Interesting Times …

Well, this is a political season like no other in my lifetime. It absolutely brings to mind that old ( Chinese? Jewish? ) curse: May you live in interesting times!

We have a mentally defective would-be-king in the White House and a Republican party that has completely lost its way and whose behavior is anything but democratic. Add to that a Democratic Party presently going through its winnowing process to find their candidate, and starting out with a field that was at first very broad and interesting but is now rapidly on its way to becoming once again a group of old white men to choose between. But the old white men are even older this time.

And now season this spicy stew with today’s version of the plague* hovering around the edges of our visual field, inching its way toward center stage.

*[Really, it’s nothing like the Plague at all. Maybe it is worse than influenza, which we deal with every year, maybe not. But its hype has certainly been more dramatic.]

Let’s take a moment to revisit another time, and another story of panic about a different infectious disease. Before the vaccination for it came into being, every summer was a time to worry about polio. When cases began to appear in a town, schools were closed, swimming pools were shut down, and people were cautioned against getting together in large groups lest they come into contact with a person who could leave them paralyzed.

Some small towns even put up barricades blocking the roads in and out of their village to keep strangers away. All of this because since we didn’t have all of the information we needed to make informed decisions, we frequently gave into hysteria in all of its colorful forms.

Then came the scientists who developed the tools to study the disease in the laboratory, and they found something startling. Every American, from young adulthood onward, had been infected with poliovirus at some time in their lives. Every bloody one of them. It was a truly universal infection.

Think about it for a moment. This meant that since we all got polio, it was only a tiny segment of the infected population who went on to have paralytic disease. It meant that blocking the roads was a useless gesture, since the virus was already present on both sides of all of the barricades.

The focus then came down to a proper one, that of finding a vaccine. When that was done, all versions of polio nearly vanished from the planet.

So now we are putting up the barricades once again. This time they are in airports and … wait … what’s this? … where did this case come from? … and that one … and that one … ?

Until the scientists can provide us with the data we need, we will probably worry ourselves into all sorts of frazzles, just as we are doing right now. Perhaps a vaccine will come along eventually, but that certainly won’t happen for at least a year or more, well after this season has passed.

In the meantime I’m going to wash my hands, try to stop scratching my nose, and not visit the Louvre this spring. I’m going to focus on what is important, and that means living my little life, doing the least harm to the world that I can, and trying to keep my wits about me.

******

Plague? Black Death? Here’s Monty Python to help us put things into perspective. Or maybe not, I dunno.

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Robin and I are about another round of simplifying. For us this means letting go of more things, more stuff.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Henry David Thoreau

I wish that I could say that we are in synch with some established wisdom, but our motive is much plainer. We are moving from “How can we build a bigger storage shed?” to “Do we need a shed at all?” The answer, of course, depends how much are we willing to leave off.

Simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau

Fortunately for us in all of this, there existed a certain Mr. Thoreau who has published a guidebook to the process. Not so much in the particulars as in the when and why.

We might do well to keep his words in front of us as we begin.

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.

Henry David Thoreau

My first step when we began yesterday was to take several objects from the shelves in the garage and transfer them immediately to the trash barrel. At first I could hardly stop congratulating myself for being so forceful and effective. That is, until I realized that all of those items were pieces of junk that I was supposed to have tossed out months ago, but never got around to it.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau

We’re thinking of selling off my motorscooter which has been sitting outside all winter under a cover, which protected it completely from wind and snow but somehow did not prevent the battery from going completely dead. So I plugged it into a charger for a few hours, put a key into the ignition, and it sprang into life in a flash.

When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all — looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck — I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it will be a light one and do not nip me in the vital part.

Henry David Thoreau

I have never owned any device of any kind that was so reliable, so bullet-proof, as this little scooter. It asks almost nothing of me in the way of maintenance or upkeep, but only sits quietly waiting for another chance to be of service. Much like a Labrador retriever with a 49cc piston displacement. It is only missing a tail to wag.

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The latest pet food recall by Purina is instructive. This time the abnormality was elevated calcium levels in a handful of products intended for rabbits and poultry. Too much calcium = stones in the urinary tract = illness and death.

If I were a group of turkeys pecking around the trough this morning, I would be seriously considering filing a class-action suit against Purina. When you are completely dependent on a limited array of foods and one of those foods is found to be dangerous, what’s a gobbler to do? The supplier needs to be held accountable.

A problem for these creatures is that historically such suits filed by turkeys have not done well in the courts. When you weigh thirty pounds and have a brain the size of a green pea, the legal system really doesn’t want to hear from you, no matter how valid your cause may be. And even if you do win, the judgements tend to be around fifty bucks at most, which does not attract the sharpest legal minds.

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