Category Archives: Not at all Writing Related

Monday: Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

I am sorry to say that I need to pull back from blogging for a time, and will also be limiting my social media presence. Announcements of this sort seldom come from a good place, and mine is no exception. I would rather not say more, except to explain that coming up with blog post topics each week, particularly for my Monday Musings posts, demands that I sound the depths of my thoughts and emotions, and for now, and for the foreseeable future, that will take me in directions I am not yet ready to share publicly.

I will not be retreating entirely. I may post now and then. I may show up on one platform or another from time to time. But mostly, I’ll be going quiet.

Be well. Be kind to one another. Keep me in your thoughts, but please respect my/our privacy.

Thank you.

David

Monday Musings: Fireworks and My Environmental Hypocrisy Explained

The first fireworks display I remember with any clarity came on a Fourth of July when I was three or four years old. My family had gone to the park in town where the fireworks displays took place each year, and we were sitting with our neighbors, including the high school student who babysat me when my older siblings were unavailable.

I was terrified of the big booms, and I cowered on my babysitter’s lap, my eyes closed, wishing this nightmare would end. Until she convinced me to look at just one.

It was magical! The colors! The patterns! Even the resonance of the explosions in my chest. From that day forward, I was hooked, and I have been ever since.

Anyone who knows me, knows that my politics track well to the left of center. On no issues am I more committed or more radical in my advocacy than those pertaining to the environment. And so, as environmental groups and activists, including some in our little town here on the Cumberland Plateau, turn more attention to the negative environmental impacts of fireworks, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between fighting against something I love, or making myself look like a hypocrite.

This one time, I’m embracing hypocrisy. Hear me out.

First, let me acknowledge the obvious. Fireworks ARE bad for the environment. They release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They pollute the air with particulate matter, and, because those lovely colors are produced by the burning of different elements, including heavy metals and other toxins, they pollute our water and soil as well. They are incredibly loud, and so can be deeply disruptive to local wildlife, not to mention being harmful to our pets and to livestock. And, with drought impacting more and more of the U.S. every year, we can’t ignore the significant fire danger posed by fireworks.

In short, they are pretty much a nightmare, and at some point, as we continue to fight the effects of global climate change, we will probably need to get rid of them altogether. But we are nowhere near that point yet, and, in fact, trying to get rid of fireworks now could actually set back the cause of environmental protection.

Again, hear me out.

All the fireworks used in the United States in a single year, including displays put on by municipalities as well as those set off by private citizens, emit about the same amount of greenhouse gas as 12,000 gas powered automobiles do on average, over the course of a year. Which sounds like a lot, until we place the number in context. There are 276 million automobiles in the U.S., which means that the entire universe of fireworks in this country emits less than 0.00005% of what cars produce. Put another way, if we could come up with technology that reduces car emissions by one percent — just one percent! — the reduction in our nation’s carbon output would be 20,000 times more than what a total ban on fireworks could accomplish.

What about the particulate matter in our air, the heavy metals and toxins in our water and soil, the sheer solid waste of all those fireworks casings made out of plastic and cardboard and paper? Yes, the harm from fireworks is real. But as with greenhouse gases, the contribution of fireworks to all of these problems is minuscule when considered against the scale of industrial pollution in the U.S., or automobile pollution, or household waste production, or any number of other causes of environmental degradation.

Aiming our ecological ire at fireworks is foolishness. It is virtue-signaling en masse. It is like ordering a double-patty bacon cheeseburger, a super-sized container of curly fries, and a huge slice of New York cheesecake, and then also asking for a Diet Coke.

Worse, it is politically stupid. Progressives could come up with a comprehensive, scientifically sound, guaranteed-to-address-the-problem legislative package to combat climate change, and if it included a ban on fireworks that would be the only thing Fox News and the Republicans would focus on. “Liberals want to ban your fireworks!” “Liberals have declared war on the Fourth of July!” “Liberals hate America for winning our independence!”

The fact is, progressives have, again and again, come up with comprehensive, scientifically sound, guaranteed-to-address-the-problem legislative packages to combat climate change, and always the right-wing climate deniers have latched onto the one element of the plan that is a) least significant, and b) easiest to parody and misrepresent. “Liberals want to keep you from eating hamburgers!” “Liberals want to replace your pickup with a bicycle!” “Liberals want to use climate legislation to turn America into a socialist hell-scape!” “Liberals want to make you compost your puppies!”

Okay, I made up that last one, but you get the idea. Banning fireworks gets us next to nothing. The impact would be minimal at best. And the cost to the larger cause of saving our planet could be far greater than this one step is worth.

So what should we do about fireworks?

Already governments across the globe, national, territorial, and municipal, are beginning to use drone and laser technologies to make celebrations less fireworks-dependent. We should do more of this. Displays that blend these newer approaches with traditional fireworks, have less impact on our land, water, and air. Moreover, many U.S. states already ban the purchase and use of fireworks by private citizens. More states should do the same. This would lessen fire danger while also lowering the amounts of smoke and pollutants we put into the environment. We would still get to see our fireworks displays and celebrate July 4th as we always have. We would just have to rely on public fireworks displays for our yearly fix of “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.”

That, it seems to me, is a reasonable sacrifice for the greater good.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: We Are Broken

On Friday, I grieved.

Today I’m just ticked off.

Every approach to the subject I attempt feels inadequate. Our nation is broken and I despair of seeing it repaired in my lifetime or even that of my children.

When six deeply flawed human beings, driven by their religious beliefs and their disregard for the plights of anyone other than themselves, can set back the cause of human rights with such ease, we are broken. When legislators in two dozen states, the overwhelming majority of them white men, can deny adequate health care to forty-five million women, we are broken. When a U.S. President elected by a minority of the voting public, and a U.S. Senator elected by voters of one state, can twist the Supreme Court nomination process to place three ideologues on the bench in four years, we are broken.

When voters on the left can become so obsessed with a single candidate that they reject the party’s eventual nominee out of pique, thus enabling the election of a man who should NEVER have been President, we are broken. When two naïve, foolish, or perhaps just deeply dishonest “centrist” Senators can be duped by Supreme Court nominees into believing said nominees will “respect precedent,” and that’s enough to put those nominees on the bench, we are broken. When, after a four-year reign of corruption, white-supremacy, and wanton cruelty, ending in a violent insurrection and conspiracy aimed at undermining the very foundations of our Republic, people still need to be convinced that yes, there really are substantive differences between the two parties, we are broken.

When our nation’s political system can be manipulated to enable one-party rule in states that are evenly split between the parties, we are broken. When one party can win the national popular vote for the Presidency in five of six elections, but be declared the loser in three of those elections, we are broken.

When guns kill more than 40,000 Americans a year, we are broken.

When unarmed people of color are murdered in the streets by police again and again and again and again and again and again and again, while armed white suspects are routinely subdued and taken into custody, alive and well, we are broken.

When one’s skin color is a primary determining factor in one’s chances of finding and keeping a job, being able to buy a house, having access to health care, enjoying a comfortable retirement, living to our country’s average life expectancy, we are broken. And when one’s skin color is also a primary determining factor in one’s risk of contracting a disease, of being a victim of crime, of being poor, of being unemployed, of being homeless, of being incarcerated, of being pulled over by police, of being beaten by police, of being killed by police, we are broken.

When things we thought were settled law, like marriage equality and abortion rights and legal protections for suspects and availability of contraception and the freedom to love who and how we wish in the privacy of our homes, are all suddenly at risk again from a judicial system that responds not to legal doctrine, but to the vicissitudes of partisan politics, we are broken.

When elected officials treat educators and librarians and trans children like they’re criminals, and work harder at banning books from our schools and libraries than they do at banning weapons of war from our streets and classrooms, we are broken.

When global climate change is convincingly linked to exploding incidences of catastrophic floods, devastating storms, historic droughts, and hellish, record-setting fires, and still our body politic consistently proves itself incapable of doing anything to save our planet, we are broken.

When economic inequality in our country continues to grow, building on a forty-year trend, with no end in sight, and no true remedial steps under serious consideration, we are broken.

When our problems are so very easy to list, and our progress so very hard to maintain, we are broken.

I resist the urge to leave this post at that. I am weary and angry and despondent. But I am also a father, and someday I expect to be a grandfather. Which means I cannot and will not give up. Barack Obama famously said to an enthusiastic campaign crowd booing a certain 2016 Presidential candidate, “Don’t boo! Vote!” He also famously said, “Elections have consequences.”

Some look at the problems facing our country and say “Burn it all down.” As if that is a solution. As if that isn’t what the other side wants. As if with all their guns and their survivalist shit, the other side isn’t better prepared for such a scenario than we are.

