Olympic Games Tokyo, Stearns County Fair Sauk Centre

Stearns County Fair. (July 28, 2012)

The 2020 Summer Olympics and Stearns County Fair are both in progress this weekend.

One is an annual agricultural and commerce show, the other is half of a four-year Olympiad; but they’re not entirely different.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut both down last year, for example.

Rescheduling Tokyo 2020 and cancelling what would have been the 118th Stearns County Fair disappointed a lot of folks, but I think it made sense.

COVID-19 was becoming a global pandemic in January of 2020.

Can’t say that I blame Tokyo officials for saying that they could keep athletes and visitors safe, though. My culture has variations on ‘the show must go on’ — and sometimes it makes sense.

But the International Olympic Committee said ‘not now, maybe next year.’

Can’t say that I blame them, either.

I had quite a bit to say this week, mostly about Olympic history, so here a list of headings:

Feel free to skip ahead. Or go get a cup of coffee, watch whatever Olympic event’s on, or take a walk. I should still be here when you get back.

The Games Must Go On! Usually

President Gerald Ford getting swine flu vaccination, 1976Sure, Zika didn’t block the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games; and H1N1/swine flu didn’t stop Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

On the other hand, we knew how the Zika virus was transmitted in 2016; and had been studying it since the 1940s.

Swine flu was and is a serious disease, but the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak wasn’t nearly as deadly as the one starting in 1918.

COVID-19, in contrast, hadn’t been identified and almost certainly didn’t exist before late 2019; and by early 2020 we could tell that, on average, someone catching it was more likely to die than someone who got the H1N1 flu.

Besides, we weren’t sure exactly how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread. And having no COVID-19 vaccine at the time didn’t make an international get-together seem like a good idea.1

Even, so, the International Olympic Committee had historic precedent for ignoring obvious and avoidable hazards:

“…Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them…
…Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred….”
(“Charge of the Light Brigade,” Tennyson (1854) via VictorianWeb.org)

The last I heard, we’re still not sure why the Light Brigade charged the wrong target; and that’s another topic.

Three Distinct ‘First’ Olympics

Olympiad of the Republic, Paris: Olympics of the French Revolution. (1796))
(From Musée de la Révolution française, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(First Olympiad of the Republic, Paris. (1796))

Today’s Olympics began in 1859, when Evangelos Zappas paid the bills for an Olympics revival in Athens. Athletes came from Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Folks liked the games, so the ‘Zappas Olympics’ were on again in 1870 and 1875.

Or they started in 1850, with the Wenlock Olympian Games in Shropshire, England.

Then again, I could say that Charles-Gilbert Romme’s L’Olympiade de la République revived Olympian glories in 1796 — and made them metric. His idea was celebrating the First Republic’s first four years.

But Romme was more than a sports promoter.

Charles-Gilbert Romme had been elected to the revolutionary Legislative Assembly as a Girondist. After moving on to the National Convention, Romme joined the Montagnards. Somewhere along the line he voted for Louis XVI’s execution.

Girondist? Montagnard? Think Whig and Tory, Republican and Democrat: political parties, important at the time.

Then Romme said rioting sans-culottes — blue collar workers in Revolution-speak — had reasonable demands. Anti-Montagnard activists disagreed, so Romme was sent to the guillotine. Or would have been.2

I’ve seen two versions of what happened. One says he stabbed himself outside the courtroom and died with “I die for the republic” on his lips. Another says he was guillotined. I suppose he could have been guillotined postmortem, and I’m drifting off-topic.

Romme missed the L’Olympiade de la République opening ceremonies by about a year.

Another ‘First’ Olympics

'Zappas Olympics' opening ceremonies. (1896)
(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Summer Olympics opening ceremony, Panathenaic Stadium, Athens. (1896))

Another ‘first modern Olympics’ was in 1896, when Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s International Olympic Committee sponsored their first Olympic games, back in Athens.

And Let’s Not Forget the Cotswold Olimpicks!

'Cotswold Games' woodcut, from the cover of Annalia Dubrensia.'(1636)But the Cotswold Olimpick Games, near Chipping Campden, England, predates them all. They started in 1612.


That’s how Robert Dover, he’s the chap who started the games, spelled it in 1612.

I’d use today’s “Olympic” spelling, but I’m an American who was born during the Truman administration.

My guess is that “Olimpick” was a correct spelling for someone born in Norfolk, East Anglia, when Elizabeth I was queen.

I like English, my cradle tongue.

But I sympathize with anyone who tries to learn our spelling conventions.

That tangle is what happened when a Germanic language got modified by Vikings who spoke their version of French. After which, from around 1400 to 1600, we got the Great Vowel Shift; and those were just two high points in the story of English.

Or maybe the Great Vowel Shift ran from 1400 to 1800.3 There’s consensus that it happened. When, how and why it happened is still debated.

The First Olympian Olympics

Locations for major ancient Greek games
(From Sport in the Ancient Greek World, Joukowsky Institute, Brown University; used w/o permission.)

So, recapping, the modern Olympics started in 1612, 1796, 1850, 1859, and/or 1896.

