Munchausen by Fauci


(By “Fauci” I mean the whole edifice of “public health”)

One manifestation of this condition is obvious but relatively harmless: Someone who is double-masked driving alone in a car (and there are many very intelligent folks out there doing so) is displaying a level of anxiety that can’t be healthy but probably of minor impact.

I’m more concerned about the less obvious detriment to our health caused by the overzealous focus on this one virus, and here I am relying on my medical expertise, of which I have zero. My chief concern namely is the damage being done to our immune systems. Our bodies need to be in contact with dangerous pathogens, ideally in manageable doses.

My guess is that the reason we have not seen the expected numbers of COVID deaths in places like India or among supermarket workers is that by allowing manageable doses of the virus to float around, bodies have been given the opportunity to respond normally. It is only when a body is exposed for the first time to an overwhelming dose that the immune system is swamped. [To the medical professionals reading this – is that an immunologically redonkulous opinion?]

By overzealously “protecting” ourselves from COVID have we actually made ourselves more susceptible to a severe case of it? But perhaps more worrisome, what fresh hell are we inviting by the mass weakening our immune systems?

Racist Babies


The Arizona Department of Education is tackling the racism of infants as young as three months old.

“We can all sleep more soundly now that the Arizona Department of Education is protecting the nation from the threat of racist 3-month-old babies,” Christopher Rufo of City Journal tells the story in a series of tweets:

The Arizona Department of Education has created an “equity” toolkit claiming that babies show the first signs of racism at three months old and that white children “remain strongly biased in favor of whiteness by age five.”

Let’s review the resources in the toolkit.

This is Arizona, not Berkley or San Francisco or even California or Massachusetts. Arizona.

The Condition of Seattle Today


The KOMO-Seattle website has a heartbreaking story about what the City of Seattle has become, after a year of pandemic lockdowns and months of rioting and destruction in the downtown core.  Here are some quotes from the story, any bolding and italics are mine.

On the ground and in the streets there is a different feel. Businesses sit boarded up. For lease signs dot windows.  The COVID-19 pandemic, along with crime, is reshaping the city.

Shops that are still open, like Simple Life Clothing, are still struggling.  “I try to do my best to keep my good mood, be positive,” said Pamela Morales, owner of Simple Life Clothing. Morales, a native of Peru, said her sales are down 70 percent. On top of the virus – her store was vandalized and looted last summer.  “If I decide to stop, I don’t know what will be my other job in the future,” Morales said.

In downtown at least 155 businesses have permanently closed their doors. Office vacancy is at roughly 11.6 percent and it’s expected to stay like that for the next few years.  In all there’s more than 12 million square feet of office space sitting empty.  “We have got some tough challenges to face,” said Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association.

So, what is missing from all these tales of woe in Seattle? Not one business owner or resident even mentions that the government was the source of all the “pandemic shutdowns,” and that Antifa and Black Lives Matter were the “organizations” causing all the looting and vandalism. This indicates that the residents and business owners cannot speak out about the source of all their troubles, and they have absolutely no idea how to solve their problems. All they can do is complain, with no suggested solutions. The DSA director mentions “public safety”, but not a word about the Seattle City Council de-funding that Public Safety, the Police. No one even thinks about replacing the dysfunctional City Council, who are all Leftist Radicals who hate America. Not a word about Dictator Jay Inslee ruling by decree, causing all the business destruction all over the state. They will be content to wait, and mope, and complain until they give up and leave the city. Then what?

[originally posted at]

‘The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil Is for Good Men to Do Nothing.’


Actually, while Burke gets the credit for this great quote, he didn’t say it first. When the people create the golden calf, G-d offers to destroy all the people and create a new nation just from Moses:

Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.”

But G-d does not actually say, “let Me be.” This translation is very loose, while the text is quite specific: G-d uses a verb form of Noah’s name! He is telling Moses to “be like Noah, and let me do my thing.”

There are four major messages in this one word here:

1: G-d is telling us that Noah did not do anything to stop G-d from bringing the flood and destroying the world. Noah never advocated or argued. He just minded his own business – not lifting a finger to save anyone outside of his nuclear family. So, in using this word, the Torah is connecting Noah directly with passivity.

2: G-d is challenging or even tempting Moses: Should I start all over with you, just as I did with Noah? Or are you going to make yourself a better man than was Noah, “a righteous man in his generation”?

3: By bringing up a very old name and situation, G-d is telling not just Moses, but also each and every one of us, that we are offered the very same challenge that Burke identifies: when confronted with evil, do we do nothing?

4: In the outcome of this episode (where Moses persuasively argues that G-d should save the Jewish people), we are to learn another lesson: not only should Noah have argued, but we, too, should refuse to accept that any specific future is inevitable, ordained by G-d or man and so out of our hands. On the contrary: we are empowered to follow in Moses’ lead, ignore Noah’s passivity, and change the course of history. Even if G-d Himself proposes otherwise.

For evil to be defeated, we must act.

[another @iwe and @susanquinn production]

Toxic Masculinity


The northern corner of New York state that I call home is famous for the rustic beauty of its lakes and mountains and forests, for its pivotal role in the underappreciated War of 1812, and for its long, snowy, and sometimes brutal winters. Being an indoorsy kind of guy with little interest in military history, it’s this last feature that bears most directly upon me.

