oxbows and bottoms

One of the advantages (and let’s face it, there aren’t many) to being a freelance writer is that on any given day you can look out the window, see that it’s a lovely afternoon, and say “Fuck it, I’m going to go wander.” You can’t do that very often, of course, if you want to keep beans and tortillas on the table. But just knowing you can say it — and do it — is pretty liberating.

Yesterday I looked out that window, saw that it was a perfectly lovely autumn afternoon, said “Fuck it” (and yeah, I said it right out loud), turned off the computer, grabbed my aging little Fujifilm X10 camera, and walked out the door. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Sort of.


The Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt. I knew it existed. I’d seen it on Google maps. I knew generally where it was located (it’s only about 20 minutes by car from where I live). I had a basic understanding of what was meant by ‘bottoms’ and ‘greenbelt’. But I’d never taken the time to actually go there. Proof, if you needed proof, that I can be a massive fucking idjit.

This might seem silly, but one reason I wanted to visit the place is because of Chichaqua. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. Some 350 years ago when this area was being explored and mapped by French coureurs de bois and voyageurs, they asked the local Sauk and Meskwaki Indians what the river was called. The river, they were told, was Chicaqua. The French had also heard that same term to describe a skunk,so they assumed that was the name of the river. The French began calling it Rivière Mouffette. Skunk River. And that’s what it’s still called. In fact, chichaqua was a term meaning ‘having a powerful smell.’ The natives had been talking about the wild onions and cabbage that grew along the river banks.

I don’t know why that amuses me so much. But it does.


What’s weird, though, is the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt is no longer a part of the Skunk River. A century ago (give or take a few decades) folks decided to ‘straighten’ the river. Which is a pretty arrogant thing to do. The idea was that a slow-moving, winding, meandering river was inefficient and prone to flooding. So they dug a massive gash in the ground and re-channeled the river. This sort of thing happened all over the world, by the way — not just in the American Midwest. Nobody realized at the time that a slow-moving, meandering river was a good thing for flooding. It localized the flood, which reduced the overall severity. Nobody realized that ‘straightening’ a river would reduce an area’s biodiversity. Hell, nobody knew what biodiversity was, or why it might be a good thing.

So…big gash, straight river. And about 25 miles of the old Skunk was isolated.


See that straight blue line on the map? That’s the current channel of the South Skunk River. It’s basically a long ditch. A very pretty ditch, to be sure, and I love wandering along it. Nature has made interesting and lovely, but it’s still a ditch. That wiggly blue line? That’s the old channel. Nothing even remotely ditch-like about it.

Back in 1960, the county bought up about 9000 acres of the old Skunk River channel. The water had never drained from the old channel; the area had basically become a series of oxbow lakes and bottoms. What the hell are oxbows and bottoms? Glad you asked. That’s an oxbow in the photograph below.


An oxbow is a U-shaped body of water; it occurs naturally in meandering rivers. An oxbow lake is one that’s formed when the U-shaped loop is cut off from the main channel, either because some engineering fuckwit decides to ‘straighten’ the river, or because a big flood (or sometimes an earthquake) will shift the river channel itself. Bottoms, on the other hand, are alluvial lowlands, which probably doesn’t tell you much. It’s what we call that land by a river that floods all the time. Marshy land, mosquito-breeding swamps, rich in sediment. If a river runs through a city, the Bottoms are where the poor folks usually live.

That bench in the photograph below? That’s sitting on bottomland. Oxbow lakes and bottoms. Great for wildlife and flood reduction. Sucks for housing.


After the county bought up the old Skunk River channel, they sort of encouraged it to be more of what it already was — a wildlife habitat. They re-introduced otters, and bobolinks, and wild turkeys, and a few species of endangered turtles. Other species returned on their own, like Pileated Woodpeckers and various raptors. They preserved old trees and planted tree species that used to grow in the area before it became farmland.

And I have to say, they’ve done a fantastic job. The place is completely fucking beautiful. Within the first half hour I was there I saw two Great Blue Herons walking along the dead-end road that leads to the area. Herons on the road. They were apparently gigging for frogs in the marshy ponds just off the blacktop. I saw the first bobolink I’ve ever seen in the wild. I nearly stepped on a Northern Water Snake that was three and a half feet long.