Or maybe some other year, depending on who you’re listening to; and when you say the “modern” era starts.

If you thought the Great Vowel Shift was debatable, then you haven’t seen historians discuss historiography, timeframes and labels.

Basically, Tokyo 2020 is part of a tradition going back maybe four centuries: counting from when Europeans got excited about one of the four Panhellenic Games. Five, if you count the games in Athens.

At any rate, the big four were at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia: that last apparently a temple of Poseidon that got its name from the Isthmus of Corinth.

The games were in honor of Zeus, or maybe Hera; Apollo; Heracles, who isn’t or isn’t quite Hercules; and Poseidon. They ran on a four, two and six year rotation.

An Olympiad is four years long. It’s a unit of time dating from archaic Greece, but not officially used until the Hellenistic period, which was after the Greek Golden Age, and that’s another topic.4

If all that sounds complicated, I agree.

Olympia and a Puzzle with Pieces Missing

Olympia sanctuary; archaic, classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods; by N. Kaltsas. (2004)
(From N. Kaltsa, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Sanctuary at Olympia, archaic to Roman periods.)

Each Olympiad started at — where else? — Olympia, just south of Mount Kronos.

Historians and archaeologists agree that folks have been living at Olympia since 1500 B.C. and started worshiping Zeus around 1000 B.C., or maybe they’ve been there since 1000 B.C. and built a Zeus sanctuary a few centuries later. Probably.

We’re pretty sure that the Altis, the Olympian sacred precinct, was a quadrangle or a grove, dedicated to Zeus, Hera, Herakles: or maybe it’s what folks called a pavilion or marquee, back in the day.5

We’d almost certainly know more about Olympia’s story, if the Late Bronze Age collapse hadn’t happened.

Catastrophe, Survival and Reconstruction

Finn Bjørklid's map; showing migrations, known battles and burned cities during the Late Bronze Age collapse.
(From N. Kaltsa, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Known and inferred movements, battles and destroyed cities. (ca. 1200 B.C.))

Something bad happened about 32 centuries back.

Then, 27 and a half centuries back, give or take a few decades, Homer composed the Iliad: an epic poem describing what we call the Trojan War. Up until maybe a century back, Western scholars assumed that the Iliad described a real war.

Since then, assorted scholars have decided that the Troy didn’t exist, the Trojan War never happened and Homer wasn’t a real person.

Folks like Schliemann deflated the ‘Troy didn’t exist’ notion, but I gather that Homer’s identity is still up for grabs.6

As for the Trojan War —

Myth and Memory

Johann Georg Trautmann's 'Blick auf das brennende Troja'/'The Burning of Troy.' (18th century)
(From Johann Georg Trautmann, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I’ll grant that the Trojan War, as described in Homer’s Iliad, is part of Greek mythology; and that we don’t have documentary evidence that Homer was Homer.

Detail of 'The Apotheosis of Washington,' United States Capitol rotunda; Constantino Brumidi. (1865)But I see an 18th century war, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Bunyan as part of American mythology.

And, although I know Paul Bunyan didn’t really have a blue ox, I’m convinced that Minnesota exists and that what I call the American Revolution happened.7

I don’t have a problem thinking that maybe Homer’s Trojan War, which could easily have happened around the time of what we call the Late Bronze Age collapse, was based on actual events.

Loosely based, maybe. Along the lines of today’s ‘based on actual events’ movies.

Looking Back, After 32 Centuries

British Museum Room 55, the Cyrus Cylinder at leftThink of it this way. Let’s say that WWIII happened in the late 1960s.

It didn’t, I’m just setting up an imaginary situation to illustrate speculation about the earliest Olympics.

Anyway, let’s say my hypothetical WWIII started after the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. As a result, the 1972 Munich Olympics didn’t happen, and survivors spent several centuries rebuilding their societies.

Some even managed to preserve their most valuable records.

Then, around 2450, someone told an epic tale set in New York City: a story of star-crossed lovers, dark legacies and lost hope. Not unlike “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Except that the storyteller’s New York City was pronounced Nyooyork Shahar, as the mythical metropolis was called in the era’s civilized language.

Fast-forward to the year 5221. The best and brightest scholars — if you don’t believe that, just ask them — say that Nyooyork Shahar never existed. And they’ll be right. Sort of.

Nyooyork Shahar’s fate didn’t depend on an adolescent romance, trial by combat wasn’t part of the city’s judicial system; but it was, nonetheless, a real city.

And that’s almost, but not quite, another topic.

A point I’ve been making is that myth and fiction intersect reality. And an earliest known recorded event may not be the earliest event of its kind.

So as I see it, the ancient Olympics started in 776 B.C. — assuming that the traditional date is correct, and that the traditional ‘first Olympics’ really were the first.

“Mukanuh” and Linear B

Underwood & Underwood's 'The Lion Gate at Mycenae' stereo photograph. (1897)
(From Underwood & Underwood, via Google Art Project, used w/o permission.)
(Mycenae’s Lion gate, after excavation and before partial reconstruction. (1897))

The Mycenaean civilization flourished from around Hammurabi’s time to when Wu Yi of Shang defeated Bi, or maybe when Di Xin allegedly torched his own palace, with him inside.

Mycenaeans — I’m guessing that’s not what they called themselves.

“Mycenaean” comes from Greek Mykenai via Latin. Mykenai AKA Mycenae, a place near today’s Mykines and an important city in its day.

Since writing on an Amenhotep III-era statue mentions “Mukanuh” and some Linear B text lines up with names in Homer’s epic, it’s a fair bet that the Mycenaeans and Minoans — who used Linear A and almost certainly called themselves something else — were related.

Or used similar writing systems, at any rate.

Mycenaean civilization and Linear B stopped being current after the Late Bronze Age collapse. Folks in Mycenae/Greece didn’t start writing again until a few centuries later, when they apparently adapted a Phoenician alphabet.8

And that’s when the first Olympics happened. Traditionally.

Olympics, the First Millennium

the Kleophrades Painter's 'athletes running' black-figured Panathenaic amphora. (ca. 500 B.C.)Koroibos, AKA Coroebus, of Elis won the stadion race in 776 B.C. — that’s what Eusebius said, at any rate, a half-millennium later.

We get our word “stadium” from stadion, and traditions like the hundred yard dash and hundred meter sprint.

That race was the first, last and only event in the 776 B.C. Olympics.

Event organizers added a pentathlon in 708 B.C., which I figure inspired forecasts of doom and gloom for the games.

Not only was the pentathlon something ‘we’ve never done before,’ but it favored athletes who could do more than run a hundred yards.

I gather that experts of the day agreed in viewing specialist-athletes as better than those who could do more than one thing well.

But the Olympics kept going until nearly the end of the third century A.D., with maybe a mini-revival after that.9 We’re not entirely sure, since the Roman Empire had started fraying by that time. And that’s yet another topic.

Where was I? Let me see.

2020 Summer Olympics. Stearns County Fair. Zika, swine flu and COVID-19. Cotswold Olimpick Games and the French Revolution. Homer, Linear B, the Late Bronze Age collapse, Olympic origins and the Roman Empire.


The Stearns County Fair’s origins go back to — maybe an annual regional get-together somewhere north of Mesopotamia. I don’t know, and I sure don’t have time to try tracing the roots of trade fairs and agricultural shows.

So I’ll take a quick look at the Champagne fairs.

Fairs, the Black Death and Minnesota

Illustration of a Champagne fair. (1898)
(From Armand Colin & Cie, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(19th century illustration of a 13th century Champagne fair.)

The Champagne fairs started as local agricultural and stock fairs in the region between Paris and Brussels. They grew into a regular annual cycle of six major get togethers. During the 1100s and 1200s, they were as big a deal as, say, Amazon.com and Twitter.

The Champagne fairs weren’t just about selling grain and livestock. Folks came to trade textiles, dye, spices: whatever folks in one place had that was wanted elsewhere. Besides commerce, they swapped stories, ideas and whatever was news that year.

Then the Little Ice Age and Black Death, along with France developing a central government and an uptick in Europe’s endemic wars turned the Champagne fairs from a ‘must go’ to a ‘remember when.’

But people still had goods to trade and and stories to share, so other fair circuits grew.

and Europe’s fair circuits shifted to other places.10

Stearns County Fair

(4H rocketry exhibit at the Stearns County Fair. (2012))

The first Stearns County, Minnesota, Fair was held in 1871, in St. Cloud. In October.

Folks came to the 1871 fair, despite rain and snow; and returned the next year.

I gather that fair organizers then tried moving the county fair to Sauk Centre, where the weather wasn’t much better.

Then we went a few years without fairs. I gather that financial issues were in play.

At any rate, Stearns was a county without a fair from 1871 to 1903. That’s when we got a new fair association, someone bought 28 acres in Sauk Centre, and the new fairgrounds and race track opened: on July 3, 1903.

And the Stearns County Fair has been here ever since.11 Except last year. I mentioned COVID-19 earlier.

More Weather

Minnesota Air Quality Index Map. (3:00 p.m. CDT July 29, 2021)
(From Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, via MPR, used w/o permission.)

Pigs at the Stearns County Fair. (2012)Having the Stearns County Fair in July, now July and early August, strikes me as a good idea.

That puts our county fair before the Minnesota State Fair, and pretty much guarantees that we won’t have snow during our event.

And that said, this is the Upper Midwest. Like the old joke says, this is Minnesota. “We don’t have climate. We have weather.”

But, although there hasn’t been an official recorded July snowfall in my state since the National Weather Service set up shop here, there’s a story about a Fourth of July snowfall. The story’s unofficial, but based on credible sources, and that’s yet again another topic.

My guess is that folks in the Arrowhead region, at least, have had July snowfalls.

Maybe here, too.

But not most years. This time around, we’ve been dealing with heat and air quality advisories. The latter explains why Thursday afternoon’s sky was a slightly brownish yellow. We set an Air Quality Index record that day.12 On the whole, I’d almost prefer snow.

