I wasn’t planning on posting today, but when I ran across this Doonesbury strip in our local paper I couldn’t pass it up. It so encapsulates the recurring mini-dramas of our (yours and mine) first Year of the Zoom.
It’s because we are (most of us) amateurs in this new common endeavor, and I find all of the errors both frustrating at the time and endearing in the aggregate.
Ahhhhh, of course it is Christmas Eve of which I speak. There is no other eve quite like it. Compare it with All Hallows Eve, for instance, which has only a handful of songs and the possibility of a mere bag of candy as a prize. Christmas fair knocks it! Some of my clearest childhood memories are associated with this day. I think that I can recall someof those thoughts verbatim, actually, from one of those December 24ths.
Ohhhhhh, yawnnn, it’s cold in here, wish Dad would turn up the dang furnace … I’m not getting out of bed until …wait! It’s Christmas Eve! Presents! Mixed nuts in a bowl! Presents! Special supper! Presents! Singing around the tree! Presents!Perry Como 78 rpm records on the phonograph. Presents!
What time is it? It’s eight o’clock. If we start opening presents at six o’clock that is … ten hours from now. I can’t stand it. How can a person wait that long?Lunchtime … only six hours to go. I’ve got to think about something else. I’ll go outside and play for a while. That’s it! Play outside. Where there are no presents under the tree to stare at.Supper? Why? Can’t we just skip it? I’m not hungry at all. We can eat any day, but this is CHRISTMAS, for God’s sake!What? I can’t believe what you’re saying. You’re going to wash the dishes before we open presents? That is so dumb. Leave them. Cover them with a towel if you can’t stand the sight of them. Even better, toss them out and get new dishes tomorrow!NOOOOOOOOOO! You can’t be serious. We’re going to sing carols? I hate carols. I hate singing. Where did you go to parent school? This is torture. I want a new family.
Ohhhhhhh, everything is just what I wanted. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
And if you see her, thank Aunt Clothilde for those (bo-ring) socks, would you?
One day, as I was in a particularly idle frame of mind (one of my more common such frames), I wondered: where is the exact opposite, on the globe, of Montrose CO? And through this remarkable thing called the internet I learned where it was, and what it was called … the antipode. Every single spot on the planet has its antipode.
And there is ours. The red dot represents Port-aux-Français, a tiny town on an island in the South Indian Ocean (actually, the true antipode is a spot in the water a bit north of that, but Port-aux-Français is the closest city).
I learned that it may not be one of the great cities of the world, not if the Wikipedia description is accurate.
The port station is located on the Gulf of Morbihan. The station has about 45 inhabitants in winter; the population can rise to more than 120 in summer. The location was selected in 1949 by the chief of mission Pierre Sicaud because of its sheltered position which was suitable for a runway that was never built.
So planning for a visit to the Port? … maybe in the summertime when it is really bustling at 120 residents? If you were planning on flying in, remember that the runway was never built. I will suggest that as an alternative you could come visit Robin and I here in the antipode of Port-aux-Français.
Much closer. Runway operating. And we are such nice people. Just bring your vaccination certificate along, would you? There’s a dear.
Tuesday morning I spent a couple of hours sitting in the waiting room at our Subaru dealer, getting some repairs done on our car. My guard was down and as I was looking out their showroom windows at the cars lined up in the parking lot, I caught the fever. The ‘I should really have a different car‘ fever.
I was in a vulnerable state for several reasons. Our little Forester has been making an irritating noise whose source is as yet unknown, and it has just under 100,000 miles on its odometer. I am quite sure that the noise represents something that will completely break down in the middle of the desert somewhere near a sign that says “No services in any direction for 100 miles.” I see us hiking through tumbleweed forests on windswept two-lane roads with buzzards circling and we are passing what used to be diners or gas stations but are now abandoned victims of changing tastes and needs.
I see all this so clearly. So it’s really a matter of life and death, isn’t it? Think I’ll amble over to that salesperson and ask a couple of questions. Couldn’t hurt. He looks harmless enough. What’s that? My car’s ready? I’ll be right there.
From The New Yorker
Merry Christmas, Friends. We wish you the very best for this holiday season, and for every season that follows. Although we may be physically celebrating apart from one another, in our hearts we are with you all. And one day with care and good fortune we will be able to do all of that corny and necessary stuff that we could before Covid rearranged all of our agendas. We’ll do it right, next year. I believe it.
From time to time I will make some small mention in this space about my growing belief that the inanimate world isn’t. Inanimate, that is. Let’s say, for instance that you have been struggling to open a jar for twenty minutes. Blood vessels are bursting in the palms of your hands from the effort, and just before you consign that infernal glass to the garbage heap your wife quietly asks “Mind if I try?”
You hand her the object with a curl in your lip and wait for her to fail just as you have when … she hands you the open jar. She has not even broken a sweat. Now there is no way in hell that this could happen unless the jar itself was a participant, and had a bias toward your wife.
Here is today’s example. In my email inbox this morning I received this message:
I had to grab my right hand with my left to keep it from clicking on the link, a la Dr. Strangelove. Who in the world wants their motoring license to be terminated? And because of irregularities in my profile? What’s in there that could have such an effect on my driving freedom? And then I saw that the note was addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t know who that is, but I am fairly certain that it isn’t me.
The whole thing reeks of scam-ness, but what’s important is that somebody sent akillaly a message in the UK and I received it here in Paradise. A piece of hardware between the scammer and myself is probably quite pleased with itself for its contribution to the befuddlement of mankind.
