1861, Congress increased the number of justices to ten, assuring a pro-Union majority during the Civil War.
  • In 1867, the Republican-led Congress reduced the number of justices to seven to make sure President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, could not appoint a new justice.
  • In 1869, the number of justices was again increased to nine as part of a wide-spread judicial reform effort, giving incoming Republican President Ulysses S. Grant the ability to appoint new justices.
  • In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 which included language to increase the number of Supreme Court justices to fifteen. The thinly-veiled reform package was a threat against the sitting justices, many of whom were opposed to Roosevelt’s New Deal proposals. However, before the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 could be voted on, the Supreme Court found that the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act, two lynchpins of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, were Constitutional, making the Judicial Reform bill moot.

There is a long history of changing the number of Supreme Court justices. Often, the changes occur for political reasons. But politics is not the only justification for making changes. There are two reasons in particular I’d like to explore.

First, the United States is a much bigger, more diverse, more complicated place in 2021 than it was in 1789 when the Supreme Court was first implement. In 1789, the United States consisted of 22 states and a population of about 4 million. Today, we have 50 states, several territories, and a population of more than 330 million. More States and more people mean more court cases and more controversies for the Supreme Court to adjudicate. Going from six justices in 1789 to nine justices today, at least by the numbers, is wholly inadequate.

Second—and to me, this is the bigger point—the Supreme Court is politically out of step with the electorate. The Supreme Court, as currently comprised, is much more conservative than the population as a whole. This is a problem because the legitimacy of the Court’s decisions are contingent on the support and acceptance of the populace. The justices on the Supreme Court may never be a perfect reflection of the people they represent, but the more disparate they are, the less legitimacy they have.

University of Texas Law Professor Steve Vladek recently addressed this issue of legitimacy in an article he wrote for Slate. Here’s part of what he said:

“I testified at last week’s [Senate] hearing. Many of the senators at least indirectly directed their criticisms at me. It’s true that I have grown far more publicly critical of the court in recent years, especially of its work on the shadow docket. I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the sharp uptick in unsigned, unexplained, and increasingly inconsistent rulings that affect the rights of millions of Americans. I can’t speak for all progressive critics of the Supreme Court, but I can speak for myself: We are within sight of a full-blown legitimacy crisis. My criticisms are not an attempt to exacerbate that crisis, but to impel the justices to avoid it.

“If their recent public appearances are any indication, the justices also understand that a crisis is looming. As the justices have long admitted, the power of their rulings comes from the court’s legitimacy. The court has no military to enforce its judgments. So it depends upon popular support, not for rulings that the public generally supports, but for its unpopular rulings in particular. To that end, the court defines its legitimacy as “a product of substance and perception that shows itself in the people’s acceptance of the Judiciary as fit to determine what the Nation’s law means and to declare what it demands.” In other words, it’s not that the justices are getting each ruling “right,” but that they’re responsibly exercising judicial, rather than political, power.

“This legitimacy is eroding quickly. The court is as unpopular now as it has been in a generation. Many progressives—who reasonably fear what the new conservative majority portends for everything from the modern administrative state to the social safety net, elections, and the rights of criminal defendants—smell blood in the water.

“Our constitutional republic needs a Supreme Court, even one populated with a majority of justices with whom we routinely disagree. No less so than when this country was founded—and perhaps far more so with the proliferation of partisan gerrymandering—tyrannies of the elected majority remain a very real threat. The whole point of having an independent, unelected judiciary was to stand as a bulwark against the mob: to enforce the Constitution at the expense of democratic (or not-so-democratic) majorities in those infrequent but important moments when it is necessary.

“We will never all agree on which moments (and which of the Constitution’s provisions) justify such counter-majoritarian judicial intervention. But we do all agree that when they come, we need not just a court, but a court perceived to be legitimate. A toothless court, in contrast, would have no ability to stand up for our rights, whether the unchecked tyrannical majorities have Democratic leaders or Republican ones. Its decisions would simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan claptrap that should not be understood to bind the other side.

“After all, it is no exaggeration to say that democracy itself may depend upon a court still widely perceived to be legitimate in the months and years to come, as courts become the battlefield for fights over voter suppression laws, election integrity disputes, and perhaps even the legitimacy of election results themselves. While the alternative to a legitimate court may be satisfying in the short term, it will end poorly not just for the justices, but for all of us who aspire to, in John Adams’ trenchant words, “a government of laws, not of men.”

In his article, Vladek hopes that the current members of the Supreme Court will come to their senses and come back to the center. He opposes enlarging the court and hopes that the current situation with the nine justice Court can be resolved. To my mind, Vladek’s hope is unrealistic.

Republicans in the Senate warn Democrats about the dangers of packing the court, but the truth is, Republicans have already packed it. They had a 5-4 majority with Ginsburg on the court. When she died, they could have chosen not to fill her vacancy, allowing the new president (Biden) to appoint a new justice, and they still would have had a conservative majority. They weren’t satisfied with just a majority. They wanted to put as many conservative justices on the Supreme Court as possible. They were more concerned with their political fortunes than they were the health of the Court and the nation. So, they created a court that is now wildly out of step with the thoughts and values of the people who are supposed to conform to their rulings.

As a general rule, I don’t like the idea of increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, especially for political reasons. But I don’t think Republicans in the Senate have left us with any other choice. The court only works as intended when it is balanced and represents the will of the people. Strictly speaking, the judiciary is not, and should not be, political. But the decisions the Court reaches speak to the political will of the people. A population that overwhelmingly believes in X will not react favorably if the Supreme Court tells them the law does not allow X. Granted, the Supreme Court should not simply be a rubber stamp for the whims of the people, but it should act within a narrow parameter set by the people.

We’ve reached the point where increasing the size of the court to eliminate the conservative super majority is necessary. If I had to guess, I’d say the court should be increased to thirteen, creating a 7-6 liberal majority.

Having said this, I’m becoming convinced that the Democrats in Congress do not have the political will or ability to get this done. They’d likely agree with everything I’ve said in this essay, but would likely still fail to take action to see it through. This is one big reason that, although I can no longer call myself a Republican, I still can’t call myself a Democrat.

