Archive for the ‘Bobcats’ Category

An All-Inclusive Church

January 17, 2017

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  So I was delighted when the BBC read this the other night.  It is posted on the Hereford Diocese Inclusive Church, England, among others.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable, or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rake or could afford to lose a few pounds. You’re welcome if you are Old Leigh, New Leigh, Not Leigh, or just passing by.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organised religion.’ We’ve been there too!

If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, ‘work too hard,’ don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost on the London Road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!

Seen Today

bobcatI was in my bedroom (second floor, with a view of the relatively animal-less hillside beyond), and was so excited to see a bobcat ambling down said hillside.  I grabbed my camera, but there is a dreadful block wall behind, so all I got her his/her ears and back.  To think that I had them lounging on my back patios at the last house.  (Google bobcat notesfromthewest, and set it to Images and you’ll see a lot of the shots of bobcats I’ve taken over the past five or so years, with other miscellaneous photos from those same blogs.)


obama-booksCan’t remember if it was on NPR or in the NY Times, but it was mentioned that President Obama read books late into the night.  (Photo of President Obama reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to children at the White House in 2014. Doug Mills/The New York Times.) This wasn’t the article, but it mentions three books that I have read1:

And most every night in the White House, he would read for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction2.

I am just finishing Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre, which President Obama mentioned in the interview that I heard, along with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz, which I also “read” (listened to the audiobook version, narrated by musical maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda), although it was very strange (magical realism).  Maybe I’ll try to read more books on his list.

Then I saw this: Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon nominated for book critics award.3  I just picked up Chabon’s Moonglow from the library.  Enjoyed his The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  And Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto.  I think we’ve all read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ann Patchett, Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith are among the nominees for the National Book Critics Circle awards in the US…

Margaret Atwood, the Canadian author of novels including The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye, will receive a lifetime achievement prize…  The winners will be announced on 16 March.

Patchett’s Commonwealth, Chabon’s Moonglow and Smith’s Swing Time were all fiction finalists, along with Erdrich’s LaRose and Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone.

So there’s more to add to my request list at the library.

Monsanto Continued

A friend emailed me this question: If they are growing genetically modified corn in green house, it should not need pesticides.  Are you concerned about fertilizer?

I answered: Watch The World According to Monsanto on youtube.  It’s way long and boring but skip to the section on corn in Mexico, 1:25:20; it’s an eye-opener.



July 11, 2015

I shall be teaching two computer classes in the fall – CIS (Computer Information Systems – this class is mostly Excel) and  CAD (Computer Aided Drafting).  I’m getting the books to peruse, and am setting up my computer.  Had an old version of Windows (Vista – yeah, yeah, from just after the mastodons died) and upgraded affordably to Windows 8.  Had to buy a portable hard drive to save my personal information in case the hard drive was reformatted.  Downloading Windows took a couple of hours.  But when I started to download 4.02 GB of AutoCAD (free for instructors), the screen displayed 691 days 14 hours remaining.  Boy, does someone have a sense of humor!  It only took 14 hours…

When Windows upgraded, however, it threw away my Microsoft Office, which contained Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which I need for CIS, so I had to download a new Microsoft Office (also free for instructors).  Another problem was that my McAfee didn’t work.  I had paid for that so I let the technician (who I was delighted to find was female) take over my computer remotely to rectify the problem.  What a way to spend a weekend.


Got up this morning, opened the drapes, and went back to bed to listen to the news.  A huge smash! as what appeared to be a dove crashed into the glass door, turned around and glided over the rosemary to the small wash.  A large hawk in pursuit flapped by.  A while later I went to wash off the patio – there was blood and guts and feces splattered about.  That dove was doomed.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in bed reading the newspaper when a juvenile bobcat looked in the door,  but it didn’t stop for photographs.

Three times during the past week I have gone out back in the morning, startling a deer munching on mesquite pods under the large mesquite tree. They are so skittish!

When this year’s pack of coyotes go at it a few times a day (now at 4:30 pm) they all sound young – a lot of yipping, but no soulful howls, no gravitas.

Omar Sharif

Doctor Z…died at 83.   We all fell in love with him as Doctor Zhivago, but did you know that he was also one of the world’s top 50 contact bridge players?  I used to read his newspaper bridge column.  You can buy an Omar Sharif Bridge App (video game), or buy one of his books on bridge or bridge instructions.

Was disappointed to discover that he did not lead tours down the Nile, as
Egypt with Omar Sharif would have you believe.  I pictured him on the boat, talking about the mysteries of the Egyptian pyramids, as he did with Jane Pauley in April 1988, and teaching bridge in the evening.

He was born Michel Chalhoub, an Egyptian Catholic, but converted to Islam to marry an Egyptian actress.   They were married for 12 years.  He made Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand during the Six Day War, and when he had an affair with her (a Jew!) Egypt almost took away his citizenship.  (Barbra Streisand tried to make light of it. “Egypt angry!” she said. “You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!”)


Felt punk the other day, fluish but with what felt like cracked ribs on my left side.  Got a sub for the next day and saw my doctor who sent me for X-rays. Two hours later he called and told me that I have pneumonia!  I got online and discovered that you can contact it without even being in a hospital!   You can get pneumonia when you are in a hospital or nursing home. This is called healthcare-associated pneumonia.  You can also get it in your daily life, such as at school or work. This is called community-associated pneumonia.1

Plus, there are many strains, so the pneumonia shot, which provides immunity against the most common 23 strains of streptococcus pneumonia,2 which I had gotten, did not hit the bullseye.  (Like the flu shot that I had paid a few bucks for last year, only to pick up the flu from my grandkids at Christmas.) More than a hundred “bugs” (bacteria, viruses and fungi) can cause community-acquired pneumonia.2 Walking pneumonia (mycoplasma pneumoniae), which I guess I have, is most common in late summer and fall [and is] spread in families, schools and institutions…3

Was prescribed levofloxacin, which is also good for anthrax and plague, so I’m covered.  But, according to the pharmacist’s Medication Guide, the meds can cause photosensitivity (which is not being afraid of selfies, but being sun sensitive, a double whammy for blondes), tendon rupture or swelling (which worries me as my shoulder has finally healed) as well as cause serious side effects that can result in death.  Super.  Teaching is a dangerous profession.


Birds, Bees, and Bobcats

June 8, 2015

art & birds 002Another one bit the dust.  Am going to have to put decals on the bedroom doors too.  This small bird has a tiny splotch of yellow on its head, so I guess it qualifies as a verdin.

At my computer Saturday I hear a loud art & birds 006smash, as a large bird hitting a window.  Went out front to check, and saw no dead bird, but a few quail were looking distressed and squawking up a storm.  Later, when I went out to my garden, I saw the evidence.  A hawk had flown a large bird (no doubt a quail, whose relatives I heard grieving) into the window, then had plunked it feathers outside the fence (see the photo) and dined.

art & birds 004On a cheerier note, a cardinal in the wildflower garden.  And (an un-photographed) visit from the neighborhood roadrunner, stopping just briefly on my bedroom patio, as the cat was outside, but they have a tacit agreement not to bother each other as the roadrunner is too big for the cat, and the cat is too big for the roadrunner.

Our killer bees are not a problem around here unless you disturb their hive, or are around a pool.  poolAfter house-hunting with my daughter on Sunday (they found another house and have made an offer) we went swimming at the El Conquistador pool (showing family in pool), where they are staying.  A few bees around the edge drinking the splashed water.  Many years ago, in similar circumstances,  I stepped on one, which of course stung me.  Another time, raising myself out of a pool, I put my hand down on one and got stung.  Unfortunately, I believe that both died.

This morning I thought I ought to plug my camera battery in for a recharge and as I stood up the young bobcat was just stepping onto the bedroom patio.  It looked at my cat (whose back was turned), then at me, and backed away.  With no battery I missed the shot.  The other day, getting ready for work, I noticed the cat staring out the sliding door, very interested.  The young bobcat was chasing a small rabbit in circles around a barrel cactus.  They were going quite fast, so these are the best photos I could get, obliquely through the glass.

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I know that some of you prefer my animals to my politics, but had to share these. First, a poster about American freedoms, then commentary on the Koch brothers, based on a Coke commercial:

Next, a report on our world’s pollution.

…the Earth is surrounded by nearly 4 million pounds of space debris. The image you see above was actually generated by NASA to show which ones are presently being tracked.1

the loved oneThis brought to mind a farcical movie from the 60’s, The Loved One,2 which skewers the American Way of Death, and concludes with the deceased being shot into space; so you could add all those satellites filled with corpses, circling the earth, to the picture above.