So … that shoe that you stumbled over this morning before dawn … you know that you put it away last night … you are sure of it. But, my friend, once you put it down that shoe had choices to make.
BTW: I would strongly suggest that no reader copy or click on the above link. It is likely that there is something noxious waiting there for you including a pack of viruses, some ransomware, and a phone call from an aluminum siding salesperson.
Bob Dylan just sold the rights to all of his songs in one big package. The buyer had to come up with a bundle, rumors are that it was around 300 million dollars. And what do I say about this? Whew and God bless is what. Now I can stop worrying about Mr. Dylan’s well-being, since 300 million dollars should be enough to carry him through, even if his life proves to be very, very long.
So here he is in 1961, before becoming famous. One has to wonder if that grin says that he knew all the time how this story was going to turn out.
I lost control the other day of a very small part of my life, but these days who wants to lose anything more at all? It happened when the climate control knob on our Forester underwent a psychotic break and began selecting programs all on its own, spontaneously switching from one to the other. Back and forth it would go, and when I became exasperated it took two pushes on the OFF button to stop it.
And then it would turn itself on again to begin the maddening cycling once again.
Now call me a fussbutt, but any device that can turn itself on and by so doing damage my serenity evokes memories of all those movies involving robots that won’t accept orders any longer, or blobs of artificial intelligence taking charge once and for all. In the clip below from 2001: A Space Odyssey, if you substitute me for Keir Dullea and my climate control for Hal you might get a hint of why the situation was freaking me out.
It all seems to have been resolved after a trip to the Subaru service department, but it will take time for the wounds to heal. I may need therapy, actually. I guess that I should be grateful that the control could not talk to me. Think of the nightmares if it suddenly said in that chilling monotone:
I’m sorry, Jon, I’m afraid I can’t do that.
From The New Yorker. (This one made me actually think for a moment)
Thursday night we watched for an hour or so while Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and others gave a presentation from the stage of the cathedral in Washington DC. It was a real joy to be presented with the facts as we know them as of that evening about Covid-19, the vaccines on the verge of being deployed, and other more personal matters, like how to deal with the upcoming holidays.
Straight information, no hemming or hawing or tortuous language. No lies, good science. So refreshing that the hour passed very quickly. Maybe life will never be exactly the same even after Covid dies down, but that evening was like the “good old days.”
Here’s Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot waking up from a nightmare.
I am admiring Mr. Biden’s calm and decidedly un-flashy approach to P.Cluck’s demented rantings since Election Day. Rather than respond to the latest from the tweetmeister, Biden just ignores them and quietly goes about the business of doing what must be done during the transition on his side of the fence. It makes the absence of any such activity on the other side even more glaring.
I like un-flashy soooo much better. It’s easier on the heart.
It’s been more than a month now since my aborted stroke, and I thought I’d toss in an update. I am fine, and seem to have no sequelae at all, thanks to Robin’s quick actions and the medical team’s dramatic therapies. I am taking two medications to keep my platelets a healthy distance from one another and so far experiencing no unpleasant side effects.
For a month I wore a monitor to keep track of my heart rhythms, but that month is now behind me and the equipment that I wore constantly has been shipped back to the company. Some time in the next couple of weeks they will send a report to my neurologist. The purpose for the monitoring was to see if there are any occult episodes of something called atrial fibrillation, which can predispose a person to recurrent strokes. (At this point I have no way of knowing what that little monitor said about me, there is no information provided to the patient. For all I know, it could have been hacked and somewhere in the world there is an untidy little man who knows everything I said and did for a month).
I think that I am being a good patient. I’m not entirely passive, of course, I put in my two (and sometimes three) cents whenever I feel the need, but I am perfectly aware that my present good health is because I dodged a fairly large caliber bullet on October 3. I will listen to what the doctors have to say, and unless they get too crazy, I will do what they suggest.
One of our favorite hikes for years has been a walk up Big Dominguez Canyon, which is about an hour’s drive north of us. It’s a desert walk, and can be brutally hot in July, but on Friday it was perfect. We started out at 9:00 AM in 29 degree weather but it quickly warmed to about 55 degrees by noon. Bright sunshine all the way up and back.
This time we chose to seek the path going to Little Dominguez Canyon, which had eluded us in the past. After crossing a small creek and going around a couple of big deadfalls, we finally located it. Most of the time over the next five hours we were walking on an old road which was sometimes two tracks, sometimes one, and sometimes we had to hunt in the sagebrush and rabbitbrush to stay on it at all. In the map above, the blue line shows our walk, while the yellow line is the track up Big Dominguez Canyon, where we usually had gone in the past.
And a beautiful hike it was, with something really interesting in the middle. That was when we came across an old cabin. The windows were boarded up, but peering between the boards you could see that there were two rooms, an iron cookstove, and what looked like handmade furniture. The cabin itself nestled up against a gigantic boulder that would have protected it from winds out of the west.
Scattered around the property were all of the implements that a small farmer would need. A two-bottom plow, a cultivator, and a harrow. There was a sickle bar and a dump rake for haying, as well as the wheels for what would have been small wagons. All of these would have been horse-drawn. It was interesting that when they decided to abandon the dwelling, they left all of these tools behind. Apparently it wasn’t worth the trouble to haul them back to civilization, which was several miles back down that dirt road.