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Raymond Carver Reads “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

In 2015, the Oscar for Best Picture went to Birdman, a strange film that garnered critical acclaim, but left a lot of people scratching their heads. The film was about an actor who had become famous playing a movie superhero. The actor, played brilliantly by Michael Keaton, felt he had more to offer than just being a a guy in a mask. He wanted to be known as a serious actor, and he set out to prove his worth by starring in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

BIrdman was popular with a certain crowd. I’ll call them the “literary crowd,” and I include myself as a member. I liked Birdman. But I have to admit, as movies go, it was a little bizarre. I saw the film with my then 16-year old son, and he didn’t like it at all. I understood his dislike for the film, even though I didn’t feel the same way.

After seeing Birdman, we got into a conversation about Raymond Carver. My son wasn’t familiar with him and had no idea what the “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” play in the movie was supposed to be about. That made me a little sad. Raymond Carver is perhaps the greatest American short story writer in history. He revolutionized short stories in the United States and should be better known outside of literary circles.

Author Sara Jane Gilman, writing for NPR, had this to say about Carver:

“Confession. The first time I read a Raymond Carver story, I didn’t get it. It was so spare, so lacking epiphany. I thought: “Huh?”

“But then, I read his story, “A Small, Good Thing.” And “Cathedral” and “Neighbors.” I read his collection, Where I’m Calling From. And then, I got it. Carver’s stories are gritty, unadorned tales of ordinary people. Their very simplicity and elegance gives them a deep, emotional punch. This is why Carver has been extolled as a master of “minimalism.”

I think a lot of people who read Carver feel the same way as Gilman. His writing is different from what we are used to. His descriptions are lacking, albeit adequate. His action is often truncated. His prose unadorned. His stories sparse and simple. His characters gritty and real. Carver gets to the point without a lot of fluff or fanfare. Yet, his stories hit their target with masterful precision.

Here is a rare video of Carver reading his classic short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Listen closely to the story. I think you’ll like it.

(Right after I posted the video, it was removed from Youtube. What’s up with that? In any case, here is A Poetry Channel reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”)

 

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Revisting Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

One of the most beloved, but misunderstood, poems in American literature is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” For a lot of people, the poem is a call to live an exceptional life, eschewing the usual script and instead embracing the extraordinary. However, that wasn’t Frost’s intention with the poem.

“The Road Not Taken” is a relatively short poem, but it packs a lot into a few words. Perhaps the most famous line from the poem is:

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

It’s not unusual for people to read that line and think Frost’s narrator is encouraging them to take the road less traveled in order to live an amazing, successful life. But that’s not what the narrator is saying. Four different times in the poem, the narrator tells the reader that both paths are equally untraveled. He’s not saying to take the road less traveled. Instead, in the lines preceding the famous line, the narrator says:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

The narrator did not take the less traveled road, but he knows that at some point in the future, he will lie to himself and say that his life is what it is because he took the road less traveled.

There are two things I want to do with this blog post. First, I want to examine the background of “The Road Not Taken.” It has a funny, but tragic, backstory. Then, I want to share an analysis of the poem by writer Hugh Howey. I was struck by the thoughts on the poem Howey shared on Twitter, and I’d like to share them here.

First, let’s take a look at the entire poem:

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost

In 1912 Frost moved to England and befriended fellow poet Edward Thomas. Frost and Thomas often took walks to clear their heads after a day of writing, and to discuss each other’s lives. These walks were very important to both men.

Thomas had a tendency to regret his choices. After their walks where Thomas would choose the route, he would express his fear that a different route would have been better. His dissatisfaction over the path they had taken became a joke between the two men.

Upon returning to the United States in 1915, Frost sent a copy of the poem to Thomas. As discussed earlier, the poem was not intended to be a call to action. Instead, it was a wry jab at Thomas for worrying so much about the path that was taken and the decisions that were made. But like so many people in the years after the poems publication—first in The Atlantic in 1915, and a year later in Frost’s poetry collection, Mountain Interval—Thomas took the poem to heart and read it as a call to live boldly, choosing the path less traveled.

Frost couldn’t have known that the poem would encourage his friend to give up his life as a poet and join the British Army during World War I. And he must have been devastated when he learned that, two years after enlisting, Thomas was killed at the Battle of Arras.

Despite Thomas’ untimely demise, Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has encouraged countless people to shun the common and live exceptional lives. But, of course, that was never Frost’s intention. Hugh Howey makes this point quite eloquently, and he compares The Road Not Taken with another of Frost’s most popular poems, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

From Hugh Howey:

Frost’s greatest gift — and the one most difficult to access — is his use of the unreliable narrator. His poems lie to us. These untruths conceal deep and profound truths.

Frost’s most famous poem is perhaps the most famous poem of all-time, the Mona Lisa of poems, his THE ROAD NOT TAKEN.

The most fascinating thing to me about THE ROAD NOT TAKEN is that most people get the title wrong. Which is incredibly meta. Because I’m about to blow your mind. The poem is about two paths that are identical in one aspect: Neither path has ever been walked down.

People often refer to this poem as “The Road Less Traveled.” This comes from a line toward the end that is 100% a lie. And here is the genius I mentioned in the opening Tweet: Robert Frost lies to us, because he’s writing about us, and we lie to ourselves all the time.

Frost tells us FOUR TIMES that the two paths are the same in terms of wear. This is not a long poem — he has to be economical with his words — but he tells us FOUR TIMES that neither path is the one less traveled.

See if you can find all four times.

The reason they have the same lack of wear is because these are life choices yet to be taken. The narrator has come to a crossroads in life, a great decision. College or gap year? Get married or keep dating? Settle down or move abroad?

These decisions give us pause, and so we sit at the crossroads and we study our choices, try to gauge how much we’ll enjoy each of the two paths before us. As Frost demonstrates, it’s impossible to tell! We haven’t walked either one before.

The lies begin in the third stanza with this line:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

The only exclamation mark in the poem. The excitement of childlike mania. The insanity of naiveté.

