A Very Short History of the World


Let’s posit that a Clockmaker G-d created the entire natural world, wound it up, and let it go. By itself, though, Planet Earth is pretty predictable and cyclical – even repetitive. Since the Clockmaker built the world, nothing comes as a surprise; it ends up being pretty boring.

So G-d creates change agents, independent creatures infused with a divine spirit. These agents (we’ll call ourselves “people”) come from G-d and are potentially very powerful, indeed. Alas, we barely scratch the surface of our potential.

Instead, people focus on existence within nature. We are quick learners, so even though we enter the world naked of the survival instincts native to every other species, we end up as the true king of beasts as well as the plant kingdom. We study stars and the weather, tides, and currents. Even though people are able to develop language and advanced conceptual thought, it is through manipulating and leveraging the natural world that we find a way to survive and even prosper. Despite all of the mental and spiritual potential we possess, understanding and working within the natural world is what mankind does best of all. We achieve this ability and then level out.

The Clockmaker, of whom we may have known once, fades into myth and then beyond into obscurity. Nature is so much more tangible, so much more clearly connected to our everyday lives than a mere incorporeal notion.

The Clockmaker is not satisfied with the state of play. He is “a jealous god,” and frankly is not pleased that the creatures made in His own image have entirely missed the plot, worshipping nature instead of its creator. G-d is not in nature. He made it, this incredibly complex world in which we live, but He is not within it. But Ancient Man misses this crucial distinction, just as we misunderstand our own role and potential – instead of being natural beings, we are supposed to aspire to being more like G-d Himself.

People were created able to do what G-d has done: create entirely new things, ideas and words and tools that never existed before. In theory. In practice, the world is stuck in a rut in every sense of the word: from technology to philosophy to language. We are tuned to harmonizing with nature, but not to elevating or improving it. We have settled, and are not reaching.

G-d decides that He needs to get mankind’s attention. To do that, He must do something that man would recognize is outside of nature, something that anyone would know is unnatural. The Clockmaker suspends the natural world and performs a miracle: he presents Moshe with the burning bush. It is a conceptual challenge: what if there is something more than what I thought there was?

It works. Though only a small miracle in the scheme of things, the bush grabs Moses’ attention: the bush burns, but is not consumed. Moses realizes that there is something more powerful than nature, that nature can be suspended or altered.

This kicks off a conversation between the Clockmaker and a single man about the origins of the world and Moses’ intended role in changing the entire direction of history. It all starts with just one man, confronted by the newfound knowledge that nature is not the supreme force in the world.

The burning bush seems like a one-off event. But it is not. It connects to the rest of the Torah. Before the episode of the burning bush, the word for “fire” is found first describing in divine actions (Covenant @ Gen 15:17, Sodom @ Gen. 19:24). Fire is what the Clockmaker uses to interfere with nature, and he teaches us to do likewise with sacrifices (which involve elevating nature to connect with G-d), as well as with the Menorah the candelabra that is described in botanical terms – and, like the bush, burns without being consumed.

But the burning bush also answers a very common question: Over a year later, after the Exodus from Egypt, after the Ten Commandments are handed down, and after the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle are given, G-d issues an odd commandment: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” (Ex. 35:3)

Here is that common question: Considering all the things that are forbidden Sabbath “work” in Judaism (The 39 categories are listed and summarized here), why is kindling a fire the only one named, seemingly hanging out there, entirely out of context? It reads like an orphan. Why is kindling fire the only commandment given here?

The answer is quite a cool one, and it is found by looking at the language itself. The text does not really say “kindle a fire” – it uses the verb form of the word “flame” and the word for “fire”. Indeed, the two words are found paired only one other place in the Torah: the burning bush. Which means that they are connected, that we can use the bush to understand why the commandments for the Sabbath day are somehow summarized using the single “do not kindle a fire” injunction.

If we consider that the bush was G-d’s way of showing mastery over and control of nature, then we can understand that when we emulate G-d by building fire then we are doing, in our own way, what G-d did when He worked for 6 days to create the world. G-d the Clockmaker made the clock that is the world. He was the maker of it all.

So when we use fire, we, too, are showing mastery over the natural world. This is something we are indeed commanded to do! The Torah makes it explicit that we are to be the people who do not merely harmonize with nature, living as the well-adapted kings of the natural world that we were in fruitful Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Instead, we are to be as G-d is: the masters of nature, both responsible for it, as well as of improving it, making ourselves and everything around us holy. Israel is contrasted with Egypt dozens of times in the Torah for this very reason: we are to go in a different direction.

But on the 7th day, he rested. He no longer acted with supremacy. On that day, G-d did not do any of the things symbolically connected with the burning bush. So when the very same word pair (“Boe-her ba’eish”) is used to describe Shabbos, we are to understand the symbolism writ large: on the Sabbath day we back off.

Six days we are to work – to improve the natural world, to create and destroy, to emulate G-d in the six days of creation. And on the 7th day, we are supposed to rest as G-d rested – to refrain from any further manipulation of the natural world. We leave the physical world on autopilot, the way the Clockmaker made it.

Forbidding “kindling fire” on the Sabbath day tells us that this is the one day during which we are forbidden to imitate G-d’s command over nature. This is the one day in the week when we do not do all of those things that shows our control over the natural world. If we spend six days working, then one day we let nature runs its course. This one commandment symbolically applies to all the commandments for Shabbos. Every other forbidden work (all 39 Melachos) on Shabbos boils down to the symbolism of kindling fire.

[Another @iWe and @susanquinn work!]

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https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/imperial-college-scientist-who-predicted-500k-coronavirus-deaths-in-uk-revises-to-20k-or-less A scientist who warned that COVID 19 would kill 500,000 people in the United Kingdom has revised the estimate to roughly 20,000 people or fewer. Scientist and Imperial College author Neil Ferguson said Wednesday that the coronavirus death toll is unlikely to exceed 20,000 and could be much lower, according to New Scientist. He […]

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Hello all! Per the lovely email from Ricochet after signing up, I’m following the advice and introducing myself. My name is Shannon and I stumbled upon Ricochet this morning, which turned out to be a serendipitous find for many reasons, none off which would be very interesting to you, but we’ll see where this goes. […]

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Day 66: COVID-19 Numidiocy


I don’t know whether the word coinage “numidiocy” is unique to me. It is a contraction of number idiocy. That is, whenever numbers get so numerous that it ceases to convey clear and useful information. I am not autistic. I lack the focus (and likely the faculties) to scan tables and graphs and inerrantly sense the important from the irrelevant. I hear the arguments that people make for how to order the significance of this datum versus that. In the screengrabs above I have ordered them by “active cases,” for instance, believing that “total cases” do not necessarily best reflect the present challenge.

And then there is the time element. In the screen grabs above I show Yesterday versus Now. This Worldometer chart is updated continuously as and when information is available. The current counting restarts daily at 0:00 UTC, which is 8 p.m. EDT and 5 p.m. PDT. Imagine each column that includes “new” in the header being a bucket into which water is poured and measured throughout the day with the water coming from lots of vessels of varying sizes being dumped at various hours of the day. Then the bucket is kicked over and emptied and the filling begins again.

So screengrabs of tables at random times tells of a moment, but it doesn’t provide context. And that is why graphs can be useful. @snirtler focused my attention on 91-DIVOC that provides some outstanding graphical displays of information. (91-DIVOC reflecting COVID-19; clever, right?) It lets you slice and dice data, time, place, numbers, and trends both in linear and log form. It wonderfully juxtaposes information about countries and US states in a seemingly useful manner until I realized what it wasn’t showing me and the data noise that it was.

In each chart, there is a dashed line — straight in the log presentation, curved in the linear presentation. That line represents 1.35 daily growth:

In nearly every country in the world, when the virus reaches 100 people the number of cases begins to increase by 35% daily. (Dashed black line.)

With that dashed line in place, you can clearly see countries or US states progress through time at either greater or less than 1.35 growth. The implications are clear: Countries and states with sustained growths above 1.35 are moving into greater difficulty; countries and states below 1.35 are moving into lesser difficulty. The charts comparing countries and states by population start to add noise because what does it mean that Vatican City and San Marino are so far above the 1.35 line on a per capita basis? (Somebody really needs to work on the dataset for these small places.)