I’ve been blessed with a robust frame and exceptional physical strength, a product (I suspect) of French peasant ancestry and hybrid vigor. Members of my extended family have tended to be healthy, long-lived, and embarrassingly fecund, which no doubt accounts for the absurdly large number of us. For all that, I’m no longer young. Recognizing this, my grown children decided, a couple of years ago, that it was time I stopped shoveling the new-fallen snow from my 300-foot driveway, a task that always left me sore and winded but that I’ve stubbornly resisted contracting out or delegating. So they gifted me a snowblower.

The snowblower is, without a doubt, the best invention of the past 200 years. I enjoy using it; I’ve just come in from an hour spent clearing the accumulation of the last few days.

When snow is frequent and winter is long, repeated snowblowing of the driveway creates a considerable mountain of snow on either side. There’s a natural tendency for the width of the cleared area to slowly decrease, because it’s easier to run the machine through the new-fallen snow than it is to cut into the older, piled snow along the sides, and so tempting to leave just a little bit more at the margins with each successive clearing. But, unless one is willing to gradually surrender the navigable portion of the drive to the encroaching banks, one must resist this temptation and invest the time in fully clearing, or even broadening, the path with each day’s effort. This must be done continually, lest the bordering banks compress and refreeze into impenetrable glaciers.

We are being hemmed in today by two interlocking but distinct aspects of progressive politics: the gender identity movement, and resurgent racism. Each of these seeks to redefine the boundaries of civil discourse, to preclude criticism of frankly noxious ideas by equating such criticism with intolerance and hate. Each has been largely successful at achieving this illiberal end – certainly within our institutions, and increasingly among the broader public.

A consequence of the radical left’s reinvigoration of racism will be, I’m sure, more racism. It seems inevitable that endorsing discrimination based on skin color must, ultimately, harm those whom it has historically harmed, which is those in the racial minority. As one who condemns racism wholeheartedly, I deplore this foolishness and will continue to call for an institutionally color-blind society. Racism is stupid and ugly, but I can think of no way to push back against it except to call it out and condemn it at every opportunity.

Sexism, on the other hand, is a very different matter. Sexism, unlike racism, is rooted in reality. Sexism actually makes sense.

The gender identity movement is the inchoate fusion of disparate and sometimes self-contradictory things. It combines the nonsensical ideas of gender fluidity with an explicit rejection of the reality of sexual identity itself. It’s a fashionable bunch of horse feathers hanging its hat on a rare sliver of genetic abnormality. It’s silly, sometimes sad, often pathetic, but at its heart is something that’s actually damaging, the continuation of a decades-long effort to obliterate womanhood by turning women into men and denying the real differences between the sexes.

I’m sexist, in that I think the differences between the two sexes actually matter quite a lot, and I’m happy to generalize about men and women based on those characteristic differences. Far from decrying toxic masculinity, I call for more expressions of masculinity – some of which will no doubt seem toxic to many of my sissified and overly sensitized fellow Americans, and some of which actually will be unpleasant and, occasionally, harmful.

There is a place for feminine sensitivity and sensibility, but there’s also a place for masculine insensitivity and boldness. We have too little of the latter, and so we spend a year huddled in fear of a virus that kills mostly the elderly and infirm and represents little danger to most people. We tolerate a year of wanton destruction as petulant brats trash our cities and mock the rule of law. We let ourselves get cowed into pretending that the correct pronouns aren’t self-evident in virtually every case. We accept rolling brownouts and the banning of internal combustion engines in order to calm the thumping hearts of eco-doomsayers who have never been right and are almost certainly wrong now.

Unfortunately, we’ve allowed the nonsense to get pretty deep. There are all sorts of things we’re not supposed to say, all kinds of ideas that are now considered deplorably reactionary and beyond the pale. Reclaiming that space, the space in which we can acknowledge the differences between men and women and begin living our civic life more boldly and fully, is going to require digging into the embankments and pushing back. And that, I think, begins with our becoming a bit less sensitive, a bit more reckless, and a lot more male.

The spirit of America is bold, rough, ambitious, and masculine. It’s time to acknowledge that and reclaim it.

Will We Ever Escape the Circle of Fear?


Apparently, we not only need to be aware of the effects of Covid-19 on our children; I’ve discovered that senior citizens are also trapped in a fear response, and I wonder if they will be able to free themselves from it.

I live in a 55+ community; during the past month residents who are 65+ years of age were able to get the Covid-19 vaccine, both doses. I received my shot earlier in another location. I was hopeful that this step would resolve the fears of many, but I know of three women who are still wearing masks, restricting their interactions with others, and staying home as much as possible.

One of these women is a friend. Yes, she does have co-morbidities. Recently another friend and I invited her to join us for a morning visit in a couple of weeks. She responded that if we met on the lanai, she would come, but if we met indoors, she would have to think about it. I have not talked to her myself, but I’m struggling with whether to ask her this question: “What would need to happen for you to feel you can return to a somewhat normal life?” My concern is that my question is (I believe) a fair and rational one; I anticipate, however, that she would not have a rational answer. I might be putting her on the spot, and I’m not even sure it would stimulate her thinking about how fear is dominating her decision-making process.

I was also at my manicurist (who is sane and practical) who also lives in this development, and she told me a story almost identical to my friend’s. She also told me about a woman who got the vaccine and won’t visit her grandchildren because she believes she carries the virus inside her and is afraid of infecting the children.