Did I get photos of those critters? No, I didn’t. Why? Because I was too busy looking at them to bring my camera to my eye. I’m rubbish when it comes to wildlife photography. What I did instead was photograph the stuff that didn’t move. You know — trees and all that. The water — which I guess does move, even in oxbow lakes. But the lakes and marshes themselves are pretty stationary. I’m not much better at landscape photography than I am at shooting wildlife. I think that’s partly because the landscape is SO BIG and the camera can only jam a small chunk of it through the lens. Still, these photos will, I hope, give you some small idea of the Chichaqua Bottoms.


I’d only planned to be there a short time. I figured maybe an hour. You know, just a break from work to refresh my mind — then back to the computer. But do you remember that bit I mentioned at the beginning of this post? That bit about one of the few advantages of being a freelance writer is the ability to say “Fuck it, I’m going to go wander”? Well, that’s exactly what I did.

It’s days like this that make the lack of a steady income bearable. Pension plan? Pffft. You can’t put days like this in the bank. You have to spend them when you have them.

a deep, fetid reservoir of stupid

Can somebody in Texas or Washington, DC find Congressman Blake Farenthold and attempt to explain to him the difference between real life and fiction? Because, seriously, there is just no goddamned fucking way this maroon should be sitting on Congressional hearings.

Let me just repeat the key sentence in that short video:

“Every outbreak novel or zombie movie you see starts with somebody from the government sitting in front of a panel like this saying there’s nothing to worry about.”

I am totally gobsmacked. Not by Farenthold’s total ignorance of Ebola and its transmission vectors — I mean, the guy is a dolt, so I don’t expect him to understand how the Ebola virus actually works. I’m gobsmacked by the fact that he actually really no-shit truly spoke from the bench in a Congressional hearing and without embarrassment or any sense of irony referenced zombie movies in a discussion on health policy oh Jeebus I still can NOT completely believe this.

I’ve written about Farenthold before. I predicted that “he has the potential to some day be known as the Louie Gohmert of South Texas.” But I had no notion his fetid reservoir of stupid ran so deep.


Are you ready for this? An elementary school teacher in the small town of Strong, Maine attended the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — an educational conference held at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the city in which Texas Health Presbyterian is located. Texas Health Presbyterian is the hospital in which Thomas Eric Duncan was treated for (and died from) the Ebola virus. The Hilton Anatole hotel is almost ten miles from Texas Health Presbyterian hospital.

On her return to Maine, the teacher was placed on a 21-day leave of absence. It takes between two and twenty-one days for a person infected with Ebola to exhibit symptoms.

Strong Elementary School -- Strong, ME.

Strong Elementary School — Strong, ME.

That’s right. The administrators of Maine School Administrative District 58 have placed a teacher on paid leave for being in the same city as an Ebola patient. Why? Because a local parent, Matt Dexter, has a child who is in that teacher’s class. I don’t want to say that Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit.

But he is. He complained to the school board:

“[Y]ou sent (this teacher) to a potentially harmful area for exposure, and then to come back and jump into the classroom on Monday seemed a little bit reckless.”

Matt Dexter apparently believes the Ebola virus is very clever — the McGyver of viruses. He seems to think if a patient in an isolation unit coughs or sneezes, those wily Ebola viruses will find a way to escape isolation, sneak out of the hospital, travel ten miles to a nice hotel, infiltrate the hotel’s HVAC ducts, find its way to the room of a visiting teacher from Maine, infect her, then bide its time until she returns to her classroom in Maine, at which point it will leap out and assault his child. Did I mention Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit?

“I’m really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, ‘zero risk, low risk.’ The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can’t control? It all comes down to personal responsibility.”

You know, maybe the reason everyone is saying there’s a low risk is because there actually is a low risk. And c’mon, ‘low risk’ is an exaggeration. The risk is infinitesimal. Consider this: we had a guy with active Ebola symptoms at large in Dallas for two days, then hospitalized in a facility completely unprepared to treat Ebola — and yet only two other people have tested positive for the virus. The four people who actually shared living quarters with Thomas Eric Duncan while he was symptomatic — the period when he was most contagious — are about to be released from quarantine; they’ve shown no sign of being infected. Why? Because Ebola, despite being incredibly infectious, just isn’t very transmissible.

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

And yet Matt Dexter, of Strong, Maine, is about to piss his pants in panic because his child’s teacher happened to spend a few days in the same city as an Ebola patient. But hey, he’s right — it DOES all come down to personal responsibility. Matt Dexter is personally responsible for educating himself before panicking — and he failed in that responsibility. He’s personally responsible for teaching his child the difference between rational fears and irrational fears — and he failed in that. He’s personally responsible for being a role model for his child — and guess what, he failed at that too. Matt Dexter has a personal responsibility NOT to be a complete fucking idjit. Failed.

I feel sorry for the teacher. But even more, I feel sorry for Matt Dexter’s child. All children are, at some point, embarrassed by their parents. But few children have such a legitimate reason to be embarrassed.

a little harmless sedition and mutiny

First thing every morning: coffee and the news. That’s my routine. The coffee because coffee is good, the news because it’s so often horrible. If I read the news first thing in the morning, the day can only get better.

I have favorite types of news stories. One of them is the Republican Shocked to Learn Saying Horrible or Stupid Things Might Not Be Universally Accepted category. You know, like when Todd Akin was surprised to learn there were people who didn’t divide rape into legitimate and illegitimate cases. Or Mitt Romney, who was startled to find that some people didn’t share his opinion that 47% of the population refused to take responsibility for their behavior. I love those little reality checks.

This week’s winner is Debbie Dunnegan Waters.

Supposedly Recorder of Deeds

Supposedly Recorder of Deeds in Jefferson County, Missouri

Ms. Waters is the Recorder of Deeds, an elected official in Jefferson County, Missouri. She recently wrote the following on her Facebook page:

I have a question for all my friends who have served or are currently serving in our military … having not put on a uniform nor taken any type military oath, there has to be something that I am just not aware of. But I cannot and do not understand why no action is being taken against our domestic enemy. I know he is supposedly the commander in chief, but the constitution gives you the authority. What am I missing?

What is she missing? I don’t know…maybe some critical cognitive functioning? I don’t expect elected officials at the county level to be familiar with the details of the U.S. Constitution, but this is some pretty basic stuff, right here. Clearly, she’s heard the phrase ‘domestic enemy’ somewhere, and she seems to understand it’s somehow connected with the Oath of Enlistment. She also appears to realize there’s a link between being President of the United States and being the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to reason this through. Most folks learn this stuff in a junior high civics class.

So let me help the poor woman. First let’s deal with that ‘supposedly the commander in chief’ business. It’s right there in the U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 2, if you’re interested). It says the President of the United States, whether you like him or not and regardless of his race, is the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” There you go. Pretty clear, right?

Okay, now why doesn’t the military take ‘action’ against the president? The Unified Code of Military Justice tells us why. It’s in the section on mutiny and sedition — which is sort of a hint (that would be (Article 94, section 894, by the way). It states any member of the Armed Forces who “with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.” And any member who “with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition.” That bit about the ‘lawful military authority’ and the ‘lawful civil authority’? Yeah, that includes the President of These United States. Oh, another thing: the punishment for mutiny and/or sedition? It’s “death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”

Finally, that stuff about ‘domestic enemies’ comes from the Oath of Enlistment. When you join any branch of the military, you have to take this oath:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I don’t think you have to mention God anymore, though you did when I enlisted. But that’s irrelevant. What Ms. Dunnegan Waters needs to look at is that middle part of the oath. The part that says “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States.”

So let’s look again at her Facebook comment.

dunnegan twitter

Some people (and by ‘some people’ I mean a LOT of people) pointed out that it’s probably inappropriate for the Jefferson County, Missouri Recorder of Deeds to suggest members of the U.S. military should engage in sedition and mutiny. This, of course, took Ms. Dunnegan Waters completely by surprise. She said,

“I meant no ill intent toward the president. I meant no ill intent toward anybody.”

No, of course not. She just wants the military to take action against him. You know…in the kind, gentle, supportive sort of way the military takes action. And besides, she says, people are just misinterpreting her Facebook comment. In an interview with the local public radio station, she said this:

“I just wanted to know what oath (the military) took. I’m not calling the president a domestic enemy. I’m not calling the president anything.”

Like so many Republicans who say outrageously stupid things, Ms. Dunnegan Waters appears mainly to be surprised that anybody was offended. I mean, how could anybody possibly be upset that she called the president a domestic enemy (which she totally didn’t do, though maybe she did, but if she did (and she did) she didn’t really mean any ill intent, so that’s exactly the same as she didn’t)? And like so many Republicans, she blames all the fuss over how she phrased it, not because of what she said.

“I should have known better than to use certain phrases. Maybe my choice of words was bad.”

No, you said exactly what you meant to say. You just didn’t expect anybody outside your usual circle of Republican nutjobs to notice it. You just didn’t expect anybody would hold you accountable for the things you said. Like so many Republicans who like to talk about stuff like civility and personal responsibility, you just didn’t think it should apply to you.

By the way, Debbie Dunnegan Waters is up for re-election in a few weeks. I hope the good people of Jefferson County, Missouri will give her a lesson in responsibility.

just stop already

I declare. It’s no wonder folks fret so much about Ebola. In the last couple of hours I’ve seen three or four magazine and newspaper articles with variations of this deeply stupid headline:

Ebola ‘could become airborne': United Nations warns of ‘nightmare scenario’ as virus spreads to the US

Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN’s Ebola mission, says there is a chance the deadly virus could mutate to become infectious through the air

I’m not including any links to those articles (I’ll explain why in a bit). Here’s the quote from which the headline above was taken:

The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate. It is a nightmare scenario [that it could become airborne], and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.

Sure. There’s also a chance we could resurrect a T-Rex from DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber 66 million years ago. Unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out. I could be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop superhuman strength, perfect balance and a spider-sense that would alert me to great danger. Adam Sandler could win an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Unlikely, to be sure — but it can’t be completely ruled out.

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Here’s a true thing: there have been exactly the same number of viruses that have mutated from transmission through contact (like Ebola) into airborne respiratory viruses as there have been T-Rexs cloned from DNA obtained from amber-trapped mosquito guts.

In the entire history of epidemiology, it’s never happened. Not once. Ever. And there are a LOT of viruses that can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. HIV, for example, or Hepatitis B. Have those viruses mutated? Sure. Have any of them suddenly become airborne? Nope. Will Ebola become airborne? Nope.

Will we see more headlines like this? Absolutely, because scary headlines draw readers and readers draw advertisers and advertising keeps newspapers and magazines alive. It may make them sick, but it keeps them from dying.

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

And you know what? That’s exactly what an effective virus does. It infects a host, replicates itself, and finds a way to infect other hosts in order to perpetuate itself. But an effective virus does NOT kill the host; it just keeps it sick. A dead host is of no use to a virus; a sick host allows it to continue to replicate and spread itself, infecting as many new hosts as possible.

If you’ve read any of the articles I mentioned at the beginning, you could have been infected with advert-borne stupidity. That’s why I didn’t include links. Think of the absence of links as a form of prophylaxis — a measure to prevent infection, as opposed to treatment after being infected. But happily, there IS treatment available if you happen to become infected. The treatment isn’t always easy, but it’s widely available.

All you have to do is learn some facts. Facts won’t make you immune to advert-borne stupidity, but it’ll decrease the odds of infection and any long-term effects.

Oh, and wash your hands too. Can’t hurt. And avoid contact with Adam Sandler.

omg the ebolas are here

Okay, just chill the fuck out. We’ve got one guy — one guy — with Ebola in the United States. One guy. It’s not a big deal (unless you’re that one guy, of course).

Here’s the thing about Ebola: it’s only transmissible when the patient is exhibiting symptoms. Also, the only way you can be infected is if you come into contact with the patient’s bodily fluids.

This Ebola guy, he wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms when he flew in from Liberia. How many symptoms was he exhibiting when he flew in? None. He didn’t begin to display any symptoms until four days after he arrived. And what did he do then? He went to the hospital. Which is exactly what he should have done. The hospital checked him out and sent him back home. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do if a guy has the flu. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do if the guy has Ebola.

Couple days later, the guy returned to the hospital, still sick. Still the right thing to do. This time, though, the staff apparently learned he’d recently arrived from Liberia, and they isolated his ass. And they identified and checked on all the people he’d had close contact with.

This is the wicked little bastard that's causing all the trouble

This is the wicked little bastard that’s causing all the trouble

But there’s three pieces of good news: First, Ebola isn’t that transmissilbe, despite what you may have seen in the movies or on television. Popular entertainment media are NOT reliable sources of epidemiological information. Unless somebody — his family, the nurses, the doctors — happened to dip their fingers into the Ebola guy’s bodily fluids, they’re not going to contract the disease. Second, you can bet your ass that from now on when somebody arrives in the E.R. with a fever and other symptoms that might indicate Ebola, somebody is going to be asking the patient if he’s recently been in western Africa. Third, right now researchers and epidemiologists are swarming all over that hospital in Texas with all the fervor of spawning salmon. It won’t take long before they know every detail of that poor bastard’s life.