No, the answer isn’t to boo or to burn. It’s to work and to vote and to never forget the anger so many of us feel right now.

Have a good week. Keep fighting.

Monday Musings: Being a Dad in the NRA’s America

This past week, I moved my younger daughter and her boyfriend out to Colorado — the Denver area — where they will be beginning a new chapter in their lives. They have jobs lined up, a very nice apartment with a gorgeous view of the Rockies, and big plans for what their future together might hold. (People ask me how I feel about them living together. Nancy and I lived together for nearly two years before we married, so even if I minded, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on . . .)

It was a very Dad week for me. My younger kid and her beau wanted to drive in the moving truck together, with him doing most of the driving and her navigating, keeping him focused and awake, etc., etc. One of their cars was on the truck trailer. The other . . . well, the other I drove. 1250 miles in two and half days. And then we moved all their stuff into their third floor apartment (no elevator).

That’s what dads do. It’s the sort of thing my dad might have done for me. I thought of him a lot this week, as I dispensed the sort of advice he would have given my siblings and me, and did my best to be the calming, reasonable voice when things grew fraught, as they often do with moves of this magnitude. As I say, very Dad.

I am kind of exhausted from all the driving and from carrying stuff up all those freaking stairs, but I am so glad I did it. I loved being there to help, to see their new place and the wonderful neighborhood around it, to give all that advice, and to buy them a nice dinner when the difficult work was finished. I wouldn’t trade this past week for anything, even though while in the middle of it I wouldn’t have said it was fun. Because dads are supposed to help our grown kids begin their adult lives. We’re supposed to do that sort of hard work. I was lucky to have the opportunity.

As we all know — painfully, tragically, sickeningly — too many dads in Uvalde, Texas (this time), had a very different week.

Dads are not supposed to worry about their kids being shot dead in their schools. Dads are not supposed to mourn in elementary school parking lots. They shouldn’t have to wonder why police didn’t do their jobs, why so many “good guys with guns” let a bad guy with a gun run amok in that building for so long. Dads shouldn’t have to ask why an eighteen-year-old kid had access to a weapon of war and all the ammunition needed to take so many lives, or why the leaders of their state are so concerned with “promoting a culture of life” that they turn a blind eye to the dangers and sins of an industry of death. Dads shouldn’t have to worry that their child (or their partner, or they themselves) might be shot in a grocery store or a movie theater or a mall, or any of the dozens of places that have been the scenes of horrific shootings over the past couple of decades.

And, the fact is, in most of the world, certainly in most of the wealthier nations to which we in the United States like to compare ourselves, dads don’t have to worry about such things. Mass shootings of the sort we’ve seen this month in Uvalde and Buffalo are far, far, far more common in the U.S. than they are in any of the countries we consider our international peer-group.

Why? Republican politicians, who fear the electoral retribution of the National Rifle Association more than they do news of another mass killing, tell us this is a problem of mental illness, not guns. So is it their position that Americans are more prone to mental illness than are people in other countries? Are they saying we are more likely to be murderous psychopaths? Is that what they mean by American exceptionalism? There’s a winning platform. I can’t wait to see them put that on a bumper sticker.

Or is it possible, just maybe, that we have way, way, way more murders and suicides by firearm — per capita as well as in absolute numbers — than, say, Italy, or France, or Spain, of the United Kingdom, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Japan, or Ireland, or Finland, or Sweden, or Denmark, or Canada, or Belgium, or Greece, or Germany, or Poland, or Portugal, etc., etc., etc., because we have way, way, way more guns than they do? And because our guns are so readily available. And because our state legislatures are constantly passing laws to make them easier to conceal and carry.

Yes, the right to bear arms is in our Constitution. Everyone knows that. Far fewer people give consideration to the meaning of the exact wording of the amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

If we’re going to keep the damn amendment (and there is zero chance we’ll ever get rid of it — the Founders saddled us with a culture of guns and death that will forever haunt our nation) can’t we at least honor its complete wording? Is it so fucking hard for people to admit that we have a gun problem in the United States? If tightening laws surrounding background checks, mental health checks, gun-show sales, and the availability of ammunition can save even one life, can spare even one dad the gut-wrenching horror of going through what those parents in Uvalde have endured this week, wouldn’t it be worth a little inconvenience?

Or are we too much in the thrall of the gun lobby even for that?

Have a great week. Stay safe.