As I stared at these charts I began to ask myself what is the marginal utility of the data? Yes, countries and states above the dashed line are having more cases, more deaths than they would have if they were below the line. But where is the “existential threat” line for that country or state? Where is the line where the health system fails? Where is the line for a set of cascading events that condemns them to a season of desolation and of indeterminate length? And the placement of those lines varies by locality, not just country or state.

I think it was back in the ’90s when the concept of a “dashboard” for management came into vogue. Like driving a car there would be a limited number of data outputs — speed, temperature, battery, RPM– that could be quickly scanned to determine that things are running just fine. Yes, there could be warning lights lit when the system said some combination of events were not in order. (A “check engine” light begs inquiry, it doesn’t render a verdict.) And senior managers would gather periodically to review the color-coded dashboards that reflected algorithms fashioned within the bowels of the various departments and operations. This was considered state of the art management.

But we all know the “decision makers” were far away from the point where things went wrong. The line mechanic, if properly trained, could see where welds were failing, where lubricants through addition of grit and incessant thermal assault had lost their ability to do the job. But the mechanic did not control supply chain for needed maintenance, the budget for supplies, the credit line that secured funds when revenues were unsteady. Somewhere in the dashboard the data all came together as green, yellow or red. The check engine light lit, or it didn’t.

Crash scene investigators exist because either our dashboards are faulty, misunderstood, or ignored. Sometimes all three.

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

Conclusion: Atomic Terror Over the African Coast


Pour a beverage, turn down the lights, and pull up a chair! Tonight, we finish the adventure told in imaginary old time radio style that we began two nights ago.

In the first episode, we met physicist and midwestern tycoon Hank Rhody, the mastermind and paymaster of a complex international scheme to secure and remove a long-hidden rogue atomic weapon from South Africa. The rest of Hank’s top-notch team of specialists, wizards, and heroes is known to every attentive Ricochet member. In the second episode, they contrive to buy the bomb and gather the electronic evidence that will incriminate its seller. Then they all make their escape in a rebranded Rhody jetliner, intending to take the fragile, laboratory-created bomb to a CIA nuclear disposal team 1500 miles north along Africa’s east coast.

And now, tonight’s episode, the final part of Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!

Dawn was still a half-hour away. The vivid stars over the African coast were fading. The skies were beginning to lighten.

The three-person “D Unit” stirred from their five seats in row 14. Jackie went aft to get coffee and socialize, mostly with her partner in Hank’s con game, Samblock. Shanna sighed and opened her eyes to the day. Two seats away, D. Newlander was also awake now in the still dark cabin. Today, their worst part of the job-the scary part of the job-was over.

Shanna and D were momentarily alone. “I was wrong about you”, she said. “I thought you’d be like–well, some of the others. Some other men, I mean. You aren’t”. Newlander smiled gently.

Hank Rhody walked down the center aisle and, almost absent-mindedly, handed envelopes to Dnew and Shanna. “I already gave Jackie hers”. Each envelope contained a cashier’s check from WM&M, the Rhody-controlled Wisconsin Mining and Manufacturing Company. The check was for three million dollars.

Up front, Matt Balzer read a teleprinter message from ltpwfdcm, their cryptic point of contact between the outside and the inside world. Hank got waved into the cockpit. Matt spoke with urgency. “We just got word we can’t land at Mombasa. Kenyan security has been alerted that there’s something special about this flight. That rules out Nairobi as well. Those are the two NEST sites we were expecting to choose from on landing”.

Judge tilts his head. “NEST?”

“Nuclear Emergency Search Team”, Hank said quietly. “So that leaves…What? Where? To get rid of this thing, safely”. At that time in the flight, first officer Matt Balzer was flying and captain Judge Mental was monitoring, so it was Judge who looked at a classified chart. “It means we have to land in Somalia”.

“Mogadishu”, Matt said softly. “The one place in the entire world I most never wanted to see again”.

Judge pulled the Jeppesen chart of Mogadishu airport. “It’s pretty grim. The strip, 28R, is right next to the ocean. Narrow, low, fast approach to avoid shoulder-launched rockets from the west. Go-arounds are especially dangerous”. With dry understatement, Judge Mental concluded, “We really want to nail it the first time”.

Matt abruptly turned to Hank. “There’s still a black ops US technical detachment outside the airbase. Tell NEST now and they have time to meet us there”.

Hank frowned. “Hmm…no USAF presence to haul them in time”. “They’ve got Army Aviation”, Matt said with a note of pride. “’Mother Rucker’ won’t let us down.”

About twenty minutes before landing, Hank walked back through the cabin briskly. “Strap yourself in tight. It’s not likely to be smooth as glass”. Shanna, Jackie, and D comply. Jackie imitates Bette Davis’ famous line, “Buckle up, darling, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”—and at the moment all hell breaks loose.

Everyone exclaims, curses or shouts. The plane’s engines scream with effort as the plane suddenly turns almost on its side, then flips to the other side while diving at a steep angle. A bright light streaks past the left side. Seconds later, as they snap back to level flight, the percussive impact of a distant explosion makes the jetliner bounce and shudder. Hank runs to the cockpit. “What’s going on?” Judge has his hands full flying the plane, so Matt replies, “We just beat a missile, probably a Russian. It was our welcome to Somalia. Get the counter-measures guy into his chair”. Hank nods and shouts into the cabin. “Percival! We need you!”

Matt calls out, “Ten miles, stable approach. 800 feet”, he says, his voice betraying the lowness of the altitude. “Flaps thirty”. Judge nods. “Roger that, call the Tower again”.

“Mogadishu Tower, this is DC-9 November Niner Five Oh Papa Bravo coming in 28R please advise runway conditions”.

Silence. The jetliner stays on approach. In the front row of the cabin, Hank Rhody hears an unwelcome growl from his Geiger counter. As the plane shifts around the sound gets louder and softer. For the first time, the unflappable physicist looks concerned.

“Give me flaps forty”, Judge says. “Three miles”, Matt says. “At two hundred feet”. The runway is right in front of them, less than a minute from touchdown. Suddenly in the wastelands to the west, a dozen flashes of light give them seconds of warning that they’re under rocket attack. “Percival!” Matt shouts. “I see it!”, Percival Dunhill shouts back. He presses buttons and a blinding fireworks display erupts from the back of the wings, confusing the heat-seeking missiles and deflecting them.

But the attack has thrown them off the glidepath. “Go again but don’t climb”, commands Judge Mental. They swing sharply over to the right, and back over the ocean, in a long, clockwise path to line them back up for another attempt at landing. “Thanks, Percival, good job, man. Owe you a beer”. Percival calls out, “I’ll take that beer. But don’t forget, there’s no second round. That was all we had”.

“Okay, take two”. Now they came in lower, much lower than anyone on the plane had ever experienced, zooming over the ocean at 180 knots, less than a hundred feet above the water. Fog and overcast was drifting in. A scattered fleet of anti-aircraft missiles shot trails through the gray sky overhead. As they approached the airport again, lining up on the runway, they dropped even lower but barely slowed down. “Forty feet”, called out an automatic warning. “Terrain, terrain. Pull up! Pull up!” But they didn’t and couldn’t pull up, not with those missiles waiting. The Rhody jet came in over the markers at the end of the runway with its landing gear almost touching the ground. They roared through the fog and at the last second saw—a stalled truck directly ahead of them on the runway. “Negative, negative!” The pilots pulled the nose up while increasing power so sharply that they seemed to catch the rocket brigade unaware. “Tell the Tower we’re going around”, Judge said tersely.

The passengers, all of them fellow plotters, most of them longtime friends and associates, took the first go-round in uneasy silence. The second, more violent one caused audible dismay. “Okay, everybody”, Hank called out. “Just one more time”.

Judge pulled the control column back for a little altitude as they circled around for the third landing attempt. “Two minutes of fuel remaining”, Matt said quietly. Judge nodded. They were almost back in line over the runway, but much higher than before. Judge’s piercing eyes examined the formless gray and found what he wanted. “There. We are diving through that hole in the cloud”. Matt gaped at what was about to happen. “You really are going to crash us, aren’t you?”