Art and the Desert

May 28, 2015

A week and a half ago TMA’s CAS (Tucson Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art Society) visited The Barrio Collection, the glass studio of Katja Fritzsche1 and her husband, Danny Perkins, who recently moved from the Seattle area, Whidbey Island.  Pilchuck Glass School2, where Danny was a guest lecturer, is right there.bobcat + purple 007

Danny Perkins is considered by critics to be one of the most innovative glass artists working today. His works are considered to be masterworks of contemporary sculpture. Each of Perkin’s pieces demonstrates his great skill in the use of both color and form. Perkins consistently translates his unique vision into great art.

Perkin’s glass art is represented in major public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Asia including:
* National Museum of American Art, Renwick Gallery, Washington DC
* Corning Museum of Art, Corning, NY
* Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland,CA3

My photo shows two of his huge glass works flanking one of his paintings.  This photo doesn’t really show off the glass.  See the Duane Reed Gallery web page for marvelous photos4.

Katja does cast glass, much in the same way I did bronze in the lost wax class I took. (See my blogs from a year ago re the lost wax process.4)  Her present work is influenced by Sumi-e.

glass 003glass 010glass 002In the first photo you can see the wax bird and the plaster cast, in the second a wax composition on plywood, in the third, a finished work, the light shining through the glass.


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The large bobcat visited early the morning of Memorial Day, before I had even made my coffee.  My cat acts as a pointer; although she doesn’t hold her tail upright and lift her right paw, when she comes to attention, I check out what has appeared in the yard.  This bobcat came into the yard from the back and rested on the bridge over the small wash in the yard, behind the rosemary, so I couldn’t get a photo.  Then it took off, muscles rippling, and I rushed to the guest bedroom for this shot unfortunately in shade.

young bobcat 009Then in the evening the cat perked up again – a very young bobcat walked onto the bedroom patio.  I slid off the bed and started to take photos.  When it finally turned towards us, it didn’t even bother looking at me  (it acted as though I, with camera, was just a piece of furniture) but its eyes got large looking at my cat with her hair sticking up and her tail poofed up.  Then my cat started growling, and the small bobcat slunk out of the yard.

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Blooming, May 24, 2015

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bobcat + purple 021The Mexican primroses are joyfully flowering pink, the texas rangers, happy with the increased humidity we had last week (and that tiny bit of rain),  have burst out in their dark violet blossoms.  The gaillardias add a nice touch of red-orange to my wildflowers.

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And some blue flowers volunteered in my vegetable bobcat + purple 024garden, so I dug them up (along with a couple of the volunteer snapdragons) and put them in a pot on the bedroom patio. I think they’re veronicas.  Maybe I had bought some for a pot years ago, and the seeds got into my compost.


I haven’t seen the western screech owl that my neighbor says lives in his yard, but I hear the call after dark.  (This web site has the call:

It’s mating season and the birds aren’t thinking right.  A goldfinch bounced off my kitchen door, but it was still alive, just woozy, so I put it on a twig in the acacia tree.

bobcat + purple 014This one (a house sparrow?) didn’t make it.  It had smacked into the bedroom sliding door, where I do not have those decals which reflect ultraviolet sunlight. (This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds.)  I have decals on my kitchen windows and the windows for the living and dining rooms.


Women of a certain age…

May 17, 2015

Yesterday in the mail I was informed that You may qualify for the Funeral Advantage Program… Guess I’m of that certain age.

The poet Byron in 1817 wrote, “She was not old, nor young, nor at the years/Which certain people call a certain age,/Which yet the most uncertain age appears.” Five years later, in a grumpier mood, he returned to the phrase: “A lady of a ‘certain age,’ which means Certainly aged.” Charles Dickens picked it up in “Barnaby Rudge”: “A very old house, perhaps as old as it claimed to be, and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses of an uncertain, as with ladies of a certain, age.”1


A few days ago when I left for work there was a rattlesnake, about four feet long, in the middle of our cul de sac.  I went around it; it was not there when I got home, so I guess nobody ran over it. Snakes are good – they keep the pack rat population down.