I’m not kidding.

* * * * *

From my own understanding, I realize that the vaccines don’t make me immune to the virus, but if I catch it, it will likely be a milder case. I also don’t know at this point how long the vaccine will be effective. Still, we are assessing when we will be going out, with whom, and how often. We only wear masks where they are required, and never outdoors. We’ve talked about taking small trips as soon as I’m fully recovered from my surgery, and I already have a trip to Baltimore on my calendar. So I’m looking at my neighbors and wondering what their thoughts are now about being vaccinated and how their lives will change. I may just do a little survey with them.

* * * * *

There are not only psychological but physiological factors that could affect our reaction to the pandemic and the follow-up period. I decided to investigate the role of the amygdala in our brain in our response to fear, and learned some intriguing facts. There are two systems that can determine our response to Covid-19: the amygdala and the pre-frontal lobes. Dr. Joseph LeDoux, a leading authority on neuroscience and fear, made the following observations:

‘The amygdala is not a fear centre,’ LeDoux said. ‘It’s a system in the brain that detects and responds to danger. But fear is our awareness that we’re in danger.’

But the fear is not the end of the process. The way we respond to the fear is determined by the pre-frontal lobes. The frontal lobes receive the fear message and try to deal with it rationally:

When the threat is mild or moderate, the frontal lobes override the amygdala, and you respond in the most rational, appropriate way. However, when the threat is strong, the amygdala acts quickly. It may overpower the frontal lobes, automatically triggering the fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response was appropriate for early humans because of threats of physical harm. Today, there are far fewer physical threats, but there are a lot of psychological threats caused by the pressures and stresses of modern life.

When stress makes you feel strong anger, aggression, or fear, the fight-or-flight response is activated. It often results in a sudden, illogical, and irrational overreaction to the situation.

There is no consensus over whether the amygdala responds in the same way if a person experiences a similar stimulus over and over again. For example, when a person is continually dealing with reminders of the virus, especially seeing others wearing masks or repeatedly having to don a mask, I wonder if the amygdala sees the mask as a danger and causes a reaction of fear. Or when a person sees Dr. Fauci, or someone from the CDC, or other “experts” on Covid-19, is it possible that people are continually being charged with fear, and therefore reluctant to “use their pre-frontal lobes” to consider whether they could respond differently?

As long as the government insists on mask-wearing; as long as businesses expect customers to wear masks when we enter the premises; as long as we repeatedly receive the mantra of wearing masks, social distancing, and hand-washing, will the average person be able to free himself from this overwhelming circle of fear?

The Spangled Web


Dust swirled round the whirling cloth: Spiders, survivors of long generations’ residence, scurried for cover. Dust mites looked bleakly at the sky. The long-promised Spring Clean had come.

One spider turned and shook a fist at the cause of all this. ‘I’ve been here a long time,’ he said, his moustache bristling. ‘I am the great Septimus! But I don’t suppose that— Aatchoo! Watch it there, yer gettin’ dust in m’whiskers —means anythin’ to you.’ He sniffed. ‘I was the greatest tap-dancing spider act ever seen. ‘S’matter-of-fact, still got m’shoes somewhere.’ He sighed, settling down and fiddling about for his tobacco pouch. ‘Do you have any idea how hard it is to get tap-shoes in spider’s sizes? Or those little cane walking sticks? Or straw boaters – now let me tell you about the straw boaters—’

‘Come on, Gramps,’ said a younger spider sadly. ‘We had a good run.’

‘Don’t you “Come along, Gramps,” me, Mabilene. I want to tell this young whippersnapper what for! Snapping webs as he goes, mark you. The younger generation don’t have no respect. I was here before he even moved in!’

Gramps saw the cloth duster moving towards him, though, and decided to think better of it. ‘Oh, well, maybe you’re right. Did you remember to pack m’dance shoes?’

Yes, Gramps, I’ve got them right here,’ said Mabilene, smiling indulgently.

‘All-righty, then! Away we go!’

Two silken trails spun on the breeze towards the open window, sailing out into the rising sun: Septimus the Great would be heard of again, just you wait and see …

The figure with the cloth duster ambled over towards the window shortly thereafter and shook the dust out onto the wind. It flowed behind the little floating figures, glittering rainbow-like in the dawn twilight.


A little while thereafter, what may or may not have been the world’s actual smallest violin[1] struck up.

Somewhere nearby, dewdrops sparkled on a web behind a little stage. And all around, creatures watched attentively.

Several cats sat feigning polite disinterest. Mice peered out of their hidey-holes. Robins twittered. Crickets chirruped. Ladybirds hovered. And the long grass quivered with anticipation.

Then several little feet thumped up and down (it was an open question just how many) – and a tiny ukulele started up[2]. A little old creaky voice rang out, saying, ‘An’ a one, an’ a two, an’ a one-two-three-four …’ 

Music filled the air. And the air itself changed, taking on that special something that places sometimes do when things are done for the love of it and life seems that bit more alive than it normally does.

Come to think of it, Gramps was thinking as he sang along to the staccato rhythm of his tap shoes echoing on the stage, it did you good to get out and about once in a while. And the creatures of and around Spinners’ Hollow certainly seemed appreciative. (Tiny coins tinkled as they landed on the stage, and several mice were throwing lawn flowers, eyeing the cats behind them nervously.)