Judge Mental gave him a cold, ironic grin, maybe his last. “At the last second before we hit the ground, we’re going to pull back as hard as we can, and if the wings don’t tear right off, we’ll all walk away from it”. Before Matt could say a word, the plane was tilted downwards at a steep angle, building up noise and speed, evading the rocket barrage. As the nose pitched forward, the buzzing of Hank’s Geiger counter became an unearthly howl. The plane plunged through the hole in the clouds towards the runway—

–and just as promised Judge Mental yanked the controls back so sharply the wings almost tore off. People screamed as the plane crazily hit the ground hard and fast, bounced, hit the ground again, and settled back racing off to the side of the runway unevenly. Unable to reach the main runway they hit the bumpy transition to the taxiway and kept on going. “You can’t land on the damn taxiway, Judge”. “Why not? Harrison Ford does”.

Only half under the pilots’ control, they made an overspeed turn off to the secret US enclave of the miles and miles of sprawling airfields. With each lurch tossing them forward, the Geiger counter now roared. Hank shouted over it. “You’ve gotta take the pressure off! It’s going to—”

Judge yelled “Crab the wheels! Full rudder!” He and Balzer gasped with exertion as they, incredibly, turned the plane half sideways as it blasted down the airstrip. That sudden turn turned the Geiger counter’s ominous howl back into a growling buzz. Out the front window, the scenery was going sideways in a blur. Slowing. Loud bangs as the last of the landing gear tires blew. Clusters of uniformed men jump out of the way. The scraping landing gear shot sparks into the air. Slowing. The tail end of the plane is slipping away, swinging around. Slowing. Hank shouted into the radiotelephone, “It’s in the forward cargo hold! Gentlemen, now!”

As the crippled airliner finally shuddered to a stop, one of the engines was on fire. Judge and Matt pulled the overhead fire switches, turned off the fuel pumps, and shouted for evacuation. Dave Barsham took charge. The passenger chutes inflated and the Rhody crew got out within a minute. The heat, smoke, kerosene smell and chaos were overwhelming. “Get away, keep moving!” Barsham shouted.

Jackie and Samblock need no urging, and they, Right Angles, D, and Shanna run away from the burning crash site.

A team of US servicemen in fire suits is already breaking open the crumpled cargo bin with axes. Percival is showing them where to chop. The flames are starting to reach them, and the bomb. One insanely brave man attaches a chain and hook to a steel ring on the bomb and runs to a tractor. Other men are shouting themselves hoarse, “Get out! You’ve got to get out!” But he stubbornly backs the tractor until he pulls the bomb out of the crumpled cargo bay and drags it, yard by agonizing yard, away from the burning airplane. Finally, a NEST team in radiation suits surrounds it and takes it away. The man who pulled the bomb out gets off his tractor.

Hank, Matt and Judge are leading the others away from the scene. For the first time, Hank notices the tractor is Air Force blue. So USAF made it to the party after all, he thinks. Judge Mental says, “I want to shake the hand of the guy who did that. That really took stones”. Just then the man lifts his face mask. It’s Roberto. He grins broadly at their surprise. Right Angles breaks from the crowd, rushes forward, and embraces him.

Matt Balzer and his wife, the Right Nurse who boarded the plane at the last minute, walk away from the wreckage together. “So”, she asks, mock-coquettishly, “Did you get a three million dollar check for this, too?” “Well, honey, I’m already on the WM&M payroll. It’s really part of the job”. He doesn’t keep her in suspense. “But Hank gave me a bonus of seven million”, enjoying her reaction. “Oooh baby!”, she laughs as they hug. “Which reminds me. We need to talk”.

Sam and Hank Rhody turned one last time to see the burning DC-9 finally collapse in on itself. The flames leapt into the sky. Sam had a crooked grin as he pointed to Hank and to the burning wreck with mock accusation. “I’m telling! I’m telling Dad!”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Tales From the PIT excursion into Silent Radio, Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!

Ricochet members mentioned or featured in tonight’s introductory episode include @dnewlander, @samuelblock, @hankrhody, @samrhody, @rightangles, @lessersonofbarsham, @mattbalzer, @judgemental, @roberto and @ltpwfdcm. Our disclaimer: RSR stories are fan fiction. The dialog, actions, and personal history of these characters are purely imaginary. RSR is not an official activity of Ricochet. Your imaginary network radio announcer is Johnny Donovan. The voice of RSR is @raykujawa.

Remember, three chimes mean good times on Ricochet Silent Radio.

(Sound of chimes)


Changes in Lassitude, Changes in Attitude


Isolation hasn’t been too bad down here. Monroe County, FL, is (last time I checked) still in the low single digits for COVID-19 victims. A couple of the cases can be directly attributed to people from up north who decided to escape their domiciles in high-risk areas and fled to the Keys already infected. Awesome. Thanks.

On Friday, 27 March, Monroe County is establishing a no-entry rule. If you don’t live or work down here, you’ll be turned around. If you work down here but don’t live here, you’ll have to undergo a nominal screening and then be allowed to pass. It’s not, I assess, to overly protect from infection, although I’m sure that’s part of it. We have been blessedly light in that regard. Instead, it’s the people from the greater Miami area coming down here to load up on supplies after their Miami environs have been sucked dry. On a daily basis, the toilet paper preppers, the red meat ransackers, and the fresh produce pillagers descend upon us like locusts and strip the grocery stores bare. Long-suffering smiles of welcome are wearing a bit thin.

My whole work-from-home gig is in tread-water mode — not because there’s no work to do, but because there are a raft of decisions that need to be made by higher before I can do it.

Without the structure of my workplace (and waiting to have a whole lot more to do), I’m slowly beginning to impose order on my day. Wake-up time is immutable. Every day it’s a race between the dogs and me to get up first, mostly for the pleasure of rousing the other still sleeping carbon life forms from their slumber (none of said life forms try this silliness with the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Mongo; survival instinct runs strong in the house). Also unchanging is the wake-up work-out/dog-walking routine.

Whoever wakes up first, the dogs start politicking to go out ASAP while I throw clothes and shoes on. Then I gently foot-scoot the dogs out of the way of the front door, walk out to my wee little 3×6 workout mat (actually, a piece of industrial rubber flooring from Home Depot) and rip out one, maybe two sun salutations. I’m more of a “root the pose” guy than I am a “flow through the poses” guy. Water flows, Mongo not so much. After that, I hit my first 10-20-30.

Ten pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 30 Hindu squats. After iteration one, I take Leia (the most ADHD German Shepherd Dog evah) on her walk. Get back, throw her in the house, and knock out another 10-20-30. Then I walk Conrad, the Cannonball Pit. Finish with him, put him up and hit the 3rd 10-20-30. The first yoga and 10-20-30 are to give the sun the time to at least think about starting to rise. The dogs do better (i.e., get their business done quicker) if there’s light. And it gives me the chance to start thinking about being able to walk. Also, lest it sound like I’m trying to sell tickets as a beau-hunk stud muffin nifty rad exerciser, please know that I can no longer do regular vertical pull-ups. For a while, I could make do using gymnast rings, so that my grips let me work around my trashed shoulder(s). Now it’s more like pull-ups with a TRX strap, heels on the ground, start position at about 30 degrees.

After that, though, I’m on my own.  I’m trying to do some writing.  Trying to do at least an hour a day of Spanish-language training. (More difficult, once they close the traffic from Miami. Heh.) Definitely staying in robust contact with my home unit and international peers. I’ve got three WhatsApp feeds that keep me in touch with the other planners and international participants. Being such a tech dynamo, I had no idea until just recently that pictures from WhatsApp are downloaded to my phone. Let’s just say that some of my down-range brethren send stuff regularly that the Lovely and Talented Mrs. Mongo would find blatantly unacceptable.

“But, Honey, this pic was pushed to me from the deepest, darkest region of the Amazon River basin” would not be considered a viable defense for a capital offense. So I get to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning inappropriate material out of my phone. I started doing this after I told my beautiful bride what I’d be fiddling with on the phone. Last thing I need is to get busted out while huddling nervously over the phone. “Me? Nothing, honey. Just, uh, checking my phone…” Yeah. Since she has my passwords and PINs for everything, that could have catastrophic effects.

I know a whole lot of Ricochetti who are a whole lot smarter than I work from home. So as a newb, I’m asking: what are the techniques you use to impose order on your Homefront workday? Timed schedule vs. in-order tasks/accomplishments? Drive through per task or move on once it gets to be onerous? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, I do, anyway.

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    If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness The first thing we can do is learn to laugh. Have you ever seen an angry driver who, when someone else makes a mistake, reacts as though that person […]

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Papers, Please


When I was a kid, the copy of The Hunt For Red October we recorded off the TV was one of my favorite movies. My dad was a submariner, and while he had served on missile boats instead of fast attack ones like the American sub Dallas, he was able to give the perspective of someone who’d actually been there and done that in his commentary on the movie. (E.g., when Dallas evades a live torpedo by surfacing so quickly it breaches halfway out of the water, his comment was, “If you didn’t have an emergency before you did that, you do now, because if you don’t have enough air to repressurize the ballast tanks you’re going to be sinking as fast as you surfaced.”)

In the middle of the movie, there’s a quiet scene where the defecting Russian captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) and his first officer Vasily Borodin (Sam Neil) are discussing what life will be like in America.

“I would like to live in Montana. Will they let me do that?”
“I would think they’d let you live wherever you wanted.”
“In that case, I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman, and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck … or possibly even a recreational vehicle. And I will drive state to state. Do they let you do that?”
“I suppose.”
“No papers?”
“No papers. State to state.”

The first time I saw the movie, at around ten or eleven, my parents patiently explained that in the Soviet Union, we would have had to get the state’s permission to visit our grandparents or cousins who lived out of state. That being in America meant we didn’t have to have things like travel papers, and freedoms like that were why Marko and Vasily and the other officers were willing to risk their lives to come to America.

Yesterday, I got my travel papers that allow me to leave my house to go to work.

To Law Enforcement & Emergency Services Personnel:

The bearer of this letter is employed by [company name] of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in an essential capacity – providing transportation and logistics services to maintain and inspect infrastructure for hospitals, medical center campuses, public buildings and the like. Both President Trump’s National Emergency Orders and state and
local stay at home orders exempt essential service businesses.

This letter verifies the essential nature of the bearer’s duties and is not intended in any way to encroach upon the authority and laws of state and local governmental authorities. This designation is only meant to address travel to and from work assignments. If you need to verify the bearer’s employment and that he/she is currently on assignment with [company name], please contact our office …

Near the end of the movie, Vasily Borodin is shot by a KGB officer trying to stop the defection. As he lies dying, he confesses “I would have liked to have seen Montana” — his idealized land of freedom, where no one could demand proof of permission to go where you pleased.

I would like to be in Vasily’s Montana.

Scrubbing Away What’s Not Important


As a property manager, I look after beach properties for part-time owners. I received a text from an alarmed Atlanta client, saying that security encountered a strange individual who claimed he paid $2,400 to someone on Craig’s List to rent his home. Police were called and the dude claimed he drove from Michigan to Florida to move in.

He gave two numbers of the person who “rented” the property to the police, both of which were disconnected; clearly a scam. My client was alarmed that the person claimed that he entered into this agreement with someone who had the same last name as the owner, a very unusual last name. They also had a private gate code. So scammers are well at work during the worst worldwide event since World War II – why take a day off?

I’ve checked in with neighbors. It’s March and overly warm here in the Florida Panhandle. While watering my garden, my next-door neighbor received a beautiful bouquet from a delivery van. I hollered at the woman, who staggered to the front door with the huge, heavy vase.

I yelled,” Wow! That’s the biggest bouquet I’ve ever seen!”

“Yes – isn’t it lovely! Is she home?” she asked.

“No, she’s working – I’ll text her!”

I wished my neighbor a Happy Birthday, and told her mine was this past Sunday. We exchanged cake and balloon emojis. I was happy to see a company in business delivering flowers. Another neighbor says son home from college and bored. I told him to tell him to paint the house. My other neighbor is clergy at Sacred Heart Hospital and he said they are “maintaining.”

A text from the local Episcopal Church said they are trying to keep employees on the payroll, the secretary, the child care administrator, and others. The pastor, based on info he’s received, says it may be July before services are resumed. He says some churches and small businesses may not survive and close permanently. He is asking that church members continue to tithe or give a donation to keep their employees and their families going.

My hands are dry from so much washing and scrubbing. I’m limiting news access to reduce stress. Tonight they said locals are sewing face masks for those in need, restaurants are now delivering, police are patrolling beaches and towns – spring break and our tourist economy in the dumper. Trump and some governors are hoping for a quick rebound, an easing of social restrictions to get people back to work. I get it, but I will make my own decisions if it’s safe or not. The number of ill and deceased are doubling every two days. My husband got congestion, coughing and hoarseness – a trip to emergency care secured antibiotics, a sinus infection, and he’s getting better – we’re both still working.

Each day I wake up to the sound of birds. Our four-legged, furry alarm clock is ready to pay them a visit and all seems normal, until I stop and think about the virus. Fragmented thoughts occupy my daily consciousness and dreams. Is this virus from China a wake-up call? What and who is important? I baby my emerging fig, blueberry bush, and potted blackberry with compost and fertilizer this spring. I bought two tomatoes, two strawberry plants, and a banana pepper. I cheaped out and skipped the squash plant, only to find my seed stash was woefully out of date. I went to the Burpee site and everything is sold out. I did secure some squash seeds and some spinach for Fall. I have a prepper mind. My husband always said we have too much toilet paper … not anymore.

I love Italians and Italy. I think about the Vatican, and Robert Moynihan, the editor of Inside The Vatican, who updates the faithful on these extraordinary spiritual times that we are living through. This magazine and The Moynihan Newsletters are an inspiration. There’s been no word from Italy; his site only posting the Pope’s virtual masses. Rome is closed. I think about Italy because Italians are all about family – La Familia. They live large and long lives, which is why the death rate has been so high there. I read my Giada DeLaurentiis cookbook called “Giada’s Italy – My Recipes for La Dolce Vita.” Recipes handed down for generations, scenery of fresh food stalls, cafes, her family gatherings for meals and shopping together, the towering steeples of the city. Food is a gift to be shared. In Giada’s book, there’s a picture of her daughter, her mom, and her – three generations, together.

I follow an old friend from high school on Facebook. Her daughter was married last year – a Jewish/Italian wedding. She spent months baking and freezing cookies for the Italian cookie table at the wedding. Grandma’s pasta and meatballs were the featured meal when they celebrated the engagement with the groom’s family. Two out-of-wedlock children were born into this large, extended family over the last two years. Abortion unthinkable – clear a room, create a nursery, surround and nurture this new, little life. The two little toddlers are now the joy of this gregarious, imperfect, and loving family who have overcome loss, death, and the challenges of a full life.

On my friend’s Facebook page, there’s a picture of her daughter, her mom and her, three generations, together and they are all three, gorgeous. In Frances Mayes’ book, “Under The Tuscan Sun”, she describes seeing three generations of women strolling down an Italian street as follows:

By late afternoon, we’re sitting again with our espresso, this time facing the other piazza. A woman of about sixty with her daughter and the teenage granddaughter pass by us, strolling, their arms linked, the sun on their vibrant faces. The three women look peaceful, proud, impressively pleased. There should be a gold coin with their faces on it.

I think about Italy because it’s the seat of the Christian faith, along with Jerusalem. Churches are closed and mass is offered online everywhere. I can’t help but think the devil’s hands are in this insidious virus that has stopped the world. But it’s backfiring. Families are re-evaluating, political parties are joining hands to rescue its citizens, floating military hospitals are stationed to care for the sick, the private sector is joining forces to create needed supplies, scientists across the world are sharing data at lightning speed to come up with a cure. One virus has created a different world in a matter of a couple of months on so many levels. It’s back to basics – la Familia.

Another COVID Casualty


Experts in epidemiology are starting to remind me of Gen. George McClellan—he could promise you a brilliant battle plan but only if he had perfect data about the numbers, location and intentions of the enemy. So in the meantime, you wait, hunkered down, stripped of the initiative.

Like with climate scientists, the virus modelers offer either mild, easily handled transient changes or large-scale disaster depending on the assumptions (offerings) we feed the models.