…in 2012 only one person in the nation died from a snake bite whereas 791 were killed by toasters…2


bobcats 009Got home from work yesterday to see a large bobcat sitting in my backyard.  My cat sat on the bed and growled.

This morning as I was reading the newspaper in bed the cat sat up, eyes wide.  I looked over, and a smaller (?) bobcat was crossing the spa deck with a large lizard in its mouth.  (Notice the lizard’s turquoise underside.)  The bobcat jumped from the bridge into the wash, but stopped a minute to put down the lizard and look at us.  (I had the door open to the screen, so maybe it heard my cat growling.)   The lizard took off running, so the bobcat dashed after it, through the fence as if it weren’t there, catching the lizard again in the neighbor’s yard.

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July 5, 2014


July 3, 2014

rattlesnake 001

rattlesnake 006As I was having my morning coffee and newspaper, noticed that my cat’s hackles were up.  The adult bobcat on the spa deck again.  It didn’t stay too long, but later I noticed something else there.  Turns out it was a three-foot rattler.  I may start wearing cowboy boots outside to do my yardwork.


rattlesnake 011

Later in the day, when I was getting changed for qigong, the bobcat was back.  Sat on the spa cover, then opted for the cool ground cover.  Looked up when I took a photo from upstairs, but my flash went off in its eyes.

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Continuing my reading on landscape architecture.  (Believe this was from Landscape for Living.)  Fascinated by a “whisker dam”.  This from 1937.


July 1, 2014

Sunday morning a coyote strolled by the fence, but her young twins came into the yard to explore.  Only one came to drink.  (Bad photo through screen and window reflection.)  They roamed around doing their own thing, which is why I only have a couple of poor photos to prove that there were two of them.   One of them left the yard soon and the other tried to pull the cover off the spa.

two coyotes 023two coyotes 009







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two coyotes 021two coyotes 038Bobcat

This morning I opened the bedroom drapes to see a large bobcat relaxing on the spa cover.  My cat growled at it.  The bobcat was startled to see the drapes opened, but then didn’t care until I went upstairs to the deck.  Guess it didn’t want any animal above it.  It allowed one more photo, then slithered through the fence and into the underbrush.

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1056The patches in the asphalt parking lot at the college are starting to melt.  But it’ll really be hot by Sunday.

Young Bobcat

June 25, 2014

young bobcat 011

young bobcat 012
young bobcat 015I walked into my bedroom to hear my cat growling, her hair on end, her tail puffed up.  A young bobcat, probably the thin one who walked across my driveway a few days ago1, was lying on the patio, panting in the afternoon heat of 101°.  It looked like it needed a good meal!  My cat finally gave up her high-pitched growling with a cough – it probably hurt her throat – and we sat down to watch the bobcat “catnap” for almost two hours! young bobcat 019 (I did read, but didn’t go out to water my newly planted golden daleas, not wanting to disturb it.)

When the bobcat got up to stretch, my cat’s growl reached a new high.  But the bobcat moved to the deck, glancing at the fence.  The same deer, its mate and young’un behind, who had interfaced with my cat yesterday (the cat hunched under the chaise, peering at the deer, the buck staring across the fence at her – did he think that she was a young bobcat?) was intent upon the bobcat.  Bobcats do attack and eat deer.

young bobcat 020young bobcat 026

young bobcat 018young bobcat 030

After I went upstairs to the deck for a cleaner photo, not through the reflections on my dirty sliding glass door, the bobcat saw me and melted into the underbrush, then the deer, the buck leading the way, combing the brush for predators.young bobcat 025


common_nighthawkIn the evenings there are about half a dozen Lesser Nighthawks, which are not hawks, but nightjars, that dart about the sky.  I enjoy them from my deck, but they are much too fast and dexterous to photograph (hence this from the Web).  The Desert Museum says that the Nighthawk flies low, silently and gracefully, searching the sky for flying insects, and maneuvering quickly, almost like a bat.

Ah yes, the nightjar.  I had blogged about one in Peru2:

As I was dropping off the sleep last night I realized that I had had a beer with dinner and had neglected to use the “facilities.”  I was considering getting up, with the suggested flashlight so that I didn’t step on frogs or toads or snakes (on the raised floor?!) when I heard the flapping of wings.  A large winged creature was flying above my tent.  I envisioned a vampire bat and chose not to get up.  The next morning I found out that 1vampire bats only bleed humans when they’re sleeping, 2you can’t hear the flapping of bat wings, and 3it was a night-flying bird, flying around my tent to scoop up insects, the nightjar.