The lie hardly lasts. Over the next two lines, we see the excitement of that exclamation mark dissolve into resignation. The narrator knows they’ll never come back. You can’t live both lives:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

We’ve all felt this, the desire to live two mutually incompatible lives. Nest, but roam. Dabble, but commit. Sample, yet dive deep.

We want to live unconventional lives, but have all the comforts of convention.

The big lie comes at the end. What’s amazing is that the narrator KNOWS they are going to lie to themselves. At the end of their life, they will say that they took the path less traveled, and that it was the correct choice, but they will never know.

The hint isn’t just the four times we were told the paths were the same for lack of wear. The hints are the sigh with which the lie is told, and the halting nature of the telling of the lie.

… and I–

I took the one less traveled by…

He hesitates. He almost tells the truth. But the only way to hold the ego together is to convince himself he didn’t make a mistake, because the tsunami of regrets for all the paths he couldn’t walk down would drown him.

The lie is the thing.

And so we can’t even remember the name of the poem, so deeply do we want to believe the same lie. We claim we took the road less traveled, when the OPPOSITE is true.

Each of us took the only road we traveled. The other road we left undiscovered.

Back to STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING:

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

Whose woods these are I think I know.  

His house is in the village though;  

He will not see me stopping here  

To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

 

My little horse must think it queer  

To stop without a farmhouse near  

Between the woods and frozen lake  

The darkest evening of the year.  

 

He gives his harness bells a shake  

To ask if there is some mistake.  

The only other sound’s the sweep  

Of easy wind and downy flake.  

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  

But I have promises to keep,  

And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.

–Robert Frost

Can you spot a possible lie in this poem? Even if your brain can’t, your heart might. Your subconscious might. I think all of our hearts do.

Like THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, this poem gives us three stanzas of truth before we get a final stanza of outright rebellion.

The dark woods are death. The narrator recognizes the end:

Whose woods these are I think I know

The absence of a farmhouse, this place between a frozen lake and the woods, no place to support life.

The primal urge to resist, our subconscious fear of death, is his horse, ringing its bells, shivering and confused, urging him forward.

To ask if there is some mistake.

Such a brutal line. Brutal.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Something enticing about the end of a long and difficult journey. Almost alluring to succumb to it. But then we get the final BUT:

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

The last sad lie is right here, repeated twice, as we often repeat things while our attention is drifting or our energy flagging.

I have so much I want to do before I die.

I have so much I want to do before I die.

I promised myself I would do these things. I promised.

But I know whose woods those are. And the animal inside me is ringing a bell, hoping there is some mistake.

The two poems tell the same story of a life too short for all it hopes to contain.

Both poems are about the things left undone.

In one, the lie is that the choices were the correct ones.

In the other, the lie is that there’s time yet to live.

The truth is simple and sad:

We have but one life; it will be shorter than we wish; live it deliberately and wisely.

 

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Twenty Years Later, The Terrorists Won

It’s hard to believe it has already been twenty years since the United States was attacked by terrorists, hijacking commercial airplanes and flying them into the World Trade Center in NYC, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and an attack thwarted by brave souls on Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The wound is still fresh. For most of us who were alive on that fateful day, we think of September 11, 2001 often.

In the aftermath of the attack, Americans came together in unity and a sense of national purpose. We were determined to “not let the terrorists win.” President Bush encouraged us to go on with our lives, get back to normal, and show those that meant us harm that they could not defeat us.

We went to war in Iraq to “combat terrorism.” Later, our war on terrorism spilled over into Afghanistan. All tolled, we lost more than 3400 members of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 330,000 civilians were killed.

At home, we agreed to give up certain liberties in an effort to keep us all safe and to make sure than we didn’t suffer another deadly terrorist attack. We agreed to undergo significantly increased security measures in order to fly on commercial airlines, including allowing TSA personnel to feel us up to make sure we weren’t carrying bombs.

We learned words like “waterboarding” and “FISA courts,” heard about places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Department of Homeland Security was created and became a behemoth within our government, Muslim hate crimes became common, and a ban on Muslim immigrants was attempted.

The good news is that the wars in far off lands and the changes at home have kept us safe. Although it may be true that correlation doesn’t equal causation, the fact is, for nearly twenty years, we have not suffered another large scale, mass fatality event in the United States. The bad news is, in the end, the terrorists won.

If the terrorists goal was to kill a bunch of Americans and send our lives into chaos, then they succeeded. Sure, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, we felt a closeness to our fellow citizens and a willingness to bend a little for the common good, but those days are long behind us.

Today, twenty years after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history, we are divided like never before. One of our political parties is pushing us to abandon our democracy in favor of authoritarianism. Their rhetoric and actions led to an insurrection in January 2021,  and their continuing efforts have accomplished what the 9/11 terrorists could have only dreamed of. There is a clear, direct line that can be drawn from the 9/11 terrorist attack to the efforts by the 1/6 insurrectionists.

In addition, about 25% of our citizens refuse to do the simplest things to keep us all safe from the ongoing pandemic. Unlike those who came together immediately after the 9/11 attack, these Americans refuse to do the work our nation is desperate for them to do. These people have chosen their own narrow interests over the common good of the nation. If the 9/11 terrorists thought they could disrupt the American way of life with their attack, we’ve proven them right.

Just a few days before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, President Biden issued vaccine mandates for U.S. government employees and contractors, including the military, and he ordered businesses who employ more than 100 people to require their employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID. These requirements are being implemented more than a year-and-a-half after we first became aware of COVID, and several months after a safe, effective vaccine was developed.

If you’re thinking these requirements shouldn’t be necessary, you’re right. In the 9/11 attacks, nearly 3,000 people were killed. Today, that many people die from COVID every couple of days. We’ve lost more than 650,000 Americans to COVID in the past eighteen months or so, but nearly a quarter of the population still refuses to wear a mask or get vaccinated in order to stop the deaths and get COVID under control.

The reason people refuse to do what is right varies from person to person, but all of the reasons are based in ignorance, selfishness, and misinformation. Right wing media has railed against masks and the vaccines in the name of freedom, many Republican politicians have stood against masks and vaccines as a political ploy, trying to advance their careers and agenda, and a significant chunk of Americans have blindly believed the lies, even though those lies defy logic and the facts are easy to find for anyone that wants to know the truth.