There’s also bad news: Ebola might not be as transmissible as once thought, but it appears to be more infectious. Even minimal contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids may be enough to pass on the infection. Still, no need to wet your pants. Why? Because First World folks generally tend to be relatively fussy about touching other people’s bodily fluids.

Here’s a simple test to determine if you might have Ebola:

Question 1: Have you touched anybody’s saliva, sweat, vomit, urine, feces, or blood?
If the answer is No — you don’t have Ebola. If the answer is Yes, go to Question 2

Question 2: Did that person have Ebola?
If the answer is No — you don’t have Ebola. If the answer is Yes, go to Question 3.

Question 3: Why are you taking this test instead of checking your ignorant ass into the hospital?

So there it is. Yes, we have an Ebola patient in the U.S. No, it’s not a threat to national security. No, you’re almost certainly not going to catch Ebola. No, it’s exceedingly unlikely that it’ll spread here like it has in parts of western Africa.

This is why doctors and nurses have become infected

This is why doctors and nurses have become infected – inadequate protection

Don’t get me wrong — Ebola is some wicked bad shit. But it’s only a serious threat in nations with really lousy public health systems. Every time Ebola has shoved its nose into some country with decent basic health care — and I mean basic, we’re talking about stuff like trained health care professionals, access to gloves and masks, maybe some isolation wards — it got dough-popped on its ass.

You know how you can tell if a nation has a shitty public health system? When the people dying of Ebola include doctors and nurses. Because that usually means they don’t have enough gloves and masks. They don’t have enough gloves and masks. Weeping Jeebus, what fucking tragedy. Regular folks in those nations get Ebola because they care for their sick. I don’t just mean they take care of their sick; they care for their sick. They hold their hands, they lave their fevered brows, and they personally wash the bodies of their dead. It’s wonderfully intimate. And if the sick guy has Ebola, it’ll kill you.

Gloves and boots drying out after being disinfected with bleach so they can be re-used

Gloves and boots drying out after being disinfected with chlorine so they can be re-used

There’ll be other Ebola cases in the United States in the future. Count on it. And there’ll be cases in Europe, and other places with decent public health systems. That’s just the way the world is now; viruses have no respect for borders and they love air travel.

But we can keep it in check; there won’t be any bodies in the street. In the U.S. you’re safer from Ebola than you are from getting tagged by some camo-wearing mall shooter. That’s a complete different fucking tragedy.

i’ll tell you

You guys! You know who’s a fuckwit? I’ll tell you. Speaker of the House John Boehner, that’s who’s a fuckwit. How big a fuckwit is he? I’ll tell you. He’s a colossal fuckwit. A fuckwit of immense proportion. Do you know what this colossal fuckwit said yesterday? I’ll tell you. He said this:

“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, ‘I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”

And do you know what colossal fuckwit John Boehner did then? I’ll tell you. He ended the Fall session of Congress. Seriously, the Fall session. I know! It’s still officially summer. How big a fuckwit do you have to be to end the Fall session before Fall even begins? I’ll tell you. Colossal. That is fuckwittedness of herculean magnitude. And when will Congress return and get back to work? I’ll tell you. Sometime after the elections in November. November, you guys!

Massive Fuckwit, John Boehner

Colossal Fuckwit John Boehner

And do you know what’s even more fuckwitted than that? I’ll tell you. Congress just returned from its Summer vacation on September 9th. How many days has Congress been session since their holiday? I’ll tell you. Ten. Ten days. How many bills did Congress manage to pass in those ten days? I’ll tell you. One.

One bill. What was that bill about? I’ll tell you. It was to approve funding that will allow the U.S. to give money and training to Syrian rebels so they can fight ISIS. Or ISIL. Or Da’esh. Or Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. Or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves today.

One bill. Then they took off. Do you know how many days Congress has been in session this year? I’ll tell you. Fewer than a hundred. Ninety-seven, to be exact.

I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.

Jeebus. Jeebus on a fucking pretzel. You know what would have been nice? I’ll tell you. It would have been nice if they’d stayed away those last ten days and kept us out of another war in the Middle East. That would have been nice. I’d have liked that.