The economists who told us to ignore borders, the ever-changing expert guidance on human sexuality, an absurdly ideological professoriate, grossly unprofessional professional journalists … our faith in expertise is dying. Now after a decade of scandals in fraudulent research publications, the virus is attacking another species of our faith in experts. Epidemiologists are people who look into microscopes, do lab stuff, and are really good at math — so how can they be so ineffectual in this crisis?  The Marcus Welby, MD, paradigm may be gone but we really want to have faith in all parts of the medical professions.

The model of society beloved by the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Benito Mussolini, and Barack Obama, in which the masses are relieved of the burden of judgment and decision-making through mandatory reliance on enlightened technocrats, is fading fast. It is not clear what will replace it.

Words to Remember, Especially for Never-Trumpers


I don’t agree with everything that Kevin Williamson has to say but a recent article of his contained a few sentences that should be required reading for those who “just can’t get past” Trump’s volatile personality. And, it’s a reminder for all of us that, even though the poster child for senility has taken the lead in the Democratic race, it’s still the party of AOC and Bernie.

When James Carville warns about driving away blue-collar and rural voters, Democrats in Brooklyn hear that Southern accent and quietly whisper, “Good riddance.”  The Democrats are in the mood for culture war, not for coalition-building and reconciliation.  They do not wish to win with moderation and compromise, because they do not wish to govern with moderation and compromise.

Williamson touched on their ideology,

They are committed to their belief that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were “on the right side of history,” that those who opposed them were monsters, and that those who rallied to the flag of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were only humanitarians with excessive enthusiasm — “liberals in a hurry,” as they used to say.

When reading Williamson’s article, I thought about the consummate Never-Trumper, Bill Kristol. Even when he claimed to be a conservative, I had little use for him (with his condescending, arrogant manner, I always pictured him in a black uniform wearing a coal scuttle helmet). That these “ideologically pure” windbags would choose a candidate from today’s Democratic Party over Trump, out of sheer spite, is unconscionable.

When it comes to Donald Trump, there is clearly much to dislike. However, when it comes to today’s Democratic Party, he is a knight in shining armor.

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You won’t BELIEVE these five hidden community college benefits!


Everyone knows community colleges are cheaper than just about any other option. But I’ve found that going to community college gave me some advantages now that I’m finishing my degree at a university.

1. Small Class Sizes/Lecture Hall Avoidance
Yup, this is something of a cliche, since just about every college pamphlet I’ve seen advertises a low student-to-faculty ratio, or something like that. But often, introductory classes at larger universities meet in lecture halls, with as many as a few hundred students in the room. Regardless of how many students there are per faculty member, larger schools often need to be efficient this way, especially in 100 and 200 level courses where the material is less in-depth. Meanwhile, I don’t think I ever had a class at my community college with more than 50 students, and usually that was closer to 30. The teachers almost always knew my name, and if I had a question, I could walk up to them after class and ask, rather than having to make an appointment, send an email, or visit office hours.
By the time you get to the university, you will have finished most classes that would normally take place in lecture halls at community college, and move on to the upper-level courses that usually have small class sizes. Going to community college allowed me to almost completely bypass lecture halls.

2. More Opportunities to Job-Shadow
I’m going into a somewhat medical profession, and all the professionals in that field in my college town are inundated with requests to job-shadow. Meanwhile, I was more or less the only undergraduate student emailing the professionals in my hometown. If you go to a college with a specialty program, the professionals in that town will probably be overwhelmed by college students. If you go to a community college, the local professionals in your field of choice will probably love to have you. This makes community colleges a solid choice if you are looking to choose a major or explore careers.

3. Great freedom in independent study opportunities
When I finished most of my degree requirements, my adviser suggested I pursue an internship or independent study. I spoke to the internship coordinator, who pointed out a few professors I had classes with in the past who would help me. The professor I asked was quite happy to help me, the study was quite easy to set up, and I had great freedom in what I would study and a lot of options for my final project.
Of course, there are opportunities for independent study at my university as well, but they are much more structured. Every senior in my major writes a final capstone paper, and there is an opportunity to do additional research as an independent study. This is nothing like being able to ask a professor “Hey, can you work with me on an independent study on subject X?”

4. Bypassing the freshman-year hurdles
At my school, like many schools, freshman are required to live in the dorms and buy a meal plan. Some people may like this idea, and I know many people choose to continue doing this post freshman-year. But the dorm lifestyle is one that is hard on introverts such as myself, and even though the meal plan food is good, there is great freedom in being able to buy, cook, and eat things that you choose to. As a transfer, I didn’t have to deal with freshman red tape, and was able to live off-campus and eat what I wanted to.

5. Knowing your interests, strengths, and weaknesses before spending a lot to go to school
When I started community college, I had a few vague ideas about what kind of classes I liked and disliked. Going to community college made my interests so much clearer to me, especially thanks to my independent study, in which I job-shadowed a professional in the field I wanted to go into. I probably would have started out a teaching major and then changed majors, had I gone into a bigger university right away, and major changes cost time and money.
I also learned how many credits I could handle, and how many hours per week I could work while at school, which is valuable information for further college planning.

Whether you choose a community college or a larger university, keep these factors in mind. I know that some students take summer courses from community colleges while home on break from their universities to get cheaper credits in a smaller class. That way, it’s possible to attend community college while also attending a larger university. Everybody has to get their gen ed credits done, and community colleges are, in most cases, the best way to do that.

This was originally a post on my blog, https://amateuradvising.blogspot.com/. Send the link to the future college students in your life, since what I’m writing is most helpful for somebody making their first few choices about school, such as high schoolers unsure what college preparations should look like. (At least, I hope it’s helpful.)

Sometimes You Just Need to Curl up in the Fetal Position and Cry


This was some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. After my husband commissioned to the army, we moved to Southern Georgia where he received his leadership training in the jungle and I received mine at soirees.

One night we had a Q & A with the wives of senior officers, hosted by the wife of the Command Sergeant Major; the senior ranking non-commissioned officer of the installation responsible for tens of thousands of soldiers. She had almost two decades of experience, and of all the stories and wisdom she could share, there was only one she made a point to tell.

Back in the early 2000s, right after the war began and conflicts were raging, her husband, like so many, had little notice before deploying for combat to the Middle East. He was nearing the end of his 18-month stent when she received the call that he was not coming home as planned, and would be staying out a few more months, with no timeline of when he would return.

The moment she hung up the phone, her reaction was simple; crawl into bed – curl up in the fetal position – and cry.

“Cry, cry, cry.” She said that’s all you can do at that point. “But”, she counseled, “you don’t let anyone see and when you’re done, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.”

I’ve thought about this advice a lot since that night as there are three great lessons to learn:

1) The obvious: it’s ok to grieve, it’s ok to breakdown, to be scared, sad, and crushed. It’s not just ok – it’s necessary – to let it out, even in the most humble and primitive manner. Identify what you need; find your bed, figure out your fetal position, then let the emotions loose – and enjoy the catharsis.

2) But be careful where and when you let it out. We live in a time where the more open, honest and raw you are, the more attention you garner. But there is wisdom in being selective about who you invite in. This woman was talking specifically about the other spouses in her husband’s unit she was responsible for, but mostly, her kids. She needed to hold herself together to brace for their breakdowns.

This is true, especially in times like these. Our kids need our strength. This doesn’t mean you have to be fake or dishonest, but they’re still kids; whether they say it or even realize it they look to you. They need parents who are going to be the adults in the room, parents who are capable, parents who lead with strength and stability.

3) Pick yourself up and keep going. Put the pieces back together, the best you can, and just keep moving forward, one step at a time. We cannot live in the emotions; we cannot dwell on the disappointment or fear. We must do life as usual; the best we can. Grieve for what is out of your control – then let it go. Focus on your sphere of control and work within that. It will get easier.

I’ve been told most of my life how strong a woman I am. While I am one who always appreciates the flattery, I must say I have had my fair share of these ‘curl up and cry’ moments. It is not a sign of weakness to admit you’ve reached your breaking point. It’s what you do after you break that matters. (This is where I shine.)

And if you have to crawl back in that bed a few more times, go right on ahead. You can always pick yourself up tomorrow.