None of which has much to do with the Stearns County fair, where we still show off our best livestock and — nowadays — rockets.

Going for the Gold, Within Reason

Carl Hassmann's 'The Almightier' illustration for Puck. (May 15, 1907)Today’s Olympics, officially at any rate, are for amateur athletes.

Aside from their medals, I gather that there’s little to no financial payoff for their years of hard work.

No immediate payoff, at least.

My culture, at least, has options for winners to cash in on their fame; including but not limited to product endorsements and celebrity appearances.

I don’t have a problem with that, or with their willingness to put so much time and effort into some athletic event.

On the other hand, do I see a problem with focusing too much on being the world’s best amateur athlete, or even on having the best pig or rocket at the Stearns County Fair.

It comes down to priorities.

I’m focused on writing, for example; and have been since childhood. But I haven’t put writing ahead of family, and happily haven’t had opportunity to put either ahead of God.

As I see it, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a competent athlete, writer, or farmer; or with wanting to be the best.

God made a world that’s jam-packed with beauty and wonders, so I figure appreciating and enjoying them makes sense. Within reason. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 32, 41, 74, 283, 341, 2500)

Appreciating them so much that I think Olympic medals, prize pigs or anything else is more important than God? That’s a problem.

I’m a Catholic, so I call that sort of daft prioritizing “idolatry.” And a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2113)

I’ve talked about that, and other stuff, before. Often:

1 Diseases and decisions:

2 Assorted first Olympics:

3 The Cotswold Olimpicks and my language’s recent history, briefly:

4 Olympics, background:

5 South of Mount Kronos:

6 Catastrophic collapse, a poet and an archaeologist:

7 Mythical names:

8 Mycenae, scripts and people:

9 Remembering a millennium of big-time athletics:

10 Before the Stearns County Fair:

11 My part of world:

12 Minnesota’s climate weather:

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Drought, Air Quality Alert: Living in the Upper Midwest


Well, no. Not really. Although that’d make a dandy headline. On the other hand, maybe it’s too obviously overblown.

'FBI Captures Bat Child' Weekly World News headline. (1992?)Maybe there’s a fine line between headlines that grab attention without inspiring thought and those destined for supermarket checkout lines. Or maybe it’s more a matter of style and content.

And that’s another topic, for another day.

At any rate, wildfires in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Manitoba, triggered an Air Quality Alert for my part of Minnesota.

That’s because forecasters said smoke from the wildfires would come down on Wisconsin and spread into Minnesota.

“Air Quality Alert…

“… Including the tribal nations of Mille Lacs, Prairie Island, and Upper Sioux … 1236 PM CDT Tue Jul 20 2021…

“…WHERE…Central and South Central Minnesota.”WHEN…Through 6 AM CDT Thursday.

“IMPACTS…Sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease (including asthma), heart disease, and children and older adults, may experience health effects.

“ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Smoke from wildfires in Ontario and Manitoba is expected to mix down to the ground over northern Wisconsin and move into central and southeast Minnesota this afternoon. …


“Sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease (including asthma), heart disease, and children and older adults, should limit prolonged or heavy exertion….


Which is what it did, Tuesday evening.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Nose and Throat

(From National Weather Service, used w/o permission.)
(Sauk Center, Minnesota, weather. (July 20, 2021))

Our problem was “fine particle levels” in the Orange AQI category.

“Fine particle levels?” “Orange AQI?”

I’d known that smoke looks smoky because of the fine particles in it. Except for smoke that includes a colorful gas, which ours didn’t.

Air Quality Index: Quantifying Smoke and Gas

United States Air Quality Index (AQI) chart.But AQI was new to me.

So I did a little digging, found out that AQI stands for Air Quality Index, and learned where the AQI numbers come from.

The numbers are what what we get when concentrations of ozone, two sizes of tiny particles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide are run through an equation.

It’s on a scale of zero to 500, with zero to 50 being green, 100 to 150 being orange. 301 to 500 is maroon, which is really, really bad.1

AQI and a “Sensitive Groups” Household

My desktop's lower right display. (July 21, 2021))My desktop weather thingamajig’s AQI number went up to around 183 a few times Tuesday evening. It was lower Wednesday, but still in the orange zone. AQI 183 is in the red zone, which is unhealthy for pretty much everyone.

I’m an “older adult” and the rest of this household have asthma-related issues. So we haven’t been having fun this week.

Even so, it could have been worse. We could have been driving somewhere.

“Special Weather Statement
National Weather Service Twin Cities/Chanhassen MN
855 PM CDT Tue Jul 20 2021…


“Wildfire smoke has reduced visibilities to between 1 and 4 miles from central and eastern Minnesota into Wisconsin. Some areas across central Minnesota could experience visibilities less than one mile overnight. Across southwestern Minnesota, visibilities may deteriorate to between 3 and 5 miles later this evening….


Maybe saying that this week’s hazy air is a potpourri of peripatetic particulates would have helped me sneeze less. Then again, maybe not. Probably not.

Either way, a golden oldie has been on my mind’s playlist this week:

“…So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes….”
(“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes;” Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach (1933) via AZLyrics)

July Shower, Summer Drought

(From Drought.gov, used w/o permission.)
(Drought in Minnesota. (July 20, 2021))

Minnesota drought conditions. (July 13, 2021)We got a (very) little rain Thursday morning, when a line of diminutive thunderstorms stumbled through my part of Minnesota.

I enjoyed the subdued rumblings, and welcomed the temporarily unhazy air.

But I’d be astounded if the morning sprinkle eased our drought by much.

More of Minnesota is experiencing “extreme drought” conditions this week, and several formerly “moderate drought” counties are now in the severe area.

We’re not having a good growing season.

But, again, it could be worse.

This Year’s Rain: Exceptional!

(From Drought.gov, used w/o permission.)
(U.S. Drought Monitor. (July 20, 2021))

We could be living in California.

Other parts of the American southwest are also dealing with “exceptional drought,” but it’s mostly the Golden State’s dire circumstances I see in headlines.

Whether that’s because folks in Nevada deal with inclement weather more effectively, or editors regard California as more newsworthy, or I’ve been looking at California-themed news feeds — that, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s a bit of ‘all of the above.’

At any rate, this has been a very dry year for a great many folks.

And a hot one. Which isn’t good news for folks living in Minnesota’s Metro area this weekend. Or here in Sauk Centre, for that matter.

Sun, Rain and Neighbors

18th century engraving by an unknown artist, '...Wherein Rear Admiral Beaumont was lost on the Goodwin Sands....'So, what’s the moral of this drought?

And, for that matter, is there a moral to Europe’s excess rain? Assuming that recent headlines reflect actual conditions there.

In my considered opinion, this year’s weather means that my part of the world has been getting less rain than usual.

And that parts of Europe have been getting more. Also that this isn’t going be be a good year in the Napa Valley.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a ‘wrath of God’ scenario. I still see that sort of moralizing — very rarely, and not in the mainstream. Not the Bible-thumping variety. Then again, there’s the occasional ‘wrath of Mother Nature’ declaration, and that’s yet another topic.

In any case: rain or shine, good crops or otherwise, I figure Jesus is right. The sun rises and rain comes — or doesn’t come — to all of us. What matters is how we act.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
“that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
(Matthew 5:4445)

Love, Neighbors and Me

Rembrandt's 'Christ and the woman taken in adultery' drawing. (ca. 1639-41)How I act depends partly on who I think is “us,” and who I think is “them.”

Since I’m a Catholic, sorting out “us” and “them” is simple: and incredibly difficult.

Because I’m a Catholic, I should love God and my neighbors — and see everybody as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1706, 1776, 1789, 1825, 1849-1851, 1955)

I’ve said that before. A lot. In large part because I think it’s important, and a point that sometimes gets lost in the bedlam that passes for discussion these days. And those days, for that matter, and that’s yet again another topic.

Catechism references start with The Dignity of the Human Person. About that: the online resource I’d been using changed its access rules, so links in my older stuff don’t work.

The link I posted here takes you to a flip-book online copy: not my favorite format, but your experience may vary.

Vaccination Progress

My COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. (June 11, 2021)This household has been 100% vaccinated against COVID-19 since Friday.

I’ll see that as good news, although I’d much rather skip the week or so of recovery that our fourth vaccinee will likely endure.

Vaccinee? As it turns out, that’s a ‘dictionary’ word. Who knew?

Our latest ‘got both shots’ family member is number-three daughter; a tad older than our son, distinctly younger than me and my wife.

How emphatic the vaccine’s side effects will be remains to be seen.

The same goes with whether and how soon we’ll want follow-up vaccinations. And how effective current vaccines are against COVID-19 variants. But that, and how we’ll be dealing with this particular unpleasant reality, remains to be seen.

Between this summer’s drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and a smorgasbord of health issues predating both, this has been an — interesting — year.

Small wonder I’m feeling a little bothered.

Oh, well. At least my life hasn’t been boring. Now, as usual, links to more of my stuff; which I think relate to what I’ve been saying. More or less:

1 Smoke and measurements:

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Deeper in Drought, But 87.5% Vaccinated

(Drought conditions in Minnesota. (July 13, 2021))

There’s more to life than drought and disease, but that’s mostly what I’ll talk about today.

Partly because discussing what I’ve seen in headlines would mean more research and effort than I have time for this week. Besides, apart from a Hubble update and the Pope’s liturgical fine-tuning,1 it’s mostly routine.

Take this sample from yesterday and today, for example:

On the other hand, that “Covid deaths on the rise…” thing reminded me to check the Minnesota Department of Health’s Situation Update for COVID-19 page.

I’ll get back to that.

As for the rest —

In the News: Science, Religion, Chaos Stalking the Land, and Weather

I’m glad that the Hubble Space Telescope is back in working order.

Looks like scientists will be able to do that Hubble – James Webb Space Telescope teamup they’ve been hoping for.

Regarding Pope Francis and Latin Mass? Maybe we’re in for yet another ‘unprecedented catastrophic crisis of looming doom.’