A good time was had by all.

And for what seemed a long while after, a plaintive song echoed over the garden:


Did y’ever hear about the time

We went flyin’ on the breeze …

The wind flew out behind us.

It was rustlin’ in the trees …


And m’tap shoes went on tappin’,

And the spangled web shone on.

’Cos there’s one thing I knows for certain:

The dance is never over –

and the song is never done …

 The sooonggg iiissss neeeeeever doooooonnne!


And it wasn’t.

The End


[1] It wasn’t. Fleas have violins much smaller. But it makes a good story.

[2] Unless of course it was a banjo.

Do You Think They Mean ‘Threats?’


Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today about the Biden administration’s executive orders and how they may not stand up in court. It includes this passage (emphasis mine):

People advising the Biden team have discussed ways to respond. These include leaning more on nonregulatory strategies, such as subsidizing renewable energy, and working with businesses to encourage voluntary behavioral change.

I’ve never seen that, at least in Chicago, mean anything other than “Nice little business you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.” Or “You can do that, but good luck getting your permit renewed in a year.”

Of course, from what I read in the article, there was nothing to suggest the Biden Administration might actually work with Congress to pass laws, but then again, that’s not really what Congress seems to do anymore.

San Francisco Is Pure Hell


It is a bit of a cliché to say that San Francisco is a hellhole.

I remember reading in conservative blogs back in the mid-2000s about gay pride parades in the Castro district in which men would masturbate out of windows and on to passersby as part of the procession. When I moved down there in 2008 and worked for the Business section of the San Francisco Examiner, I remember walking through Van Ness and seeing a big, thick, and unmistakably human turd right there on the sidewalk.

Nevertheless, it was still a place that masked the hell … somewhat. Back in those days, you could get a sublet for $1,000. That was actually possible and I did it. I later worked the tech conventions in the downtown area from 2016 – 2018, and during that period, the insanity was masked by a much larger symphony of entrepreneurs meeting to discuss their fields.

Not so with Covid-19. San Francisco during Covid-19 is the worst I have ever seen any city or township. While working there, I have seen overdoses multiple times, walking past men lying face-first on the pavement. A large tent city is present right in the heart of Civic Center. The entire downtown area smells like urine and feces.

I remember San Francisco, years ago, as a very beautiful place. I remember going to Chinatown, the Sketchers retail store, and WonderCon and feeling like it was a great city. All of those things are now gone or shut down, and the San Francisco is so bad that it’s hard to see them coming back when all the lockdowns are finally over. Sheriffs, with their deputies, now regularly patrol the streets, walking past dirty and rough people like a scene from the Wild West (and what Big Tech did to this area is not too far off from what the Gold Rush did in the Old West).

The city might be done. Either done or at a point of self-destruction in which rebirth is absolutely necessary. Either way, the city that Tony Bennett left his heart in is a faded memory.

Sometimes a Strip Poker Invite Is Just a Strip Poker Invite


Even Freud recognized that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. As embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) fights off allegations ranging from the unserious (covering up the number of Covid deaths in state nursing homes) to the very serious (complimenting a woman’s haircut), it’s time our culture readdressed power dynamics, sexual harassment, and the #MeToo movement.

According to an AP report, a former member of the governor’s administration said that Cuomo suggested that they should play strip poker. Many readers, including myself, are asking the question has that ever worked?

Our era is one in which everything is fraught with a hidden meaning, usually of a sexual nature. Long gone are the days when a man can innocently invite an unpaid female intern who’s young enough to be his daughter to play strip poker without it being interpreted as something inappropriate.

Men have been reminded repeatedly that No means no. This is as it should be. But shouldn’t it be equally clear that “Would you like to play a form of poker with me in which the player with the losing hand forfeits an item of clothing until we’re both naked?” means exactly that and nothing else? Why does everything have to be seen through a sexual lens?

Frankly, I don’t even see the connection. What – is the idea that proposing to a subordinate that repairing to a cozy place where we can enjoy little privacy and play some cards in the nude somehow has sexual overtones? I honestly don’t get it.

Now don’t get me wrong: one should never make such a proposal. Not because of any alleged sexual connotation but because it’s a cliché. What could be more hackneyed than me, a 50-year-old man living on a juggler’s salary trying to earn a little a few bucks off the new hire with an all-night round of strip poker?

If the people of New York believe Cuomo should resign, then he should do so. I have nothing personal against him. In fact, some of my best friends have made utterly counterintuitive decisions that cost the lives of thousands of people and then attempted to cover it up.

This just in: Cuomo has received a special Granny Award™ for his handling of the Covid crisis.

Do We Really Want to Cancel Cuomo Without a Trial?


I am delighted to see Cuomo suffer the slings and arrows, which are likely much less than the jerk earned. But doesn’t he truly deserve at least a Kavanaugh-style hearing, before stepping down? We should not be so eager to demand his resignation solely on the word of accusers, lest we befall the same fate in the near future. Haven’t we seen enough throughout history of politically motivated killings, persecutions, and banishments?

I think there is plenty on which to prosecute Cuomo, from gross negligence in the death of seniors, to obstruction of justice for covering his efforts up, to harassment, and sexual charges. But let’s have a hearing and a trial as warranted. Simply demanding his resignation is not a wise path, even if it “feels” like it.

