Fall Headed to Winter



I’ve never been a big one for iconic birthdays. You know the ones I mean: 40, 50 and so on. And now, this year, I’m 60. To give you an idea of how old that is, I am now so old that I remember when Republicans used to like infrastructure. ~

Vaccines: I was boosted the week before last, having gotten the J&J shot initially in March. I am relieved, given how COVID-19 continues to tear through our nation (though less so in NYS than elsewhere). I wear a mask when I am out and about, such as the grocery store, and see many other people doing so. Far from everyone, but still, many. I fear for this winter, and especially what will happen in the Midwest and West of our nation as people cluster inside.

I was taken aback earlier this month to see a photograph from Topeka, Kansas, where a family of three was wearing bright yellow Jewish stars to a Capitol hearing about COVID-19 mandates. According to the Kansas Reflector, Daran Duffy, one of the star-wearing protesters, said: “It’s not meant to be offensive. It’s not meant to be controversial. It’s meant rather to be a reminder (that) everything Hitler did, every single thing that Hitler did, he did in accordance with the laws of his country.”



The story continued: Duffy noted that Jewish people were shuttled to death camps by the Nazis and subjected to inhumane experimentation. “While this hasn’t reached that level of deprivation, we’re definitely moving in that direction,” Duffy said.

I am at a loss. I studied at KU, a half hour’s drive from Topeka. The state has always had an odd populist, reactionary streak. The former state attorney general from 1971 to 1975, Vern Miller, was known to leap out of a car trunk at a drug or liquor bust. He was rigorous — maniacal? — about enforcing Kansas’ anti-liquor laws, and he had a particular antipathy toward Lawrence. But aside from outliers like Miller, until recently, the state was generally common-sense.

Obviously, I was mistaken. Today, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 stand at 761,000, as I write this Saturday. COVID- 19 is ripping through Kansas, and especially decimated Garden City, a meatpacking town. And yet, some in our nation and many in Kansas are flatout denying science and comparing vaccine requirements to the Holocaust. So the deaths continue.

I can’t square the circle. I don’t know what’s happened to a state that used to revel in the smoothness of its roads, the quality of its concrete, the benefits of little humidity and a flat horizon, and the beauty of its sturdy but generally plain infrastructure.

On the bright side, the Kansas basketball team is looking pretty sharp this year. We saw last Tuesday’s game, vs Michigan State, and I am optimistic indeed. It’s something, I suppose. ~

Veterans Day was Thursday. I made it to two ceremonies, Cold Spring and Putnam Valley. They reinforced something I have thought for a while, that our veterans and veterans’ families have been the ones to bear much of the cost of two decades of fighting. The rest of us — thankfully but with insufficient awareness — could continue apace with life in a prosperous nation. We were, pretty much completely, unaffected by shortage or sacrifice or rationing. We bore no costs, unless a family member was serving.

As Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio, himself a veteran, put it, you can’t fully understand, can’t fully grasp, what it’s like to be in the military unless you have, in fact, been in the military.

A couple of things I’ve been listening to reinforced that point. One is The Chuck ToddCast: Meet the Press, the Nov. 10 episode, about Max Cleland and his fellow veterans. Guest Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, noted how few of our political leaders today have been in the military. Also excellent was the Fresh Air episode of Nov. 12, Remembering Vietnam Veteran & Former Senator Max Cleland.

Obviously, to judge from our politics of the past 30 years, a lack of military service is not disqualifying on the national stage. But I’m starting to think we might be better off if we did in fact have more veterans in positions of leadership. I think it would provide a leavening and a perspective we now lack, a seriousness of purpose. Maybe even a better idea of how vital, and sometimes how fragile, our democracy is. ~

The turkey recipe on page B1 will be Katherine Whiteside’s final column with us. Both she and illustrator Peter Gergely plan to spend more time with their families. They have had a great run, over more than 11 years, of providing local gardening advice and food tips. This week’s column, in fact, is number 579.

Until next week.

I’m Douglas Cunningham and I’m the editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder in Cold Spring. Reach me at, or 845.265.2468. This column is my opinion. You don’t have to agree. Letters to the Editor are welcome; send to; 500 words or less.

NOTE: I believe we have now repaired our email issues from late October and early November. Call me directly if you encounter an issue. Below, Edward Knickebocker of Putnam County, who served in the Navy during World War II, died Nov. 1, twenty days after celebrating his 100th birthday.

Photo courtesy of his family.

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