Unless something juicier comes along. Don’t get me wrong. I take my faith, Mass included, seriously. Religion in news media? Not so much.

Climate change kills Germans as chaos stalks the land? Looks like global warming is 0ut, climate change is back in. And folks in Germany are having a bad month.

Drought intensifies in Minnesota? That’s much closer to home. But weather in the Upper Midwest isn’t national news.

Which isn’t an altogether bad thing.

This way, at least I’m not wading through screed: blaming either the previous administration or the current president for our excessive sunshine.

COVID-19, Peaks and Minnesota

(From Minnesota Department of Health, used w/o permission.)
(Minnesota COVID-19 deaths. (March 19, 2020-July 11, 2021))

Minnesota’s Department of Health has been tracking COVID-19 cases since March of 2020, including how many folks died because they’d caught the disease.

My state’s pandemic death toll peaked from April to June last year, and again from November to the end of January, 2021, more or less.

Minnesotans were dying from other stuff, too: old age, vehicle accidents, falling into a lake, drug overdose, whatever.

But at the moment, I’m looking at pandemic-related deaths.

We had a sort-of peak again this year, from April to June. But not much of a one.

Can’t say I’m disappointed.

I don’t see a peak starting now. Not in the MDH statistics.

Conspiracy Theories and Weirdness

'At the Sign of the UNHOLY THREE' cartoon, warning against fluoridated water, polio serum and mental hygiene. And 'communistic world government.' (1955)That could mean that a North Carolina-China conspiracy — in league with the Illuminati, pixies and giant mutant squirrels — stands ready to oppress us all with fluoridated water and polio serum.

Or COVID-19 vaccine. Or whatever seems scariest at the moment.

And that Minnesota stands alone, the last bastion of truth, justice and ice fishing.

Or maybe folks in my state have generally been more agreeable to getting vaccinated.

Or maybe we’re just lucky.

On the other hand, the Minnesota Department of Health could be in league with shape-shifting space-alien lizard-men.

Space-alien lizard-men who are using the Illuminati, pixies and giant mutant squirrels as a diversion. And that we’re about to be abducted by space aliens, destined to toil in the nougat mines of Wackadoo III.

And no, I do not think so. Seriously.

I’ve talked about mRNA vaccines, conspiracy theories and all that before. There’ll be a ‘more of my stuff’ link list later on.

The Usual Suspects and Me

I. Cruikshank's 1808 political cartoon, supporting Jenner, Dinsdale and Rose in the vaccination controversy.I’d prefer living in a world where at least a few of the frightfully faithful couldn’t be counted on to panic over new medical tech.

But the usual suspects have played their roles with smallpox and polio vaccines; and are back, denouncing today’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

As for me, I think COVID-19 is a real disease; that it’s contagious, unpleasant and occasionally lethal; and that not getting my neighbor sick is a good idea.

Staying healthy myself doesn’t sound bad, either. Make that not catching COVID-19. I’m not, strictly speaking, healthy; and that’s another topic.

Apparently-religious scruples may not be the only issue in play currently. I gather that the newfangled vaccines are occasionally perceived as some sort of political plot. Or something dastardly, at any rate.

I’m not happy about the way some of today’s political hotshots have been using a real pandemic to get, keep, or exercise power. But, again, I think the pandemic is real; and that working for the common good makes sense.

So I waited until it was my turn to get vaccinated, and now have had both COVID-19 shots. And that brings me to “87.5% Vaccinated” in today’s title

Both Shots for Three, One Left for One

CentraCare, Sauk Centre, MinnesotaMy wife and I live with our son and a daughter. I’ve had both shots. So have my wife and son. The daughter who’s still under our roof has had her first, but not her second.

My son and I had a good chat when his second shot resulted in a trip to the emergency room. Probably resulted. His symptoms showed up hours after the vaccination and matched possible side effects, so I think the odds favor a cause-effect connection.

I experienced pretty much the same thing, only not nearly as extreme, after my second shot. And my wife’s going through much the same routine as I did. She’s currently recovering from her second shot.

It’s been and is unpleasant. But I still think lowering the odds of catching and spreading a potentially-lethal disease is a good idea.

Minnesota’s Drought, Very Briefly

I live in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, near the northwest corner of Stearns County.

Back in mid-June, we had moderate drought.

Last week we’d been promoted to severe drought. Now we’re at the edge of a severe drought area.

I talked about the drought last week.

As I said then, this isn’t good for crops, and so isn’t good for farmers.

And since this part of Minnesota is largely rural, anything that affects crops affects all of us. Directly or indirectly.

On a lighter note, I see that this week’s Minnesota drought map features a question mark shaped area of severe drought.

North Dakota’s Drought

(From Drought.gov, used w/o permission.)
(Drought conditions in North Dakota. (July 13, 2021))

Minnesota’s drought conditions are bad. North Dakota’s are worse. There’s a blotch of exceptional drought in the middle of that state.

They’re not in the news, not that I’ve seen, but I figure that wildfires in North Dakota, northern Minnesota and elsewhere account for Sauk Centre’s haze and less-than-comfortable Air Quality Index readings.

As for ‘not in the news?’ I could weave a conspiracy theory involving pixie pyromaniacs and whichever political party I figured my target audience hated and feared most.

But I won’t. I’ve lived in this part of the world most of my life. So I realize that wildfires aren’t news unless they’re local, Brobdingnagian, or in California. And that’s yet another topic.

Now, as promised, more of my stuff.

1 These three letters seem to be what inspired this week’s news media hoo-ha:

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Minnesota, July, 2021: Drier and Deeper in Drought

(Drought conditions in Minnesota. (July 6, 2021))

My part of Stearns County, Minnesota, had moderate drought back in mid-June. This week’s map promoted us to severe drought.

Maybe the map’s drought data included the 38 hundredths of an inch we got on Tuesday. But I doubt it.

Drought.gov’s map is comparatively simple, but it reflects a very complex set of data. So I figure the folks updating it need time. Or, more likely, folks and software need time.

At any rate, this has been a dry summer. That’s not good for crops, which isn’t good for farmers. And since my part of Minnesota is largely rural, anything that affects crops affects all of us. Directly or indirectly.1

Rain and Regional Rivers

Rain in the Upper Midwest. For one day. (July 6, 2021))
(From National Weather Service, used w/o permission.)
(Tuesday morning rain: welcome, if incomplete, drought relief. (July 6, 2021))

That said, Tuesday’s rain was welcome. And a nearly all-day affair, so the soil had time to absorb the water. Although that’s not so much of an issue around Sauk Centre. That seems likely, at least.

Our soil’s sandy by my standards. I grew up in the Red River Valley. Red River of the North that is. The Red River that runs, by our reckoning, from where the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers join northward to Lake Winnipeg.2

My Red River Valley isn’t so much a valley, as a huge lakebed. Soil there is the sort that gets packaged and marketed as potting soil in some parts of my country.

Not that potting soil is an export product. And I’m drifting off-topic.

Trends, Terror and Assumptions

Rain in the Upper Midwest. For one day. (July 6, 2021))
(From National Weather Service, used w/o permission.)
(“Annual average temperature for the contiguous United States from 1895-2016. … The linear trend of 1.45°F per century over the period is represented by a straight blue line.”
“Mapping U.S. climate trends,” Jake Crouch, Climate.gov (December 21, 2017))

My hat’s off to Jake Crouch. Instead of drawing a straight line from 1895 to 2016 on that annual average temperature graph, and telling us that pretty soon Earth’s oceans will boil; he talked about statistics and February.3

Basically, he — as I see it — tried explaining that climate is complicated. And changes.

That’s not particularly exciting, so I’ll have fun with that 1895-2016 graph and unwarranted assumptions.

Perils Abound! The Dust Bowl, a Coming Ice Age and Global Climate Angst

Doing a linear trend from 1911 to 1933, I’d get a really steep linear trend: continental warming to delight the hearts of tabloid editors and assorted activists.

More seriously, I’m not happy that the 1972-2016 linear trend is almost as steep.

If I accept the conventional ‘we learn nothing from history’ attitude, then I could assume that we’ve got a Mega-Dust-Bowl Apocalypse coming next year. Or maybe the year after.

Maybe so, or maybe not.

I’m guessing “not,” since I’ve noticed that we do learn. Some of us.

On the ‘down’ side, current average temperatures are higher than in the 1930s.

That’s significant, assuming that recent temperature readings came from close analogs to the 1930s weather station.

On the other hand, if 1930s readings were from thermometers a mile or so out on the prairie, while recent data came from thermometers at the same location: which is now a paved parking lot — that’s another topic. Almost

An ‘up’ side is that we have learned. Farmers have, at any rate.

These days, for example, plowing across slopes is standard practice.4 In places I’ve seen, at any rate. That, and leaving plowed soil in biggish chunks, helps keep soil from washing or blowing away: come drought or downpour.

Beware the Coming Ice Age!

Global warming protestors in penguin suits: Vienna. (2017) via CNN, used w/o permission.Then there’s the 1953-1968 linear trend.

That inspired “global cooling” headlines, ‘coming ice age’ documentaries and science fiction tales.

The latter were of more interest to science nerds like me, I strongly suspect.

In any case, by 1970 we had juicier apocalyptic visions to embrace.

“…in ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish….”
(Paul Ehrlich, on first Earth Day, (1970))

Somewhere between the mid-1970s and early 21st century, global warming worked its way to top-of-the charts for scary catchphrases. I hadn’t been tracking such things, and so missed when “climate change” came into vogue.

Maybe the current crop of “global warming” headlines in my news feeds heralds a return to traditional doomsday scenarios. Or maybe not.

Now, that post-1972 warming trend just simply must have been caused by someone.

Or, better yet, something big and familiar.

Starbucks, the Coming Shopocalypse and/or Global Warming

(From Starbucks, via AP/KOMONews.com, used w/o permission.)

It’s been five and a half years since Starbucks and the War on Christmas was an item.

Basically, the idea was that Christians were miffed that Starbucks didn’t take their frangible feelings into account when planning the chain’s holiday marketing.

Make that some Christians. I didn’t learn about the alleged crisis until I saw ‘red cup controversy’ headlines.

Anyway, casting Christians as easily-offended twits isn’t hard.

Procter & Gamble Panic

Proctor and Gamble's pre-1980s logo, before the Revelation 12:1 'satanic' rumors.Take when Procter & Gamble changed their logo, for example, back in the 1980s.

News media had a field day, discussing a rumor that the P&G logo was Satanic. And suggesting that Christians, aghast at Revelation 12:1 mockery and the dread number 666, were avoiding P&G in droves.5

I’m guessing that some Christians really were upset.

Maybe because someone drew a line between the logo’s 13 stars and Revelation 12:1. That’s the bit that mentions “…a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

And aimed their outrage at P&G instead of the Catholic Church.

The alleged subliminal “666” in the old P&G logo’s whiskers didn’t help. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you can probably see it in the whisker curlicues.

I figure that Revelation 12:1 is a reasonably clear reference to Genesis 37:9: Joseph’s dream, where “the sun and the moon and eleven stars” bow to Joseph. And that’s yet another topic.

“Reverend Billy” and the Shopocalypse

And sometime Christian crackpots are simply too good to be true.

Like when Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping marched on Starbucks.

When Reverend Billy isn’t dressed up like a 1980s televangelist with a dash of 1960s campus activist, he’s William Talen: from a Dutch Calvinist family in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.6

They moved around a bit, I gather.

How much of his Reverend Billy act is performance art, and how much stems from a sincere desire to save souls from the — I am not making this up — Shopocalypse? I have no idea.

I’m drifting off-topic. Again.

Where was I? Drought, rain, statistics, linear trends and Starbucks. Right.

After That, But Not Necessarily Because of That

I pegged the current warming trend’s start as 1972. That’s a start, but I’m not through.

Scaring folks with global warming isn’t enough. If I’m going to get attention, I need to blame the crisis on someone or something.

Preferably something big and not beloved by my target audience.

My culture’s traditional ‘Biblical’ approach is to select snippets from Revelation and maybe some of the more metaphorical Old Testament books.

I’m not sure how I’d fit Revelation 12, say, into anti-Starbucks screed.

But never mind that. I’m taking a more up-t0-date “scientific” approach.

What started around 1972, and is still on my culture’s radar?

After sedulous and incisive research — checking out two ‘this year in history’ pages on Wikipedia — I had my answer: Starbucks!

It’s obvious!!

The first Starbucks opened in 1971, in Seattle.

Seattle, Washington, is the western United States.

There’s a dreadful drought in progress in the western United States.

The Starbucks chain has been growing ever since 1971.7

America’s average temperature has been rising ever since 1972.


Considering how easily crackpot notions get traction, I’d better make this disclaimer: I AM MAKING THIS UP. Seriously, I do not think that Starbucks causes global warming.

My intent was to blow off a little steam. And maybe suggest that taking a deep breath and thinking is often a good idea.

Finally, my usual review of flamingly-obvious points. Or stuff I think should be obvious.

Making Sense

Detail, Albrecht Durer's 'The Revelation of St John: 12.' (1497-1498 )I’m a very emotional man. That’s partly why I don’t trust my feelings, and that’s yet again another topic.

Letting emotions run my life is an option. A daft option, but an option nonetheless. I’ve got free will. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1704-1707, 1730-1738, 1853, 2339)

Emotions are part of being human. (Catechism, 1762-1770)

Being human, I’m a creature made of spirit and the stuff of this world, able to think — and decide whether I try to make sense, or not. (Genesis 1:27, 2:7; Catechism, 355-373, 1705-1706)

Sometimes folks don’t make sense. Making bad decisions, and experiencing their consequences, is possible. And all too common.

“…The Whole Law and the Prophets….”

Detail, Thomas Cole's 'The Journey of Life - Youth.' (1840)I won’t heap verbal abuse on folks who imply that (all) Christians were angry about red coffee cups, or on folks who followed Reverend Billy’s lead. That’s because I take our Lord seriously.

“‘Teacher, ‘which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
“This is the greatest and the first commandment.
“The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'”
(Matthew 22:36-40)

Loving God wasn’t a new idea.

“‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
“Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
“Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
“Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
“Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.”
(Deuteronomy 6:4-8)

A set of tefillinNeither was loving neighbors. That’s covered in Leviticus 19:13-18.

The idea that everybody is my neighbor is, I think, implicit Psalms 146:9Psalms 146:9, and Malachi 3:5: “The LORD protects the stranger” and all that.

There’s taking metaphor literally, too. Which reminds me, I haven’t talked about tefillin in a long time. And that’s still another topic.

On the other hand, I have talked climate, being human and vaguely-related topics:

1 Minnesota and my town:

2 A river and a little rain:

3 Statistics, trends and straight lines:

4 The 1930s drought and farming:

5 Procter & Gamble, pareidolia and maybe paranoia:

6 I am not making this up:

7 A highly successful coffeehouse chain:

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