On this twentieth anniversary of 9/11, I remember those who died in the terrorist attacks, and I mourn our loss of civic pride, patriotic duty, and a united America that was willing to make the tough choices and work together for the common good. Those qualities were poisoned on 9/11, and the divided, ignorant, weak-minded country we live in now is the result.

Twenty years after the attack, the verdict is in. The terrorists won.

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Cletus’ Field of Dreams

Tonight, The New York Yankees take on the Chicago White Sox at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. The field is very close to the one that was featured in the hit movie, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, and James Earl Jones.

In honor of the historic game, I’m sharing a short story (a parody) I wrote several years ago that was inspired by the movie. It’s the story of the bonds between a father and son, the way baseball touches each of our lives, and its about a man’s love for a woman he barely knows, even if that love is purchased by the hour.

Without further ado, I present:

Cletus’ Field of Dreams

The year was nineteen-ought-six. Ella Fitzgerald was in the White House, the “Hustle” was all the rage in the dance clubs, and excitement ruled Europe after Germany announced they had discovered a new type of potato salad. It was also the year that my family migrated from the old country to become Americans.

My father was a proud man. He came to this country with just thirty-nine cents in his pocket and a couple of formal gowns in his suitcase. But that didn’t stop him from realizing his dream of buying some acreage and becoming a dirt-poor farmer.

A few days after my seventeenth birthday, I decided it was time to leave the farm and see the world for myself. With enough money for bus fare and little else, I headed off to the Big City.

On my first night in town, near the bus depot, I met a girl leaning against a lamp post.

“Are you looking for a date?” she asked.

I was taken by surprise. “Who, me?”

“Yeah, you. Are you looking for a date?”

She was a beautiful woman with big brown eyes and bright red lips. For me, it was love at first sight. “Well, what’s your name?” I asked.

“What do you think my name is?

I took a guess and said, “You look like a Roxie to me.”

“That’s exactly right,” she said. “You’re a smart one.”

I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.

“So, Smarty, do you want a date or not?”

I nodded my head so fast it made me dizzy. “I sure do.”

“Then go up to that house right there and tell them you want to date me.” She pointed at a big, older house with a wide front porch.

Back at home, it was customary for the boy to ask out the girl, not the other way around. And usually, if you wanted to take a girl out on a date, you asked her, not her parents. Already, I was learning that things were done a lot differently in the Big City.

Roxie’s dad was sitting on the front porch. He was a big guy and was wearing a white t-shirt without any sleeves. He had a tattoo on his right arm, and he held a baseball bat. .

“Hello, sir,” I said. “I’d like to ask your permission to date your daughter, Roxie.”  I was nervous and couldn’t stop looking at my feet.

Roxie’s dad laughed a kind of ugly laugh and said, “You need to talk to the woman in the house.”

Just as I was about to knock on the screen door, a large woman appeared in the doorway. “Can I help you?” she asked. She was smoking a cigarette, and when she talked, smoke came out of her nose and mouth.

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I’d like your permission to date your daughter, Roxie.”

“Who?”

“Your daughter.” I pointed at Roxie who was still out by the street lamp.

“Oh, that one. She’ll be twenty dollars.”

“Pardon me?” I was confused.

“If you want to date Roxie, it will cost you twenty dollars.”

As best I could tell, in the Big City, you had to pay the parents – or at least leave a deposit – if you wanted to date their daughter. The problem was, I didn’t have twenty dollars.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I don’t have that much.”

“How much you got?”

I took all the money out of my pocket and counted it. “I have a little more than nine dollars.” I looked hopefully at Roxie’s mom.

“Sorry, kid. Roxie’s twenty bucks an hour.  I have another girl you could have for ten dollars.”

I wondered for a moment why she would charge less for one daughter than another, but it didn’t matter. I was in love with Roxie, and I was determined to ask her out on a date. I turned, dejected, and walked by Roxie. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I‘m going to earn some money, then come back for you.”

“Okay, Smarty.  I’ll be right here,” she said.

* * * * *

I had to have Roxie, but how was I going to get the money to pay her parents?  And what was that about twenty dollars per hour? That had to be a mistake.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, trying to figure out how I could get the money for Roxie. I wanted her so bad. I also couldn’t sleep because I was laying on a slab of concrete under a highway overpass. In the morning, my back was stiff, my head hurt, and a crazy man was standing over me.

“What do you want?” I scurried away from him.

“This is my bridge,” he said.  His voice was gruff and menacing, and one of his eyes was the color of sour milk. “Why don’t you go back to the farm where you came from?”

“The farm? How do you know I come from the farm?”

He looked me up and down with his one good eye. “What? Are you stupid? You’re wearing overalls, you’ve got manure on your shoes, and you smell like a pig.”

“We don’t have pigs on our farm,” I said.

“I don’t care. Just get away from my bridge.” The man began hissing like a leaky tire. He threw a fit, moaning indecipherable words and flailing his arms. When he began chucking rocks at me, I had an idea. I knew how I was going to get the money for Roxie. I climbed out from under the bridge, and up on the highway, I began thumbing a ride.

* * * * *

I’d been hitchhiking for about twenty minutes when a Volkswagen van pulled over in front of me. I ran to the van and got in the back. Inside, two men were sitting in the front seats.

“Hi, I’m Ray,” the driver said.

“And I’m Terry,” the passenger said.

“I’m Cletus,” I said. “But my friends call me Clete.”

“Nice to meet you Clete,” Ray said. “Where’re you heading?”

“I’m heading out to farm country to find a job as a hired hand. I need to make enough money to pay for my girlfriend.”

“Those girlfriends can be expensive.” Terry let out a deep, guttural laugh.

There was something familiar about Terry’s voice. “Hey Terry,” I said. “Your voice sounds familiar to me. Did you do one of the voices in The Lion King?”

“No,” Terry said too quickly. “I’m a writer and a software developer from Boston.”

Both Terry and Ray got real quiet after that. We had been driving in silence for a while when Ray pulled over to pickup another hitchhiker. “We can use all the good karma we can get,” Ray said.

The hitchhiker got in and closed the door. “Thanks for stopping. I’m Archie Graham.”

Terry and Ray just looked at each other. I extended my hand. “Hi, Archie. I’m Clete.”

Terry and Ray introduced themselves. “Where’re you heading?” Ray asked.

“I’m a ball player,” he said. “I hear there are teams all across the Midwest that will help you find a job if you play for them.”

Ray and Terry were quiet, so I spoke. “Archie, let me ask you a question. Do you think I smell like a pig?”

Archie looked at Ray and Terry, but they refused to return his gaze. “I don’t know,” Archie said. “I can’t smell anything. I have a cold.” He turned away from me and stared out his window at the passing countryside.

* * * * *

When we got to Ray’s farm, I saw that he had plowed under some of his corn and had built a baseball field. There were guys in white uniforms playing on the field.

“Hi Ray,” one of the ball players yelled from the field.

“That’s Shoeless Joe Jackson,” Archie said, amazed at what he was seeing.

“That’s right,” Ray said. “Why don’t you head out there and join the game.”

“Really?” Archie asked.

“Sure, go ahead.” Archie grabbed his baseball glove out of the van and ran onto the field. I looked away from the field for a moment and when I looked back, Archie was wearing a uniform just like the other players. I looked at Ray for an explanation, but he just smiled.

A blond-haired woman and a little girl came out of the house. “Welcome home,” the woman said to Ray. She gave him a kiss.

“Terry and Clete, this is my wife, Annie, and my daughter, Karin,” Ray said. “This is Terry and Clete.”

“It’s nice to meet you both.” Annie was unusually chipper, like an aging cheerleader on speed.

“Hi,” Karin said.  She looked up at me and scrunched up her nose. “You smell funny,” she said.

Ray laughed. “Let’s all head down to the field.”

We sat on bleachers near first base. We had only been sitting there a few minutes when one of the ballplayers came over and asked Ray, “Is this Heaven?”

“No. This is Iowa,” Ray said.

A red-haired guy I had once seen on “Thirtysomething” walked across the field, right through the game, and up to the bleachers. “Ray, you’ve plowed under some of your most profitable acreage. You can’t afford to pay your mortgage. I’m sorry Ray, but we’re going to have to foreclose on the farm,” he said.

“But what about the players?” Karin asked.

“What players?” the red-haired guy asked.

“The players out on the field. What about them?”

The red-haired guy looked out at the field and then back at Karin. “There are no players out there.” Then, for no apparent reason, the red-haired guy grabbed Karin and began shaking her. Karin fell backwards off the bleachers and lay motionless on the ground. She wasn’t breathing and her face had turned purple.

Annie gasped and stood up. “I’m going to call an ambulance.” She started to run toward the house, but Ray stopped her.

“Wait a minute, Annie,” Ray said.  He looked out at the field. “Doc,” he yelled.

The ballplayers were all standing on the field looking our way when Archie walked toward us. When he crossed the first base line, Archie’s uniform disappeared, and he was suddenly wearing an overcoat and carrying a black bag. He had aged about a hundred years.

“What the hell?” I said, but no one seemed to hear me.

“What seems to be the problem here?” Old Archie asked.

“She fell,” Ray said.

Old Archie looked Karin over and said, “This child is choking.” Old Archie then turned Karin over and hit her hard on the back. A large chuck of hot dog flew out of Karin’s mouth and landed on the grass next to the bleachers. Karin began breathing again and she opened her eyes.

“Oh, thank God,” the red-haired guy said.

“What do you mean ‘thank God?”  I asked. “You’re the SOB who did that to her.”  I wound up and punched the red-haired guy in the gut. He doubled over, and tears formed in his eyes. He stumbled backwards and struggled to speak while catching his breath.. “Hey, there are players.”

“Are you going to finish that hot dog?” I asked Karin.

Karin looked at the hot dog lying on the ground and shook her head.

“Cool,” I said and picked it up. “Thanks, I’m starved.”

“You shouldn’t have hit him,” Ray said to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “He almost killed your daughter.”

“Well, that’s the thing. I’m not really sure she’s my daughter.”

I was about to comment on what Ray had said when another one of the ballplayers came up to us and asked Ray, “Is this Heaven?”

“No,” Ray said. “This is Iowa.

Terry stood up and gave a speech about the history of baseball and how people would come to Ray’s farm and would pay to see the field. To be honest, the speech started out good, but got boring pretty quickly. When Terry finished, I said, “Are you sure you didn’t do a voice on The Lion King?”

“No,” Terry said. “Quit asking me that.”

“Do me a favor, Terry,” I said. “Say, ‘This is CNN.”

“No. Leave me alone.”

* * * * *

We were watching the dead-but-not-gone ball players from our seats in the bleachers. Annie and Karin were cheering. The batter took a big swing and hit a fly ball into deep left field. Shoeless Joe Jackson ran after it and caught the ball just in front of the corn. The way he ran was smooth and graceful, like he was gliding.

“They say that Shoeless Joe’s glove is where triples go to die,” Ray said

“That’s horrible,” I said. “Doesn’t Shoeless Joe like cripples?”

“Not cripples,” Ray said. “Triples.”

“So, Joe likes cripples?”  I asked.

“No,” Ray said. “I mean, I don’t know.”

“Why doesn’t Shoeless Joe like cripples?” Annie asked.

“He does. Or he might,” Ray said. “I don’t know anything about cripples.”

“What’s a cripple?” Karin asked.

“It’s someone who can’t walk,” Annie said.

“Why do they go to Shoeless Joe’s house to die?” Karin asked.

Ray was exasperated. “They don’t go to Shoeless Joe’s house. They go to his glove.”

“How do they fit in his glove?” Karin asked.

Ray stood up and faced us. “Okay, I’m going to say it again, so listen carefully.  They say that Shoeless Joe’s glove is where TRIPLES – Understand? TRIPLES – go to die.”

“Oh, that makes more sense,” I said. “You should have said that the first time.”

“And you shouldn’t speculate about how Shoeless Joe feels about cripples,” Annie said.

Ray put his head in his hands. “I give up.”

Everybody went back to watching the game. I scooted over by Ray and said, “I didn’t want to say anything before, but you look a lot like that guy from The Untouchables. Anybody ever tell you that before?”

Ray looked at me for a second and then said, “Yeah. Once in a while at the feed store, people will say things.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel,” I said. “A lot of people tell me I look like Tom Lester.”

“Who?”

“You know, the actor Tom Lester.”

Ray scratched his head and said, “I’m afraid I don’t know Tom Lester.”

“He played Eb on Green Acres. You know who I’m talking about now?”

Ray shook his head. “I don’t really remember what he looked like.”

“He looked like me.”

“Oh, yeah. Right”

The game ended and the players were picking up their bats and balls. One of the players walked over towards us and asked, “Is this Heaven?”

I had had enough. “No, this is not Heaven,” I screamed. “Look around, for God’s sake. This is a baseball field surrounded by a corn field. In fact, there are corn fields in every direction for as far as the eye can see. Do you really think that Heaven would look like this? Why don’t you think a little bit before you ask dumb questions?”

The ballplayer was stunned.  He stood in front of us, trembling. Shoeless Joe walked over and told the trembling ballplayer to join the others. He gave me a dirty look and then said, “Ray, we’re going to take off.”

“Okay, Joe. Will we see you tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.” Joe pointed at me. “Is Stinky going to be here?”

“I don’t think so. Clete is looking for a job.”

“In that case, we’ll come back.” Shoeless Joe then turned his attention to Terry. “Hey Terry, you want to come with us?”

“Where? Out there?” Terry pointed toward the corn field.

Joe nodded.

“What about me?” Ray protested.

“I didn’t invite you, Ray. I invited Terry.”

“But I built this field for you. I plowed under my corn for you.”

“What are you saying, Ray? That you did all of that and now you deserve a reward? Is that why you built the field, Ray?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Ray said. “It’s just that, I don’t know. I built all of this and yes, I guess I deserve a reward.”

“Ray, it doesn’t make sense for you to go,” Terry said. “You have a family and a farm to take care of. I don’t have any strings. It makes sense for me to go.”

“You’d better tell me all about it,” Ray said.

Shoeless Joe and Terry walked toward the corn. Just before they reached it, I yelled, “Hey Joe, can I come with?”

“No” Joe said without turning around. He and Terry disappeared into the corn.

“Hey, wait,” Ray yelled. “I thought I was supposed to have a catch with my dad”

Suddenly, a booming, familiar voice said, “Luke, I am your father.” The voice came from a large spaceman-looking guy dressed all in black.

“His name’s Ray,” I said.

“Oh, right,” the spaceman said. “Ray, I am your father. Want to have a catch?”

“Sure, Dad.”

As I watched Ray and his spaceman father playing catch, I noticed a long line of cars making their way to the farm. I had an idea.

“Ray, I’m going to go up to the house and help park cars, okay?”

“Sure Clete.”

“Can I keep any tips I get?”

“Why not?” Ray said.

Later that night, I had collected enough money from tips and loose change I found inside the cars I was parking to head back to the Big City to date Roxie. As I was leaving, I walked past the field. Ray was in the outfield and the spaceman was using a light saber to hit fly balls to him.

“Hey Ray,” I said. “I’m heading back to the Big City to date Roxie.”

“Good luck.”

I walked a few more steps and thought of one other thing I wanted to say.  “Hey Ray. Don’t make Waterworld.”

He didn’t seem to hear me.

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COVID-19 Has Been Cured! (This is Almost Certainly a Lie)

COVID-19 has been cured! Well, probably not. Here’s what I’m talking about.

Last night I had a Twitter conversation with Adam Gaertner, an independent virology researcher who claims to have cured COVID. As you can imagine, he had some pretty interesting things to say.

Our conversation began when I sent out a tweet critical of Adam’s claim that hospitals are being negligent for putting COVID patients on ventilators, saying the ventilators do nothing for the patient and that hospitals should be treating the patient rather than ventilating them. He went on to encourage attorneys to file class action lawsuits against hospitals and doctors who don’t follow his recommendations. (Later in our conversation, Adam pointed out that the idea of a class action lawsuit wasn’t far-fetched, considering that the Indian Bar Association (in India) has sued a WHO scientist who made comments against treating patients with Ivermectin, one of Adam’s favored drugs for treating COVID patients.)

At this point, I had no idea who Adam Gaertner was. I was surprised when he responded to my tweet, and was impressed that he was civil and seemed to have a firm grasp of COVID infections and protocols. Of course, what do I know? I’m a liberal arts guy wading into a scientific world. All I know is he used big words and seemed to know what he was talking about.

So, I checked out his Twitter profile and Googled his name. Adam has a colorful history. His most famous claim is that he discovered the cure for COVID in April 2020. That’s quite a claim, and big if true.

Adam also claims that the coronavirus was manufactured in a lab. He sent an email to Dr. Anthony Fauci in March 2020 detailing the exact method used to manufacture the virus. However, he provided no evidence to support his contentions or to prove COVID had indeed been intentionally manufactured. That email went viral on Instagram, thrusting Adam into the COVID spotlight.

Since that time, Adam has been a controversial voice on the COVID front. He has written extensively about COVID and its supposed cure (which involves a few different drugs, including hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin). I’ve read some of his writing, and despite the fact that much of it is well over my head, there is one claim that stinks of QAnon-type conspiracy theory.

Adam’s writing on scientific matters seems plausible, if not credible, to my liberal arts mind, but his contention that big corporations and world governments are working in concert to hold station with the pandemic colors everything else else he says about the disease.

For instance, when I asked him why hospitals would insist on using ventilators rather than his recommended treatment, Adam wrote this:

“Hospitals aren’t treating because of probably the most extensive campaign of corruption the world has ever seen, to prevent it. We are in the middle of WW3. Welcome.”

To be sure, that is a rather sensational, albeit vague, answer. But he has written more on the topic. Here is what he wrote on July 22, 2021 about the ulterior motives mega-corporations and governments have for keeping us in a state of perpetual pandemic:

“With the inane, arbitrary measures being imposed on the public, from nonsensical mask mandates, contrary to all scientific evidence of their lack of efficacy, to selective and limited lockdowns effecting the closure and destruction of countless small businesses, while leaving mega-corporations largely untouched and seeing record profits, to the halting attempts to implement movement licenses, under the guise of vaccine passports, it is quite clear, to most that are paying attention, that the pandemic is being used to implement a significant change in the political world order. Numerous world leaders have pledged their allegiance to the “Build Back Better” program, the brainchild of the World Economic Forum; with a view to the implementation of the “4th Industrial Revolution,” a vision of totalitarian, almost Star Trek-like automation and communism, political leaders across the world have every incentive to prolong the global state of emergency until this mission has been accomplished. Despite the real and present threat of the virus, it is abundantly clear that the various measures being taken are not in pursuit of ending the pandemic or returning to a normal way of life. Rather, the relentless push toward the “new normal” goes on, all premised on the plausible threat of COVID-19. Simultaneously to this, the above noted effective treatments and prophylactics have been subjected to a relentless campaign of propaganda, censorship, fake science and dishonest, unethically conducted trials, and in some countries outright bans, to muddy the waters around their effectiveness, prevent their use, and prolong the death and destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Kind of a dark vision of the future, isn’t it? It’s also a word salad of gibberish that adds up to nothing. Just a bunch of words strung together lacking logic or meaning. Let’s take a closer look.

First, Adam says that our current situation is some kind of conspiracy between “mega-corporations” and governments around the world (The entire medical profession is apparently in on the plot, as well). Does that ring true to you? Do you believe that there was some sort of conference were mega-corporations and government leaders (and doctors?) got together and agreed to anything? It’s preposterous on its face.

Next, this supposed agreement will lead to small businesses being crushed and mega-corps picking up the profits left behind. This could only be written by someone who doesn’t understand how the economy works. Mega-corps are dependent on small business. Without small businesses, what products will Amazon and Walmart sell? Where will GM and Ford get their parts and all of the other things from design to safety that they rely on small business for? These mega-corporations are getting wealthy (wealthier?) due in large part to the relationships they have with small businesses.

In Adam’s fantasy, while mega-corporations are reaping the benefits of no more small businesses, governments are controlling the movement of individual citizens through the use of a vaccine passport. Adam calls this a “movement license,” and it presumably allows governments to dictate where individuals can go and how they can get there. But why? Why would governments want this kind of control over their citizens? What benefit is there to the government? Adam doesn’t say. At least, not exactly. Instead, he claims that it somehow leads to the final goal of perpetual pandemic: the 4th Industrial Revolution.

According to Adam, the 4th Industrial Revolution is “a vision of totalitarian, almost Star Trek-like automation and communism.” Sounds like Adam has been reading too many sci-fi novels. Putting aside for the moment that the first three industrial revolutions took place without the necessity of totalitarianism, communism, or large-scale automation, let’s think through Adam’s picture of the future.

The pandemic rages on with no end in sight. Governments and mega-corporations work hand-in-hand to keep us sick, monitoring us and controlling our movements through the use of vaccine passports. Lockdowns are common and vaccines are mandatory.

Our One World communist government has ushered in an age of automation to run their factories and…

Wait a minute. How do all these mega-corporations own factories in a communist state? Doesn’t the government own the means of production in communist countries? Okay, ignore that. Let’s move on.

These mega-corporate-owned factories pump out products at breakneck speed, using automation to manufacture, warehouse, and distribute at a pace never seen before. The factories will…

Whoa, hold up. If people are sick because of the pandemic and jobless because of automation, who’s buying all of the mega-corporation products? Nothing about Adam’s dystopian vision of the future makes sense.

I haven’t even gotten to Adam’s contention that the mRNA vaccines we’re taking (like the ones from Pfizer and Moderna) contain prion proteins, which will ultimately kill most of us or turn us into zombies. It’s not really clear to me which, but in either case, it won’t help mega-corporations sell their goods.

I honestly don’t know if Adam Gaetner is a snake oil salesman or a good faith researcher who is simply misguided. In either case, his claims don’t hold water. Our best medical, scientific, and public health minds agree that our way out of this pandemic is through large-scale vaccinations. We don’t need crazy conspiracy theories or manufactured scare tactics. We need good, solid information (which we already have) and a willingness for everyone to do what is in their and our best interest (Sadly, that is lacking at the moment).

Believe what science tells you. Believe what the experts tell you. Ignore the noise and fearmongering. Get vaccinated.

 

UPDATE:  Journalist Matthew Sheffield, had a Twitter take on this subject (Not about Adam Gaertner specifically, but some of the claims he made) that I thought was quite informative. Here’s what he had to say:

“Logical fallacies and Covid-19.

Everyone is susceptible to logical errors in our thinking, especially in areas in which we have no direct experience. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this tendency because of its high survival rate for most people.

Given that the vast majority of healthy people survive Covid w/o any medical treatment, some will conclude that anything they did made the recovery. This is “post hoc ergo proper hoc” thinking, the idea that a thing that came before caused the thing afterwards.

As finite begins, we’re also highly susceptible to esotericism, the idea that there is “hidden” knowledge that is being “suppressed” by nefarious elites. Sometimes, this does happen, but in the case of various purported cures for Covid, it’s simply that they haven’t been proven.

Advocates of ivermectin claim it’s being “suppressed” due to pharmaceutical companies’ profiteering. They never discuss how their argument is utterly disproven by the widespread use of cheap and readily available corticosteroids to treat some Covid symptoms. If the greed of Big Pharma was so powerful and authoritarian, steroid treatments for Covid would not be happening. But they are for millions of people. Because, for many of them, they actually have been proven to work.

Ivermectin advocates love to hype faulty research, or of India, and claim that it supports their theories. They never mention that India’s government has formally withdrawn all support for ivermectin and doesn’t believe it works.

Unfortunately, these types of logical errors are very common in public conversations about health and medicine, because most people have little direct knowledge of them. It’s easy to have opinions about things that affect you that you don’t understand.

Unfortunately, the American legal system has also deliberately tolerated the existence of junk medical science. The tragic irony of this industry is that its greed and power have shaped government policy against consumers! The FDA has been trying since 1973 to have the power to regulate and evaluate commercial claims that various supplements can cure or prevent diseases. The agency’s efforts have been thwarted at every turn by lawsuits and lobbying from dietary supplement companies.

People pushing junk medicine for Covid and anything else claim that conspiracies are suppressing their ideas. The literal opposite is true. Dietary supplements is a multi-billion dollar industry with very powerful connections to many of America’s top Republicans.

This Harvard Law School article is out of date on some of the numbers, but the history and policy analysis is still very solid, if you’d like to know more about regulation of dietary supplements.

As @RMCarpiano and I recently discussed on a @TheoryChange episode, some actual medical practitioners have also become convinced by medical falsehoods. Almost always, however, these doctors/nurses have no direct training or experience w/virology or public health. Believing their Covid opinions are credible is like asking a middle school English teacher for help with your college calculus assignment. Sorry @RandPaul.

Citing doctors and nurses with no relevant Covid credentials is an example of an appeal to unqualified authority, another logical fallacy.

I’ll end with another fallacy we often see here, the argument from incredulity. We see this most in opposition to MRNA vaccines via the idea that because the person doesn’t know of the technology, it must be unsafe. This is invalid reasoning. Personal ignorance isn’t an argument.”

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You Never Know

Let’s call him Ryan. Truth is, I don’t know his real name. He was sitting on a median at a Florida intersection dressed in shorts and a threadbare T-shirt. He had a backpack sitting next to him, and he was holding a small sign, too small for everything he had written on it. The only word I could make out was “Homeless.” The rest was a mystery.

Ryan had short-cropped hair that looked like it had been cut by a non-professional, several days growth of beard, and a bearing that suggested defeat. He sat slumped over, with his head down, staring at his shoes, his feet tapping to a beat only he could hear. His sign was asking for help, but his body gave the impression that he had already given up.

I’d seen Ryan a few days earlier at the same intersection. On that day, the traffic signal turned green as I approached, so I only saw him for a moment. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thought when I saw him was, He’s a young, able-bodied guy. Why doesn’t he get a job instead of just begging?

The reason I’m ashamed of having that thought is that I always try to remember that you never know what people are going through, what hardships they’ve suffered or challenges they’ve faced. You truly never know. It’s easy to judge people. It’s harder to understand them and give them the benefit of the doubt. On that day, I took the easy way.

The second time I saw him, I had a red light, so I stopped a couple of cars back from Ryan. My heart was in a different place when I looked at him. I had no idea what his story was, but I was fairly certain it wasn’t a happy one. I waited for him to look up, but he just kept staring at his feet. I rolled the window down, and the heat rushed in. The day was oppressively hot, the sky devoid of clouds.

“Hey,” I yelled. I wanted to sound friendly, but be loud enough so he could hear me.

He looked up but didn’t move. It wasn’t clear if he saw who had called out to him. I held my arm out the window, a $20 bill in hand. Now he knew who had called out to him.

He stood, then walked toward me. Ryan was thin, his clothes baggy. His shorts, which hung below his knees, were dirty, and his T-shirt sweat-stained.

“How are you?” I asked, holding the money out to him.

He took off his sunglasses and stared at the $20 bill for a moment. His eyes brightened. A smile spread across his face revealing a couple of spaces where teeth used to be.

“Oh man, thanks. Thank you so much.” His voice was gruff, gravely, and he had a noticeable southern accent.

His eyes weren’t quite right. They didn’t move in unison. Was he mentally ill? Did he have some sort of disability?

“I hope this helps,” I said.

“This is great. Now I can get something to eat.” He was visibly excited. I wondered when he had last eaten.

The light turned green and traffic started to move. “Have a good day,” I said.

“Yeah, you too, man. Thank you.” Ryan looked again at the money, then stuffed it into his backpack. As I pulled away, he grabbed his sign and hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder, then walked toward the nearby Burger King.

“You never know,” I reminded myself. “You just never know.”

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$50 Million or Twenty-Five Years Old?

Here’s the question:

If you were given the choice, would you accept $50 million tax-free, no strings attached, or would you return to your life when you were 25-years old, taking with you all the knowledge and experience you possess today? Whichever you choose, why did you choose it?

I asked this question on my Facebook page, and was surprised by some of the answers.

Several people made the point that if they were given the choice, they’d happily go back to when they were twenty-five years old. A few of them, pointed out that, with the experience and knowledge they’ve gained over the years, they could easily make $50 million or more as a twenty-five year old.

Others said they would stay the age they are now and accept the $50 million. Their reasoning was that they could do so much good in the world with the money, including helping their loved ones.

There were even a few people who said they wouldn’t choose either option. These people say that they have already been blessed in life and wouldn’t change anything. It might be these people I envy most, although, wouldn’t $50 million make their already blessed lives even more blessed?

On Facebook, I didn’t answer the question, although I had a complicated answer already in my mind. Here’s what I was thinking:

My kneejerk reaction is that I would go back to when I was twenty-five and live my life over again, but this time with the benefit of a lifetime of experience and knowledge. I’d have a second chance to do more with my life, I could correct or avoid mistakes, be more productive, more effective, and as others stated, make a significant amount of money from my knowledge and experience.

But there’s a catch.

Unless I re-lived my life exactly as I previously lived it, I likely wouldn’t end up with my two kids. And losing them would be a deal-breaker. Sure, I could have other kids, and they’d likely be great. But they wouldn’t be the kids I have now. And there’s no way I’m going to lose them.

My latest novel, The Ones That Got Away, is all about the chance to go back and re-live a life that was less that satisfying. The thought of getting a second chance at life has always intrigued me. But the truth is, if I was offered the chance, I don’t think I could do it. I couldn’t risk losing my kids.

I guess I’ll just have to settle for $50 million.

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