Member Post


I have long been a Texas resident after fleeing Louisiana years ago.  As you all likely know, Gov. Abbott, an imperfect, but acceptable governor, has deep-sixed the state’s mask mandate, and other government-imposed COVID restrictions, as of March 10.  This seems to me a reasonable course of action based on what I know of the […]

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A Short Missive on “Whom”


To Who It May Concern

I am not a violent man. But I have had it up to here!

I can’t stand it anymore. I want to invite every reader to join me in a conspiracy to commit murder.

It has insinuated itself into our lives. Eating away at our brains. Putting us on the defensive, chipping away at our self-esteem, confusing us into pointless pauses, enslaving us into just trying to get it right.

And to what purpose?

Admit it. You were looking at the salutation of this post and thinking about it, weren’t you?

I speak of whom.

Why, why, why, why, why, why?

Who grew up speaking it without special education? Who comes upon it naturally in daily speech? Who did this to us?

Let’s face it. The quadratic equation is rare but particularizes something useful. Hegemony is a rare word but distinguishes something useful. The Pythagorean Comma is rare but occasionally it’s useful, for a few specialists.

What use is whom? What real difference has it ever made? Yeah, yeah, it distinguishes the object from the subject in a sentence, but who friggin’ cares?

When has there been a real lack of clarity when it’s missing in common usage?

Sure, you can construct an example sentence to show a possible ambiguity, but who would say such a thing? By who would it be said?

Let’s murder it now, together, and bury it in the backyard, wrapped in lime and dissolved in acid. No more whom. No more pauses in deciding what the proper form of who is. No more pauses each time we come across it, trying to decide if it was used correctly. No more “Oh, by the way, that should be whom.”

Let’s be assassins. Let’s stake this grammatical vampire in its academic black heart.

Die, die, die, die, die, haunted thing that should have decayed centuries ago!

That Distinctive Voice


Most modern music is wasted on me. To my ear, too many singers are interchangeable and too often their talents are fine-tuned by computers. The best of the lot have always been those whose voices are so distinct that you recognize them instantly. These are the people who defined eras: Jolson, Crosby, Sinatra, Presley, and Cash. On the female side, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Dolly, and Reba.

When Columbia Pictures decided to make a biopic of Al Jolson in 1945, Jolson was too old (59) to play himself, but there was no doubt he had to sing for himself; the same for Sinatra. When his daughter Tina produced a two-part biopic of her father for CBS in 1992, the soundtrack was pure Frank with the exception of a few early tracks that were damaged from the 78rpm masters. (They were recreated by Canadian actor Tom Burlinson.)

This brings me to two recently released movies, I Am Woman and The United States vs Billie Holiday. Forget all the political aspects of these two projects and concentrate on the talents involved.

Helen Reddy was a real star in the 1970s. She placed eight singles in the number one slot on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, six of them consecutively. Her voice, though, is not heard in the Netflix production, nor is that of the actress that plays her. Instead, it belongs to another Australian, Chelsea Cullen.

Billie Holiday is an altogether different story. She has been portrayed on both film and stage by women with much more vocal talent than she had. Whether it’s Diana Ross, Audra McDonald or the star of the current flick, Andra Day, their voices are much more pleasant than “Lady Day’s.” Don’t get me wrong, Holiday’s voice was distinctive. But in the same way dragging an injured cat on a rope down a gravel road is distinctive. She remains, for me, an unacquired taste.

Still, there are quality recordings of both women so why not use them? If the talent is worth bringing their story to the screen, why not bring as much of the real thing with them?

Paying a Ransom?


When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay the LORD a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled. (Ex. 30:12)

The questions spring out of the text: Why on earth is some kind of ransom needed because a census is being taken? What possible connection could there be between numbered in a census and being stricken with a plague?! The verse seems quite odd – though there is a rational and lovely explanation if we just read more carefully.

Let’s start by parsing the words a bit more carefully. For starters, the Hebrew for the word “ransom” is actually the very same word, “kopher,” that is used in the Torah to describe the protective layer or buffer between Noah’s Ark and the waters of the flood just on the other side – as well as the buffer we grow between ourselves and G-d on the eponymous Yom Kippur. In all cases, this buffer protects life against strong forces which otherwise would kill us merely because of proximity.

So, the Torah is describing some kind of protection racket! We have to protect our souls because we have been involved in the census?! Have we really gone any distance toward answering the question of why a ransom must be paid?

Actually, we have. And here is why: In Judaism, numbers of people do not matter. Each person has a soul on loan from G-d, so for a finite time only, we are capable of touching the infinite. Each and every one of us. And, for every person, there is a unique opportunity. No two people are supposed to lead the same lives. So being “one of two” is a way of diminishing our potential to touch the divine. It is a denial of what makes each person special: not our quantity, but our quality.

The Torah makes it clear that human life by itself has no ultimate value. What matters is not the fact that we are biologically alive; what matters are the choices we make. Or as Gandalf put it: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So being involved in a census is dehumanizing, relegating a human soul to a mere equivalence. Considering any two people to be equivalent to each other is a threat to the unique quality of each person. Such an equivalence threatens our identities, our potential contributions to the world.

People are not numbers. We are all individual souls. So when we cease being individuals and we merely become numbers, then we endanger the purpose of our existence. Being part of a census denies our humanity. And all of that means that we have less of a reason to live: hence the plague. The plague is the means of culling out those who no longer have a purpose in life, who have been relegated to being nothing more than “one of many.”

