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EAGANBLOG ARCHIVE
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What Lasts
Pont du Gard is truly a wonder. If you’ve never been there, look up “aqueduct” in your 28-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica. Or just Google it. Among the images connected to your search will be a picture of this stunning piece of Roman engineering.

It was part of a water system that once extended over 31 miles through the rolling hills of what is now southern France, but the image that persists is of the massive structure that crosses the Gardon River at Pont du Gard. It rises 140 feet above the river and spans a distance of over 900 feet. The aqueduct, despite having been built with only crude tools, is still standing after almost two millennia, and it is beautiful. The arches and columns formed by thousands of stacked limestone blocks (no mortar was used in its construction) seem unperturbed by the passage of time. It projects a calm, solid, almost serene presence. At its base by the river, giving testimony as to the enduring character of the place, a thousand-year-old olive tree still thrives.

Augustus Caesar ordered the project to supply Nemausus (now Nimes), an ancient metropolis of 50,000 citizens, with water for their homes, their fountains, their luxurious public baths. By today’s standards, the levels of water usage per resident were almost sinfully high, but the world they lived in must have been a watery paradise.

The Roman aqueduct in Segovia has a less certain lineage. Unlike the city of Nimes, which rests at the edge of a broad plain, the original second-century core of this city — the intended target of the water — sits on a high outcropping. It is the kind of place that would be easily defensible along all of its sides, a place safe from the threat of marauders. That is how it was used by the Iberians who lived here before the Romans came. While the history of the French aqueduct is well-documented, the story behind this Spanish structure is largely a mystery. No records exist of the city’s name at that time, the number and descriptions of the people there, the uses to which the encampment was put, or the rationale for the structure. All that is known is that it was ordered by the Emperor Domitian in the first century AD — about fifty years after the work at Pont du Gard.

There are physical differences as well. The edifice in Spain consists of only two levels of arches instead of three, and although the columns supporting them are quite tall, the highest point is only 90 feet above the ground. Like its French cousin, it is unmortared, but composed of granite rather than limestone. And most noticeably, it stands at the very center of the modern city of Segovia — a sharp contrast from the remote and peaceful Pont du Gard.

Despite the differences, both are beautiful. They have long since stopped serving their original purposes, but the confidence and grace of their ancient ingenuity can still stun us today. I find that deeply comforting, though I’m not sure why.

Perhaps I want to see them as a hopeful a metaphor for our lives here and now. If something we create, whether as real as stone or as ephemeral as an idea or a feeling, can still persist a thousand years from now — and be seen as something good — that would be a worthy epitaph for our existence. Even if our motives are mundane and the rationale for the thing is long forgotten, with luck, the spirit of the creation itself might end up being what matters most.
Double Thrill
It was good to discover that I am not so jaded that I can’t feel the thrill, even after all these years. I’d say that only a minute or two went by during the experience, but time is really irrelevant. The thrill, it seems, lasts forever.

I was eight when I first rode the Giant Dipper, and I was blessed to have good old Uncle Martin riding with me. I say blessed because Big Uncs (as we called him) was tipping the scales at around 300 pounds at the time, and I was convinced that being wedged in next to him in the car was the only thing that kept me from being hurled from the train to a horrific death.

I needn’t have worried. There have only been three deaths out of the 65 million or so rides the Dipper has provided since it was built in 1924. All three were linked to over-exuberance by riders. Specifically, those people stood up when they should have remained seated. I won’t say that they had it coming, but when it did come, they were definitely trying to get its attention.

For everyone else, the end will come some other way. I suppose it might even come on another roller coaster, though these so-called amusements have a surprisingly good safety record. The newer models descend from dizzying heights at the most perilous angles, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The world’s fastest, the Formula Rossa, is featured at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates, and it can hit a motor-assisted 150 m.p.h. — faster than freefall. The riders on such attractions are strapped in, tied down, and lashed in place in order to prevent any violent thrashing (or unauthorized standing). Even so, we lose 4.5 fun-seekers a year at our amusement parks. A pretty good average, really — though it’s kind of tough on that .5 of a rider. I don’t know, moreover, if these statistics include those poor devils who were scared to death.

The Giant Dipper tops out at only 55 m.p.h., but the only thing keeping you in (short of a stout uncle) is one not-that-snug metal bar. This loose fit is one of the reasons this rollercoaster is so exciting…that, and the creaky wooden frame of the coaster’s superstructure and its herky-jerky, old school ride.

And so it was, just last week, that I rode the Giant Dipper again. I can report that it was just as bone-jangling, teeth-rattling, and scream-worthy as it had ever been — and a total gas. With me were my twin eight-year-old nieces who were sampling the old coaster for the very fist time. I have managed to successfully watch my weight over the years, so I played no part in keeping them in the car. Fortunately, we all finished without a scratch.

I must say that they didn’t seem particularly frightened by the experience. In fact, I had to instruct them that screaming was not only permitted, but highly recommended for full enjoyment. Maybe they were simply playing their emotions close to the vest, just as I no doubt had on my first ride.

