Seeking Grace

Editor’s note:  Some of us thought the Nov. 3 election would come and go and, regardless the outcome, life would move on.  We were wrong.  If anything, the chaos leading to the Nov. 3 election paled amidst what has since transpired.  This chaos turned to violence last week as people stormed the U.S. capitol, leaving five people dead.  Now our thoughts have turned to Jan. 20, inauguration day for Joe Biden to become our next President.  Authorities talk of turning Washington into a virtual military zone in hopes of preventing more violence.

Like so many, the horror of what might unfold that day leaves me totally at a loss for words.  And the more I ponder the situation, the more I am compelled to seek comfort in prayer.

To this end, I penned the following:

Oh God, Our Father:

We come to you seeking peace for our country and comfort for our hearts.  We have turned to you for countless decades when we faced dire circumstances such as war, heath issues and social strife that threated to turned our citizens against each other.

We have sought your wisdom and counsel.  We have sought the calmness that only you can bring to our land.

We have begged for forgiveness and that you rid our hearts and minds of thoughts that betray the foundation our forefathers built this land on.

You have never failed us.

So we lift our voices again.  From every corner of this great land, from sea to sea and from horizon to horizon.

Our voices are more diverse than ever before.  But rather than celebrating this diversity and reaching out to embrace it, too many voices have instead turned to those same prejudices that time after time have set us back, not moved us forward.

We find ourselves mired in chaos once again.  Chaos incited in large measure by voices that betray us and this land we love dearly.

And as we approach the day when a new cadre of leaders are supposed to take over the reins of our government, there are voices calling for disruption and perhaps violence.  At a time when we need sanity, some preach just the opposite.

Oh God, Our Father:

Hear our plea and cast your spirit across this wonderful land so that tomorrow will be greater than yesterday.



If We Have Ever Needed A Laugh

In today’s world:
We all need a good laugh.

Did I read that sign right?
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In a Laundromat:
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In a London department store:
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In an office:
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In an office:
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Outside a second-hand shop:
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Notice in health food shop window:
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Spotted in a safari park:
(I sure hope so.)
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Seen during a conference:
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Notice in a farmer’s field:
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Message on a leaflet:
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On a repair shop door:
Proofreading is a dying art, wouldn’t you say?
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Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife
And Daughter
This one I caught in the SGV Tribune the other day and called the Editorial Room and asked who wrote this It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible!!! They put in a correction the next day.
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Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
Really? Ya’ think?
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Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that’s taking things a bit far!
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Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
What a guy!
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Miners Refuse to Work after Death
No-good-for-nothing’ lazy so-and-so’s!

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Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
See if that works better than a fair trial!
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War Dims Hope for Peace
I can see where it might have that effect!
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If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Ya’ think?!
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Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Who would have thought!
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Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
They may be on to something!
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Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
You mean there’s something stronger than duct tape?
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Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
He probably IS the battery charge!
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New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Weren’t they fat enough?!
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Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
That’s what he gets for eating those beans!
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Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Do they taste like chicken?
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Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw Massacre all over again!
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Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
Boy, are they tall!
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And the winner is…
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Did I read that right?
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Now that you’ve smiled at least once, it’s your turn to spread the stupidity and send this to someone to whom you want
to bring a smile . . . maybe even a chuckle.

RIP. Scooter Howell.

All of us gather a host of friends as we travel this life.  And then we make some very special friends who join a small group.  We may not be in contact with them for five or ten years, but when we do re-connect, we take up where we last left off.  As if time has stood still.

I’ve been very fortunate in this regard.  Such friends are scattered all over the country.  Some I went to high school with 60 years ago, some I met though a job, some I don’t really recall where and how we met.

Scooter Howell would be one of these.  All I remember for sure is that it had something to do with Jaycees and milk cows and about 50 years ago.

Scooter and his daddy ran Rocky Hill all Jersey Farm on Lookout Mountain outside Ft. Payne.  This breed of milk cow is known for producing very rich milk with high butterfat.  The Howells had some of the best ones in the whole country.  And they did it on some of the rockiest land you’ve ever seen.  I was always amazed at what they accomplished where they were located.

I was a young editor for The Progressive Farmer in Birmingham and was state chairman of the Alabama Jaycees Outstanding Young Farmer recognition program for four years.  I don’t recall if Scooter was a Jaycee or not.  But I do think the local Jaycees nominated him for the state program.

I had a lot of fun during this time and met some great folks.  Most of whom have long faded from memory.  But not Scooter and anytime I was in northeast Alabama and had a chance, I caught up with him.  In ran the dairy until the late 1990s when he sold out.  His sweet wife Charney was a good helpmate.

At some point they re-located down the road a few miles to Centre, AL in Cherokee County.  He had the kind of personality that people gravitated to.  A dry sense of humor and usually with a crooked little grin on his face. I would probably be amazed at hos many folks in the county knew him.

Every now and then I would track him down.  Sometimes we met at Lanny Starr’s BBQ to catch up.

So it was with great sadness that I learned that he passed away on Dec. 29.  He had been in failing health for a number of months and had Alzheimers.  A few weeks ago he fell and broke his hip. but insisted that he not go to the hospital.