You could see remnants of a trench where they would have run water from the Little Dominguez Creek for their crops. As we were leaving we ran into a man coming up the trail, who proved to know quite a bit about the occupants of the cabin. It had been homesteaded in the late 1800s by a family named Rambo, who lived there until 1984, when they donated the building and land to the BLM.
It would have been a life going against the grain, trying to make the desert bloom through sheer force of will. But the location was one where every morning you would get up, walk out the cabin door, and have nothing but starkly beautiful to look at.
I just found this email in my inbox, which startled me for about 0.1 second.
And then I remembered what I’d read over the years about internet scams, and decided this must fall into that colorful category. Especially since my name wasn’t even “Landolt.”I did notice that the word “dolt” was in there, perhaps put there as an amusement by the perpetrators of the fraud.
Next I mused how handy 850,000.00 dollars could be in these uncertain times, and allowed myself to idly wish that I’d known Manuel Franco better.
But wait. Did I know him? Was he the quiet guy who sat behind me in chemistry class? The one whose chem notebook slipped from his arms one rainy afternoon on the university quad, spreading his notes over the sidewalk, and who I helped recover those precious papers before they were completely soaked and illegible? Wasn’t his name Franco? I think it was. And of course he was grateful at the time for my help, but could he have vowed all those years ago that he would repay me someday for my great kindness? Deciding only now to seek me out, after making his fortune in the world?
I think that was him. I’m sure that Franco was his surname, and did I ever know his first name? I’ll bet it was Manny, my oldest and dearest friend. Where was he now? Perhaps this bequest was coming out of his estate, and he had recently passed on to glory. Some sort of romantic but fatal illness acquired through all those years on his rubber plantations.
Ahhh, Manny, why didn’t we stay in touch? We were so young and so busy with life’s trivia that we didn’t take proper care of our friendship. Then I wondered about his lovely wife, and those beautiful children that he must have had by now. I was heartbroken for them. To lose such a man. And while not exactly in his prime, he should have had another decade or two to spend surrounded by family and friends and the luxuries he had earned.
And so I hit “Reply” and responded to the note. I told them that my name wasn’t “Landolt,” but that it was an obvious misspelling of Flom, and could they please point me toward my $850,000.00 windfall, so that I might claim it and bother them no more?
Here are some photographs that I dug out of a shoebox of mi hermano, Manuel. It seems only yesterday … where does the time go?
What would be at the opposite pole from turmoil, something we all have had quite enough of lately, thank you very much. Well, it might be … lullabies. Check out this science report from the Times of New York. Even reading about it made my heart rate slow down and my pupils become smaller.
Zoom-churchhasn’t quite been cutting it for many Christians here in Paradise. I overhear their conversations and there is a longing in their voices to come together, to share the words and songs in the way that they love best, in a place that is sacred to them. A virus has taken this away, this ritual assembling that is the beloved focus of the week in normal times.
Oh, they’ve been using video very well, as ministers preach to cameras in empty halls, “coffees” are held on Zoom, and bible studies are planned and conducted by people who are miles apart from one another. But the synod of Robin’s church has not given official permission for their congregations to meet as yet, not in the “old” way. That does not make these parishioners less restive. Indeed, they chafe at the uncertainty as to when religious life will return to something like normal. This month? This year … ?
My own spiritual life has been a solo one for so long that Covid hasn’t really made a dent in it. Small town America is not filled with Buddhists, and although there is a very small local group that meets in homes, I am reluctant to join it. There are Buddhists that can be just as annoying as any hard-core evangelical Baptist who won’t leave you alone until you are saved three times over. Such followers of the Buddha will natter away on arcane subjects that hold no interest for me. The intricacies of karma and rebirth, for instance. Or the purity of their religious practice. Since I am not required to believe in these things I don’t, and therefore discussing them seems time ill-spent, pourmoi.
One of the first books I read on these subjects was Buddhism Without Beliefs, by Jack Kornfeld, and it remains my “gospel.” The title says it all, I think.
I was about to close this blog post when a headline on CNN caught my eye:
Yellowstone Warns Visitors Not To Get Mixed Up In Elk Mating Season
Now I don’t know about you, but for me this falls into the category of things I never needed to be told but knew instinctively. If you want to read the story, here it is.
This morning I came to a startling conclusion as I glanced at a headline about a YouTube influencer who is quitting her channel over a controversy about some of her past behavior.
I suddenly realized that I was more backward than I thought. I do not subscribe to any YouTube influencers at all. I wonder that I have the brazenness to even go out the door where others can see me, showing off what must be my monumental ignorance and poor make-up skills.
Behind their masks at the grocery store – what must those people whose eyes meet mine and then shift away – what are they thinking about me? Am I guilty daily of worse gaffes than if I showed up in an emergency room wearing yesterday’s underwear?
Do YouTube influencers aimed at senior citizens even exist? If they do, what are they touting or suggesting to the rest of us? Arthritis aids? Balance exercises? Constipation remedies? Plastic surgeons?
Does Axe have an after shave cream for me? Perhaps one named “Musty,” or “Who Cares?”
Perhaps there is a technique out there that I am failing to use which will make me look 79 again, instead of the 80 year-old who greets me in the mirror each morning. That would be a 1.3% improvement, which is not to be sniffed at.
I think that I’ll stay in today. I’m feeling very insecure at the moment.
Permit me to repeat a quotation that I used in the blog in May. It’s from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.
Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.
In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.
It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.
The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.
The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison
I’m repeating it because I saw a video today on CNN, taken at a public meeting in Florida that was truly stunning. The behaviors exhibited were so bizarre and disheartening that I sat back in wonder … and then I remembered the quote.
Below is the video – the first part is where we leave the planet and are in some sort of angry la la land. The second part is where two more rational human beings shake their heads in wonder.
These are not people who you can sit down and have a conversation with and maybe both of your minds will shift a bit. With these folks you can talk until you are strangled by your killer face mask and you will get nowhere. Their minds don’t live where the rest of us live.
And if Bonhoeffer is correct, some of them may be downright dangerous.
I miss Jon Stewart. He’s not on my mind everyday, but anytime his name comes up, there is a pang right there under my ribs. Here is a video of Jon talking with Stephen Colbert that brought in a major ache.
Friday night Robin and I went to the movies. Not just any movie, mind you, but the original Jurassic Park. At our local drive-in theater.
The movie didn’t start until well after 9:00 pm, when we are usually in bed already. We both stayed awake until the end (well, I do admit to a brief lapse just after the T.rex ate the lawyer in the bathroom). You can’t see enough detail in the photo above, but it’s the place where the owner of the park is explaining how they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA found in blood in the belly of a mosquito preserved in amber.
Of course you remember, don’t you? Hey, it was only yesterday (1993) that the film came out. As of today, it has earned just over a billion dollars at the box office. We added our thirteen bucks last night.
I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.
The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.
The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.
I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.
Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.
All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?
The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.
We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.
It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.
Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.
Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.
You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.
Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.
Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.
Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.
It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.
At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.
Among all the stories and articles dealing with Covid-19 there are sprinkled individual reports of a disease in young children who’ve developed inflammation of blood vessels in locations all around the body. Some of these kids have died of heart-related problems, and many of them are Covid-19 positive.
There is mention of the disease Kawasaki syndrome in some of these articles, because of many similarities between the two conditions. The pic below is of a child with Kawasaki syndrome, and he is obviously displeased with his diagnosis.
This disease was first described in 1967 in Japan, later spread across the globe, and as of today we still don’t know its cause. Which is what is so intriguing about the newer syndrome and its relationship to a specific virus.
I have a Kawasaki story. Well, two of them, really.
The first one is very short. My first motorcycle was a 400cc Kawasaki street bike. I loved it and would have kept it forever but one day I saw a Honda Gold Wing on the dealership sales floor and she twisted my mind and I followed her and left that marvelous KZ400 behind. I wonder whatever became of her.
The second story follows.
I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I first read about Kawasaki syndrome. That was in 1974, and the article was in the journal Pediatrics. Part of the disease’s presentation was a fairly dramatic rash, and the idea that babies with this condition were dying of “heart attacks” was alarming. I looked at the color plates accompanying the reports, and mentally filed them away.
Initially all of the cases were in Japan, but then there were reports from the Philippines, later Hawaii, and finally in 1976 there were kids on the west coast with the disease. It had traveled and been tracked making its way across the Pacific Ocean, and behaved much as an infection would.
And then there came a day in 1977 when I walked into an exam room in my office in remote Hancock MI and saw a child who had presented with a florid skin rash and a fever. My first reaction was “What the hell is this? I’ve not seen anything like … wait … yes, I have seen that rash somewhere before.” So I dug out the articles and yep, this child turned out to be the first case of Kawasaki syndrome diagnosed in the Upper Peninsula, sitting right there in a small room in the middle of the continent.*
By then several things were known about the syndrome. First, that unless you had heart involvement you were going to be miserable for a week or two but would most likely make a complete recovery. And second, if the vessels in the patient’s heart were inflamed, treatment with intravenous gamma globulin was very effective in reversing these lesions.
Since the UP was a pediatric cardiologic desert, I immediately sent the boy downstate to Ann Arbor, where they found that his heart was involved and the child was soon treated with IVGG, with a happy outcome.
So I will watch the present situation with both old and new interest.
*[This story is not told to point out how wonderful a clinician I was, although that is certainly true and I will be the first to admit it, but that the information necessary to make such a diagnosis was available to physicians even in remote and unlikely locations.]
When I was a pediatric resident, on Saturday mornings we attended Dr. Good’s Rounds. Dr. Robert A. Good was one of the few true geniuses that I’ve met, and each week we would present him a case as an unknown and try to stump him. We never did.
On one occasion, after the resident had laid out the clinical aspects of a case, Dr. Good began: “Well, the most interesting part of this child’s problems is the presence of those vascular lesions …” and he stopped to look around at our group. He began again: “By the way, you do know that eventually all diseases will be found to be infectious in origin, don’t you?” We nodded dutifully, even though of course we’d never heard such a statement before.
Kawasaki syndrome reeks of being infectious in origin, and the recent Covid experience only adds to that odor. So why haven’t we found the cause of Kawasaki syndrome after all this time? Because we need a new flashlight, obviously.
Let’s say that at some time in your life you went camping. Exactly an hour after everyone has settled down and is sleeping, you wake to find that you require the sort of comfort that a privy can provide. You reluctantly leave your warm sleeping bag and turn on that little easy-to-carry flashlight with the anemic amount of light that it provides and make your way to the outhouse, tripping over every root and rock in the path because you can’t see them clearly.
But you learned something from that negative experience.
So when you return to civilization, you make a trip to a hardware store and buy the biggest, brightest flashlight you can afford, and the next time you make that chilly trip to the toilet you see everything. The roots, the rocks, the raccoons, something ominous that slithered away into the underbrush – it’s all out there. Technological progress has improved your life.
