Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Of thee they sing with feeling

I’ve been riding around the country on a bus for six weeks, doing a dog-and-pony show that, among many other things, included me walking into the crowd and humming a note and the audience singing, a cappella, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” and singing very well, sometimes awfully well, and if so, we swung into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Love Me Tender” and two verses of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” including the one about sounding forth a trumpet and the jubilant feet. People had paid $40 to see the show but they were not disappointed to be the show. It was a beautiful thing.

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Beauty is truth and truth is factual

Truth begins with facts. Facts are solid, like bricks. You build a house out of facts, the wolf won’t blow it down. But you drop a fact on your foot, it hurts. I learned this as a boy, living near the Mississippi River in Minnesota when I discovered that where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi near Cairo, Ill., the Ohio is actually larger than the Mississippi. So it’s the Mississippi that flows into the Ohio. The Ohio is the big show. This fact was shocking to me. I was proud of the river, spent hours on the shore, skipped stones on it, and I felt diminished by the new information. To go from Father of Waters to a mere tributary is a definite fall.

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Of course we’ll help Texas. Sometimes government actually is the answer.

The Republic of Texas believes in self-reliance and is suspicious of Washington sticking its big nose in your business. “Government is not the answer. You are not doing anyone a favor by creating dependency, destroying individual responsibility.” So said Sen. Ted Cruz, though not last week. Sunday on Fox News, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas would need upward of $150 billion in federal aid for damages inflicted by Harvey. The stories out of Houston have all been about neighborliness and helping hands and people donating to relief funds, but you don’t raise $150 billion by holding bake sales. This is almost as much as the annual budget of the U.S. Army. I’m just saying.

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How did we get here anyway?

An old man gets absorbed in our national drama, same as you — the paper is full of it, the madman who has moved into our lives — and then suddenly I am distracted by the memory of lawn mowing. I once loved mowing, then I hired young men to do it, and now a gang of them comes every week and they roar around for half an hour while I read the paper. Maybe I would be happier if I mowed instead.

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We’ve never been here before

Anxious times in America. There was a news story a few weeks back, “Interrupted Sleep May Lead to Alzheimer’s,” and next to it, a wine review with the line “Vivacious and well balanced, with chewy tannins and flavors of fresh red fruits.” You know and I know that a vivacious beverage will not compensate for losing your marbles. And now, driving to California, I find that I must enter a password in order to change the time zone on my laptop clock. Evidently, someone is out to mess up my schedule and my clock must be secured.

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Don’t take lunacy too seriously

Riding on a bus in the middle of the night through Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, it’s impressive, the sheer volume of traffic, hour after hour. Tanker trucks and semis and auto carriers, thousands of tons of goods moving to market, like a train of ants carrying leaves to their anthill. Out here, you don’t see the “American carnage” referred to in the inaugural address back in January. Evidently the speaker who portrayed the country as a beached whale and a victim of international conspiracies has now fixed the problems and we’re booming again. Good.

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In the republic of marriage

My wife has gone East for a couple weeks and now there is nobody to say, “You’re not wearing that tie with that shirt, are you?” Nobody to point discreetly at her left nostril and hand me a tissue. Nobody to remind me of the name of that woman with the glasses (Liz) whom I ought to know — I told my wife, “Her and me went to school together” so that she’d have the satisfaction of saying “She and I.” “No,” I said, “I don’t think you went to our school.”

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We will survive this

So. We have a vulgar, unstable yo-yo with a toxic ego and an attention-deficit problem in the White House, and now we can see that government by Twitter is like trying to steer a ship by firing a pistol at the waves — not really useful — but what does it all add up to? Not that much, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’ll say it anyway.

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A new idea about Amelia Earhart

At the age of 75, I’m coming to realize that I may never know for certain what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on their round-the-world flight that disappeared in the South Pacific in July 1937. I have been in love with her forever and it’s painful to have no resolution, only the same old theories. Like Hansel and Gretel, who disappear into the woods and some think they got baked by the witch and others think they were deadly allergic to gingerbread containing glutens. I like to think Amelia was rescued by Howard Hughes and lived with him secretly at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, had a child, and gave him up for adoption by my parents, John and Grace Keillor, in Anoka, Minnesota, but it’s a theory based on alternative facts and has been suppressed until now.

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Extinction is all around us

The big news last week was that giraffes and lions are approaching extinction because we humans are turning their habitat into farms and senior high-rises. I read the article and of course thought of the lion who killed a giraffe and brought the corpse back to the den and his wife said, “You can’t leave that lyin’ there,” and he said, “That’s not a lion, it’s a giraffe.”

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