So why does paying protection money save us from being deemed irrelevant and thus suitable for an early death? The answer is found in the purpose of those funds: they are used for the building of the tabernacle, G-d’s own home within the people. This was a unique and holy project, one that called for community-wide involvement and contribution. This means there is another lesson as well: we are allowed to put aside our unique qualities when doing so serves a much higher purpose, a holy and universal goal such as building G-d’s house.

This is also the lesson behind the uniforms worn by the priests: when serving they were to subsume their personalities and quirks, hide anything that made them stand out from other priests and then serve as functionaries. Priests were not free to improvise or add stylistic flair: when serving in the tabernacle, they had to do everything by the book.

But the rest of the time, individuality among priests was to be encouraged just as much as everyone else’s. Outside of very limited and special conditions, each person should offer a unique and valuable contribution. That is an integral part of the inherent value of each human soul.

We are not numbers. We are people.

[another @iwe and @susanquinn production]

Member Post


Well, he is according to the Arizona Department of Education: Maybe I’ll buy him Klan robes for his first birthday.  After all, his diapers are white . . .

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Eeyore Learns from Tigger… Eventually


When I was younger, I was a very serious athlete. Meaning, I took athletics very seriously. And I was pretty good at it. I’m in my high school’s athletic hall of fame for football and track, I still hold some records in Ohio for track even 35 years later, and I was a collegiate athlete as well. I was a good natural athlete, but I also worked really, really hard at it. When people asked what motivated me to work so hard, I always said that I just wanted to win. But even then, as an idiot jock teenager, I knew that wasn’t quite true. I enjoyed winning of course, but not that much, honestly. I expected to win, so when I won, I wasn’t overjoyed. I was more relieved, actually.

But I absolutely hated losing. Losing was a devastating event to me. I worked hard to avoid losing, because I just couldn’t stand it. If I was losing motivation in one of my endless solo workouts, sometimes I would imagine somebody beating me, and I would literally get nauseated, and I would work out harder. I’m not suggesting this is healthy, and I don’t recommend this approach to anyone. But I didn’t choose this approach. That’s just how I’m wired. It can’t be turned off. I’ve tried – I really have.

Anyway, one of my coaches in high school (Chet Pifer) was pretty much the opposite. He probably understood me, but I didn’t understand him. He didn’t care about losing, but he loved, loved, loved winning. We’d win a meaningless scrimmage against a nobody school, and he’d just be over the moon with joy. If we lost, he’d be excited about all the things we could work on in our next practice. So after a loss, I’d be sitting on the bus wishing I was dead, and Coach Pifer would be chattering excitedly about how things were really looking up, and if we’d just work on footwork and pursuit angles, we’d win the next one. My worst death glare wouldn’t shut him up. He was irrepressible. As you might imagine, Coach Pifer drove me crazy sometimes. But when he died some years ago, it hurt, because I felt like part of me had died. Or at least, a part of my personality that I wish I had.

What’s beautiful about Coach Pifer’s approach, is that it always works. When I was great, he wanted me to be greater. When I sucked, he wanted me to suck less. Either one was fine. He was equally excited about either possibility.

I could always be better. So from my perspective, I was never good enough, no matter how hard I worked. So I was miserable.

I could always be better. So Coach Pifer was always excited, just thrilled by the seemingly limitless potential.

Both approaches led to success. But my approach made me miserable, and Coach Pifer’s approach made him happy.

He loved people and he loved kids. We had a dominant track team, and he would never stop recruiting from our student body. My high school had about 1,300 students, and we’d have over 200 kids on the track team. Talent and work habits didn’t matter. He saw potential. In everyone. I mean, freakin’ everyone.

Pifer: “Hey Bastiat, I got Johnny Smith to come out for the team! He’s gonna be great! Help him out, kind of take him under your wing, you know?”

Me: “No.”

Pifer: “Aw, c’mon! Why not? He’s gonna be great. I’m thinking 2:05 in the 800.”

Me: “He’s a worthless dopehead. Don’t waste my time. He’ll wash out in 3 days. I’ve got work to do.”

Pifer: “You never know.”

Me: “Yes, I do know. He’s a dopehead.”

Pifer: “No. You don’t know. You never know. He could be great!” * Enthusiastic manic smile *

Me: “Look, Coach, I … uhhh … ok fine. I’ll show him around. Whatever.”

Pifer: “Great! You’ll see!”

So I show him around. After a few days, Johnny doesn’t show up to practice. I of course go to Coach Pifer to point out that his boy quit. Before I can say anything, he’s got another loser for me to ‘take under my wing.’

Drove me nuts. He really did.

But we won. And we won a lot. So we got along. He made me better, and I knew it. Even though he drove me absolutely nuts sometimes.

To be fair, every once in a while, one of those losers would end up helping the team. Maybe pick up a sixth in the mile or something. Every point helps. Every once in a while. Every once in a great while. But whatever. He didn’t care. He never stopped recruiting kids. He never stopped believing in kids. Which drove me crazy, until I realized that he never stopped believing in me, either.

Which didn’t help at the time, because I didn’t figure that out until after he was dead. But it helps now. We became great friends later in life, which I’m eternally grateful for.

Despite our differences, I think Coach Pifer and I both went into athletics because we had no other choice. We both felt a visceral need to compete. At something. And we didn’t feel whole unless we were competing. It almost didn’t matter what it was. We’d both compete at anything. Whatever. But we needed it, like a drug.

But I’m fascinated by our different viewpoints. He loved winning. I hated losing.

I prefer his approach. I would choose it, given the choice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the choice. At least, I don’t think I was. But for what it’s worth, I’m a great admirer of Coach Pifer and his view of the world. Now I have extremely athletic kids, who are scholarship athletes at major Division I schools, and I’ve tried to teach them Coach Pifer’s way, and steer them away from mine. With mixed results. But I hope they learn his way, eventually.

I never got to tell him that. He died young. After helping countless kids in countless different ways, he died young. It’s not fair.

I learned a lot from him. Eventually. But I was a thick-skulled, arrogant teenager. Which made me a slow learner.

But I think we all have a lot to learn from Coach Pifer. Always try to get better. Enjoy the good times. Ignore the bad times. Believe in one another, even if there’s no reason to do so. Welcome anyone and everyone into your family, even if there’s no reason to do so. Find joy in the process. In every little step along the way. Ignore losses. Enjoy wins. Rejoice in the competition itself. And always try to get better. Always, always, always try to get better.

It’s beautiful, really.

My way was miserable. His way was beautiful. I chose my way.

Or, perhaps, I had no choice. That’s just how I’m wired, I guess. But I was blessed to learn from his way. Or, try to learn, at least. Eventually.

Thanks, Coach. Thanks for putting up with me, even when I was at my worst. And thanks for teaching me about joy. Even if I didn’t listen at the time. I was busy. I’m sorry for being such a twit at times. I’m sure I drove you nuts sometimes, too. But you believed in me. Just like you believed in everybody else. It’s beautiful, really.

I learned a lot from you. Eventually.

Rest in peace, my friend.

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To my maternal grandfather, the son of an English immigrant, the idea of wealth was the old-world desire for real property. His father, my great grandfather, came to America to pursue his dream of owning property, promptly enlisted in the US Army, fought in the Spanish war and then married the daughter of a small […]

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America, We Have to Talk About Death


America is generally a pretty optimistic country.  It makes sense.  We are a people that came from distant shores to join the people born here to create a wonderful mishmash that holds certain Truths to be Self-Evident.  People who did not believe in these common truths would not have survived here or stayed here.  This would not be the land they chose to raise children.  They would flee for easier paths.  I know, America, it’s been a rough 200 years or so.  We’ve been through a lot together.

We have done so much to foster life in this country.  We have developed spectacular, truly spectacular, medical advancements that have propelled us into the higher life expectancies.  We discovered hand washing (at least in the sense that it was totally necessary in medical care).  In 1879, we created the vaccine for cholera.  In 1902, an American (Karl Landsteiner) developed ABO blood typing.  Paul Zoll invented the first cardiac pacemaker in 1952.  These are such wonderful innovations!  We have sustained life in so many complex cases that used to be fatal.  There were no treatments for the disease, just the symptoms.  People used to suffer needlessly because we did not have the technology to help them.

But America, people now suffer needlessly because of the technology we have.

I know, we are generally a forward-looking people.  We are a people of hope and often, of faith (in something, anyway).  We see miracles every day.  We pray for miracles every day.  We face down fear and death and we keep on going.

Sometimes, though, it is time to sit down with Death and come to terms.

America, Death is also a part of life.  Death is the natural conclusion of certain processes.  We can push it further away and perhaps even delay it for a while, but death is inevitable.  Death happens for all of us.  Young, old, sick, and otherwise healthy.  Death does not discriminate.

We need to face Death, America.  We need to understand it and we need to stop fearing it to the point that we never let it enter our thoughts or our conversations.  We need to talk about Death.  We need to talk about dying.  We need to talk about the process of natural death; the slowing down and winding down of the processes of the body.  We also need to talk about preparing for death.  I know, I know.  This isn’t a fun conversation.  But it is necessary.  See, America, we have done everything to prevent death.  But death will still happen.  Death is not a matter of if, but when.  So when it comes, and it will, we need to be prepared.  We need to know what you want.  We need to know how you want to live, but more importantly perhaps, we need to know how you want to die.

Do you want your death to be according to age or according to function?  If you are 96 years old and are still completely intact, independently living but get hit by a car, do you want to be resuscitated because your heart has stopped?  Do you want to accept your natural death?  What if you are 22 years old and have multiple chronic health issues when that car hits you?  What about then?  What means more to you, time or quality?  Do you want to be put on life support for your family, so that they can come to terms with your impending death?

We say life support.  We say resuscitation.  These are clean words.  These are nice words.

Make no mistake: it is not clean.  It is not nice.  It is not gentle.

The reality, America, is much harder to face.  Do you want a team of six people compressing your ribs two inches in depth (probably breaking them in the process) in order to make your heart pump blood?  Do you want someone putting a tube into your windpipe so that you can get some oxygen into your lungs?  Some people say no, they want a DNR.  They want a limited DNR.

They do not want those violent compressions.  They do not want that intrusive intubation.

But please, please, give epinephrine!  Give drugs!  Save lives!