Monday Musings: Roe, Griswold, and the Danger of Getting What You Wish For

At the risk of wading into very dangerous political waters, I feel I must weigh in publicly on the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi abortion case, which effectively seeks to overrule Roe v. Wade. Based on the text of the leaked draft, at least five of the Court’s six conservative justices are poised to put an end to Federal protection for reproductive freedom in this country, despite assurances several of them (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett) gave during their confirmation hearings to the effect that they would respect precedent, that they viewed Roe as settled law, and that claims they intended to overturn the 1973 decision were based in groundless left-wing fears.

Yes, I support reproductive freedom for all women, regardless of what state they live in, what color their skin, and how big their bank accounts. Overturning Roe, it needs to be said, will not end abortion in this country. It will merely limit its availability to states with solid progressive majorities, and to those in conservative states with the means to circumvent their states’ laws. Put another way, abortion will remain available to wealthy white women everywhere. Women of color and poor and working class women, regardless of race, who live in red states, will be left with few options.

I should also add here that I have several friends who oppose abortion on religious grounds, and whose views on issues of “life” I find unimpeachable. They oppose the death penalty as well. They support commonsense gun control. They support increased funding for daycare, early education, family leave policies, and other initiatives that truly soften the effect of their stance against abortion. I respect their opinions and accept that well-meaning, sincere, and ideologically consistent advocates on both sides of this issue can legitimately disagree.

But I also have to say this to those who are pleased by what they saw in the Court’s draft opinion: Be very, very careful what you wish for.

Samuel Alito’s draft opinion essentially returns the Court to a stance that began to erode during the 1960s with the Court’s decision in 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut. That case, brought by a married couple in Connecticut, overturned a state law that had rendered illegal the use of contraceptives by consenting adults. Read that sentence again. The Court overruled a state law that barred consulting adults, even if they were married, from using contraceptives. The Court, in a 7-2 decision written by William O. Douglas, held that there was in the Constitution an implied right to privacy upon which states and the Federal government could not infringe.

An implied right to privacy.

Here we see the power of precedent. Without Griswold, there is no Roe. Without Griswold, there also is no Eisenstadt v. Baird, a 1972 decision that extended to unmarried couples the unfettered right to purchase and use contraceptives. Without Griswold, there also is no Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 decision that struck down state prohibitions on interracial marriage. Without Griswold, there is no Lawrence v. Texas, a 1986 case in which the Court held that sexual intimacy among consulting adults, regardless of gender, is also protected from governmental interference and regulation. Without Griswold, there is no Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling granting marriage equality to all couples, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

The Griswold decision, and its establishment of that implied right to privacy, is fundamental to every decision since that has taken government oversight out of our bedrooms. Alito’s draft decision, while aimed at Roe, effectively calls back into question Griswold itself, and every case that drew upon its precedent.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m overreacting? In March of this year, perhaps anticipating where the Texas and Mississippi abortion bans would take this new conservative supermajority on the Court, Senator Mike Braun, a conservative Republican from Indiana, said he thought the Supreme Court should return to the states the power to regulate interracial marriage, the availability of contraceptives, and the notion of marriage equality. He is not the only Republican to make such a statement in recent months.

I am far from the first person to point out that the ideological Right is all for small government except when it comes to our most intimate relationships. At which point it very much wants government telling us what to do.

Connecticut, of course, is not about to start banning the sale of contraceptives. But Mississippi might. Alabama might. Utah and Wyoming and Idaho might. I live in Tennessee. I can see the Tennessee legislature being first in line to role back the clock to the 1950s.

Again, think I’m exaggerating the threat? Consider this: Brett Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearings, called contraceptives “abortion-inducing drugs.” (1)

Conservative observers assure us that while Roe may be in peril, these other decisions are not, because they are popular enough to survive challenges to them. The problem with that argument is that legal abortion is also quite popular in this country. More than two-thirds of Americans oppose overturning Roe. That hasn’t stopped the Court from stepping to the precipice of doing just that. (2)

I do believe that the Court’s impending decision, should it go as the leaked draft suggests it will, is likely to spark an overwhelming backlash from voters on the Left. Recent polls show Democratic voters lack enthusiasm about voting in November’s midterm elections, especially the young and those who identify as most progressive. Those are precisely the groups who are likely to react most passionately to the Court’s action. They will be energized by this. The political landscape, I believe, is about to shift dramatically.

But the real shock for conservatives is likely to come as emboldened legislatures in America’s red states turn their efforts to restricting more and more of our most precious private rights. Some yahoo in Tennessee or Idaho or elsewhere is bound to decide that contraception ought to be regulated, or that relationships between people of different races ought to be outlawed. And at that point, even their most conservative supporters in the electorate are going to wake up and decide they’ve had enough.

Conservative politicians who overreach in this way will get exactly what they deserve. All because Samuel Alito has given them exactly what they think they want.

Have a great week.

—-
1 Litman, Leah and Vladeck, Steve, “The Biggest Lie Conservative Defenders of Alito’s Leaked Decision Are Telling,” Slate, May 5, 2022.
2 Litman and Vladeck.

Monday Musings: Shutting Out the World

I have struggled some in recent weeks to come up with topics for my Monday Musings posts. One reason for this: I don’t want to overload readers with essays about family issues and mental health, though both are much in my thoughts these days. A second reason, I realized today, is that I have, in the interests of my own well-being, shut out current events from much of my thinking. If you look back through my posts in 2020 and early 2021, I wrote a lot about the state of the world and the state of our nation. This year, not so much.

It’s not that I have blocked out all news. I listen to NPR every morning. I check headlines daily. I have not stuck my head in the proverbial sand. But neither am I obsessing over world events right now.

And can you blame me?

Republicans are poised to take back both houses of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections. They have gerrymandered their way to disproportionate representation. They continue to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election. They attack the Administration and its progressive allies for rising energy and food prices, knowing full well that these are not the Administration’s fault. They exploit cultural conflicts over race and gender identity for their own cynical purposes, endangering the safety of Blacks, trans youth, educators, and medical professionals. And their tactics are working, so they have no incentive to stop.

Vladimir Putin is playing the most dangerous game of Russian Roulette since the Cuban Missile Crisis, moving the planet closer to global nuclear conflict than at any time since the end of the Cold War. He and his generals are responsible for heinous war crimes — genocide, some would argue — in Ukraine. And despite fighting valiantly for their freedom, their homes, their families, their very lives, the Ukrainian army likely cannot hold out indefinitely. The end game will be hideous and horrifying.

The planet is dying. There is no softening that reality. It’s dying. The wildfire season has already begun in the Western U.S. — months earlier than usual — and it promises to be historically bad. Again.

Prices are rising, thanks to Putin’s war. And the stock market is tanking. Each month, we receive our brokerage statements, the latest figures on our retirement savings, and we file them away without looking at them. There’s nothing we can do, and we have no intention of getting out of the market, so . . . It’ll rebound eventually, right? Right??

But by all means, let’s all get our panties in a twist over yet another egotistical billionaire buying yet another social media platform.

Yeah, so this is why I have been avoiding current affairs topics in my Monday Musings posts. I don’t have the energy. I would never say I don’t care. I do. I care passionately. But I feel like there is nothing I can do that will make a significant difference. I can give to international aid organizations. And I do. I can give to environmental groups and to progressive candidates. And I do. I can drive a Prius and use LED bulbs and set the house thermostats with energy conservation in mind. I do all those things.

But like so many people — perhaps like you — I am weary. I have too much on my personal plate right now. Family crises, work deadlines, things I have to get done, things I want to do. Last weekend, while at a convention, I might have been exposed to Covid. I’ve taken a couple of tests this week, the most recent today. Both negative. I’m probably fine, thank goodness. I will admit, though — and I’m not proud of this — that a tiny part of me hoped the test would be positive, giving me an excuse to just stop and rest and do nothing.

In a way, this post has wound up being about current affairs after all. Because the truth is, I am far from alone in feeling the way I do. We as a society are exhausted. And that exhaustion manifests as both apathy and irascibility. Many of us want to shut out the world. And when we can’t, many of us turn to contentiousness, to behavior that serves only to deepen divides that are already too deep.

Spring is here. Our little corner of the Cumberland Plateau is exploding with color right now: the myriad greens of young leaves, the whites of Dogwoods, the pinks of Wild Azaleas, the brilliant reds and yellows and blues of migrating tanagers, warblers, and buntings.

Covid is less of a threat that it was this winter, and warmer temperatures should mitigate the dangers even more. The housing market is beginning to normalize, which might help calm inflation in the months to come.

Maybe the fire season will prove less destructive than feared. Maybe Putin’s war effort will continue to fall short of his ambitions, leading him to settle for a partial victory rather than total conquest. Maybe the midterms won’t be quite the bloodbath some anticipate.

The fact is, as bad as things seem right now, they could be worse. They could always be worse. And in the meantime, there is beauty in the world. In the colors of spring, in the love of family and friends, in creativity, in work well done, in down-time enjoyed.

And this, in the end, is why I have chosen to avoid a certain kind of post this year. Life has been hard, but it also continues to be good. As I age, I find myself gaining a level of perspective I lacked as a younger man, when I was a sky-is-falling kind of guy. I don’t want to focus on the bad and the hard and the tragic. That stuff is always there for us, if that’s where we want our minds to go. These days, I choose a different emphasis.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: The Things We Care About, a #HoldOntoTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

I honestly don’t know where this post is going, and so please bear with me as I work through my tangled thoughts.

I am struck today — as I ponder a life that is both fraught and wonderful, complicated and strikingly simple, weighted with deep worries and buoyed by simple yet profound pleasures — by the oddity of the things we choose to care about minute to minute, day to day, year to year.

As many of you know, last year our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Her initial treatments went well, her maintenance regimen has been harder to pin down and she recently had a small setback — minor, but with cancer nothing is truly minor.

I suffer from anxiety anyway, and so any change for the worse in her situation can send me into a tailspin. The truth is, lots of things, big and small, can send me into a tailspin, but I am hardly unique in that regard. And when it comes right down to it, I am not convinced my anxiety explains the emotional phenomena with which I’m grappling in today’s post.

Perhaps an example will help me clarify my topic and allow you to follow along as I muse and ponder. I find — and this is nothing new — that one moment I can be focused on my daughter’s health, or something else of equal importance and solemnity, and the next I can be completely put out by my inability to solve the day’s Wordle puzzle in four guesses instead of five. A frivolous, even absurd, example to be sure, but I offer it in all seriousness. The frivolity is kind of the point.

This has been a difficult couple of years to say the least. I often begin my morning walks mired in dark thoughts, consumed with worry about my kid, or the state of the world, or, for a long time, the persistence of the pandemic. And then I will spot a hawk along the trail, or a warbler will pop up and start to sing in plain view, and I will be filled with happiness. Fleeting perhaps, but not any less powerful for its brevity.

We can be resilient creatures, we humans. And I do think some of what I’m writing about is resilience. Part of it might be as well the simple reality that our emotions demand respite. It can be exhausting living with worry or with grief. Many of us, myself included, live with anxiety or depression or other mental health issues, and these conditions can compound that weariness. Many of us struggle to find those moments of pleasure, those glimpses of resilience.

But the fact is, our minds — or at least my mind — seem to seek out breaks from the toughest issues. How else can I explain being consumed with the threat of global climate change one moment, and truly caring who wins the Tottenham v. Manchester City soccer match the next? How can I worry about my children, or the health of my in-laws, and also care whether I solve the puzzle on my phone in the allotted sixty seconds?

Do our minds do this to preserve our sanity? Ophthalmologists tell us that we can ease strain on our eyes when sitting in front of our computers by taking a few minutes periodically to focus on something farther away. Isn’t that what our brains do, too?

Okay, so I’m nearly six hundred words in to this post, and I still haven’t figured out what the hell I want to say. I suppose I am trying to explain to myself how my own coping mechanisms work. I know that for me, constant worry is debilitating. The intrusions of the frivolous save me from myself. I care about Wordle not because it matters, but because in making it matter, I force myself to look elsewhere, to focus on something other than the hard stuff right in front of me. I allow myself the pleasure of a bird sighting — or a song well played on my guitar, or a successful photograph — because without such pleasures my world would be a bleaker place.

I suppose I am merely describing distractions, which all of us have. And perhaps what I’m actually doing, in public, and in a roundabout way, is giving myself permission to be distracted. Because, I have to admit, in the depths of my legitimate worries, I am embarrassed by the trivial things I care about. Resilience. Distraction. Fun. Pleasure. Joy. When we confront serious matters — including life and death matters — these things can feel wrong, like violations of self-imposed gravity. How dare I take pleasure in a new music CD when my kid is dealing with cancer. How dare I care about a soccer match, or a Wordle puzzle, when the world is in crisis.

The thing is, though, without all those pursuits that delight and distract and bring joy, why does anything else matter? We help no one when we deny ourselves simple pleasures. Because they not only are born of resilience, they also promote it. And without resilience we are of no use to the people who need us, to a world that demands our attention and our compassion.