He and Charney have three children and four grandchildren.

Their 50th anniversary would have been Dec. 31.

Scooter was an original and a good guy.  I will always be thankful our paths crossed.

How Countries Responded To Covid

Editor’s note:  While some in this country seem intent on treating the Covid virus as some hoax and ignoring the best advice our scientists give, the truth is that more that nearly 350,000 U.S. citizens have now died from the pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal has devoted tremendous resources in trying to detail how different countries have responded, detailing steps they made and the results of each.

One has to be struck by the fact that there are no “best practices” from this country.  I have been particularly struck by what New Zealand has done.  Jacind Arden is their prime minister.  She has been applauded for taking aggressive action.  It is noteworthy that she ran for re-election several months ago and got 85 percent of the vote.  Obviously she listened to public health experts–not politicians–in putting together a strategy.  Amazing how that works some times isn’t it?

Here is the Journal article:

It has been a year since Covid-19 began to spread. Which countries did the best job of responding to the pandemic in 2020, and what can we learn from them?

A successful response to Covid-19 turned out to depend on more than a country’s wealth, scientific prowess and history of public health successes. The U.S. enjoys all of these advantages but mounted one of the worst responses to the pandemic: 1 in every 990 Americans has died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Bad politics, quite simply, can trump good public health.

Other developed countries that did well initially, such as Canada and some European nations, have faltered during the second or third surge of infections, because their governments and people grew tired of implementing effective strategies. In many Asian countries, it has long been common for people to wear masks when feeling ill, so they adopted masks early and widely.

Best at early action: Taiwan

1 reported Covid-19 death per 3,366,140 people

The world’s first awareness of Covid-19 came from cases among travelers arriving in Taiwan from Wuhan, China. The country quickly halted flights from much of China, quarantined travelers from other areas, stopped cruise ships from docking, implemented widespread testing and quadrupled production of face masks within a month.

Taiwan also provided intensive support, including stipends, to patients with Covid-19 and people with whom they had come into contact, helping to increase adherence to public health recommendations. These early actions were pivotal in keeping Taiwan to under 800 cases all year, while avoiding lockdowns. The U.S. now has more cases and deaths every 5 minutes than Taiwan has had all year.

Best at learning from recent epidemics: Liberia

1 reported Covid-19 death per 55,040 people

Liberia, hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, was one of the first countries to start screening for Covid-19 at airports and to adopt other control measures, such as rapid testing, complete contact tracing and quarantine. Many other countries in Africa, including Senegal and Uganda, also used their experiences from past disease outbreaks to implement swift, expert, comprehensive responses.

Best at crushing the curve: New Zealand

1 reported Covid-19 death per 204,360 people

Like Taiwan, New Zealand is an island, which makes it far easier to enforce travel bans. Initial models showed that community spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand could potentially overwhelm the health care system. The country began implementing its pandemic influenza plan in February, including preparing hospitals and instituting border control policies. Because New Zealand lacked sufficient testing and contact tracing capacity, national leadership implemented a countrywide lockdown in late March with the goal of eliminating Covid-19 entirely.

By June, the pandemic was declared over in New Zealand, with the country reporting one of the lowest coronavirus-related mortality rates among all 37 OECD nations. Later cases were all from international travelers, who were kept in isolation for two weeks post-arrival, and not from community spread.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has exemplified empathetic, clear communication, which greatly increased New Zealanders’ willingness to cooperate and was essential to the country’s success.

Best location in the U.S.: American Samoa

Deaths from Covid-19: Zero

American Samoa remains the only territory in the U.S. without any Covid-19 cases, in part because health authorities were already on high alert following a measles outbreak in late 2019. In an effort to stave off the virus early, the territory of 55,000 people halted all incoming passenger flights. As a result of this near-total isolation, American Samoa has not had to implement widespread closures, distancing or testing. Similar actions 100 years ago allowed the territory to avoid any deaths from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Best at testing: South Korea 1 reported Covid-19 death per 63,290 people

When it became clear that people without symptoms could spread Covid-19, South Korea tested early and aggressively, conducting more than twice as many tests per capita as other countries in the pandemic’s first weeks. Along with other measures, including extensive and highly effective contact tracing and quarantine, this kept cases from increasing rapidly.

Best at quarantining: Hong Kong

1 reported Covid-19 death per 54,810 people

Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities in the world, yet it kept cases low by establishing mandatory isolation protocols and quarantine centers for people with Covid-19 and those who came in close contact with them.

Best economic protection: Denmark

1 reported Covid-19 death per 4,970 people

Some countries excelled at protecting people economically and socially. In Denmark, the government has covered a portion of employees’ salaries in private companies to avoid large-scale layoffs. Notable mentions go to India, the European Union and Australia, which quickly provided income supplements to lower-income people using electronic cash transfers. Colombia went out of its way to protect vulnerable Venezuelan migrants, who weren’t eligible for cash transfers, by establishing shelters and food centers.

Best at public communication: Finland

1 reported Covid-19 death per 10,510 people

A few countries have fought rumors and distrust by sharing information with the public widely and openly. Finland, helped by its high media literacy, was able to build on a 2014 initiative that educated people about how to counter false information. One Finnish project partners with social-media influencers to spread accurate information on digital platforms.

South Africa has also excelled at clear communication, including strategic use of an alert-level system that empowers people to understand their risk and helps the government make transparent and balanced decisions about closures. Germany’s leaders have also been models of clarity and effective communication, with Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for citizens to exhibit “patience, discipline and solidarity”—three essential aspects of an effective pandemic response.

Most people, including many health professionals, never imagined the toll that Covid-19 would take. The countries that performed best have learned from their mistakes and used data to continuously improve public health, primary care, emergency response and health communication. Even as we begin to roll out vaccines, we need to keep learning from experience what works in fighting Covid-19.

This isn’t the last disease threat our world will face, and the past year has shown that we are all connected: Until every country is safer, all of us are at risk. When the next pandemic strikes, the whole world needs to implement best practices to save lives and protect livelihoods. Now is our opportunity to improve global preparedness; if we don’t apply the lessons of 2020 in 2021, we never will.

Mitch McConnell Proves How Out Of Touch Washington Is

Regardless of how you classify your self politically–red, blue, pink, brown, purple, conservative, liberal, independent–I’m guessing that there would be general agreement among most of us that that the pitiful excuse that passes for “leadership” in Washington is by and large totally out of touch with the reality faced by every day Americans.

It is a joke when I watch a Congressman or Senator do their most heart-felt expression of sympathy for their fellow citizens.  It is a scam.  It is like a homeless person describing what it is like to live in Buckingham Palace.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnel is a prime example.  He is Republican senate majority leader.  As such, he runs the show,  Totally and completely.

Of course congress has been debating another stimulus check because of the financial impact of Covid-19.

Some say it should be $600, some say it should be $2,000.

McConnel is strongly opposed to $2,000 and said on the senate floor that $2,000 would be “socialism for rich people.”  I guess he is talking about folks like himself who have a reported net worth of $30 million.

McConnell was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984.  So how has he acquired $30 million?  Reportedly his mother-in-law gave him a $25 million inheritance.  It certainly did not come from his own family.

In fact, when McConnell was two years old he got polio and received treatment at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in Georgia.  McConnell once said that his family “almost went broke” because of costs related to his illness.  The treatments prevented him from being disabled.

As majority leader, McConnell gets an annual salary of $193,000.  So his net worth is more than 180 times his annual salary.

Were I a millionaire like McConnell, I probably wouldn’t understand the difference in $600 and $2,000 either.

But I am not.  And I do understand.  And that’s something McConnell can not claim.


A Cold Winter’s Drive

Five days before Christmas 2020 and Covington County is stone cold dead.  The green of Bahia and Bermuda grass pastures has long since dried up.  Cows tug at the tiny tufts which has got to be like chewing cardboard all day.  Fields that grew cotton and corn last summer have been mowed into nothing.

Of course, pine trees are still green and their limbs shake in the December breeze.  Most hardwoods have shrugged off their leaves leaving squirrels to scamper from one bare branch to another.

And for someone whose roots have always been and will forever be tied to the soil, it is a fine day to ride dirt roads and imagine a world that once was.

I turn to the west on a well-established dirt road that leaves four-lane highway 55 in a curve just a trace north of the South community.  I’m sure the road has a name, but I do not know it.  I’m just sure that it goes for a number of miles and that at some point I will cross Pigeon Creek.  This is the same creek where Marion Lloyd had his grist mill and where I would go with grandpa to get corn ground.  And on some days, we went about 100 yards south of the mill to “Rock Wall” swimming hole.  One of those places where mamas told their children to come out of the water when their lips got blue.

I’d driven only a couple hundred yards when I crossed a railroad track  Today it is called the Three Notch railroad and runs 36 miles from Andalusia to Georgiana.  Built in 1901, the then Alabama & Florida railroad went all the way to Graceville, FL, just south of Dothan.  The line still runs right through the middle of Red Level and McKenzie.  But 120 years have sucked most of the life out of rural American such as Red Level and McKenzie and a train whistle is a lonely reminder of long ago times.

I knew my journey would be made mostly in solitude.  When men from south Alabama went off to fight Germany in World War I, many of them came out of the shacks of sharecroppers that covered these sandy hills like fire ant hills once did.  That was the story of Grandpa Lee who was born in 1899 before going to war.

I think of the children of that era.  Kids like mother and daddy.  Poverty was all they knew.  Poverty that was so pervasive, most did not really know what it was.  In a world of scarce to little communications, there was no TV to expose them to other worlds and big cities.  We’ve all heard someone say, “We were poor, but we didn’t know it.”  Truer words were never spoken.

I’ve often wished I had a chance to talk again to grandpa.  I would ask a 1,000 questions about his life, his boyhood, being a sharecropper, etc.

But since I can’t, I will just have to make do with afternoons on dirt roads.