It’s the same in medicine.
As a junior medical student I was required to attend a series of lectures on physical diagnosis. We were learning the art of eliciting information through touching patients’ bodies, listening to their hearts and lungs, and asking them to perform certain tasks. All terribly important stuff. Skills and knowledge that had been basically unchanged for a hundred years.
One day, after an hour of talking to us about stethoscopes and the alteration of the sounds you hear caused by diseases of the lungs, and of the art of percussion of the chest (the tapping while listening), the lecturing pulmonologist paused.
“Now,” he said, “I must tell you that everything I have talked about so far this morning is not worth the diagnostic value of a single chest x-ray.” And he closed his notebook and left the room.
The discovery of x-rays was a revolutionary thing. It was the newest and best flashlight of 1913. But what amazing ones were to follow – the CT scan, brain scan, PET scan, MRI, etc. And that was just in the radiology department.
Each time there is a technical advance, we learn new stuff. Not just about what we might have been studying at the time, but other things as well. We’re unfortunately accustomed to the term collateral damage, as when a weapon kills innocents along with the intended target.
Well, there is such a thing as collateral learning as well. This occurs when a tool is developed and all of a sudden uses are found for it far from the original plans.** As an example, all of the diagnostic testing now being done for Covid-19 uses technology that didn’t exist when I started out in medicine.
Each time we get one of those new flashlights, people begin immediately shining them everywhere and oh, what things we learn. But so far, no new beam to shine on Kawasaki syndrome, not yet.
**[Steve Jobs was particularly conscious of this phenomenon. When he first presented the iPhone, he knew that it was a remarkable technical achievement, but that neither he nor anyone else could know how it would eventually be used. That was where we came in. And who could have imagined how useful it has become?]
BTW, as long as we’re on the subject, you do know what the world’s most powerful diagnostic instrument is, don’t you? And it’s been around for a thousand years?
It’s the retrospectoscope. With it you can look backward in time, and declare “I knew it all along!” to everyone who is within earshot and you believe may be susceptible to your unmerited self-praise.
My own laptop is in the shop in Grand Junction, so this day’s post comes to you courtesy of Robin’s machine. I doubt you can tell the difference, but what I type should be a lot more mellow, because I won’t have the aggravation that comes from working on a particular computer that was designed and sold to me under the auspices of the Deuce himself.
I have been buying and using Macintosh computers exclusively since 1984, and I don’t really know how many that makes, but it’s pretty close to fifteen machines, give or take a few. The one I have now is the first to irritate the blazes out of me, and the issue is the place where man meets code – the keyboard.
Mac came out with something called the “butterfly keyboard” the year I bought my present device. Over the next twelve months there were so many complaints that Apple basically offered a “recall,” and if you were having problems you could go in and they would replace the faulty keyboard. I did that last year, and here we are once again with the same problems, only now the “recall” is over and done and the customer is on their own.
What happens is that letters start to stick, so that you have to push down hard to make them work, which instantly reduces my typing speed from a hurricane-like twelve words per minute to three. Worse yet, at any moment, and no matter which key your fingers hit, the cursor may fly to a random place on the document. This happens irregularly, but each time it is enough to make one be seized with the desire to see just how far a laptop could sail if hurled discus-style.
The repair will be done by Friday, so for a few months all should be well, or at least better.
Daughter Kari commented on a post the other day, and just in case you missed it I am reproducing it here. It was in relation to some drawings of alleged John Prine sightings. A sweet anecdote.
My favorite memory of John Prine while living in Nashville. Both of us needed eyeglasses badly but did not own a pair so we went to an optical shop together and soon thereafter picked up our glasses. We both were amazed at how strange the world looked. He performed at the Bluebird that evening and we kept catching each other looking around the room with wide open eyes and would giggle at one another. Lovely to remember an icon giggling.
From The New Yorker
With the flood of disinformation and outright tale-telling coming at us from the CluckHouse, FoxNews, and other eminent right-wing quackeries, it is even more important that we humbler folk speak the truth to one another.
For me, this sometimes means simply keeping my mouth shut, instead of blurting out a commentary that was little more than something I made up on the spot. A pseudo-fact pieced together on the fly.
One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotations that I remember well deals with the question of “How do we get to world peace?” His answer has always been the same: “by being peace.”
If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh
I think we could easily substitute the word “truth” for “peace.” Lies and dishonesty are violence against our minds. An assault just as real as beating our bodies with clubs. At best we may be only bruised and recover swiftly. At worst, we can be damaged for life by vicious blows.
One of The Four Agreements (taken from the book of that name, a book that has been singularly helpful for me personally) is “Be impeccable with your word.” People need to trust what we say, for peace and harmony to have any chance at all.
And lastly, with joy and no apologies, I present somebody else’s hard work.
For a few months now I’ve been making food for our cats here at home. I should say “cat” because at first Willow basically treated it like it was a dishful of dreck and waited patiently until I would open a can of commercial cat food, as I was supposed to do in the first place. At least as far as she was concerned.
But I kept putting a bit of homemade in her bowl alongside the primo material, and now she will take it in preference some of the time. The women (including a veterinarian) who concocted the recipes that are online and that I follow basically have me putting a chicken back together, sort of. It’s a mixture of chicken thighs and giblets ground up with egg yolks, bone meal, B vitamins, fish oil, vitamin E, and an amino acid, taurine. Poco, especially, seems to be thriving on it, and although age is still his daily burden he moves about more easily and even jumps a little higher (not all that high, I admit).
Any time I serve up a bowlful and the cat involved looks the slightest bit askance at it, I simply say “Ivory-billed woodpecker,”or “passenger pigeon,” and they dive right in.** Willow has stopped her distressing habit of occasionally catching small birds and is now completely focussed on mice when she goes hunting. Maybe my reconstructed Franken-chicken is filling the ornithine space in her diet. Or perhaps mice are just easier to catch.
**A blatant falsehood.
Our videoconference on Easter Sunday went swimmingly. Everybody showed up, and there were no problems managing who should talk when. The techno-children kept changing the background images on their devices, which made it interesting and even a little festive. At one point most of us were “at the seashore” together, although several different oceans were involved.
By forty minutes in we were all caught up on our lives to the moment, and goofiness started to creep in around the edges, as evidenced here:
Obviously, it was time to fold our tents and steal away.
We had a freeze Sunday night in Paradise, not exactly a record-setting event, but still an unwanted one. Once the whole Spring thing gets started, any setbacks are treated by the precarious pudding that I call my mind as personal affronts.
“Come on, let’s get linear,” I’ve been heard to say. “No more of this back and forth,”“What a wishy-washy way to run a universe,” and “This sucks” are other examples of the elegant pithiness of which I am capable. If none of these are aphorisms worthy of being printed on a T-shirt, they are at least honest.
When I’ve decided that it is Spring, the Gods interfere at their peril.
Did I hear a gasp? Are you waiting for me to be chained to a rock like Prometheus or rolling a boulder forever up a mountainside Sisyphus-style?
It’s not happenin’. My liver is safe and intact exactly where it’s supposed to be, and I think Sisyphus’ troubles are much like ordinary life, n’est-ce pas? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count the times I’ve been sent back to square one already, and I have reason to expect that some more such moments are up ahead.
So, if any celestial occupants are listening, here’s the drill. Warm nights, leaves and blossoms bursting forth without fear of harm, and chaise lounges on patios with minted iced tea in the cupholders. Let’s get it done.
Here is a graphic that is nothing short of scandalous. It compares the death rate in two countries, one whose leaders took the Covid-19 onslaught seriously and one whose leaders dithered. You don’t need to have had a class in statistics to see that something’s wrong here, and the wrong is the orange guy, the narcissist, the huckster, and the pathologic liar. No, that’s not four different men, it’s all one person – President Cluck.
Read David Leonhardt’s newsletter, or better yet read the paper published last week in the New York Times. This is what you get when you elect incompetence in its purest form. His first real test, and thousands of Americans may be dead unnecessarily as a result.
We need to dis-elect this malignant fool, toss out anything he’s touched in the White House, swab the whole place down with Lysol, and get about cleaning up the harm he’s done in the past three years. It won’t be hard to see what to do – stop at everything we see that’s completely covered in orange guano and hose it clean before we move on.
And while we’re at it, let’s help end the political careers of every single one of his enablers by voting blue in November.
On a more positive note, I would like to say hello and goodbye to Oumuamua, the first (known) visitor from another solar system, and wouldn’t you know – I completely missed it! Oumuamua flew past us in 2017 when I was busy … I don’t know … probably trying to figure why my basil plants were dying off at a depressing rate.
You can read about it here, but the real question that I have this morning is – why didn’t anyone call me? Like those astrophysicists are so busy they couldn’t pick up a phone and let a person know?
Today is obviously the most unusual Easter Sunday ever. There will be no Easter Parade, no choirs belting out Handel’s Greatest Hits, and no eggs rolled in public spaces (impossible to keep those kids 6 feet apart). We will be missing the one day of the year that women of a certain age dust off their hats to wear to church – their Easter bonnets. Here in Paradise the churches are shuttered, so the single most important day on the Christian calendar will be marked by simple observations in homes or on the internet.
Robin and I are having no guests for Easter dinner, and there will be no hiding of candy eggs in the backyard for the grandkids to hunt. Nope, ’twill be a sober Easter for certain. Such is life in the emergency.
But Sunday afternoon we are Zoom-meeting with Robin’s side of our blended family, accepting seeing them in two dimensions instead of the preferred three as way better than not seeing them at all. I’ve learned how to change the background on my Zoom image, so this is what the other participants will see. Like I said, sober.
[Granddaughter Elsa may recognize the view – it’s from our tent camper parked in South Mineral Creek Campground, looking eastward toward the Red Mountains.]
Any fisherman looking at the cartoon below will instantly identify with Ernest H.. There are times better left undocumented. To place yourself in a pristine environment, cast your line into a gorgeous river, and then pull out one of these puckered-up mutants is a blow that it might take the rest of the day to recover from.
Now I know that there are fisherman who deliberately go after carp, filling their tackleboxes with putrid baits and heavy lines, and who are delighted when they pull something out of the water that looks like a serious mistake had been made back in Creation times. I also know that there are cooks who work hard to come up with carp recipes that can create a momentary illusion of edibility. Until the person begins to chew, that is.
I know both of these things. What I don’t know is why they bother? A well-cooked carp is still a plate of mud.
It could be that the worst of our trial is passing. That’s cold comfort to the families of the tens of thousands worldwide that have passed away from complications of Covid-19, and there are tough economic times to come for many of us. But we are given leave to start thinking about when the masks can come off and when we can begin to walk the streets without dodging one another.
I think that for me personally it will be quite a while before I shake anyone’s hand – I’ll be giving them a sincere Namaste instead with that short bow of the head.
And hugging … don’t even think about it. Come at me with open arms and you’ll send me screeching into a back bedroom to bar the door.
On Sunday we tried Zoom videoconferencing with daughters Sarah and Kari and their spouses ( who also have perfectly good names and they are DJ and Jon). I think I made all the rookie mistakes in hosting the get-together, but after a few minutes had everyone settled in fairly well.
It went well enough that we’ll certainly try it again, with a couple of changes. Sarah and DJ attempted to enter the meeting from their car which was located in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant, but Mickey D didn’t have the network bandwidth to make it run smoothly for them. It did come through, but was jerky-jerky at times.
So it was a learning experience for us, and we’ll all be pros the next time. The star of the show was Kari and Jon’s new puppy, who was on screen for only a few seconds but that was way long enough to win our hearts and minds. He’s a baby malamute with fur twelve inches deep and feet like snowshoes. He apparently also pees, somewhere, every 40 minutes.
Ahhhhh, there’s good news today! The Finns have done it again. They’ve come up with a word to describe an activity wherein the isolation of these coronavirus days could be an advantage (at least for part of the populace), and that’s kalsarikännit.
The translation is “getting drunk at home, alone, in your underwear.”
No less a publication than the Times of New York has reported on this practice. (I will add that it is not restricted to those of Finnish ancestry.)
Being inspired by this story, I began experiments with being at home in my underwear but not drunk, for reasons that I need not go into. Obviously, I am also not alone, since pushing Robin out the door for hours at this time of the emergency when there is nowhere for her to go would be cruel. It would also be impossible, since she is much stronger than you would suspect of a 62 inch-high person.
The interesting thing is that Robin hasn’t even noticed that I am experimenting, since over the years I have apparently achieved a level of everyday slovenliness that has numbed her to my physical appearance.
When I pushed the envelope even further and went without clothing at all one day … nothing. Nothing, that is, for several hours until when I was going to fry up some bacon for lunch and she silently held out an apron for me to wear. Something she has never done before.
Yesterday we went to do our taxes, at the HR Block office in Delta CO. Don’t ask why we drive 20 miles to do what could be done easily 2 miles away from home, but we got started with a woman we like and we’re sticking with her.
We had a 3:00 appointment, but when we arrived, we found they had adopted a “drop-off only” policy, where I simply stepped inside the door and handed them our papers. The receptionist received them into her latex-gloved hands, all the while looking like I’d just handed her a cow-pie, and told me that the file would be kept in quarantine for a day before our tax preparer even started on it.
No problem-o, said I, and off Robin and I went to Confluence Park, located on the outskirts of Delta. It’s a lovely little 265 acre chunk of naturalness that is located where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers come together.
We wandered the trails in the park for more than a hour, and even though there were other people around, social distancing was easily accomplished. We were rarely closer than 25 yards from the next human being.
Spring is soooo underway out there. Even though this is truly the season of our discontent, the rest of the natural world cares not a fig for the coronavirus. We are the only species that is dithering about it – for everything else it’s just another spring.
Of course, the rest of the natural world has its problems here and there, too. Ask an American Elm how it’s doing if you can find one, or check out some of the forests here in Colorado where the pines are reddish-brown instead of green because of bark beetle infestation, or consider the wasting disease that is reducing deer populations all over the country even now.
But yesterday afternoon everything was as beautiful as it could be. The sky … impossible that it could be more blue than it was.
Apparently Robin and I were the last two Americans to learn about the existence of “Zoom,” a platform for sound and video conferencing. I might be exaggerating just a little, because I’ve learned that there is a pocket of non-electrified citizens living far back in the Florida Everglades who share our ignorance on the subject.
At any rate, we’ve only come into the light during the past month. Regular users of Zoom seem to think it’s better than FaceTime or Skype, the only other free platforms I’d known about until now. I will reserve judgment for a while. It does seem easier to get started with, but my past experience has been that early simplicity can be deceptive, and before long I find myself wondering if that codger up the street who used to work for Hewlett-Packard still remembers anything that might help me.
Furthermore, like many other such enterprises before it, Zoom has been caught collecting and selling data on users without their permission. Those mental pictures of executives with their hand in our till while we’re sleeping are never flattering.
Anyway, Robin and I have both Zoomed now and can never look back to that purer state of unawareness we once enjoyed. Friday noon I’m attending my first AA meeting using the app. Chats with other family and friends can probably not be far away …
[The photo at top is from 1999, from the children’s TV show, Zoom. No connection.]
The black and white cat-beast next door has bothered enough people in our neighborhood that its owners have had to shut it away indoors for the past couple of weeks. They are considering placement for the vicious critter on a farm somewhere, and I only hope that time comes soon. If they can’t find a farm, I might suggest an urn.
It’s been so pleasant seeing our pets without new injuries that he’s caused. Just a week ago at 0300 hours he had slipped his bonds and tried to gain entrance to our house by ripping his way through the pet portal, which was fortunately firmly shuttered at the time. I have no idea who or what he was after, since he and I have a really bad vibe going. (In my dreams his claws are at my throat … )
I had reached the point where I was about to invoke city ordinances when I learned that the cat was being kept in. Glad that didn’t have to happen. I would have disliked dealing with the couple next door on a persistently hostile basis.
I actually like the couple. My read is that they’ve had trouble realizing and accepting that the big fluffy purr-y guy living with them is a killer, and does not play well with others.
It is my friend Bill’s birthday today, and Bill is 119 years old. His recipe for living this long is simple … don’t die, whatever else you may do. He looks really good for his age, I think, and while I don’t have a more recent photo, here’s one from last summer.
Bill has a daily regimen that may be contributing to his longevity. He rises regularly at 4:00 AM, takes a shower with the water temperature set at precisely 37 degrees, then jumps on his road bike, a Trek Domane SLR 9, and off he goes for 30 miles of hard pumping. Once a week, just to make it a real workout, he will tie a rope to the bike and drag the wheel ( with tire) of a 1952 Chevvy pickup behind him.
Another shower and it’s time for calisthenics. His workout varies but usually includes 100 bent-knee situps and 50 one-handed pushups on each side.
By now it’s 8:00 and time for breakfast, where large helpings of toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and pomegranate juice are chewed, swished, and swallowed. He wipes his chin, picks up all the food fragments that have fallen into his lap, and walks to his bedroom, where he collapses onto the bed and doesn’t get out until 4:00 the next morning.
Works for him.
So … here’s hoping that I catch him during that short interval between pushups and breakfast and that this Happy Birthday wish can help make his day a bright one.
Onward … to 120!
Bill Withers, man.
There were those hot summers when his music was like sweet salve on a burn. It is still here to soothe and inspire us all over again, nearly fifty years on.
Well, it had to happen. The number of cases of Covid-19 quadrupled over the last two days in Montrose County. From 1 to 4.
All of the patients were taken to a remote line camp on a ranch in an undisclosed location up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, along with 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, a good Coleman stove and lantern, four excellent (zero degrees-rated) down sleeping bags, and enough back issues of True West magazine to last them at least a month.
Some of the boys who rode up with them chopped enough wood to last the unfortunates for a solid week, and set the pile up right against the cabin where they could get at it easy. We don’t pamper our patients here in Paradise like they do in some other places. We sympathize, but by God, iffen you can’t take care of yourself in this world of trials and troubles, we don’t think you’re much of a cowboy.
We’ll check on them every couple of days …
You could see it coming. This morning (Thursday) at 0600, by decree of Governor Polis, we are officially under a Stay At Home policy. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, it will not be much different for Robin and I, except it will be even harder to get a haircut than it was, and it was already impossible.
Details as to how it will be enforced aren’t clear at all. Probably not as vigorously as in daughter Maja’s situation in Lima, where she would be stopped and asked to show her papers on her way to a bodega. And where she saw people being hustled into military vehicles and carted away.
David Brooks is not given to emotional outbursts. He is the very soul of responsible and thoughtful conservatism, and wouldn’t be caught dead with an epithet in his eminently sober mouth. No way. Too cool for that.
So when I saw the title of his latest piece in the Times of New York, I just had to read it, and I offer it to you here. Click on: Screw This Virus!
Robin has discovered a new (to us) communications software called Zoom. (As if senior citizens needed more than FaceTime and Skype.)
But this one seems a little easier to use, and is very straightforward in its rules and regulations. It is cross-platform and allows conference calls of up to 100 participants, which in the era of social distancing is not to be sniffed at. Robin used it a couple of days ago for a meeting of her book club, and those who participated thought it fun and very workable.
The amazing thing for all three of these programs is how much utility they provide the occasional user like ourselves, for free. Yes, friends, for the low low introductory price of only zero dollars, that’s zero down and zero per month, you too can start your own communications empire.
If this interests you at all, you can start your journey at zoom.us.
[Disclosure: we received no funds from Zoom.us for this endorsement. We tried like hell to get some, but failed miserably.]
The music today is definitely notcool. I started to pick out a couple of tunes to go along with the first item in today’s post, but as I listened to them it became more than that.
They are from the pre-rock and roll part of my existence. From the Saturday movie matinees where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and all of their buddies did improbably brave things while wearing fancy outfits that never got dirty. Whose silver-plated guns glistened enough to blind adversaries, but which never ever killed anyone. And these songs, corny as they might seem now, were played straight in all of those films.
They were the background music for a time when I believed in everything. The world was fair, courage and honor always won the day, and tragedy – why, what was that? If a guy knew he was about to pass into that great pasture in the sky, there was nothing for it but to smile bravely as you saddled up ol’ Buckskin, or ol’ Paint, or ol’ Trigger or Champion and rode out into the sunset.
I’ve had to temper some of those ideas since that uncomplicated time, but listening this morning I could remember exactly how it was when I first heard these songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Like uncorking a wine bottled in 1948.
Still tastes good, actually.
This week Colorado abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. In the graphic below, which is now obsolete, our state’s color has gone from blue to green.
There were three men on our death row, whose sentences were commuted to life without parole. Looking at the graphic, in general it would seem that the closer a state is to Canada the more likely it is to be enlightened on this issue.
No matter what a person’s feelings are about the morality of the death penalty, there are two facts that stand out. One is that it is basically a penalty reserved for the poor. If you can afford Alan Dershowitz’ services (and others of his high-billing breed), you are not going to be hung, gassed, shot, guillotined, drawn, quartered, or given a lethal injection. Period. Never, ever happen.
The second is that it is not a rare thing for a person to be wrongfully convicted and executed. Anyone who labors under the delusion that our justice system is completely trustworthy and that everybody on death row deserves to be there … lord have mercy, I just don’t know what to say!