Perhaps this post is one long rationalization, a way to convince myself it’s okay for me to have fun now and then. But I think it’s more. In the depths of difficult times, I believe we need to remind ourselves to take joy when and where we can. Life is hard. We face no shortage of excuses to be sad or frightened or angry. Our humanity demands we also create opportunities to find happiness and peace, even if just for a short while.

Wishing you wonderful week.

 

Monday Musings: Some Weird Occurrences Have Me Thinking About Technology

This past week, I had a couple of weird experiences that made me feel like I was an extra in Poltergeist or Enemy of the State. And I thought I would share them with you because if I’m freaked out, I feel strongly that you should be as well. You’re welcome.

Let’s start with the Enemy of the State incident. I think it was Tuesday night — we spoke with our younger daughter and, as always, covered a lot of topics. She has a birthday coming up, so one of those topics, of course, was what she might want from us as a gift. She mentioned something and I suggested a place she might shop for the item and then we would pay her back whatever it cost. This is not a brand of store at which I usually shop, but it specializes in what she wanted, so…

Again, this was a phone conversation. We weren’t texting or emailing. There was no physical or electronic record of our discussion.

And yet, the next day, advertisements for the store in question, suddenly and for the first time ever, began to show up in the browser on my phone. It was so creepy. I mean, someone or something is obviously “listening” to our phone conversations. I don’t imagine there are people with earphones and recording equipment in the walls, or anything like that. But the same algorithms that track our internet browsing and then recommend products and stores, must track phone conversations for recognizable brands and the like. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me. As I say, creepy.

Moving on to Poltergeist

This actually happened the same night — which I suppose is a little freaky in its own right.

Nancy and I had made stuffed poblano peppers for dinner, and we finish our preparation of them by placing them under the broiler in our oven, to melt and brown the cheese. So we did that and sat down to eat. After a few minutes, the oven started beeping at us. It was getting too hot.

Nancy, thinking we had forgotten to turn off the broiler, got up to do that. But it was already off. She pressed off again, just to make sure. The broiler remained on. We turned the broiler on, waited a few moments, then turned it off again. It remained on.

At this point, I went to the circuit breaker and switched the oven off from there. After a few seconds, I threw the breaker back on. The clock had reset, of course, and everything else seemed normal. But the broiler came on again. I turned the oven off at the fuse box again and left it that way. At this point, we were afraid to sleep in the house, or leave the house, with the oven plugged in.

Now, sometimes electric appliances and such will reset if left disconnected from their power supply for long enough. So the next day, I switched the fuse again, just to see. And, yes, the broiler turned on immediately, even though it was turned off.

We’re replacing the oven, though with supply-chain issues and such, we won’t have a new one for a few weeks.

But this was creepy as well, not to mention scary. And Nancy reminded me that a few weeks ago she was baking a loaf of bread and somehow the broiler turned on during the bake and burned the top of the loaf. It was almost like our oven was already in the process of developing a mind of its own.

We (and I mean Nancy and me, but also the collective “we” — society at large) are so dependent on technology that it’s easy to take that dependence for granted. Because it’s more than just a reliance on the machines, appliances, and devices we use on a daily basis. It’s also the trust we place in them.

Sure, we understand that we sacrifice a bit of our privacy when we go on line (or walk down a crowded city street in the age of facial-recognition), but I assume — foolishly, it would seem — that my phone calls are private. Not so long ago, an organization I worked for last year asked for my social security number, so they could issue me a 1099 form. I didn’t feel comfortable sending that information via email, so I asked for a number to call. Now, after the conversation with our daughter and what happened next, I wonder if I wasted my time and that of the person on the other end of the call.

We expect some things to need periodic repairs. When our cars break down, for instance, we’re annoyed, but not entirely shocked. These are inconveniences that we factor in when making a decision to buy. Cars need service periodically. Appliances need replacement parts and will fail now and then. But our oven’s odd behavior could have put our home at risk. It could have cost us our lives if it started a fire at the wrong time.

The creepiness of these incidents is, on one level, fun to talk about. I have shared the stories a few times already, and always they’re good for a laugh and jokes about the rise of our automated overlords. The fact is, though, there is something decidedly unfunny about all of this. Like so many things, it’s funny until we really think about it. And then it’s just disturbing.

Have a good week.

Monday Musings: My Covid Booster

Nancy and I received our Covid boosters on Friday. Saturday, we took naps, huddled in blankets (in addition to being without power due to powerful storms, we were both also dealing with low-grade fevers), and (once the power returned) watched a bunch of TV. By Sunday, we were feeling far better. As the week begins, we are back to ourselves, albeit with a twinge of lingering soreness in our arms.

We weren’t the only people at our local CVS receiving the booster, but we were depressingly close. Now, I know there are those who argue we should not be giving boosters to people in developed countries who are already vaccinated, when there are far too many nations in which vaccination rates remain well below 50%. It is crucial, these people say, that we get vaccines to the countries that are lagging behind. They are being devastated by Covid, and since new variants are most likely to develop in places where the virus is thriving, shifting resources to those nations protects all of us from the next Omicron.

All of this is true. But it only works as a strategy in a macro sense. Nations like the United States and our allies in Europe need to make a decision at the federal level to shift strategies and send more vaccine doses to under-served countries. You and me refusing to get the booster as a statement on national policy accomplishes nothing, and allows perishable doses to expire and go to waste. So as long as booster doses remain available, we should take advantage and get the damn shot!!

I have received the Moderna vaccine all three times now. The first shot left my arm sore. The second shot knocked me flat. Fever, headache, exhaustion. I was utterly useless for a full day and took a couple of days to recover entirely. Friday’s dose (the Moderna booster is actually half the volume of each of the first two shots), as I said above, left me tired and with a low-grade fever. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the second dose.

I will admit to being a bit reluctant on Friday. I didn’t want to be sick again, the way I was after vaccination #2. And I understand that lots of people who claim they are not worried about Covid, or who say they place their faith in God rather than vaccines, are actually just scared of getting the shot. They don’t want to be in pain. They don’t want the side effects. They would rather take their chances with the illness than deal with the certainties of the vaccine. (There is much talk about religious exemptions for vaccinations, but in the United States, only two major denominations expressly forbid their congregants to get vaccinated: The Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Dutch Reformed Church. Those are the only ones.)

Yes, the shot will hurt a bit, not just in the moment, but for a day or two or three after. And some people do feel puny for a day or two after getting the vaccine. And, yes, a very few people have even had more serious reactions to the shots. Such dangerous side effects are incredibly rare — less than one tenth of one percent of vaccine recipients reported them — but they do happen.

That the disease itself is far more dangerous, far more likely to cause long-term health problems, and exponentially more likely to prove fatal, goes without saying. Every study by every reputable institution, private and public, has come to that conclusion. Opinions to the contrary are just that: opinions — unsupported, unproven, likely unhinged. I am not going to catalogue the perils of Covid. I haven’t the time and space, and frankly, if you’re reading this now, and you haven’t yet chosen to be vaccinated, nothing I write is going to convince you.

Here’s the thing, though (and I understand some people CAN’T be vaccinated for medical reasons — this is not directed at them): Refusing the vaccine, like refusing to mask, has nothing to do with “freedom” or “liberty.” American freedom, while rooted in individual liberty, has always been an expression of community values, and refusing to take proper precautions to prevent the spread and mutation of Covid is an assault on the public good. Anti-vaxxers and mask-phobics are putting other people at risk. That’s NOT an opinion. That is fact, supported by medical professionals across the ideological spectrum. Vaccines save lives. Masks save lives.

So if you refuse to be vaccinated because you’re scared, or you’ve bought into foolish conspiracy theories, or simply because you can’t be bothered, so be it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve taken a stand for “liberty.”

If you HAVE been vaccinated, thank you. The closer we get to full vaccination, the more likely we are to prevent, or at least slow, the spread of future variants. And if you wear a mask in public, thank you for that as well. I just got a new set of masks — best I’ve had in the past two years. So I’ll be styling this holiday season…

Have a great week.

From the Archives: A Photo I Took Several Birthdays Ago

Yeah, today’s my birthday. I’m a year older, but, I assure you, no more mature.

I have a lot going on today — work stuff. So I don’t have time to for much of a post. But I thought I would share this photo from a few birthday’s ago — seven actually. Nancy and I went to Chicago for my birthday week and had a wonderful visit. In the middle of the week, a beautiful snowfall transformed the city. This photo, taken along Michigan Avenue, was probably my favorite from the whole trip. I hope you like it.

Have a wonderful weekend. Stay safe, be kind to one another.Chicago Snow, March 2014, by David B. Coe