America, when the heart is not beating there is no circulation.  When there is no circulation, the drugs do not move anywhere.  If the drugs do not move anywhere, they are not pushed around the body.  Are you starting to understand, America?  You can say no compressions, but what you mean is that there will be no pumping.  If there is no pumping, then why medications?

We need to think about this now, America, before it is our own time to go (by whatever cause).  We need to think about the ways that we want to live (if I can’t breathe, do I want a tracheostomy?) and the ways we want to die (at home or in the hospital?).  Maybe even more importantly, we need to talk about this.  We need to talk about this with each other.  We need to talk about this with our families.  We need to talk about it early and we need to get it in writing.

America, this is not about giving up.  This is about keeping control.

Americans like their independence.  We like to choose how we are going to live our lives.

If we want to keep our independence and our dignity, we need to think further down the line.  Choose how you are going to live.  Tell others how you choose to die.

I’m glad we had this talk, America.  Same time again next year?  I suspect we might need a reminder by then.

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Just recently, there was a horrible accident near San Diego, CA, where an SUV crashed into a semi-truck carrying gravel.  That SUV was carrying 25 people.  Thirteen of them were killed.  The SUV was a Ford Expedition, which I believe should carry a maximum of 8-9 people.  The California Highway Patrol is being very cagey […]

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If you google that phrase you get 580 MILLION hits. American Pie memorialized the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Mostly Buddy Holly. The song evokes the end of an era including James Dean and other teenaged icons. The only recording artists whose loss I personally morn are Janis Joplin and […]

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How a 1920s Power Plant Survived Winter Storm Uri


The last five years I’ve managed a small power plant in Missouri for a local municipal utility. The original section of the plant was built in 1928 and has been added onto in two separate additions, most recently in 1976. The plant houses nine dual fuel (diesel and natural gas) generators, ranging from a 1946 model to 1976.

Our utility is part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and purchases its energy from the SPP Integrated Market in addition to contracts with other power providers. Being older engines, our units are rarely economical “in the market”. We maintain the plant because, in order to participate in SPP, each utility must maintain a level of “firm capacity” to “back up” its energy needs; and these units are an affordable way of meeting our requirements. If a disaster struck, the plant could also provide some form of emergency power supply.

Outside a few maintenance runs here or there or the occasional high price market day, our generators sit idle. The newest, most efficient units may run 75 hours a year, the oldest 25. In September of 2020, we ran all nine units together for one full hour, the first time that had been done in anybody’s memory.

This brings us to Winter Storm Uri. It was probably the Thursday prior to Valentine’s Day that things started to heat up. The cold temperatures were already pushing down into the middle of the country and forecasts of increased demands in natural gas began pushing prices up. As the cold and ice swept across Oklahoma and Texas, pipelines, gas wells, and gas power plants not built for such weather failed. Within a couple of days, the gas price went from ~$3/MMBtu to $300/MMBtu (even more in some areas). This unbelievable increase led to a subsequent increase in market energy prices. To make matters worse, coal power plants also froze solid (including one of our contract units) and wind production tumbled.

We had been notified of the gas increases that Friday and was being urged by our marketers to be prepared to run our plant. Fortunately for us, we had been sitting on over half a million gallons of diesel which literally overnight became one of the most economical fuel sources on the market (on straight diesel our units are roughly $175/MWh, the SPP market averaged $17 all of 2020). I was hesitant if not terrified. We weren’t staffed nor ready to generate like they were insinuating we may have to. With temperatures forecasted as low as the negative teens, something was going to break; either the plant or our employees.

We started and ran a few units on Saturday to hedge some costs. After the market cleared on Saturday we couldn’t believe the prices for Sunday: over $3000/MWh around the clock! (As I write this, prices are in the $20s). We started units back up on Valentine’s Day morning and didn’t shut down until the following Friday once temperatures warmed back up and wind production rebounded. On two separate occasions, we ran all 9 units, one for 15 hours straight and the other for 21. Our oldest unit ran the longest continuous run at 77.6 hours. We burned just over 217,000 gallons of diesel that week, more than we had burned in any year since 2001 (which was an abnormally large year itself). More generation in that one week than every year since 2013. To top it off: no major breakdowns.

We were astonished and exhausted. We had borrowed two other ex-plant employees from other departments to help work overnight. Our Maintenance Foreman and I put in several 15+ hour days. We learned things we would have never been able to learn had it not been for that. I never want to do it again though.

Even with our generation, we weren’t able to avoid blackouts. Tuesday morning the 16th, SPP issued an EEA 3, their highest level of alarm. At an EEA 3, the generation in SPP is not enough to meet demand and load must be shed, the first time in their 80 year history. We were contacted by our area coordinator to shed load at approximately 7 AM and our rolling blackouts lasted for about two and a half hours. I had the unfortunate task of opening and closing the breakers, with nine generators roaring in the background, and a control room full of managers and operators frantically trying to come up with a blackout plan and communicate with priority customers ahead of the outages. It was one of the most hectic situations I’ve been a part of.

Now the nightmare is behind us but there is still a lot to figure out. Many communities and utilities across the central United States are hurting but mine is not one of them. I’ve seen stories of area utilities burning through an entire year’s budget that week in fuel purchases alone. Some have already declared bankruptcy. We still have to wait to see how the financials will pan out but we have good reason to believe we’ll come out feeling very good about ourselves and how we were able to serve our customers.

Below is a video we put together last year about the plant: