Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: Remote Work, China, Venezuela and Quarantine

Do you work remotely? Some days, it’s just better to be off the roads, such as today outside Houston, where a major highway is closed in one direction because of a hazmat spill of… wait for it… pig parts. Mmm, did you have bacon at breakfast today? On a larger scale, the coronavirus has curtailed business trips and other travel. This would be an instance where access to the internet can save the day.

Speaking of China, kudos to the Houston Chronicle for launching a series examining the economic model of the Communist state. The series, dubbed Rising Star, opens with “For Texas, promise and pitfalls in China.” A good read on a crucially important question: just how much will China’s economy continue to grow and at what pace?

Speaking of business trips, would you believe the Citgo 6 are back in prison in Venezuela? These oil execs were called from Houston to a meeting in Caracas in 2017 and are still captive (Citgo is part of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, but control of the company is tied up in disputes with creditors and the question of who will control the government itself). The Citgo 6 have been accused of corruption by the Maduro administration and had been under house arrest. Meanwhile, the opposition leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, just met with President Trump.

Ah, Trump. Do you know anyone who was surprised by his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast or at the White House yesterday when he lit into his political enemies and celebrated his acquittal from his impeachment? Apparently, some people are still waiting for him to become magnanimous and what used to be called presidential. Frankly, I was surprised he didn’t deploy t-shirt cannons at the White House reception where he thanked Republican leaders of Congress, his legal defense team and supporters. News flash: Trump’s personality is not going to change. He is a brash fighter. As he said it himself of House Democrats and apparently others: But I’ve beaten them all my life, and I’ll beat them again if I have to.” In his comments from the White House yesterday, he went through the Ukraine call, raised the question of Hunter Biden’s foreign work, praised his backers, lambasted Democratic policies and called the impeachment unfair. He used the word unfair or unfairly 10 times, according to the White House transcript. Whether you love or loathe the man, you must know, his persona is not going anywhere.

Finally, I’ve been wondering how life is treating the American coronavirus evacuees upon their return home, where they are currently under quarantine on military bases. They are making the best of it and are grateful, according to this Washington Post article.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: Biden, Coronovirus, Sanctuary

So much for Joe Biden 2020? The delayed Iowa Democratic caucus results revealed that former VP Biden is decidedly not the front-runner some (including Trump?) had believed him to be. The New York Times is out with a piece strongly suggesting Biden’s Iowa game was lame. Apparently. My concern had been that if Biden became the Democratic nominee, all we would hear about in the election buildup would be about Hunter and Ukraine. Maybe that won’t happen after all. I certainly hope not.

Speaking of Ukraine, former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has left the foreign service and reminds us in an op-ed in the Washington Post that a new wave of diplomats are coming in. During these “turbulent times,” she notes that the Constitution and its protections, including the First Amendment, are still with us.

I never understand why people watch scary crime or disaster TV and films, when you can watch the news. See coronavirus. Just do a search for coronavirus and drones and you’ll see footage of Chinese authorities telling citizens via drone to put on their face masks in public as well as surveillance of the empty streets of Wuhan. The events unfolding are disturbing and, frankly, somewhat frightening. Ideally, public health officials – with a cooperating public – will be able to box in this thing before it gets worse. Meanwhile, a Japanese cruise ship full of passengers is under quarantine offshore because several passengers have the virus.

Speaking of travel, the U.S. is moving to limit the Global Entry program, which expedites re-entry to the country for pre-cleared U.S. citizens, in New York to put the squeeze on state and local officials for so-called sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants, according to the Wall Street Journal. This seems to typify the transactional approach to policymaking under the Trump administration. I’m not following the logic of, in effect, punishing law-abiding U.S. citizens because of illegal actions of others. But, it might have to do with the state of New York blocking the feds from seeing driver’s license information of immigrants, which an administration official says hampers ICE and CBP’s ability to screen people. The administration says that is precisely the problem. Last month, my boyfriend and I drove through a border checkpoint just north of Laredo, Texas, on our way back to Houston and were impressed with the equipment pointed at the vehicle, which we presumed might include license-plate readers and heat-sensing technology. The Border Patrol also had an equally impressive looking dog. We didn’t have any unannounced passengers or contraband, answered we are U.S. citizens and were waived through, per usual. To read more about our experiences near the border, read the Sage Leopard’s account of a deer hunt in Arizona. If you’re wondering why we were back in Laredo, read about our latest deer hunt here.

I hope you enjoyed this brisk roundup of my thoughts on the news of the day and welcome feedback on what might become a regular feature. Let me know what you think.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

South Texas Deer Hunt – Just But a Moment

The deer corn popped out of the truck-mounted feeder looking like small fireworks as the headlamp reflected on the moving corn, creating the illusion of tiny tracer fire piercing the pre-dawn darkness over the empty field. By light, the field would host deer, javelina and maybe a hog.

The truck turned back onto the sendero and mud smacked in the wheel wells. The persistent drizzle caused the endless arrays of prickly pear to glisten. The only creatures moving out of the brush at this moment were little rabbits. That would change.

The truck moved on, shunting from one sendero to another, pausing at a gate, crossing a power line right of way and pressing down another road. Upon arrival, the truck was parked out of sight from the crossing. Up in the blind, the hunter and guide got situated to wait. Go ahead and chamber a round now.

First, three does. A few javelina. The big cream-colored, black polka-dotted wild boar returned from the day before. A 10-point buck showed up. Young bucks followed.

South Texas sendero with does

The people waited for a candidate for a guide’s choice. This category is a notch down from a management buck, which is a tier down from a trophy buck. In Texas, landowners, such as ranches, can apply to participate in a state-run wildlife management program. These hunts are handled differently than regular hunts in which hunters use the tags on their hunting licenses to document what they harvest. The management hunts are documented separately under the managed lands deer program.

At this particular South Texas ranch, which has cattle as well as oil and gas, the deer hunts are split into categories and priced accordingly (see guide’s choice, management and trophy above). Ultimately, the objective is to maintain a healthy population of deer with a range of ages and the right proportion among gender. At this ranch, they do not want to harvest bucks under the age of five-and-a-half to give the population a chance to flourish. The first time I hunted this place, the guide’s choice I took turned out to be an eight-and-a-half-year-old buck. The wildlife biologist noted that beyond that, it’s hard to tell because the teeth get too worn down to gauge anymore. He added that it was me, the hunter, or the coyotes that was going to get him and better me than the coyotes.

The day before harvesting this particular buck, we spotted him while scouting a third hunt location. He took off into the brush, but the guide got a good look at him and deemed he qualified as a guide’s choice. This morning, after a couple of hours of hunting, this particular buck came into the field. He took note of a 10-point we’d seen the afternoon before and moved in to attempt to nudge it away. As he walked out, I prepared to shoot.

For a moment, I might have had the shot and got ready, but he leapt into the pen surrounding a feeder, leaving a hog-wire fence between me and himself. (A bullet could hit the wire and miss the deer). He noshed for a good long while and popped back out. I prepared to shoot and then the big white hog disturbed him. Back into the brush he slipped.

We waited with the hope he’d come back out. Eventually, he did, apparently to address the 10-point buck again. He walked out and toward me in the blind, head on. He moved swiftly and certainly. He turned as he progressed after the other buck. He was closing in and I was going to lose my angle. I had to adjust on the fly. Bear in mind, that when we practice at the range, the target is stationary. Hunting is not like that.

The moment came. I had a clean shot in my scope. I took the shot and, mortally injured, he turned for a moment into the road and then into the brush, his antlers visible and after a few seconds, he was down. We waited 20 minutes to go in to get him. I paused with him, said thanks for the chance, the success and the meat.

Sage Leopard hunter with white-tailed buck

At check in, he was scored at 126 B&C (Boone and Crockett scale). It was determined, again, by examining how worn down his teeth were, that he was about six-and-a-half years old. The guide removed lymph nodes and packed them in a plastic bag to ship to Texas Parks and Wildlife for them to check for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD has been detected on a limited basis, fortunately, in other parts of the state, but it’s important to collect data.

These deer live wild on a beautiful ranch with low fences and look very healthy. We are very much looking forward to eating the venison. The ground meat can be used in a variety of recipes – basically anything you’d use ground beef with and can enjoy without all the fat from beef. Venison is lean and delicious. Personally, I love making meatballs with venison (with extra egg whites to bind them).

The backstrap is amazing grilled with a rub of olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, you can cook it in an iron skillet with butter and herbs. There’s nothing quite like toasting your partner with a glass of Pinot Noir and biting into venison you hunted. You know where it came from and, therefore, why it tastes so, so good. If you have the opportunity to hunt, take it.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

The Others, Reverse Provincialism and the Prospects for Provisionalism

How easy is it to put down others for their viewpoints, especially when we can slap a pejorative label on them? This is exemplified by the blue vs. red state, urban vs. rural and woke vs. unwoke stereotypes. None of which are particular useful. Still, allow me to make a generalization: a lot of urbane, well-meaning, educated people suffer from what I call reverse provincialism.

They are so convinced that fellow Americans in rural areas, or states with large expanses of rural areas, are all a bunch of rubes who are incapable of critical thinking. Ironically, people making such determinations may be doing so based on little or no real information, purposely relying on little splices of information to fill out an entire picture that makes them feel superior.

For many white Americans, the way to do this without being called a jerk or bigot is to simply make fun of other white Americans from another region. This is nothing new. But, for some the Civil War has hardened an attitude that borders on animus (in either direction). It certainly is dismissive. One does not want to allow the possibility that others, the others, could be equally well-ensconced in their lives or even better off in their lives. Case in point: we a couple of years ago were seated in a craft beer and burgers bar in Vermont in a state of foodie bliss when the complainers sat down at the next table. They complained about the weather, about a persistent headache, etc. Soon enough, it turned time to complain about other people.

They got on their topic with Atlanta. How horribly hot the weather is, how it is “landlocked” and sweltering (nevermind that enormous body of water to its north, the recreational haven of Lake Lanier). The whiniest and eldest of the bunch dismissed everything about Atlanta, “those people” (God only knows what he meant) and that suburb “Buckhead County,” which he misstated is a suburban county and not really Atlanta. It was hard to tell which he thought was worse Atlanta or this place he falsely described as separate. The man next to him announced that Houston is only strip malls and skyscrapers, and based on his two days’ experience there, utterly lacking in anything else. Adding to my mystification, a lady at the table related that Laredo, Texas, is stifling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. I’ve spent time hunting in Laredo in January and February, and can attest it is not cold there.

As a native Northerner who lives in and loves the South, I wanted to correct them on all counts, but decided I could not stand their ignorance and attitudes, so I returned my attention to our table. As I gathered up my coat, I heard the complainer in chief, bitching about how he really doesn’t care for beer (then, why are you in a craft beer bar?) and stating his preference for wine. Clearly, he again felt the need to put down others and launched into a diatribe about people who waste good wine pairing it with ethnic food, specifically, such as Mexican, Chinese or Thai. I wanted to scream, have you ever been to Bangkok? Eaten at a very nice Chinese restaurant? Have any idea about the varieties of Mexican regional cuisines? This guy would hate hanging out with us, especially as two of our favorite foods are tacos and beer. But, I also think a Pinot Noir would go really good with Penang curry. Jackass.

It didn’t take long for me to find these know-it-all-not-really types quite annoying. And, yes, I take a dim view of people with these viewpoints and attitudes. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. Should I have tried to engage them? Would I have sounded defensive? “Say, we live in Houston and love it, especially the parks and trails.” Or, “Laredo is not freezing in winter.” Or, “wine is great with so-called ethnic food!” It is difficult to bridge a gap with strangers. This brings me to provisionalism, in contrast with provincialism. What is provisionalism? It’s the concept that people do not need to hold onto ideas when better ideas can come along. Provisionalism is the opposite of certainty. It’s about being open-minded. It’s also really difficult. We generally like the idea of the competition of ideas. We typically just don’t like to see our ideas defeated. Provisionalism means you are willing to consider another idea. It also suggests one should subscribe to that better idea once it comes along.

Ah, but it’s so hard. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement is a case in point. She actually said half of Trump’s supporters fall into a basket of deplorables. In the next breath, she said, the other half are “people who feel that government has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they are just desperate for change… Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Yet, even when she tried to repeat the need to empathize and be inclusive, or as she campaigned be “stronger together,” it was too late. All anyone remembers, understandably, is the basket of deplorables. Why? Because it is a label. It’s an effective label. And, its counterweight is the people who embraced it in defiance. Why? Because people often mock negative stereotypes by embracing them. And, that leaves all of us going around and around and getting nowhere. Are we even capable of provisionalism?

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Dear RNC: What I Wished You Asked Me in Your “Census”

Perhaps you’ve heard the controversy about a so-called “Congressional District Census” sent out by the Republican National Committee ahead of the U.S.’s national census in 2020. As a recipient of this fundraising letter and political survey, I must say it is obviously a political document and obviously not an official government or legal document. It’s chock full of questions about how to support Trump, and, I am so glad they asked.

This shoring up of support for Trump is apart from any impeachment inquiry. It’s simply a survey of Republican voters, accompanied by a standard fundraising ask. While the letter and attached survey questions are vociferously pro-Trump, the survey questions leave options for non-Trump voters. First, the survey asks, who are you and the options are:

  • Conservative Republican
  • Independent Voter who leans Republican
  • Moderate Republican
  • Liberal Republican
  • Democrat

I could have thrown up my hands here because who knows any more what these modifiers mean anymore. Reflecting on my adult life and world view with Texas as my adopted state (fiscally conservative, socially liberal, pro-Second Amendment, pro-legal when it comes to accessing women’s healthcare) and my leanings coming up in New Jersey (I like the Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman-types of Republicans), I opted for “Moderate Republican.” I don’t view Trump as a true conservative, so I am not sure how he or a supporter of his is supposed to self-identify among the options listed above. The second question on this survey expands on how conservative-leaning voters break out; it asks, are you a supporter of Trump, but not the Republican Party, or are you a supporter of the Republican Party, but not Trump?

Bravo to the RNC for still seeking to recognize such key distinctions. The other options were to be a supporter of both or none. Fair enough. The important thing is the party is not demanding fealty. Question #3 is simple: do you plan on supporting Trump in the 2020 election? No, I do not. That said, I’m not thrilled about any alternative.

Next, the RNC wants to frame up just about everything as Trump vs. liberal socialists. Hmmm. I don’t think it’s that simple, but I plowed ahead with answering the survey questions as accurately as possible.

Fiscal Responsibilities

For instance, what to make of this one: “Do you agree with President Trump that fixing our nation’s inner cities and working to rebuild our crumbling highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals must be a top federal priority in the next few years?” No. Whatever happened to local control? I believe state and local governments are responsible for their bridges and hospitals, and can float bonds to pay for them, if approved by local voters. Granted, there are forms of federal assistance and funds, including Medicare and Medicare for covering hospital costs, and tax revenues for highway funds, that are added to the mix, but that question is phrased in such a way that it connotes an out and out federal takeover of “inner cities,” bridges, airports, tunnels, etc. Yikes! How much would that cost? And why on Earth would the Republican Party advocate for such broad federal overreach? We have already seen a rather significant blowout in the federal spending deficit since Trump became president, which is already, ahem, ironic compared to the party’s historical calls for fiscal responsibility and federal deficit reduction. (Scratch your head here.)

Race Relations

Kudos to the party for asking this, though: “Do you think race relations is America are getting better or worse?” I answered worse. This is not because I think we’ve reverted to the sin of slavery, but we have seen our own president stoke racial antipathy (see calling for kneeling NFL players to be fired for peaceful protest, saying members of Congress who are women of color should “go back” to foreign countries, calling white supremacists “fine people,” etc.) and that seems to have invited all manner of racist jerks to crawl out of the woodwork and rant against strangers who are going about normal business while black. It would be nice, in the alternative, to have leadership that speaks up to say something like this: stand up because we stand with you and recognize that police brutality, where it does exist, is falling disproportionally on black people, and we can all work together to eventually cast out racism and toss it on the ash heap of history. Yeah, well, it would be nice to hear something like that from a president from any party.

But, wait, another question delves into illegal immigration, which for many, is really about nativism, which is an extension of racism. The question seems straightforward enough, perhaps: “Do you support canceling all federal funding to sanctuary cities that fail to enforce U.S. immigration laws?” Hold up; only the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, so this question is specious and deceptive. This also speaks volumes as it echoes a Trumpian notion that any political disagreement becomes transactional and punitive.

This comes as U.S. Attorney General William Barr warned local governments that they will lose federal funding if “communities” protest against law enforcement. Here is what the AG just said: “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Hmmm, what exactly does that mean? Well, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the RNC had this take on Twitter: “Exactly what do you mean by “communities”? And to secure future protection do those communities need “to do [you] a favor though” and not protest police behavior that stand in violation of the rights of the citizens in those communities and under the law?

Foreign Relations

Oooof. Good point, Mr. Steele. He managed to point out that the attorney general seems to be discarding our First Amendment right to seek redress against the government when the government fails in its responsibility to serve the people while invoking the politically disastrous July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. Sigh. Whether Trump’s words and actions amount to impeachable offenses or just mind-bogglingly inept foreign policy is a whole can of worms that I am not opening in this blog, but at the very least, the episode underscores that Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy is counterproductive. Which brings me to another RNC survey question: Do you support President Trump negotiating with Kim Jong-un to try to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons? No, not at the rate Trump is failing in this endeavor. News is breaking now (again) that North Korea is calling Trump a dotard and demanding the U.S. back off on sanctions. Call me unimpressed with Trump’s work here. I would prefer he let diplomats work on this without his ineffective theatrics.

Realistically, barring Trump being removed from office via that constitutional mechanism known as impeachment, he is the 2020 Republican candidate for president and the survey results will likely wholeheartedly support him. But, would the RNC ever release the survey answers? How many respondents support the party, but not the president, or vice versa? The fact that the party even bothered to ask makes me wonder if some within the party are looking ahead to a time beyond Trump. Regardless of what happens this month, next year or over the next four years, the GOP should recognize a need to change, even if that means returning to move conventional, traditional forms of conservatism.  

Here’s what I wished the survey also asked:

  • Do you believe the Republican Party’s current platform planks are fully representative of your viewpoints?
  • Do you think the Republican Party should canvass independents to see what viewpoints it might consider adding to the platform to draw more voters into the party?
  • Do you think the party is balanced when it comes to religious freedom and tolerance for all religions?
  • Do you think more inroads can be made to stem gun violence without curbing the Second Amendment rights of lawful citizens?
  • Do you support expanding legal immigration for a variety of worker skills and educational levels?
  • Would you support providing for abortions that are performed to protect a mother’s health or in cases of rape and incest? Do you support expanding reproductive health educational initiatives that have helped reduce abortion rates to historical lows? Do you support the idea that people (men and women) should be encouraged, in the spirit of personal responsibility, to use birth control to protect against unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs?
  • Are you concerned that certain factions within the Republican Party are coming across as anti-education and anti-science at a time when we should be supporting STEM education and specialized government agencies to face a host of national security concerns, ranging from climate change to modern warfare?
  • Would you like to see the GOP offer a proposal for replacing the Affordable Care Act rather than simply repeal it?
  • Do you think the federal government should look to significantly cut spending?

Those are just a few off the top of my head. My point being is that the GOP seems to be digging itself into a potentially self-defeating Trump rut and this cannot last forever. My hope is that there will be more questions, more surveys and more openness to a wider range of viewpoints under the conservative rubric.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Is Trump Climbing the Learning Curve of “The Wall”?

Trump opponents are gloating that he has caved on “the Wall” he has long called for on our southern border with Mexico. But, what if we celebrated that he may have come up a learning curve as to what is cost-effective and politically viable.

In announcing the reopening last week of the government after the partial shutdown caused by a political impasse over this issue, Trump said something that gave me pause.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea — we never did; we never proposed that; we never wanted that — because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we can build.  They’re already there.  They’ve been there for millions of years,” Trump said in reopening the government.

That probably came as a surprise to voters who agreed with his repeated calls for “the Wall” that Mexico would pay for. This is very different that the imagery he campaigned on:

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Living in Texas and having camped out on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona in the presence of Border Patrol, I always thought that vision seemed impractical.

We all have heard the “build the wall” refrain from Trump and his backers for a long time. His message became somewhat more specific of late. On Jan. 2, he tweeted that the idea is to build upon what we already have in place.

“Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal. Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work. $5.6 Billion Dollars that House has approved is very little in comparison to the benefits of National Security. Quick payback!”

Now, at that time, he was asking for $5.7 billion for the wall. What were the specifics? As USA Today reported before the government reopened, the Trump administration’s plan called for 100 miles of new fence and replacing/strengthening 215 miles of existing barrier. Currently, the paper noted, 654 miles of the border is fences and 1,350 miles is open.

In his reopening remarks, Trump said the idea is to place barriers at locations determined by the Border Patrol and to enhance manpower and equipment, especially at ports of entry where drugs come through. The details are now in the hands of congressional negotiators and they face a deadline.

Now, at the end of his remarks, he revived some of his older wording.

“So let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.  If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

Yes, he is still saying build a wall, but he’s not saying build the wall, which was typically understood – by his proponents and opponents – as some monolithic barrier across the entire border with Mexico. Ideally, by February 15, a very specific border security plan will come out that can be agreed to and we can eventually proceed to arriving at policy and spending decisions the old-fashioned way: with hearings, so the American People understand all the facts and the cost-benefit analyses that apply, rather than rhetoric. Moreover, let’s hope we really do put in place enhanced border security.

Living Your Best Life: The Time is Now

Why did this happen to me? We often ask ourselves that when change is forced upon us. What if you flip that around and the answer is this is happening for you.

A dear friend was initially surprised when her husband left her because she had been a loving wife, but upon further consideration she saw in hindsight there were problems in the marriage and realized she felt underappreciated. Then, the divorce became a pain. A real pain. She was a woman of faith and persevered with prayer, a lot of inspirational quotes (which she often shared on social media), emotional support of friends and family, her own abiding deep strength and a great sense of humor.

She also had a vision. She decided to pursue what she really wanted. She wanted to be independent. She wanted to move to the mountains. She wanted to return to nursing. She wanted a cabin in the woods. She made it all happen.

After the divorce, she bought a lovely cabin on a beautiful property in the mountains. She and her mother spent time together there and she wanted to renovate a building on the property for her friends and mother to stay in.

She made new, great friends. She kept up her love of fostering hounds and caring for her own dogs. She got a job at Home Depot in the garden department, which she loved, while pursuing her return to nursing. Then, she got a job as an ICU nurse at a regional hospital and was so happy about it.

She was living her best life. The life she wanted for herself on her own terms. And she was really happy and very loved. It came as a total shock when she passed away at age 59 between Christmas and New Year’s. It seemed so unfair because she was so young and really hitting another stride in life. Yet, it was a consolation to know she was enjoying all the things she really wanted before going home forever.

Think about it. What if she had passed away before making huge, life-fulfilling changes? There is no what if because she got to where she wanted to be.

So I ask myself and invite you to question, am I where I want to be? Will I achieve what I want in the coming years too? What do I need to do now to make my best life happen today and in the future?

Make the change. Health condition? Get a second opinion. Hate your job? Seriously look and persist. Bad relationship? Reevaluate. If it really isn’t good at the core, prepare to move on. Feeling unappreciated? Find a constructive way to express that.

Did you have New Year’s resolutions? One of mine was to start getting up at 5:30 a.m. to make time to exercise, read and write before starting the work day. Guess who makes me go walking at 5:30 a.m.? A coonhound named Cinnamon Sally. Sally was my friend’s foster dog.

Now is the time to tell you how I met my late friend, Sonya Renee Anderson. She was my boyfriend’s cousin. Moreover, she was the beloved cousin of many in a large, tight-knit family. She was the most enthusiastic about the annual family reunion and put herself in charge of the next one, telling her cousins it was time for their generation to take over for their parents (who are all alive).

This year’s family reunion without her means we won’t share in her beautiful smile, we won’t get a big hug from her and she will be greatly missed. But we will celebrate in her honor.

We had the blessing of getting to visit with her this past October, when she tried to convince us to adopt Cinnamon Sally. We demurred because we already have two dogs. We did consider it. When Sonya passed away, we realized we had to go get the dog and bring her home.

I think about Sonya a lot these days. She was an inspiration to me when she was alive. Now, I trot after this silly hound and reflect on what Sonya would tell me if she was still with us.

If it wasn’t for Cinnamon Sally, I wouldn’t be sticking to my first New Year’s resolution. In the little over three weeks we’ve been walking together, my waist has gotten a little bit smaller. Now, it’s up to me to achieve the other resolutions: write a book, start cycling again and make more money.

So, I ask again, are you living your best life? Why not? What’s stopping you. Make the changes. Make it happen. And have fun.

Scents of the South: Hickory, Mr. Pibb and Satsuma

If an ex-pat spent his or her whole adult life overseas, they would still be an American. I will always be a Yankee, I suppose, although as the pains of middle age overtake me (hello, sciatica!), I have spent more years below than above the Mason-Dixon line. My first forays were childhood visits to South Carolina, which seemed so mythical all wrapped up in warmth and Spanish moss.

My paternal grandparents lived in Sumter, S.C., across from a lake full of Cypress trees and home to alligators. Their backyard was perfumed by a huge hickory tree. Nothing like this existed in my hometown, Montclair, New Jersey, and I considered it all to be marvelous.

Swan Lake in Sumter, South Carolina

Sumter, South Carolina

They had a carport too, which was novel to me, with a utility room off to the side where Granddaddy kept a fridge full of Mr. Pibb. I don’t think that particular soda was available up north because Dr Pepper was. I loved Mr. Pibb, probably just because my grandfather did.

Granddaddy was even more Yankee than his son and grandkids because he was born in Montreal and didn’t move to New Jersey until middle school. The child of Scottish immigrants, he was bilingual in French and English, and his new classmates were amazed he spoke English so well. He found that rather amusing.

Decades later, after 40-odd years in South Carolina (he lived to 88), Granddaddy still pronounced the words out and about as if they rhymed with boat. I guess you can take the kid out of Canada, but not the Canadian accent out of the man.

He absolutely loved to read the papers and would get up early to sit on his screened back porch with coffee. One thing I dislike about living in Houston is this part of Texas is so hot and humid most of the year that sitting on a screened porch is less than ideal. Funny thing, though, I remember some scorchers visiting Sumter in the summer.

I went to college at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where the weather was a happy medium between frigid N.J. winters and blazing hot environs further south. I remembered hearing that Southerners supposedly drank Cokes in lieu of coffee on hot mornings and gave that a try once with an egg sandwich before class. Gross. Come to think of it, I didn’t see anyone else get a Coke with breakfast. My strongest scent memory of Lexington is honeysuckle, which would erupt and envelope the landscape. I returned this spring for a reunion and the landscape seemed frozen in time, especially nearby Goshen Pass, where my parents met in 1960 on the Maury River. Once you are steeped in such spaces, they stay with you and often call on you to return.

Goshen Pass on the Maury River, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia

Maury River in Virginia

I’m going to skip in this blog over my time in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., because I just don’t really consider those to be in “The South.” (Feel free to debate this and yes, I know there were Confederate sympathizers in Balto., but still, it is its own category. I called it “the forgotten city” because its historical importance seemed to have faded from the collective American consciousness. I highly recommend visiting. The people are awesome (“hey hon”), the architecture is beautiful, the food is amazing and the museums are cool. But, I digress.).

Here in Texas, there is something special you cannot grow up north. We have a citrus grove with Meyer lemons, Satsuma and grapefruit trees. Sadly, our lime tree does not bear fruit after a bitter freeze one year. Growing your own Meyer lemons is deeply satisfying, especially since it doesn’t take much effort. This tree grows like a weed and must be cut back from time to time.

Fruit hanging from a Satsuma tree in Houston

Our Satsuma’s fruit

One year, it was so heavily laden with fruit, it fell over during a torrential rain. We propped it back up and it healed. The winter after it sat in Hurricane Harvey floodwater, it didn’t look so good. But that was last year and now it’s completed its comeback. So, tonight, I am going to back salmon in olive oil with Meyer lemons and Satsuma from the side yard. And this is one of the many wonderful things about living in the South.

You just gotta stop and smell the citrus!

The Sage Leopard

Identity Politics and Tribalism: What If You Don’t Belong?

Why do we Americans keep damaging our political process by perpetuating a false choice between liberal and conservative, otherwise known as Democrat versus Republican? In the same vein, why are people not allowed to change viewpoints without being cast a turncoat? Do identity politics and parties leave us trapped in political boxes?

Even Ronald Reagan, the Republican icon, switched parties. “I didn’t leave the Democratic party,” Reagan said. “The party left me.”

Upon first meeting a member of the extended, blended family, I was asked if I was also a conservative. Why,  yes, I believe in individual freedoms and keeping the government out of people’s private business. My questioner cut to the chase by asking about abortion. Turned out, we agreed it should be legal, medically-performed and ideally, rare. Because of this position, we would both be characterized as Democrats by some conservatives. Not so.

My Democrat sister and brother-in-law have repeatedly asked me and my boyfriend about gun control. In response, I question why there seems to be a notion that banning certain guns is better than banning certain people from buying them. I applaud Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, for getting his Fix NICS legislation across the finish line as part of a spending bill signed into law in March. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s not the be all, end all. Such incremental steps are better than doing nothing, which is what would likely happen if some comprehensive gun law reform was attempted.

How did a girl who grew up playing lacrosse in suburban New Jersey come to have different views on gun ownership than many East Coast denizens? One aspect obviously is how we obtain information? This video includes the claim by a California lawmaker that the automatic rifle gun in his hands can release 30 bullets in half a second. That simply is not true. While the video is from several years ago and widely mocked, I bet that most people who have never fired any kind of gun would think the claim is true. Similarly, do you know what an ArmaLite Rifle is? You may have heard is mistakenly referred to as an assault rifle. To learn more about gun definitions, I commend you to read this Guns & Ammo article.

How did I begin to familiarize myself with guns? My boyfriend in Texas introduced me to hunting, for which I use a rifle or a shotgun, depending on whether I am hunting four-legged creatures (deer, hog, javelina) or winged-creatures (duck, dove). I have taken lessons and hunters education. I still have more to learn. What is the point of me telling you all this? Because I am in favor of gun ownership for people who are not criminals or otherwise demonstrate a danger (e.g., people convicted of stalking), then I must be a no-holds-barred Trump supporter, right? Totally wrong. The problem is we make these leaps and false assumptions about people all the time.

Let’s do a word-association game. Fill in the blank after each of the following: free trade (wait, that’s hard because conservatives favor free trade but the Republican president is the self-proclaimed “Tariff Man”); gay rights (wait, that depends, Dick Cheney has supported gay unions, although a subsequent dispute between his daughters, Mary, a lesbian, and Liz, a Republican member of Congress, was a bit of a head-scratcher); fiscal responsibility (whoops, this is a doozy because Republicans used to care about balanced budgets but they cut taxes without significant cuts to spending). In other words, the stereotypes are out the window. Put another way, I do not agree with all women on politics, or all white women, or all Christians, or all hunters, or all Texans, or all college-educated people, etc. Enough with identity politics and stereotypes.Identity politics and escaping political boxes

And that is a good thing. Let’s stop blind adherence to talking points and bumper-sticker politics. Take immigration. Many liberals and many conservatives fully support legal immigration. The issue of caravans approaching the border, however, brought about issues that do not address how to process people claiming asylum.

We found ourselves questioning whether soldiers should be at the border in a support function and how was it that tear gas was fired into Mexico. Those are valid questions, yet we should be questioning how we can process asylum claims by thousands of people with 400 immigration judges. How we will keep track of people who are awaiting resolution of their immigration cases? What happens to the tens of thousands of people who illegally cross our southern border? Sticking to the old scripts won’t work to solve our problems. If I am concerned about illegal immigrants, I am not a xenophobe. I am someone who wants comprehensive immigration reform so the people we want to come here to work and be free from persecution can do so, and the people that we don’t want coming in illegally are limited from doing so.

The Sage Leopard,
Substance, Not Sloganeering

Holiday Survival Guide for Hearthside Political Chats

The holidays bring great tidings of joy, family time and, of course, the dread of painful political discourse. The Sage Leopard too will be traversing the rivers and woods to gather ‘round the table and has no doubt that current events are on the menu.

Before you gnash your teeth in anticipation of a clash over whether the blue wave really occurred in the mid-terms, take a moment to reflect on the meaning of the holidays. The original Thanksgiving was a prayer of thanksgiving to God that the settlers were surviving and thriving in the New World. Wait, that whole narrative is rife with post-Columbus jingoism. OK, never mind.

If you are Christian, please share with me a moment to reflect on some of the lyrics of my favorite Christmas hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which celebrates the birth of our Lord. “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”

Remember the spirit of those lines when you are in the throes of a raging argument with your crazy drunk uncle. What would Jesus do? He probably wouldn’t try to shout down your crazy drunk uncle. And neither should you. A suggestion: offer to refresh his drink.

During political debates around the holiday table, we tend to form teams. For example, during the Christmas of 2004, my Dad and I sat on one side of the dining room table, next to a crackling fire, while my brothers in law sat across from us. Dad and I maintained that Bush was reelected because voters did not want to change presidents after the invasion of Iraq. The brothers in law were equally firm that social conservatism, including opposition to gay marriage, carried the re-election of George W. Bush.

Nowadays, a great conversion has taken hold of our family. Instead of a cadre of Democrats with the rigor of a rugby team vs. a couple of country club Republicans, we are unified with a single, unwavering disdain of The Donald. There is little risk that a Trump supporter could slip into our midst. But, if a MAGA-hat wearing adherent got lost in a blizzard and followed the wrong star to our cabin in the woods, he or she would still be warmed and fed (even if upon seeing the red hat we were tempted to say there is no room at the inn). Once we were assured the guest was comfortable, we’d lay in with concerns about incompetence in dealing with North Korea, disrespect of the military by of all people the president, question the efficacy of trying to unilaterally go after Iran, disregard of the First Amendment protections for freedom of the press, not to mention issues with emoluments and poor management of illegal immigration. And condemn false allegations of election fraud, etc. You know the list goes on.

But then what? This is where we are as a society. The Trump backers are unmoved by any and all criticism. The critics’ concerns are continually mounting. (They are not mad about the election; they are mad about this president’s on-the-job performance, by the way.)

What if we all received a gift to share? It seems elusive, if not impossible now, but what if the gift was agreement on what constitutes the truth? How do we get to the truth?

I previously expressed concern in my communications company blog about whether the truth still matters and how that came up during an alumni weekend gathering. Another alumnus said he thought Trump won because he appealed to people who wanted to be heard. There is certainly truth in that observation.

If you want the world to receive that gift of universally accepted truth, you may have to give a little by listening to the uncle or guest with whom you disagree. Now, I didn’t say capitulate. Listen. Better yet, ask questions such as, why do you think that? How do you know that? How does that make you feel? Why? When did you first notice this? How did this happen? To what do you attribute this change? What does it mean?

These queries are not styled to sound like a therapist. They are the more like reporters’ questions. Oh, and all I want for Christmas is for the president to stop calling the press “the enemy of the people.” Maybe if I had a crazy uncle and he asked me the above questions in this regard, he might come to see why I have a certain opinion. And, maybe I could better understand him. Maybe we could gain each other’s perspectives. And maybe get close to agreeing on what is the truth.

Happy Holidays,

The Sage Leopard

P.S. I rather enjoyed writing this while listening to this Christmas music selection on YouTube.