COVID-19: Quarantined


The past several weeks has seemed a bit unreal as other parts of the world have been subsumed by Covid-19. Stories of overwhelmed hospitals coupled with social media reports of people who got it and didn’t even realize they had it until the symptoms had passed. After all that time, reality came home.

My wife and I watched the news as the Mayor of Charleston announced he would be proposing to the city council a citywide ordinance for people to stay in their homes for two weeks as the current growth stage of the virus began to run itself up the curve in South Carolina. We knew that the odds of it not passing was slim to none but fortunately had already been well-stocked with food for hurricanes and the like. Earlier that same day we’d gotten bad news. My line of work is small business I.T. The countdown until we were all stuck in our homes was obvious more than week ago so our clients started getting ready to work from home. One such client had an employee that had a personal computer that needed to be fixed before she could use it for work and for her kids to use it for school. After working on it over a weekend and returning it to her we found that she couldn’t get it to work with a monitor she’d bought just for the occasion. I’d told her I’d meet her the next day at her job so I could test it out and figure out what was wrong. After speaking with her Monday evening to schedule that I got a text the next day saying she’d called in sick and that I didn’t have to come. Turns out she had flu-like symptoms without congestion in her nose, a bad sign. Could I now have the virus? How long was I with her when I dropped it off? Did I touch my face? Did I wash my hands? What do I do now?

As it turns out, none of that really mattered. I’d likely already been exposed, and so had my wife. She had been experiencing a dry cough that she thought was allergies, it’s nearly spring in Charleston, after all, half the air is pollen at this point. This morning, Wednesday, we both had a cough and a slight weight on our chests when we took a breath, and while she ran a low fever I was running under the norm 98.6 and was feeling a little lightheaded. The more we talked the more we figured we should reach out to our medical network over the internet to see what they thought. A few minutes on an internet video chat with a doctor and we heard the words we were worried about. “Ma’am, with your symptoms we think you should be tested for covid-19.” I would have to make my own video call, but it probably wouldn’t matter at this point.

Like something out of a movie, the doctor described what she needed my wife to do. Wash up and head to an address on Rivers Ave, not the hospital. She wanted us to know that the people she would meet would be in full hazmat-like suits. Don’t get out of your car, follow their instructions, do not stop anywhere else to or from the location. Most importantly, from this point forward, no one is to leave your house for a week or until the results come in. Not to the pharmacy, not to the grocery store, nowhere. You are quarantined. We knew beforehand that was how it worked, but we also weren’t sure if what we were worried about was just in our heads or not. We also knew that tests were scarce and were pretty sure they were only testing people they really thought had the virus, and now my wife was going to be tested. Since we have three children she had to go on her own. After she left I took another call from a client who was in a panic about their computer and I found myself scrambling for the “customer service” attitude that I turn on when I take such calls. I struggled not to say, “Your laptop won’t connect to your Wi-Fi? Wow, that’s terrible, my wife just left to go get tested for covid while I sit at home coughing watching my kids entertain themselves. I hope you survive this…” Fortunately, I found my inner professional and took care of my client. Paychecks are even more important now.

My wife and I are young, nearing our forties and if we truly have covid-19 we’ll likely be fine, so long as we don’t get something else along with it. At the same time, it’s surreal. We are now likely part of the pandemic, a statistic. We can’t leave our home for the fear that if we have it we might infect someone who could potentially die from it. We’re well-stocked now but if it turns out we’re infected we’ll have to depend on other people at some point to bring us some of the staples as we run out of them. I’d never really thought that I’d find myself sitting in my house under quarantine. My wife and I are not scared, but we are worried. The virus runs the gamut on severity, and while it tends not to infect children we know it still can. Knowing all of that, all we can do…is wait.

Army Rolling in Homeland Defense


This is how we are not Italy. This is part of why we were ranked #1 in the world for pandemic preparedness. As Navy hospital ships prepare to leave their docks, Army field hospital units have been given deployment orders. Ride to the sound of the sirens?

A Delightful Apocalypse


Squirrels, for all their zany antics, are too polite to sneeze on you. Roaming around city streets might be an invitation to disaster right now. But there remains plenty of parkland and wilderness to wander free of worry. Just try to avoid sciurologists, which I assume are as erratic and unpredictable as their subjects. 

Who knew Houston was surrounded by so many fine parks? Google, of course. We need to work on two-way communication. 

Texas wildflowers are in bloom. In my area, Spring, this generally means blackberry vines and many varieties of clover. But up around The Woodlands one can find a few bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes. 

I haven’t ventured far west this year. But in a single field one can find many smaller wildflowers that typically go unnoticed in the common hunt for bluebonnets. These pictures were taken in Magnolia. 

While exploring a bayou, I could hear the gators chirping somewhere in the high grass. Maybe a trip down to Brazos Bend later will award some interesting shots. Turtles are a more common sight in local creeks. Thankfully, cottonmouths are waiting for the weather to get a little warmer. 

I was too slow to capture a woodland skink half as thick as a beer can. But a prettier one, albeit a bit disfigured from The Birds, stuck around. 

Birds can be as skittish as lizards. But neither this downy woodpecker nor molting great horned owl paid me any mind. 

People don’t often venture to swamps to look for wildflowers. But sometimes you’ll find wild irises or lilies among the blackberry vines. 

Even the pines host flowering vines this time of year. 

Get outside, if you can. Beauty abounds even in the worst of times. 



My Life as a Google End User


Because of a childhood obsession with illustration and E.C. Comics, I carry with me the memory of the names and the styles of the five artists who illustrated the first issue of Mad Magazine in 1952 (actually a comic book at the time). I asked Google if it knew as much as I do.

Mais oui, bon ami! [Google also speaks French]: The five are Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and John Severin. Ask me something difficult, simple denizen of the meat world.”

“Um, OK, Google. What are the figures on Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel?”

“I know you’re easily bored, simple one, so I won’t describe all thirty-two of the life-sized figures, but the ones on the bottom are barrel makers dancing the traditional Cooper’s Dance. Are you happy now?”

That’s what Google would be like if it were human. It knows so much more than us that it would undoubtedly be haughty in its responses.

OK, let’s get serious. Perhaps you are writing a book on the rise and fall of Christianity in Israel and you need to know the Christian orders that control the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. In pre-search engine days, you had to drive to your local library, search the card catalogue to see if it had a book or periodical that dealt with the subject, go to the stacks, try to find the book, and flip through the index, if it had one, or pages if it didn’t.

Now with Google, you can stay home and type these words into the search box: “six orders of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.” In two seconds (I timed it), up pops, on the first page, a reference work that, with one click, provides you with your answer: Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox. In two forken seconds.

If that doesn’t amaze you, you’re probably under the age of 40 and all excited, right down to the tingle in your lower leg, by Joe Biden’s candidacy.

In 1977, I wrote an article for Fine Woodworking about how to make a woodwind instrument called a flageolet. Just now I Googled my article. Google not only found the article, but it also found a description of the article, written some years later, in the middle of Jim Richey’s 602-page book, Methods of Work. That is one peripatetic web crawler!

Search engines can do what no other research source in history could do. For the past few months, I’ve had a phrase in my mind, “ten years before the flood.” I had no idea where that came from. (I used to teach literature, so I have a jumble of literary images lying about willy-nilly in my mind.) So I Googled the words and discovered that they appear in Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress. The words aren’t even much of a quote, not even close to being a sentence, hardly even an image. Just a lowly phrase. Is there anything that Google can’t find?

To check to see if that was merely an aberration, I came up with another literary image, one I was familiar with. This time I purposely misquoted the sentence to make it hard on Google. Here’s the original: “The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold.” And here’s what I typed into the Google box: “Despite his feathers, the owl was really cold.” Google took me to the right place, John Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes, and offered up the exact words as they appear in the poem. Incroyable! (I don’t know French, but I do know how to look up French words — in Google, of course.)

In 1970, I did research for my Ph.D dissertation by spending untold hours in the bowels of the University of Utah library, where I read mostly forgotten Restoration comedies (most of which appeared only on microfiche) and a few critical essays on those comedies. If I wasn’t in the basement, I was at the main desk filling out forms for inter-library loans for books and original copies of certain plays that were not available at the University library. It was a laborious process.

Nowadays, using Google, I could write a better version of that dissertation in a tenth of the time and a thousand miles distant from any library. The scholarly world has been digitized and is now available to anyone with, let’s say, a small iPad and a search engine. For copies of the plays themselves, Google will point you to a variety of ways of retrieving the primary texts, from Project Gutenberg (which has now digitized 6,448 books, all free) to the Internet Archive, to the Poetry Foundation. I just Googled William Congreve’s Restoration comedy of manners, The Way of the World. In five seconds, I had a copy of the five-act play on my iPad.

A colleague and I used to write textbooks on writing, rhetoric in particular, usually combined with lessons on library research. That was, oh, about thirty years ago. In our books, the readers could find all kinds of helpful information on the card catalogue (ah, the pleasures of the Dewey Decimal System) and how to write effectively about their research. Largely because of Google, our books are now so dated that they’re hardly worth the energy it would take to grind them up for pulp.

After I wrote that last sentence, I became curious about the fate of these texts, so I Googled my name. Three of our texts came up, now located in an internet bargain bin called Thriftbooks. One of our texts that originally sold for $45.11 now sells for $4.99. (That price drop mirrors the arc of my life.). Since this is a research textbook, it’s hard to see why anyone would buy it. It barely mentions the Internet and Google is years into the future.

So there you have it. Search engines have opened a passageway to a world of knowledge and art for kings and peasants. We’re living in an amazing world, folks.

Postscript: Mrs. @She is of the opinion that the only reason people read my posts is the expectation that I will post a photo of Bob the dog.

Although it is true that the number of Likes for my posts dropped precipitously at the same time that I stopped including photos of Bob, I believe that the relationship between the two events to be merely coincidental, not causal. I continue to believe that I’m loved for myself and not for Bob the dog.

I will not pander!

Why Don’t You Just Ask Us?


I’m getting tired of people who think they can speak for me or other senior citizens regarding the coronavirus, as if we were doddering old fools who needed to be represented by the younger set. (Well, some of us might be doddering, but most of us know just what is going on.) The issue of saving the economy or at-risk citizens has been presented as a black and white, either/or decision, and that is an enormously simplistic and stupid viewpoint.

On National Senior Citizens Day, August 21, 2019, the President issued this proclamation :

Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honor of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land.

With improved health care and more years of productivity, older citizens are reinforcing their historical roles as leaders and as links with our patrimony and sense of purpose as individuals and as a Nation. Many older people are embarking on second careers, giving younger Americans a fine example of responsibility, resourcefulness, competence, and determination. And more than 4.5 million senior citizens are serving as volunteers in various programs and projects that benefit every sector of society. Wherever the need exists, older people are making their presence felt—for their own good and that of others.

If you’ve missed my point, let me make it clear: we senior citizens are active, engaged and competent. We are perfectly able to give our opinions about choices that will need to be made regarding the economy and the health of our citizens over the coming weeks.

Assuming that anyone really wants to know.

If you give a selfless point of view on this subject, and especially if you are a conservative, you will be lambasted by the media. That’s what Lt. Gov. of Texas Dan Patrick discovered. This is what he said :

‘My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,’ Lt Gov Dan Patrick, a 69-year-old Republican, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday night.

‘Don’t sacrifice the country,’ Patrick said. ‘Don’t do that.’

Patrick said he feared that public health restrictions to prevent coronavirus could end American life as he knows it, and that he is willing to risk death to protect the economy for his grandchildren.

‘You know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ Patrick said. ‘And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.’

Naturally, the media went crazy, saying that Patrick was speaking for all grandparents. Instead, he clearly said that he thought other grandparents (not all) would agree with him, and that he was all in for risking death to protect the economy for his grandchildren.

I am not a grandparent. But I am willing to take some risks to save not just the economy, but effectively to save this country.

The points that are being ignored by most people who are distorting our current situation are few, but are extremely important:

  1. Decisions can be made to save the economy and save our most at-risk citizens. This is not an either/or choice.
  2. Senior citizens are the most at-risk population, but we are only one group that might be consulted in making these decisions. We are just under 15% of the population and many more people, like people who need to work simply for their financial survival and their families, are valued citizens, too.
  3. Decisions will be complex and have a multitude of factors that will need to be considered. Milestones will need to be established for checking results, and for shifting gears if results are not matching up with goals.

So before the media decides whether or not seniors or the at-risk population is prepared to take some risks, maybe they should ask us.

We’ll be glad to share our thoughts.

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When I studied in Israel during my junior year of college, I was very excited to learn that during our first summer we would be traveling to an archaeological dig for an entire week! I had dreams of finding ancient menorahs, beautiful pottery, and mysterious relics. Although it was definitely a unique experience, it certainly […]

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Inspired by @hoyacon post on his drive through Maryland, and @bethanymandel post about that silly WaPo map supposedly showing red (or purple) staters aren’t doing social distancing, which failed to take into account things like . . . distance. Like many other older folks, we are not getting out much. Our daughter is an ER […]

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We Need a Laugh


A friend of mine just sent me this:

Wow … bars, clubs, and gyms all closed.  My life is about to be exactly the same!

Hey, creative community! Just a reminder that Shakespeare was quarantined for the plague when he wrote King Lear.  No pressure!

Remember when we thought we were going to have a bad week because of the time change, full moon, and Friday the 13th. We didn’t have a clue!

Definition of irony: gas under two dollars a gallon and no place to go…

Homeschooling going well – two students suspended for fighting, one teacher fired for drinking on the job!

Maybe now society will realize we can make it without celebrities and professional sports… but we can’t make it without farmers and ranchers!

Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this!!

April Fools Day is canceled this year because no made up prank could match the unbelievable that’s going on in the world right now.

With March and April canceled, the next holiday is Cinco De Mayo – sponsored by Corona.

If COVID-19 forces Planned Parenthood to be closed for two weeks, the virus will have saved more lives than it has taken.

September morning 2050: John opened the last package of toilet paper bought by his parents in 2020.

Since everyone has started washing their hands like we’re supposed to, we’ll be working on shapes and colors next week.

If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper for a 14-day quarantine, you probably should have been seeing a doctor long before COVID-19.

Due to panic buying, Walmart has opened register 3.

I’d hate to see a diarrhea virus breakout right now… people are going to buy all the nose spray!

On Monday we start Diarrhea Awareness Week. Runs until Friday.

What if you had coronavirus and Lyme disease?

The kid I hired to clean up the poop in the back yard just realized I don’t have a dog … #OutOfToiletPaper

Pro tip: if you get pulled over, just start coughing.

All these kids who have been learning Common Core math are about to learn how to “Carry the One” from their new homeschool teachers.

That moment when you’re worried about the elderly and realize that you are the elderly …

Our cleaning lady just called and told us she will be working from home and will send us instructions about what to do.

The folks who support open borders and poop- and needle-filled streets are suddenly worried about a virus?

I say we close down the media for 30 days and watch 80% of the world’s problems go away!

Also highly contagious is kindness, patience, love, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude. Don’t wait to catch it from others…be the carrier!

Have the Media Lost Their Mojo?


Listening to Andrew Klavan’s podcast has opened my eyes to how the American media complex – from news to entertainment – has promoted a monolithic political narrative. We may look back on the past four years as the time the media finally lost their power to create and maintain their desired narrative.

The most obvious example is the 2016 election. The election of Donald Trump caught every news outlet completely by surprise. As far as I know, only Salena Zito and Molly Hemingway understood what was happening and predicted his upset over Hillary. After the election, I quit watching cable news – even my favorite show, Bret Baier’s “Special Report.” I realized that all the pundits pontificating so confidently don’t know a dang thing. I’m sure they’re quite intelligent, but they are stupefyingly ignorant.

The next big media fail that I recall is the Kavanaugh confirmation. If we still lived under the old rules, Sen. Feinstein would have leaked her letter, the media would have broadcast it far and wide, and chastened Republicans would have withdrawn Kavanaugh’s nomination. Instead, alternative media shined light on Feinstein’s underhanded tactics, and the mainstream media beclowned themselves by frantically upping the charges against an honorable man to the point of ridiculousness.

Then came the Russian collusion narrative. When it was first floated, I wondered who in their right mind could ever believe such a far-fetched story. Yet it dominated cable news for years, and Robert Mueller was touted as the savior of the country. The media pushed this narrative until Mueller’s pathetic congressional testimony exposed the narrative for the hoax it was.

Next up was the brave whistleblower who leaked the Ukraine phone call records. You couldn’t turn on the TV or the radio without hearing “quid pro quo” 24/7. Once again, if we still lived under the old rules, Adam Schiff would be the most brilliant orator the Senate had ever seen, the Senate would vote to convict, and President Trump would have left office in disgrace. Instead, Americans had alternative sources for news and commentary and could see for themselves how weak the case against Trump was.

Now we are in the middle of a pandemic. I honestly don’t know if the extreme stress we are putting the economy under is necessary or not, but I am staying home. I am not watching cable news. I check on @rodin’s updates, I read Glenn Reynolds’ Instapundit, and I take daily walks outside. We’re ordering takeout as much as possible to support local restaurants. Fortunately, I teach high school math, and I am well-prepared to conduct my classes online. (If you’re looking for math screencasts, you can visit my YouTube channel here.)

But the recent stimulus showdown was another media fail. Under the old rules, McConnell and the Republicans would be blamed for the initial blocking of the bill, and Pelosi and Schumer would be portrayed as trying to get some “common sense” provisions into the final package. Instead, we could see in real time how the NYT headlines evolved from telling the truth (Democrats block passage of stimulus bill) to serving the desired narrative (McConnell is to blame for stimulus bill failing to pass). As Andrew Klavan has said, Democrats can’t hide behind their media allies anymore. We can see everything they do, and Pelosi had to back down. Meanwhile, Trump is gaining in popularity on a daily basis, as frantic media personalities advise him to stop the press briefings, please!

Of course, this state of affairs didn’t happen in a vacuum. Unlike past Republican presidents, Donald Trump understands that the media will never be fair to him, and he hits back at them when they attack. Hard. For the first time in my life, I have had the pleasure of watching a Republican president call the media out on their tactics, and their discombobulation is a marvel to behold. They still don’t understand that we don’t subscribe to their narrative anymore.

Now they have set themselves a Herculean task: get an old white man, who is clearly not mentally competent, elected president. I can’t wait to see to what lengths they will go to convince us Joe Biden is the right person to lead the country at this time.

Self-Medication in a Time of Plague


Chloroquine has been mentioned widely as a treatment for COVID-19 and President Trump recently mentioned it favorably. There is some in vitro science and mechanistic support for this use (it exhibits antiviral properties against both SARS and COVID-19 coronaviruses), demonstrated clinical utility in SARS, and shows promise in use against COVID-19.

Like many human drugs, it also has veterinary use, and one example of this has hit the headlines. Not only have the usual MSM sources done their usual sterling job of reportorial misfeasance and malfeasance, (combined with Blame Trump, of course) the conservative snarkitariate has been spreading the fake news, demonstrating the wisdom of the old advice to engage brain before putting mouth in gear.


An Arizona man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate — believing it would protect him from becoming infected with the coronavirus. The man’s wife also ingested the substance and is under critical care.

The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish.


The couple unfortunately equated the chloroquine phosphate in their fish treatment with the medication —known as hydroxychloroquine — that has recently been touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19, which has infected more than 42,000 people in the U.S. and killed at least 462.

Ace of Spades does a great job of addressing the media malfeasance/blame Trump aspect but displays just as much ignorance as did NBC. And, sadly as the Arizona couple.

Ben Shapiro likewise, and reportedly President Trump retweeted this:


And Mary Chastain at Legal Insurrection also spread the stupidity:

During a press conference, Trump spoke about studies that showed chloroquine (generic name hydroxychloroquine) treated coronavirus.

So this elderly couple in Arizona thought the additive chloroquine phosphate in fish tank cleaner was the same thing.

They proceeded to drink the fish tank cleaner.

The man died. The woman is in ICU.

One of the last things my stepfather A”H said was “just don’t add to the confusion.” Ben, Mary, Ace… you’re confusing things. You ought to know better.

First the disclaimer: I’m not an MD, DO, NP or PA. Or DVM. I can’t write prescriptions for drugs. That said, I majored in biochemistry and minored in chemistry, have practical experience as a lab tech (meaning weighing out precise amounts of powders, measuring precise amounts of liquids, and mixing them up.) Also meaning having survived a few hazardous situations along the way (sulfuric acid geyser, anyone?) some of which definitely did not make me stronger though they obviously didn’t kill me. and have been reading medical and then biomedical primary and secondary literature for more than 50 years now.

Now the attempt at correction:

There are two forms of chloroquine used in medicine; Hydroxychloroquine which is available as a generic or as the brand name drug Plaquenil. There is also chloroquine itself, which is most commonly dispensed as, yes, Ben, yes, Mary, yes Ace’s moronic commentators, chloroquine phosphate. The sulfate and dihydrochloride are also used.

Chloroquine phosphate/(etc.) and hydroxychloroquine are used similarly in medicine and both have in vitro activity against the SARS and COVID-19 viruses and some reports of efficacy in COVID-19 patients, including gravely ill ones; hydroxychloroquine may be more effective against COVID-19 but both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been and are being used right now.

So what’s with this “fish tank cleaner?”

Chloroquine phosphate isn’t an aquarium cleaner per se, but it kills some organisms that cause some fish diseases and I think mung in the tank.

If you’re a fish fancier, you already probably know more about this than I do, if it’s just your satiable curiosity, Professor Google will tell you more than you want to know.

So what were these people doing with it on their shelf?

Ag and veterinary suppliers used to be sort of loosey-goosey and sold antibiotics for animal use some of which were identical to human meds, and preppers often took advantage of this in stocking up for TEOTWAWKI. This has pretty much been shut down and you need a prescription from a veterinarian, at least to get pharmaceutical grade stuff, though you can still take your chances on eBay, or could until the last couple of days; they’ve shut down chloroquine sales as have pretty much everybody else any semi-sane person will buy from.

They took it driven by fear:

The couple — both in their 60s and potentially at higher risk for complications of the virus — decided to mix a small amount of the substance with a liquid and drink it as a way to prevent the coronavirus.

“We were afraid of getting sick,” she said.

The veterinary chloroquine products come as tablets and powder; assuming the NBC reporter got at least one thing right, “decided to mix” makes it sound as though they had the powder on hand.

Wikipedia gives this for hydroxychloroquine blood levels:

The therapeutic, toxic and lethal ranges are usually considered to be 0.03 to 15 mg/l, 3.0 to 26 mg/l and 20 to 104 mg/l, respectively. However, nontoxic cases have been reported up to 39 mg/l, suggesting individual tolerance to this agent may be more variable than previously recognized

The drug is very well absorbed and distributes pretty evenly in our body’s water, which (depending on size and body fat) is in 40 liters give or take (sometimes a lot.) So what goes in your mouth winds up in your body fluids.

Notice that there is substantial overlap between therapeutic and toxic blood levels: assuming that you have 40 liters of body water, the respective drug doses to get the above body fluid levels would be

therapeutic: 1.2 – 400 mg

toxic: 120 mg – 1040 mg (~ 1 g)

lethal: 800 mg – 4160 mg (~ 4.1 g)

These are actual measured postmortem levels in people being treated with the drug (“non-toxic” in the study meant that the dead patient was not exhibiting signs of chloroquine toxicity.) “Individual tolerance to this agent may be more variable than previously recognized” is probably understated.

It’s possible that there were some highly toxic additives in the chloroquine phosphate preparation the Arizona couple took, but fish fanciers tend not to like to put poisons in with their fish. We may learn otherwise later, but my guess is that in addition to taking a drug on inadequate indications, they took the wrong dose. It’s very, very easy to miscalculate a dose of almost anything. Lose your koi, that’s a shame. But taking it yourself?

Or maybe Arizona Man (or Woman) did do the dosing calculations right in theory and got killed by the variable tolerance.

If it had been a prepper after TEOTWAWKI, probably nobody would have known. Meanwhile, the upshot of this is that potentially useful disaster supplies are going to be harder to get.

There are a lot of things that can make you stupid. Fear is one of them.