Undocumented Children, the Pope, and You

52,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at our southern border just this year3.  (And who knows how many Canadian kids?)  Since they come from Catholic countries who parents probably abide by the Pope’s encyclical and don’t use birth control, I think that we ought to send them to Vatican City (plane tickets would cost less than the $9.6M to repatriate them), so that Pope Francis can figure out what to do with these waifs (convents, seminaries?)  Maybe then he’d reconsider Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae4.

In fact, I think I’ll write to him.  Why don’t you too?

His Holiness, Pope Francis PP.
00120 Via del Pellegrino
Citta del Vaticano

Most Holy Father,


or use the Vatican’s website to email him:

52,000 kids being housed in Texas, California and Arizona.  Just another reason for World ZPG (Zero Population Growth)!


A Death in the Family

June 20, 2014

My father’s cousin, Dave Blair, has just passed away at 94, the last of that generation of Blairs (unless his sister is still around in Michigan, but I only met her once).  When we were kids in Detroit and traveled to California to see our grandmother, we also visited their family (who introduced us to the skateboard and the hula hoop!)  Then, many years later after Dave and Mary Lou had retired, they would drive down to Arizona with their fifth wheel to drop in on my aunt and uncle in Leisure World, Mesa, and Mom here in Tucson.

The children and I had stayed with them when they lived among the redwoods in Watsonville, California (I’ve combed though boxes of photos, but can’t find the ones I took of the kids there – too many boxes), when they lived in Sisters, Washington (during the quilt festival1), and then in Sequim, Washington.  Marilou has been gone for almost four years2, and I’ve gone to see Dave a few times since, but my only pictures are of a waterfall and the snow-capped mountains.  (Photo here of his parents seeing my grandparents off on their honeymoon.)



bobcat 002Yesterday a long-legged, thin, young bobcat walked across my driveway as I was working on my computer; didn’t get my camera fast enough, so had to go out the front door and ask it to pose as it walked across the next yard.

bobcat 003bobcat 008Today when I got home from work the cat asked to go out and, as I am now wont to do due to the last rabbit she killed, I looked over the balcony for cottontails.  Instead I say a large bobcat (the same one?) longing on the guest bedroom patio.

Ran downstairs, grabbed my camera, and pulled back the edge of the drapes (which I keep closed for the summer).  The angle was all off, and I could have opened them totally, but it saw me and slowly ambled away, stopping on the bridge over the tiny wash, changing its mind, and going back to the house to keep cool behind the Texas rangers.  (I told the cat she ought to stay indoors.)


Back in Detroit where I grew up, the ants that invaded the kitchen my mother called “grease ants” because they went for her pastry board, which did not dry out (as my cutting boards do here in Tucson).  The ones that forage in my kitchen are “sugar ants”.  When I had cooked up a simple syrup (for drinks), I had left the spoon next to the stove.  Bad idea.  There was a trail of ants from the front door, up the wall, across to the kitchen counter, around the cabinets and the stove to that one 1″ drop of sugar syrup!

They can’t get into the corked canister of sugar, but one did squeeze into my covered sugar dish that goes with the creamer.  But there is a platoon of the tiny ants (which luckily don’t bite) scouring my entire house!  Not piles of them, but one here, one there, one checking out the dish of cat food, one hunting through my basket of fresh fruit and veggies, another ferreting about in the dirty dishes in my sink.  (Sorry, no photos of them!)


June is the cruelest month, breeding
Desert broom out of the dry land, mixing
Depression and aggression, stirring
Dust devils with no spring rain.

(apologies to TS Eliot, The Wasteland)



Coyote v. Deer

October 5, 2013

Wednesday afternoon’s excitement – was on my computer when “my” young coyote ambled across the drive, stopping to check a drip emitter (no doubt needing water).

I ran upstairs to see if he’d come into the yard.  He was nosing around what I think is a packrat nest outside my fence (last time he did that I heard horrible yelps, like maybe he stuck his nose in some cholla which the rats use to protect the entrance to their burrow) and all of a sudden a deer started to chase him.  He probably didn’t even know the couple with their young fawn were nearby.  (Photo when they were crossing the drive the other day.)

deer 008The other parent and the fawn bounding (white-tailed deer do not stot, pronk or prong, according to Wikipedia, as you see the African springboks doing on Nature programs) approached the fence until the other parent returned.  Deer 1 coyote 0.


This morning as I was getting ready for work I noticed a movement in the yard.  A very large bobcat had strolled through the fence.  But just as I was grabbing my camera it walked back out, to inspect the supposed packrat nest and smell the area where the deer had been yesterday.  I sat my cat down to watch it so that she won’t want to go outside for a few days.

The Orphan Master’s Son

koreaMost of you missed the marvelous talk by Adam Johnson, professor at Stanford, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Orphan Master’s Son, a realistic piece of fiction which takes place in North Korea.

The son of an influential father who runs an orphan work camp, Pak Jun Do rises to prominence using instinctive talents, and eventually becomes a professional kidnapper and romantic rival to Kim Jong-Il.

(If you get the book on CD, which you can at the library, it is read by Koreans, so you get the accent.)

Unfortunately there were only two dozen people on the lower level of the U of A bookstore for the talk and reading.  I sat with friend D and past prez of U of A, Henry Koffler.

First Johnson talked about a Korean orphan who ended up founding an NGO that has an orphanage in South Korea and planted 14,000 apple trees in North Korea.  When I googled it I found this quote from Entertainment; of course Johnson gives canned speeches.

The first person I interviewed for the book was from the North. He was an older gentleman, and he was born before the Korean War. During the war, he was orphaned. He spoke to me about what it was like to lose his family in the war. He was adopted by an American tank crew who let him sleep on the back of the tank in exchange for helping them navigate the countryside. Even as a young boy of 10, he knew some English. When they got to an air force base, they put him on a cargo jet and he landed in Seattle. That was back when I guess you could take a child and just put him on a plane. [Laughs]

All I knew when I was beginning the book was that my character was beginning to have such an origin. I was so moved by his story. Since then he went on to become one of the founders of Holt International. He had his own orphanage in South Korea dedicated to disabled children. In the North, he had an NGO planting apple orchards, and he and his friends had planted 14,000 apple trees in the North. He was friends with a man named Kim Myung-gil, who was the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] ambassador to the U.N. So my friend — I don’t want to say his name — was trusted in both the North and the South. He was professor of international relations. He knew that I was working on this book. I actually showed him most of the book before he died a year and a half ago. He just really believed in the project. He said there was nothing quite like this, and he said I think I can get you into North Korea. So he personally took me there.

I hadn’t realized that the north is 85% mountains, so they can grow corn, but not rice.  They have timber and minerals.  Then he talked about Kim Jong-il cutting down trees in 1994 which contributed to flash flooding and the great famine in which +2 million died.  No future, no possibilities, no hope.  This from Wikipedia:

The economic decline and failed policies provided the context for the famine in the early 1990s, but the floods and storms of the mid-1990s provided the catalyst. Specifically, the floods in July 1995 were described as being “of biblical proportions” by independent observers. Arable land, harvests, grain reserves, and social and economic infrastructure were destroyed.
The major issues created by the flood were not only the destruction of crop lands and harvests, but also the loss of emergency grain reserves, as much of it was stored underground. Due to the declining economy and devastating natural disasters, the DPRK did not have the resources to import food or resources, and people were faced with death and starvation. Estimates of the death toll vary widely. Out of a total population of approximately 22 million, somewhere between 240,000 and 3,500,000 people died from starvation or hunger-related illnesses.

Lots of miscellaneous details.  He pointed out that Bush added North Korea to the Axis of Evil so that it wouldn’t look like a war against Islam.  And that spontaneous bark carving appear each morning in Pyongyang with party slogans – the trees carve their own bark.  (Similar to what the trees do in the scifi sequel to Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead.)

That of Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea, North Korea had the longest run of independence in a thousand years.  The Joseon Dynasty was one of the longest running dynasties in the world, ruling from 1389 until they were annexed in 1910 by the Empire of Japan.  The Japanese subjugated North Korea for 35 years.  They could not teach Korean in the schools, and had to teach Japanese.  (Kinda like us getting Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California after the Mexican–American War and insisting that the former Mexicans now be taught English in the schools, not Spanish.)  This ended with WWII and the division by the super powers along the DMZ – where we have 13 million landmines (I couldn’t verify that number on the Web, just 1.2 million, as if that weren’t enough) and why we can’t sign the landmine ban!

Then he got into the Korean War, bad except for our one good TV program (M*A*S*H).  It’s been 60 years since but “no one has read the book”.  korean war memorialThe text on the memorial in DC is Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never  met.  (I’ve been to DC several times and didn’t even know that there was a memorial.)  It’s called The Forgotten War.  Toni Morrison has just written Home, a novel about the war.  A traumatized soldier returns from the Korean War to his segregated hometown in Georgia.  (She was one of Johnson’s students.)

Johnson spoke of his fixation, which started in 2003, to read every book he could regarding Kim Jong-Il’s dictatorship, such as the 36 book written about the 36 people who escaped the gulags.  He obsessively studied North Korea for six to seven years before he could get security clearance to visit.  His wife finally said enough! Recommended – Nothing to Envy: ordinary lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, interviews with women who escaped.  North KoreanCourt Poet‘, Jang Jin-sung, who escaped in 2004, is to publish his memoirs.  Look for that this spring.

When Johnson did get to North Korea he saw few old people, but veterans got housing on the first floor of buildings.  He saw the goats on the roofs in Pyongyang.  In Pyongyang the most desirable thing is to speak with a South Korean accent, which means that you get away with listening to South Korean soap operas.  People there have cell phones, ipads, and so on, like us.

Kim’s personal sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, defected in 2001 and has written three books about his experiences.  (Johnson interviewed him for GQ:  A couple of details about his life.  He grew up with a combative father whose signature move was punching out people’s front teeth, including Fujimoto’s mother’s.  When working for Kim Jong-il, Fujimoto spent $650,000 on cognac for the dictator each year.  And he never spoke Korean.  For eleven years he was nanny to Kim’s three sons, who were presented with whatever Fujimoto said children on the outside liked – a waterpark at each of his seventeen palaces, roller skates, video games (yes, DHL delivers to Pyongyang), and a basketball court at each palace.  Unfortunately, Fujimoto and the boys had to pretend that there was an opposing team.

Kim became crazy for basketball.  The Chicago Bulls became his favorite team after their 1992 win of the NBA Finals.  (Fujimoto’s sister recorded the final game and sent it to him from Japan.)  Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended her summit with Kim by rodman-north-korea-cartoon-mckeepresenting him with a basketball signed by NBA legend Michael Jordan.  Michael Jordan was invited to the DPKR and declined, but Dennis Rodman accepted.

Kim was responsible for every death, every person in his country.  He would marry people on the spot, if he thought they should be married, or divorce them on the spot at parties.  Kim Jong-il had South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee kidnapped, and become “his pet” because he liked her movies.  But just this August his son, Kim Jong-un, had 12 people of a pop band executed by machine guns, including Hyon Song-wol, well-known pop artist and his longtime girlfriend.    This is now the third generation of the regime; it is durable.

Pima Students

Eating lunch in one of the Pima College lounges.  Over a dozen students sitting in the comfortable upholstered couches and chairs, or at one of the bar-height tables each surrounded by three pale turquoise chairs.

Eight students texting on their phones.  (Does anyone talk on a telephone anymore?)  Four working on their tablets or laptops.  One (with lavender hair) actually reading a book!  One doing homework from a book.

I have some students with interesting decorations.  Lots of tattoos, and one woman, in addition to tats cascading down both arms, has a flower on the front of her neck.  (In Sunday’s NY Times Social Q’s column Philip Galanes said, If the desired tattoo would adorn her face or neck, lock your daughter in her bedroom until further notice. Because nothing says “future C.E.O.” quite like a cobra crawling up from beneath a Peter Pan collar.)

One young women has cotton candy pink hair, another a robin’s egg blue.  One young man has a four-inch Mohawk (yes- standing stiffly up – he says he uses paraffin on it) in a pumpkin orange.

lady-gagaSome multiple piercings.  One young man with dreadlocks (he’s white) and half-inch holes in his ears (called ear stretching or lobe ‘gauging’) has a ring between his nostrils, rather like Lady Gaga.

But no one as decorated as Dennis Rodman.