I am confident, though, that the experience made an impression on them, as it had on me. True or not, I got a vicarious thrill to go with my personal one. I’ll bet Uncle Martin got one, too.
The Joy of Socks
Shoes have always gotten a lot of attention, as they should. They work harder than any other item of clothing, right down there where the rubber meets the road. What’s more — like hats— they get plenty of fashion focus and their fair share of kinky obsession as well.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I confess that I’m right there with the obsessions, and I want to add that my infatuation is entirely guilt-free. Except for one nagging concern: socks. They take plenty of abuse, too, toiling away in the moist, thankless darkness inside your shoes, but they don’t get anything like the same respect as external footwear. And, unlike shoes and hats, they are not seen as expressions of identity, much less sexual totems.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that socks are not attractive or that they are not worthy of love. My point, in fact, is that hosiery is capable of beauty rivaling anything on Zappo’s. It’s just that the flashiness of shoes can sometimes blind the casual onlooker to the loveliness, even sensuality, of these under-appreciated underwear for the feet. And no, I am not talking about fishnet stockings. Just the humble, everyday sock is enough to transport me to my happy place.

Assuming it’s the right sock, that is. A sock you care about…deeply. Like the ones I’m wearing right now. They are my favorite pair of socks, perhaps ever, and I confess that they are the inspiration for this ode. What is even more poignant is that our time together will soon be coming to an end. How soon, I don’t know, but soon.

It has been a long good-bye already. Multiple mendings have left the thinning material lumpy in all the wrong places. Even so, I am not sure this will be our last day. Just now, when I saw them in the sock drawer, I felt that same old rush of affection. That feeling has been there from the very first time I pulled them on. So effortless, so soft, yet even now they cling gently to my leg! They stay up, they look great, they have kept their sockly integrity from the beginning. It won’t be easy ending this relationship.

I have trouble throwing shoes away, too, but that is a different matter. Them, I objectify. They can move on to Good Will and find happiness with someone else. Not so, my socks. And yet, when I next toss them in the washer, I know that their elasticity will be weakened ever so slightly. They may emerge with new holes that will call out for repair. Will I heed the call? Will I extend their loyal service for one more wearing?

Or would that to be too cruel? Should I show mercy…and throw them in the trash? Euthanize my hose?

My answer must be no. We are as one...solemates to the end.
Bilk
I was glad to see the word “bilk” enter our public discourse here recently. Our new provisional Attorney General, Matthew Whataker, Esq., has been accused of bilking disabled veterans, among others, out of their meager savings as part of his duties for World Patent Marketing. That was one of his last gigs before becoming Jeff Sessions’ chief deputy at the Department of Justice.

Besides being a good, organic example of Anglo-Saxon punchiness, bilk is a particularly appropriate word choice in this case. It carries a connotation of sleaziness which nicely matches the quality of this scam. “Defraud” or even “cheat” just don’t have that odor of lowlife we detect coming off bilk.

Some might argue that “hoodwink” could be a contending choice here. You’ve got to love the word hoodwink, but let’s remember that Mr. Whitaker’s involvement in this scam went far beyond mere theft. He was also called upon to menace customers with criminal action if they dared to complain about their mistreatment by WPM. Bilk, I think, offers a hint of muscle behind the con, of the domination of a weak victim by a powerful deceiver. To hoodwink seems more like simple duping. For instance, when Kim Jong Un tricked Trump by agreeing to denuclearize while secretly supernuclearizing, he was hoodwinking him.

Nor can we fairly call Mr. Whitaker a mere “chiseler.” That term should be reserved for the likes of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his relentless efforts to profit from his position of public trust. EPA chief Scott Pruitt set the benchmark for this field until his chiseling began to undermine the pedestal of Trump himself, and had to go. Whitaker’s crimes are less opportunistic and more meticulous in their planning.

“Weasel” doesn’t fully capture Whitakers identity, either, though there’s little doubt that he is one. Weaseling bespeaks the kind of unctuous, self-serving deception we expect from, say, Ted Cruz or Mike Pence. Lyndsey Graham is also a weasel, but it’s unclear why he’s suddenly gone all in with that role.

“Flimflam” and “bamboozle” certainly convey the spirit of Whitaker’s schemes, but perhaps not their corporate, white collar nature. Roger Stone and his fancy suits are closer the essence of this type of political grifter.

It is clear, however, that Whitaker “swindled” his clients. He also “fleeced” them and “rooked” them and “ripped them off” good and proper. It’s just that bilked feels like the perfect nomenclature for deceits perpetrated as a part of his training by the acting chief law enforcement officer of our nation.

Trump, of course, fits into all of these categories. For starters, he is the boss, and therefore responsible for every misdeed committed in his name. But all it takes is a cursory glance at his resume to find corroboration of almost every kind of corruption, from weaseling to swindling — including bilking. He is, in fact, the bilker-in-chief in this rogues’ gallery of miscreants. And if Robert Mueller has anything to say about it, we might be adding some other descriptors to that list, including “treason.”
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon