Enough tears to fill the oceans



My country is on fire. The riots which began in Minneapolis Minnesota have spread throughout the world. I was concerned when they reached Philadelphia, I have friends and loved ones within the now barricaded city. I just came back from the pharmacy and it too has closed in preparations for more. Less than a mile from my home.

I have spent the last few days providing intel for friends who want to join the protests, and guidance for the younger ones who think they have to be there. These kids really don’t know what they’re up against.

In Indianapolis, friends on the ground report seeing a MK19 firing teargas. The MK19 is a belt fed 40mm automatic weapon, used by the military. It has a three hundred seventy five rounds per minute cyclic rate, equating to a practical rate of sixty rounds per minute. It’s target range is seventy five to fifteen hundred meters. At fifteen hundred meters, the shooter can’t see his target.

 

The MK19

 

Other friends have seen pallets of bricks being dropped off in some cities. I have wondered since Ferguson where people found bricks to throw on a city street. Now I know.

I have tried to explain to people the motivations of the police, and though some thought I was justifying their response others made use of the information. Kids can be hard headed, I hope that protects them.

The police are there to protect the community. Peaceful demonstrations usually end peacefully, but when fires are started and property damaged they respond with force to dispel the crowd. While tear gas and rubber bullets are less than lethal responses, they do on occasion kill. Fired from fifteen hundred meters they are not aimed at an individual, but still may hit one. My advice to all has been know who is around you. Shun outsiders.

There are no available statistics, so I won’t say “all,” but many of the riots were started by outside agitators as we used to call them; the new name is “accelerators.” They are usually people with goals completely opposite of the demonstrators. They intend to distract attention from the object being protested, so they can claim the protestors were just violent looters, avoiding the issue of another murdered black man. Every person who says “Why are they burning their own neighborhoods?” does not understand that “they” did not start the fires. Once the situation turns into a riot common sense finds an exit, some people steal from the broken stores. Again, this is often outsiders, turning a riot into an opportunity to steal. You can pretty much be sure that none of the people carrying away television sets were part of the non-violent protest. Outside and out of race people have frequently been seen committing acts of vandalism in the name of Black Lives matter.

Thankfully, nearly everyone carries a phone and takes videos. The racist assholes who incite the riots are often assholes in day to day life, the ones that have been identified have usually been pointed out by ex-girlfriends. Such as this man, identified as an officer of the nearby St. Paul Police Department. The following video was filmed in Boston earlier today, I have no idea why the police would destroy their own car, but a number of crimes in Boston have been falsely blamed on “black men” who did not exist.



I don’t think there is a single person who saw (fmr.) Officer Derek Chauvin kneel on the neck of a handcuffed, bleeding, and gasping for air George Floyd for nearly nine minutes (the last two minutes of which he was already dead), doubts the officer’s guilt. Finding that in his nineteen year career he had received nineteen complaints of excessive force came as no surprise, nor the fact that his wife filed for divorce and fled as soon as he was in custody. I don’t think anyone would say there are no bad cops. My thoughts are the other three officers on the scene are guilty of dereliction of duty at the least, up to and including accomplice to murder. I just can’t say there are no good cops.

I used to work with them. None of them had been cloned, they were individuals with the same flaws as any human. It has been heartwarming to see police join the demonstrations. My local chief published a statement against brutality the day Mr. Floyd died. Countless chiefs across the nation have met and joined protestors.



I can’t think of an instance in which the chief joined the protestors, and a riot broke out. Ours did not.

As I am writing this, the news is live at interstate 76 at 20th street in Philadelphia. The edge of the barricade. Several hundred protestors broke off from the peaceful demonstration and blocked the interstate. It took less than five minutes for tear gas to start flying. Police have swarmed the area and are taking people into custody, no resistance. This is our third day of protests, the city is under curfew from six to six, just forty five minutes from now. The reporters are emphasizing that this is a splinter group. The incoming bridges are closed. It would be easy to characterize the city as “under siege.” Philly has a reputation for violent police responses, going back to Mayor Rizzo who was police commissioner in the sixties, and continuing when Mayor Goode dropped a bomb on a house in 1985. Today they’re looking good, everything is orderly and peaceful.

A station chief who had served in the former Soviet Union once advised me “When the shooting starts, the conversation is over.” This applies to everything, including the protests. Once violence begins, no one is thinking about anything other than survival.

Another saying from that time was “Think globally, act locally.” Change can be made at the local level, with time those changes can move to larger theatres. One man changing the world only happens a few times in a lifetime, focusing on local elections, local issues, is the way to make a difference.

For now, we just need to watch the rain and hope for a rainbow.

What doesn’t kill you

My life has presented me with several opportunities to either die or learn something. We all get to face that these days, there is a pandemic and conflicting information about how to stay healthy.

 

I may be a bit old, but I don’t think some of the things that I know are no longer valid. Airborne viruses travel from person to person, staying away from someone infected is a great way to avoid infection. We were aware of this when I was a child, but for some reason people are fighting for their right to infect (or be infected by) others.

COVID19 is new, but it is still a virus. If it is on your hands, washing them removes it. If it is in your lungs, wearing a mask will slow (not stop, just filter) it from from spreading; if you don’t have it in your lungs, a mask will slow it from arriving.

Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is toxic. There is not a recommended dosage. Ingesting it might kill the virus, but it will also kill you. Just because it sounds like hydroxychloroquine, it is not. Hydroxychloroquine is a drug for malaria. It is not aspirin, and is available for Malaria patients. Using other people’s drugs not only prevents them from taking them, since they aren’t prescribed to you, you do not need them. Prescriptions are written by people who spent an extra four years in Medical school, plus three to seven years in residency; not by some yokel on the internet. A recent study published in Lancet concludes it is related to increased deaths in COVID19 patients.


We all knew these things as we raised our children, even the anti-vaxxers know, that’s why they put their kids in “Measles Parties,” so the kids will pick up the disease and build immunity.

We have no Constitutional right to spread disease, in fact quite the opposite. The preamble to the constitution includes the words “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The general welfare includes general health.

The anti-anti-safety groups are having a field day pointing out the utter stupidity of ignoring health guidelines and its evolutionary consequences. If natural selection is at work, the disease advocates will be removed from the gene pool, or at least reduced. Sad, it seems wrong to laugh at a drowning man.

A vaccine for COVID19 is about as likely as a vaccine for HIV. Yes, it’s been over forty years and no vaccine. Regardless, the anti-vaxxers are already insisting they will not avail themselves to a vaccine. Other conspiracy theorists are claiming the vaccine will be used to implant microchips, allowing for tracking of Americans. Oddly, those folks all carry cell phones which record their every step.

There is no point in blaming anyone for the presently 342,000 deaths world wide. For the most part, humans have stopped blaming people for naturally occurring phenomena (with the exception of climate change). One typically ignored fact about quarantine is the absence of pollution, it only took a few weeks for the world to get over our mess; wildlife is returning to cities, smoggy skies are clear.

Los Angeles

Everywhere.







 

 

Through this quarantine we have learned how to do things that were considered impossible before. School can be accomplished online (incidentally eliminating travel fatalities), jobs can be accomplished from home, voting by mail has become popular (removing any excuses for not voting), telemedicine has come into existence. The government was able to find several trillion dollars for bailouts, when a universal healthcare plan was too expensive at a tenth of the price.

One thing I always admired about Americans is the “We can do anything” attitude. We can. Today, a minority of Americans can’t even protect themselves from a pandemic. The important thing to remember when watching news reports about people resorting to violence when asked to wear a mask is that the news shows the oddities; if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be news. 

COVID19 has provided an environment in which self protection is woven into group protection. If one does not care about one’s own health, one may choose to use protection to protect their loved ones. Too much of this is similar to the AIDS crisis, when we knew that when we had sex with someone, we were being exposed to every person that someone had been with. We curtailed AIDS by controlling ourselves, wearing protection and knowing our partners’ history. We can curtail COVID19, if we work together at being apart.





The logic of Hate

I’m sorry about the title, there is no logic. Quarantine has worn away the social skills of the haters and they appear to be more prevalent. I’m just choosing to believe those skills will return with the ability to freely infect the world with the virus of your choice.

In Pennsylvania, we have a Secretary of Health. Every state has someone in a similar position. Our Secretary of Health is a Harvard graduate, who went to Tulane for med school and interned at Mt. Sinai in New York. Not every state has such a qualified doctor.

Dr. Rachel Levine’s primary specialty is pediatric psychology, which seems to trouble some people. Now that they can pronounce the word, they want an epidemiologist in her position. No other state has one, being a doctor is not even a requirement everywhere.

Dr. Levine is fighting two wars. The pandemic and transphobia. Rachel was born with male genitalia.

Dr. Rachel Levine



I really can’t follow why a reporter, sent to gather news, would choose to insult the speaker, but Rachel is pointedly mis-gendered routinely. When the story is less important than the gender of the speaker the path of information has been blocked. Recently, an ultra conservative group calling themselves “Broad + Liberty,” published an “editorial” titled “Dr. Rachel Levine should resign as PA Health Secretary.” Dr. Levine’s gender is not mentioned, just praise and then a fault which they blamed on the administration.

A discussion of this really brought out the transphobia of my compatriots. And here is where the word “logic” came to play. A number of people displayed their transphobia, but what I found most upsetting was the number of Jewish people who were straightforward about their hatred. It occurs to me that the experience of seeing your family face extermination might soften the prejudice, but no. I’ve known my share of misguided Christians, but this absolutely shocked me. During the second world war, while the NAZI regime was exterminating non-Aryans, they did not stop with Jews. “Sexual deviants” were identified with a pink triangle and sent to the same death camps as the Jews. The triangle has been “reclaimed” by the LGBTQ community and can be seen in use today.

Here’s how it works. Dr. Rachel Levine is a woman. You might not find her attractive, but then again how many people do you find attractive? You might argue that she hasn’t always been a woman, and I would argue the opposite; she was always a woman, it’s just that she used to look like a man. When you turn the conversation to her gender, you miss out on the information about the health department. In the middle of a pandemic. Not wise.

Following the consensus at the time, Dr. Levine recommended that nursing homes accept patients who test positive. The alternative was making them homeless. She then, in full view, placed her mother in a hotel for isolation. Now it is being said she murdered all the people who died in nursing homes, comparing isolating her mother as insider trading. At no time did she say “Don’t isolate your loved ones” or “The nursing homes don’t need to isolate the positive patients.” On the other hand Trump didn’t say “drink straight bleach” yet he, and not the people who drank bleach, are being blamed.

It is tough being told what to do, it might make some feel as if they are children. They are. Slowing the progression of the virus is a job for adults. The frustration of being sent to their rooms has caused a number of folks to become increasingly irritable. Sorry folks, we’re all going through the same thing, the difference is “we’re” doing it gracefully. We expect to survive this pandemic, and expect our new world to be at least partially cleansed of the stupidity of those who wish to spread the virus. If the pandemic follows through, there will be permanent changes to our society. By being in the spotlight, I hope Rachel has opened the possibility of Trans acceptance.

Trans people face deadly hate routinely, with about thirty trans folks killed each year, just because they are trans. The vitriol I have heard from otherwise polite people concerning Rachel scares me, and I’m not even trans. That these prejudices against people who are outside the understanding of a population which was insulated against sexual education exist should not be a surprise. That they have not softened with exposure to the real world is. Ignoring a public health official because she used look like the opposite sex touches on the suicidal. People who are more interested in what is under the clothes of the secretary of health than what the secretary has to say have abandoned common sense.

As a species, we don’t have time for hate.

 

The Quadrenniel Equation

 

As America’s leadership races to the drain, we are once again faced with that difficult question. Of the 328,200,000 citizens in America, who would we like to be President? In what has been explained as a positive process, we allow nature to take its course and let survival of the fittest choose the candidates.

Unfortunately, being the fittest in popularity contests is not the measure required of a fit President. Of late we have dropped the pretense of who is most popular. Elections have largely become an opportunity to vote against a candidate. Since my return to the East coast, each gubernatorial election in New Jersey has been driven by a campaign to remove the incumbent.

Last time was a moral dilemma, people on both sides of the aisle “held their noses and pulled the lever.” This time there are a different set of senses offended.

The poorly named “MeToo” movement brought some change to public sensibilities. The most wonderful example of it working just the way it was supposed to was the Al Franken case. He said “Believe all women,” he was accused, he stepped down. No fiasco.

This year, we have Donald Trump, who has openly admitted he doesn’t know when he is in a locker room, and suggested that a proper greeting is to grab a woman’s genitalia. Mr Trump has been accused of a variety of sexual misbehaviors, and been involved in many undisclosed settlements. 

He’s also a megalomaniac and starting to act a bit dictatorish.

From the opposing party, we have Joseph Biden, a doddering old fool who was often hidden from public view when he was Vice President. He enjoys touching women. He doesn’t know there is a time and place for enjoyment. Throughout his career he has been known as “creepy Joe” for the way in which he oversteps boundaries, sniffing hair and inappropriately touching women. Recently, a harsher accusation of rape has surfaced.

Now the MeToo folks are sweating. Both candidates are offensive for the same reasons. If only there was someone else running for President. There are about a dozen alternative party candidates, and not one of them has been accused of rape. Nonetheless folks are losing it.

If there was ever any evidence required to justify the label of “Rape Culture,” this is it. The two choices for President have both been accused of Rape. And nobody is talking about it. Biden was in the lead with just being creepy because he said “Believe all women.” Except Tara Reade. Now supporting Biden is supporting an abuser.

I’ve heard a few passionate defenses about how important it is to get Trump out of office, from people who know victims of rape. More of that “Most important election of our lives” stuff. The cognitive dissonance is unparalleled. We all want people to live up to their stereotypes, and just as I could not believe that women voted for Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, I am dismayed at the women supporting Biden.

Trump “may” reverse Roe v Wade, and there is no question he will make an ass of himself, and America, many times. But in supporting Biden, you are supporting an abuser. So this is a question of morals. Is an election more important than a rape? How cleverly are you going to bury that question in November?

One of the issues I have with folks is that there are certain matters which are digital to me. There are no nuances or redeeming qualities, they are black or white. I call these things “values” and can often be rather old fashioned about them. Old fashioned as in “consistent.” Biden doesn’t get a pass because Trump is an asshole. Abuse is abuse.

So, what to do?

Either don’t vote in the presidential election at all, or choose a candidate who hasn’t raped anyone. Is it really that hard?

But then Trump will win!

Maybe, and you will not have to explain to your daughter why you voted for a rapist. Which is more valuable?

Wash your hands of COVID19, not personal responsibility. Anything can happen in Washington, what is more important is what happens within you.

You are what you eat

 

 

Bats are very helpful to humans

 

The first time I came across this story was in 1984. We stocked periodicals from every group involved in animal welfare at the shelter, and I think it was in something by PETA; a story about a Korean family going on a picnic with the family, lighting a fire, and cooking the dog. Every nuance was used to pretend the dog was the family pet. Followed by an appeal to make eating dogs a crime.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief. On a planet with inadequate food, someone was trying to forbid a particular protein. The opinions of my colleagues varied, we were working in an animal shelter so that could be expected. The issue came up a few times in the intervening years, but has made an ugly reappearance during the COVID19 pandemic. 

In an odd juxtaposition of images, I saw Paul McCartney demanding that “wet markets,” the open air butchers who provide various proteins in China should be closed with footage of actual markets, a story of food being destroyed in America because it couldn’t be harvested or delivered, and a story about people putting together open air markets to fill in for the shortages in America which looked ever so much like the markets in China. 

I am only guessing, but I suspect most Americans have ever seen their food outside the grocery store. That neatly packaged hamburger at MacDonald’s was once a living breathing cow, who was killed and then cut to pieces, many of which were ground up to produce “hamburger,” which was then pressed into quarter pound servings of precisely the same shape and size. The majority of people have never killed an animal, prepared the meat, and eaten it. I would not be surprised if more than half of the people had never handled raw meat.

We as a species originated on this planet, our evolution is tied to the consumption of protien, animal protien. We are, by many measures, the apex predator of planet Earth. How can we judge any other human for their choice of protien? Of the theories as to the origin of COVID19 is that because the virus is attuned to bat DNA, it occurred naturally and was transmitted when humans ate bats. An alternative theory is that the virus was created in the level four bio-lab using bats. Either way, the fact that some people eat bats is not morally pertinent to a worldwide pandemic. Hating Chinese people (and by ignorant extension anyone of Asian descent) because the virus came from their country has no effect on the virus at all.

People eat weird things. Some folks think food should not be cute. Others draw the line with familiarity, you don’t name food, if it has a name it’s a pet. Some folks believe that some animals are magically elegant and should not be consumed. Others see all meat as murder, yet allow the consumption of fish. When I was in Belgium, a restaurant  we went to had horse (Paard) on the menu. I ordered a steak, it was great. The next day my wife’s cousins who raise horses were not impressed. I can’t fathom Escargot,  but Emma loved it.

When it comes down to it, the animal does not matter. If you are going to eat a dead animal, the species of that animal (with the exception of Homo Sapiens) is of no consequence. Shaming people for eating small mammals is no different than shaming people for eating mushy peas. Discriminating against an entire culture, and through ignorance an entire race, is not acceptable. We can see that when we are different colors, why not when we are different national origins?

As this virus and our response to it reshape our world, we may find ourselves trying different foods. An important lesson from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school (SERE), has never been forgotten; “do not waste any form of nutrition.” Once you’ve convinced yourself that you will never starve as long as there are cockroaches, a bat looks like Filet Mignon.

Now, a nation waits in line for food. Food banks are popping up everywhere. When will non-traditional foods show up at these banks? Rabbit would be a natural first, they’re already raised for meat, not always with our knowledge. I recall waiting for a bus outside a Chinese restaurant, and in the garbage was an empty box from a rabbit farm. Must be cheaper than chicken.

Prepare yourself. Of the locally available wildlife, I have eaten just about everything (no bats or fox yet). You will have the opportunity to try something new. Or, you can choose to go hungry.







Isolation

This thought occurred a few weeks ago, and has been coming up quite a bit lately due to COVID19. Everyone dies alone.

In the bright light of reality, this has always been true; in order to let go of life one lets go of the world. Surrounded by friends and family, in that last moment, we are alone. With quarantines and social distancing, we are no longer surrounded by friends and families. That time between letting go and changing dimensions is not greeted with a heart satisfied by the warmth of family. A cold empty hospital room is the last recorded memory of thousands, now tens of thousands, of lives.

Funerals, once a family retreat during a time of grief, are a thing of the past. Social distancing becomes of obvious need when you are burying a person who contracted COVID19 at a family funeral. Fears of enormous numbers of dead have played across everyone’s paranoia, from Soylent Green through Ωmega Man. The idea of riffing Charlton Heston films could fill a weekend, in the new parlance; tomorrow. When loved ones disappear into the medical complex fear of what will eventually happen is simply an extension of fear of the unknown.

What we may not have considered is that even though COVID19 is now the highest daily cause of death, total deaths, (you know, all those people who die in the darkness everyday), has doubled. We haven’t reached plague status, with carts collecting the dead. A stressed sytem (Mortuaries) gives up and just tosses bodies into mass graves? Unlikely, although there will be some changes to society that last longer than our memories of 9/11.

The suggestion that shaking hands will go the way of smoking cigarettes has already been suggested, and I suspect other casual contact will diminish as well. After generations of substituting television for parenting, many are willing and even desirous of substituting virtual contacts for real contacts. Many do it already. There is no crystal ball, but the possible changes could go anywhere, and being on quarantine we have plenty of time to travel those roads. I think of how the nation “came together” during previous disasters, how it fell apart just as quickly, yet some things remain. This time we come together by staying apart.

It is getting close to the tenth anniversary of Emma’s parting, and with all that unoccupied mind I have been thinking of her very much. In addition there have been other anniversaries in the household, the very concept of “time” has been turned inside out, causality is taking a beating, but coincidence implies uniqueness. Coincidence is common, we are far more connected than we allow ourselves to consider. Our societal evolution is moving in a different direction, less actual interaction, a redefinition of “actual.”

I doubt anyone will have the opportunity I had, to stay with Emma until I was the only one there, until she said “I can’t fight anymore,” letting go the world, so she could drop the weight of life. At least not for a while, quarantine will end eventually; but will staying with the dying come back into custom?

I think of my life only last year, parties with no prohibitions, and wonder what happened to those people? They were the type to party in defiance of quarantine, an odd paradox of probable viruses to contract. Will that level of closeness become natural again? Maybe not to me, but I’m certain it will for others. The world is changing in many ways, ways we do not consider, ways we might not notice until their consequences are upon us.

I was in a television show; Janice and I were hired as extras for a scene in the program “Dispatches from Elsewhere” on the AMC network. It was long before the show premiered, we had no idea if we would be interested in the final product. As it turns out, we may be the only ones who are interested. This will definitely be remembered in history as a “quirky” series, and it is still unfolding. I am fascinated by the reflection of the “real” world; the viewers I have interacted with may as well be unknowing actors with the show being a camera of their own life; equally unaware.

I found amazing, of many things, the “extra” effect, recognizing you really are just a face in the crowd. We were paid for ten hours, fed lunch, and in some cases made useful contacts. From all those hours on set, the rehearsals and filming, our scene takes about two minutes of varying points of view. If you take from that two minutes the moments when the camera was on our unique presence your heart has beaten twice. I believe we slowed it down to counting hundredths of a second in order to see any part of our bodies.

On film it looks even livelier, larger than the respectable crowd we shared the day with, and then it is pointed out to me. There. That edge of a flag? You’ll notice from the stripes it is a Philadelphia Pride flag. You were the only one present with such a flag. There. Those fingers holding the corner of the flag? Those are your fingers. That is the part for which you were paid ten hours of standard wages. And there are hundreds of thousands of fingers in the picture, each belonging to someone who thought they were the center of the universe at that moment.

Our perception of isolation is tied to our self image. I live in fairly large condominium, on an upper floor, surrounded by trees. This is how I choose to live. I do not feel isolated. Anne Frank lived in a dank back room in Amsterdam half of this size with three times as many people for two years. Times might get hard, but that is how we know when things are better; this is one crazy ride. Washed into numbness by the persistence of inquisitiveness, many seek details that hide the overwhelming beauty of the moment.  We forget that in the end Anne Frank died of Typhus in Bergen-Belsen.

When we die, we live on through the memories we have provided to others. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In my lifetime, I have watched as recordings progressed from pencils on paper through electrons arranged in patterns. Monuments to life have withered, most lives archived as a box of dust. All that will remain will be ethereal, and our physical isolation will result in memories of patterns of electrons, any evidence of twenty first century life will evaporate in an electromagnetic pulse.

It took the Taliban to destroy monuments that had lasted fifteen hundred years, Buddhism didn’t care. There is more to Buddha than his physical image. As our lives vanish from tomorrow’s history, we will continue to exist. In a dimension with different properties branched from a dimension with entirely different properties, three or four times, we exist.

In the ways we made each other feel.







Splendid Isolation

As we isolate due to COVID19, various comments about the level of isolation we experience have been making the rounds. One in particular was a measurement of levels, one being “I haven’t changed anything,” to five being “total lock down.” My personal response was that I am at level four, or level one; I don’t go out much to start with.

The reactions to isolation are largely based on our pre isolation lives. The twenty four hour party people can’t go very long without an audience. Those of us who prefer to be left alone are in a state of bliss.

One irony of quarantine is that I now have to go to the grocery store. I used to have groceries delivered, but when everyone suddenly tried to have their groceries delivered the system was overwhelmed; I could not schedule a delivery. Ordering groceries for pick up is suddenly frustrating, shortages cause items to be out of stock by the time I complete the order. I leave home with several pairs of latex gloves and a container of Clorox wipes. I put on a pair before I leave the car and wipe the surfaces of carts and other devices (such as the self checkout). Then I remove that pair of gloves before entering the car, and drive to another store which might have items the first did not. Re-glove, repeat. Full shower and change of clothes after coming home. The stores are relatively empty, so distancing isn’t a problem.

At home we’re listening to more music, the television is fairly depressing with its reports of COVID19 prevalence, one thousand dead here, two thousand dead there, a party in New York State, nearby states rejecting New Yorkers. Individual responses have run the gamut, and stupid people are just not entertaining. We spent the early days of the quarantine watching films about pandemics.

One wonderful and/or awful thing about America is its spirit of independence and do it yourself attitude. It is wonderful to see people finding solutions , it is awful seeing people spread bad information. Among those spreading bad information is our president, who has contradicted doctors in favor of the economy. We don’t end quarantine on a financial calendar, we end it on a medical calendar. This is going to hurt. It is going to hurt everyone. We do better by exercising compassion for those without choices.

I see this pandemic, and the resulting quarantines, as a measure of our spirits. One does not quarantine oneself in order to avoid catching COVID19, one quarantines to avoid spreading COVID19. Incredibly self centered people violate quarantine to have parties, risking not only the lives in attendance, but the lives of everyone with whom they have contact.  I would like to believe this is evolution in progress, removing self centered people from the population. Those with compassion for others are far more likely to survive.

As with most events in America, suddenly everyone is an epidemiologist. This is a new virus, we cannot count on it behaving like other viruses. It is from the family of viruses that caused SARS and MERS, we already know that treatment for those viruses do not translate into treatments for this virus. The only weapons we have are the actual epidemiologists who are working directly with this virus. Have we not been using social media long enough to recognize false information? Again, perhaps an evolutionary moment, as we are freed of the burden of the gullible idiots among us.

Our “leaders” are showing their true stripes, in many cases to no surprise. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, displayed his self-centeredness when he took to the air complaining that his state, hit hard at the moment, could not have all the ventilators in existence. I would like to see his supply of toilet paper. The president has reverted to his childhood of bullying, allotting supplies to states with governors who are nice to him. Several voices have claimed that “old people” (the initial high risk group) would be willing to die to save their children. It doesn’t work like that, we are not bargaining with death. I would certainly trade my life to save one of my children from an eminent threat, so please don’t call me heartless when I say I would not roll the dice with a virus. We have learned that all ages are susceptible, yesterday an infant died of COVID19. There is no favored age range which we may sacrifice to save everyone else.

Ethics are being debated, as healthcare systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is why we quarantine, to avoid stressing our healthcare system. Triage is a basic element in healthcare, seeing the effects of triage is more than some people can handle. Every trip to the emergency room already undergoes triage, the guy in the car wreck gets treated before a doctor spends time on your broken toe. End of life triage is not a popular subject, but it has always been here. When resources are limited, so are responses. Italy had to deny ventilators to patients over sixty. We will do something similar here. We have fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, to deny we will run out of hospital beds is foolish.

Recently in Philadelphia, the city requested the owner of an abandoned hospital (Hahnemann, closed a few months ago) to allow the city to use the space for overflow patients. The owner wanted a ridiculous amount for the privilege of using his worthless property.  The hospital stands empty. Some of us believe the owner will find a room in Hell.

The optimist within begs me to see all of this as a growth spurt, as humanity is reminded the value of being humane. Growth hurts, but in the end we are better developed. In the interim, we get to watch the evil we are trying to rid the world of take the spotlight.

We will come out of this better if we learn to cherish good rather than blame evil. Take this time of isolation to learn something, a new instrument or language, reflect on your values and relationships.

 

 

And most importantly, wash your hands.

 

 

 

 

Cramming for finals

We live most of our lives feeling safe from the terrors of the world. If there were ever to be a problem, we would just roll with it and change the channel on television.

Life itself is the final examination. As I watch the panic around COVID19, I am amused by those not alarmed. COVID19 is a threat to old folks (like me) but younger people will experience nothing more than symptoms of a cold in most cases. This does not mean young people won’t be affected. Infrastructure is falling, all those work from home ideas that were too difficult to accommodate for disabled people are now being forced on all of us. Schools close not so much to protect the children attending, but to protect teachers and to inhibit the spread among children, almost all of whom have a parent or even a grandparent at home who would be at risk if they were exposed.

I watch the scroll of school closings on the bottom of the screen and wonder why they don’t just point out which schools are open. Every school in my county is closed, why list them individually? Philadelphia is resisting, even though many of their teachers are quarantined in Montgomery County; they claim the problem for students not receiving meals without daycare. Yes, you heard that right, The School District of Philadelphia has openly identified itself as “daycare.” Malls are closed, small businesses are closed, are these people being paid? Are we looking at a crises in thirty days when a large percentage of people cannot pay their monthly bills? As young people bemoan the weight of student loans, will the class of 2020 start off with bad credit? Some changes are going to have to take place, or an entire sector of the economy will fail.

I heard about my friend Sergey, he is lucid but unaware of the circumstances, very tired with another surgery scheduled for Monday. I can’t visit him, the hospital is closed to visitors. There are many ways to measure the impact of COVID19.

We are in crisis. Maybe the virus will not make you sick, maybe if it does it will be easy to survive, but the virus has affected you. Sports have simply been cancelled, and those contracts are being honored. All those people making less than forty thousand a year are not quite as comfortable. Those making twenty thousand are pretty much screwed. We’re talking about eighteen percent of wage earners. One in five people destitute. We thought we had a homeless problem before.

We are showing what is important to us. The same government which could not afford a healthcare for all bill because it was too expensive found one and a half trillion dollars to support the stock market. It worked for thirty minutes before dropping back to its fall. Thirty minutes. No point in crying over what could have been funded, just the knowledge that they can afford what they want to.

We are being tested. Put that in whatever frame of reference you want. The question of whether or not we as a species are graceful enough to vaccinate against diseases that are not likely to affect us directly was answered with what I consider a failing grade. Maybe COVID19 presents us with the question of “Do I care enough about other people to wash my hands and avoid contact?” The excuse of “It doesn’t affect me” has been re-framed. It affects all of us in one way or maybe many.

The callous declarations of youth should not be discarded, nor taken at face value. They are, after all not fully developed, and by that I mean to develop sensitivity to others, it helps to have a brain that is fully developed. In humans that happens around the twenty fifth year. They are a generation that has never fought for anything, that has no concept of struggle. Protesting for Marriage Equality may have been the most effort these people ever put into an issue, but I don’t recall any front line casualties in that fight. Life and Death have different meanings to people who have experienced them first hand.

The loss of one million Americans is a big deal. Anyone who acts like it is not should be quarantined from humanity. Diseases we normally feel take too many lives, take fewer than the projected mortality of COVID19. For perspective, only about three million people die in an average year. That is of all causes. The top two, Cancer and Heart disease, kill about one million people every year combined. An easy way of envisioning the factor of risk was posted by a friend the other day:

I keep seeing people, especially younger ones, say “most people that get it are fine, I’m not worried” or some variation of that. I get that we like to feel invincible. However, we’re not. There’s a reason for all this preparation, cancellation, so called “panic”.

To make the consequences of this virus more clear, I came up with an analogy in the form of a game. I’ve done my very best to base this game wholly on probable statistics as released by the WHO and CDC.

To start this game, we have to assume that you have contacted coronavirus.

Now, grab a two deck of cards. Remove the ace of spades from one deck and both aces of clubs. This leaves 101 cards. Each card is approximately equal to 1%.

You must draw one card.

If you are under 50 and healthy, if you draw the remaining Ace of spades, you must flip a coin. Heads you live, tails you die.

If you are under 50 and have heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, or respiratory disease draw one card. If you draw any of the 8 kings, you’re likely dead.

If you’re 50 to 70 years old and healthy, draw one card. If it is any of the five aces you’re likely dead.

One last group, though there are others. If you are over 70 and have any of the conditions listed earlier, draw one card. If that card is ANY Spade or ANY Club, you’re likely dead.

Here’s the worst part. Statistically, if you had to draw a card because you have coronavirus, you have to make 2 or 3 more people draw.

My mother is 75 and has asthma. My grandfather is 99. Hell, I’m 56 and am a smoker (about to try to quit) and just had major dental work.

You may survive the game, but tell me, which of your loved ones are you willing to make play?

I pretty much quit gambling in the nineties, I bet on a horse race in Australia that was being broadcast, my horse had a good twenty yard lead coming into the stretch. Feeling victorious, the jockey stood in the saddle, then promptly fell off the horse. That’s why the horse was fifteen to one, the horse was good but the jockey wasn’t.

We can look at this as a two week vacation in the wilderness, if we can afford two weeks with no incomeWe can look at this as a “hoax,” an overblown non-event, if we are at low risk. We can look at this as a dangerous pandemic which will touch each of us in some way, if we are compassionate about the losses of others. We can look at this as Death chasing us again, if we are at high risk. We all have one thing in common.

We have no choice, we have to look at this.


 

Warning shots

Quaint Jenkintown

 

There are some components of me that appear to be incongruous with each other.

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, even though I do not have the right to possess a firearm. I think everyone should own a firearm, because I believe everyone should understand firearm safety. When I did own firearms, they were for the most part kept unloaded in a safe; ammunition was in a locked container in another closet. “For the most part”, I did have a weapon available at all times. I do not now.

I am a life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). I support “common sense” gun laws when they actually reflect common sense. Just because gun confiscation sounds like common sense to you does not make it so. I support open carry, in the belief that an armed society is a polite society. Evolution takes place rapidly.

If you have ever seen the television program “The Goldbergs,” you’ve seen my neighborhood. I live in the town it is set in. Really, it is set in Jenkintown, referenced repeatedly, I live in Elkins Park, a few hundred yards away. Forty years later. I don’t expect to meet Ozzie and Harriet at the Wa Wa, but I certainly didn’t expect Archie Bunker. We have a community page on Facebook, people post experiences, the Chief of Police stops by occasionally with an alert or information. It sure feels like Mayberry.

The other day, a local resident reported to the group (no one else) that his dog woke him at 0500, and his “Black Belt” wife went downstairs to investigate. They found a young woman (20 years old, long brown hair, white, thin) sitting on their porch talking on her cell phone. The dog continued barking and jumped at the door, so the woman ran away.

I know what it is like to leave my door unlocked. I live in a high rise so I still do most of the time, I trust my neighbors. I would like to believe that people feel comfortable around me, safe. Apparently, that is not a common sentiment.

The overwhelming responses were of fear and defense. As if this wasn’t just a vulnerable stranger seeking refuge in the darkness but a sinister spy, casing the neighborhood. One woman bragged that she wouldn’t have that “problem,” she was getting her permit for Concealed Carry of a Weapon (CCW) and would shoot them. When asked by a neighbor why she would kill another human being for sitting on her porch, she replied “There is such a thing as a warning shot.”

Before I go any further, THERE IS NOT. There is no such thing as a warning shot, and in my attempt to remind her of the basic rules of firearm safety she said she didn’t need my “opinion.” I can only pray the background checks for her CCW are as vigorous as when I applied. Of all the characters I might expect to see, Annie Oakley was not on the list.

In a thread that included references to communist invasion, Annie was the scariest.

My support of the second amendment runs deep, I see it as the final check in our system of checks and balances. “Blah Blah do you think you can take on the Army?” As a matter of fact, yes. I am no longer allowed to keep weapons, but there should be some lying around from the naive making forward assaults, and I don’t believe the Army will be a formidable threat to its relatives and neighbors. I am a survivor (It’s in the title of the page), people expecting life to go back to normal, to just show up at their office the Monday after the “revolution” are likely to fare poorly.

Now that I know I have Annie Oakley to protect the neighborhood, I am not resting better. I understand why I am not allowed to possess a firearm, and concerned that she is (she may not be, there is no data). I had one little psychotic break, and have little memory of more than twenty four hours. During those hours I had access to what most civilians would refer to as an armory. When they confiscated my firearms, the police were impressed. Had I wanted to do damage, I was well prepared. There is an ever so remote chance I might have a second psychotic break. It’s not worth the risk, I should not have firearms. This does not mean that I automatically think no one else should, but owning a firearm is a responsibility. There is nothing funny about bravado rooted in calibre.

These events make it difficult to support safe firearm ownership. I am often embarrassed by activists on my own “side.” I am still annoyed by the poor arguments around the issue, both pro and con.

We live in a society in which even mentioning politics can result in physical violence. Religions are misunderstood by practitioners, sharing a message becomes impossible. Why? Because for decades mothers told their children “Don’t discuss politics or religion.” The familiarity with the subjects withered, but the gut reactions remained. “Pro-Life” activists assassinate doctors. The same can be said about firearms, they have become alien to the average American. Most people have no idea what to do with a firearm, so begging on common sense don’t. Even very small firearms, say the rim-fire .22 calibre, can be deadly. If you don’t understand that uncontrolled trajectories can result in wounds you could never made on purpose, don’t touch a firearm.

Even if (or maybe because) you are thoroughly anti-gun, teach your children gun safety. In doing so you will learn it yourself. You will know what to fear, and what not to fear. Knowledge is power. Fear (as Frank Herbert so beautifully observed), is the mind-killer.

Don’t be afraid.

Catering to illegal activities

 

I am so very pissed off right now. It appears everyone received a Medicinae Doctor in the mail, and mine never arrived.

Sure, I know the basic stuff, but the ability to diagnose without examination has been denied to me. I’m still maintaining my vaccinations and taking prescription medicine while the truly healthy folks are burning candles with the scent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina. Medicare doesn’t cover them.

Store shelves are vacant of supplies for washing hands. Good thing I developed the habit as a child, and always have soap and water on hand.

I had my routine checkup the other day and my doctor asked if I had any questions about the corona virus. My doctor, a man who knows everything about me, asked if I had any questions; I was a bit put off. “You know I only drink Belgian beers” I replied.

He had another patient, about my age, who chose never to have a flu shot. The patient was rather proud he never had contracted the flu. During his checkup he had a number of questions about the corona virus. The doctor had asked him “What if I told you there is a virus that came to America which has already killed twenty two thousand people, and I have a vaccine for it?” The patient was surprised, “You have a vaccine for corona virus? I thought that was years away.” The doctor said “No, corona virus has only killed twenty Americans, I have a vaccine for the deadly virus, also known as a flu shot.” The patient was not amused in any way, and refused the vaccination.

My girlfriend belongs to a “menopause discussion group,” in which women discuss their issues with the progression of menopause. People who describe symptoms which fit textbook profiles of a malady, are told to try peppermint oil rather than seeing a physician. One thing I remember from my neurologist when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis is that I should not automatically blame any problem on MS. I can still get cancer or tear a muscle.

When Emma had cancer, the well meaning M.D.s out there gave her a variety of alternative therapies to explore. As apposed to hospitals as she was, she embarked on a path of radiation and chemotherapy, followed by surgery, then more radiation and chemotherapy. To their credit, no one said “you should have consumed more asparagus juice” after she died, but one friend said “so she went through all that for nothing?” No, those therapies gave her an additional eight months, no one lives forever.

Recently Philadelphia has danced around the idea of “safe injection sites” for heroin addicts. It is amazing how much local residents understand about addiction. The first, and most common complaint is that by providing safe injection sites, the city is catering to illegal activities (the hardest criticism came from people who need opioids for their condition and are affected by DEA recommendations to reduce dosages; when I was looking into employment at DEA an M.D. was not required) . The missed point is that by using the word “addict,” we are not talking about recreational use. We are talking about people who fit the American Medical Association (AMA) definition of “diseased.” Heroin addiction is no different than Cancer, it is a disease.

Other arguments were about the center being near a school (find a place in Philly that isn’t). They did not seem to grasp that a safe injection site would result in fewer needles on the sidewalk, they would be used and destroyed at the site. As far as “catering” goes, it would very likely be the only exposure addicts would have to actual health professionals, folks who gained their knowledge through schooling as opposed to the grapevine. These professionals would be guiding the addicts towards treatment to end the addiction, and would notice signs of other diseases common to intravenous drug users. For some reason those against preferred dead junkies in the playground.

A theoretical rise in street crime was presented by these criminologists. In fact, the increased police presence around such a center would make the neighborhood safer. Drug dealers would be likely to stay a bit farther away. The natural surveillance of officers seeing who came and went would provide intel for apprehending criminals, with or without a formal surveillance program.

The center withdrew, to the neighborhood’s relief. There are no plans for another site, building in an area where addiction is rampant poses problems for the safety of staff and supplies. If only the folks in South Philly could recognize how rampant heroin abuse is in their own neighborhood already. The center would have prevented it from becoming more like the Kensington area.

I will be wearing gloves when I attend a rally in Harrisburg next month. I’m pretty sure that will be more effective than eucalyptus oil, but smearing myself with garlic would probably work. It’s natural acidity is a proven antibiotic, and folks stay a bit farther away.

Since even the president knows more than the medical profession, I can’t quite figure out why I pay, from my Social Security check, for Medicare. The incessant chant from the masses is “We know Better than Doctors, they’re trying to kill us.” Why are both my taxes and my bank account funding medical services? I have a hunch there might be something behind this “medicine” stuff, something they’re not telling us. They do go to special schools for this nonsense, it sounds like a conspiracy.

It is a conspiracy. Total strangers meet at a special schools, and take oaths in a foreign language, “Primum non nocere.” If people could just figure out what that means, they could stop suggesting fruit diets to those with cancer.

Binary society

 

I gave some thought to this title. I considered “Digital society,” but that does not really convey the meaning I’m looking for. We have moved to a digital society from an analog society in the sense that nuances are seldom considered, things either pass or fail the judgements that are placed on them; but the pass/fail barrier is reached through a binary process, components can only be a single digital response, one or zero. When I say binary I am not talking about the code, in which 1/2/3 is expressed as 1/10/11, I am speaking of the digital logic of yes or no.

If you are X then you are Y. Not a little X and not much Y, once X turns from zero to one, Y equals one.

If you are a Republican you are racist, greedy, selfish, uncaring (sometimes reduced to hateful), and hypocritical. Not one or a few of those, all of those. If you are a Democrat you are pro-choice, socialist (sometimes reduced to communist), bleeding heart, hedonist.

The point you might have missed in that paragraph is the very basis of the decision is rooted in the assumption there are only two choices. (Hidden shocker, THIS is why we will never have a viable “third party.”)

Humans, and Americans in particular, have difficulty considering alternatives; life becomes one all or nothing decision after another. As one of the most basic insights into the phenomena, consider the average number of limbs on a human.

You thought “four,” with the logic people are people, I’m average, I have four limbs. The actual number is 3.97. As your brain tries to consider the specifics about that 0.97 limb, you are distracted by the equations for the various combinations of limbs possible. That took a little more time than just stating “four,” efficiency is antithesis to creativity. That may sound ironic, as part of my tours for a winery, I would compare efficiency to “lazy,” the easiest way to accomplish one’s goals. When a life goal is taking a selfie, efficiency is lacking in merit.

The origin of my thoughts today was an exchange on social media between a reader and a journalist whose career mirrored newspapers. In the reader’s defenses to her blatant radical sexism, she stated “Women are an enormous majority, I don’t understand how anyone can be anti-woman.” Now let me list the order in which the errors in that statement affected me.

First, I know that percentage is close to fifty (the actual number is 50.8). Second, I realized if there were more than two possibilities, 50.8 percent could be interpreted as “enormous.” Third, I realized mentioning that there are more than two possibilities would derail the conversation, the subject would become sexuality. Fourth, is anyone actually “anti-woman”? This sequence took less than one second.

I’m pretty sure, even with every possible variation, 50.8 percent can not be judged as enormous. Transgender people and various genetic deformations may create dozens of possible demographics. Sure, there are far more “women” than “intersex” people, but the default position is there are two possibilities, a trans woman is a woman, a trans man is a man. This of course blossomed into sexual orientations, and all the infinite ways we restrict a spectrum to a binary issue.

I grew up monogamous. As far as I knew, the alternative was toxic, destructive to participant’s souls. In being a faithful husband, I was betrayed. For revenge I betrayed my next wife. Neither time did I feel clean, I felt degraded, objectified. My third wife was perfect, life was perfect, then she died and I knew perfection existed, and was not restricted; I could love again. Somewhere a group of women gathered under the old moon to take their turns building me up and then cutting me off at the knees. Then I met a woman who was polyamorous.

Two old straight folk on the streets of NYC


Polyamory was a third choice, not binary. It helped me in seeing how many choices there are out there. I had always been bisexual, and I met the most incredible bisexual polyamorous woman in the world. The fact that when we went out, we looked like a straight couple was not lost on us. We were both bisexual and understood things are not always as they appear. So now we live in very cozily in a relationship that appears to be “monogamous” and “straight”. That’s not three choices, that’s like twenty seven.

American society only supports two choices. Give them three and you will be denigrated, give them twenty seven and you can be excommunicated.

Deep inside I believe Homo Sapiens is in the process of evolution. In the same sense I can separate the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus, I can separate the Binary human from the Spectral Human. Often the trait is not acknowledged, it may not effect the involved individual in any way they notice. One easy way to see from the outside is to observe their beliefs. How many positions are black and white, and how many are grey? If you are a spectral, you will be able to see where on the spectrum they are, depending of course where on the spectrum you are.

I rejected much of this thinking in my youth, feeling comfort in black and white. I didn’t have to think, leaving my mind clear for other pursuits. The efficiency of the growth process later yielded to a comfort in multiple dimensions, up/down, left/right, forward/backward, color, volume, tone, and infinite measurements.

I am not suggesting that anyone try to change who they are. It does not work, as evidenced by hundreds of “conversion therapy” clinics. You can stretch your mind no further than it is capable, there may only be four lights, you see what you see.

 

There are certainly more than two


The question might be, “What color are they?”

 

That isn’t what I said

“it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”?

 

I make every attempt to be honest on this blog. I allow any comments which do not contain messages of hate, and never edit anyone’s words. The few edits I have made other than spelling in my own words is noted, and typically accredited. Maybe because I know that once it’s on the internet, it’s forever. Kind of like a tattoo.

I was astounded back in the nineties when Clinton denied saying things which had been preserved on tape, and when Obama “walked back” from statements he had made to the press.

But the most unreal thing I have seen in the world of communication is the deletion of tweets (twits). This takes place in other forms of social media, but the twitterverse is just too funny. I checked, I have an account, and I just could not figure out how you can make a Freudian twit; or how you can say something that is instantly seen by millions and think deleting it will be seen as anything other than your shame for being an idiot.

My personal guide has always been “Don’t publish any remark that you would not want engraved on the Washington Monument.” No one has tried to engrave any of my remarks, but you never know. . .

As much as we like to believe no one is listening, someone always is. At least one in four homes actually paid to have a wiretap. How much has changed since I was repairing a printer for The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and was asked if I was tapping their phones. They were such a sweet old paranoid bunch. Today they probably all carry cell phones, their every movement tracked. Janice was on a conversation thread on Facebook and said “Gen Xers don’t use Snapchat.” This morning she had an email from Snapchat.

The desire to change the public record is just as obnoxious as censorship. Changing a statement because it contains an offensive word is not in the same league as finding a typo. I suggest the proper way to change a word should be to strike it and leave it in place, i.e. “Censorship sucks is really nice.” The original intent remains to be considered.

Deletions have been so common that there are websites which publish only deleted tweets. This has been going on so long you would think people would be aware of the futility of self censorship. That of course is the important part of the equation. They don’t think. They do not think when they twit, and then do not think when they delete. Enough instances can make you believe they have never thought at all.

“Drunken Twits,” emotions bared under the influence of alcohol, are curious. The twitter was too intoxicated to know it was the wrong thing to say, yet managed to avoid any spelling or grammatical errors in a complex racist attack.

I never cared for the twitterverse in the first place, when a friend introduced it as the font of all knowledge I knew better. Group decisions are indeed better than those made by an individual in certain applications; but the studies which indicate that trend refer to groups of people experienced in the topic considered, not random keyboard warriors in the twitterverse. When someone makes that argument they are revealing their lack of knowledge; believing the title of a study is equal to the conclusion and that it applies to all applications.

Self censorship has always existed, politics is full of “misspoken” episodes. I would much rather a person acknowledge what they said (or twitted or whatever), clearly state what was wrong with it, and what they “meant,” precisely, when they said it. “You know what I mean” is no excuse for poor communication skills.

We have become so involved in “making words our own” that not everyone knows what we’re saying. I understand misunderstood words, that the statement meant something completely different than it was interpreted. When a word is misinterpreted, so is the meaning. I’m not sure why, but I usually know precisely what someone means. Maybe my insight into languages makes me more aware of non verbal cues and inflection. Emma was so mono-cultured that she could not understand the words on Monty Python. My last wife could not understand Flemish in the dialect of her father, who was from Bree, she grew up in Kessel-lo. (Flemish has eleven distinct dialects; fewer than seven million people speak the “language,” which is actually a dialect of Dutch.)

Misunderstandings should be understandable, yet I frequently see bitter arguments rooted in semantic differences. In these instances, seeing the crossed out word makes it clear it wasn’t an intentional (or in the example; it was) “mistake.” When Mike Bloomberg feigns bewilderment about a sexual harassment suit with “I don’t know, maybe she didn’t like a joke I told” you know he knows precisely what was said and he’s trying to defend his language. I think he would have been more effective had he said “Sure, I said ‘How do you get a one armed blond out of a tree?’ when she broke her arm.” If he then gives the punch line (You wave to her) he didn’t understand the point of the suit.

It is normal to misspeak. To deny that the words were offensive means you don’t understand the offense. To explain that it was not meant as a personal offense means you lack a filter. To deny you said the words means you are an asshole.

It is often said that generations who wouldn’t talk about politics or religion has resulted in a generation that doesn’t understand religion or politics. We all do better when everyone makes an effort to be understood.

Otherwise it is only intentional obfuscation.

Dow Jones is a unicorn

The Dow Jones average, which some people use as a measure of economic health, is a make believe number, It represents the value of a number of stocks if you sold them when the measurement was taken; by the time you read it, it has changed. Stock values are much like the prices of the paintings in my house, they are worth whatever someone will pay.

Is this 3’X4′ painting worth $40,000? The artist offered that just to get it off the market in 1982

In the big crash of 2002, everyone was talking about how much they lost (I actually gained 0.01). Those people retired ten years later and had not lost a thing. It had almost doubled its closing price of 2002, increasing over two thousand points. Over the last three sessions, it has dropped three thousand six hundred ninety two points, almost equal to the entire index in 2012. But the closing price is in the range of twenty five thousand now, large sweeps are actually small when looked at as a percentage.

The first Dow Jones average, of 26 May 1896, was 40.95. By 1929 it had gown to a high of 381 following several years of “bull” markets. With the Great Depression outside the window, someone had the foresight that the values were inflated and took a step back in October. Panic ensued as the market dropped 23% to 299 points. To match that drop today the market would have to fall over five thousand points in one day.

This fall is being blamed on COVID19, the corona virus. In response, the president formed a task force consisting of the Vice President, who thought the cure for AIDS was prayer and that smoking wasn’t dangerous, and the secretary of the treasury. Because the President of the United States knows what is important to the people. A healthy stock market. I would have chosen someone with a medical background to head the task force, but those voices have been muted, requiring clearance from the Vice President before making any statements which contradict the official line. But the Secretary of Commerce says the virus could bring jobs to America. There must be a shortage of undertakers. As the president does not believe the virus is a problem (In contrast to every other medical authority), he failed to provide the most important precaution; wash your hands.

Sorry for the detour, the point was that the stock market, and the Dow Jones Average, is a confidence game. When investors lose confidence, the market drops. A company that is growing can see its stock price fall if the CEO makes an unpopular remark, or because its name is similar to a virus. Corona Beer is down 4% this week.

The stock market remains a good investment, it always rises; except when it doesn’t. Long term investments are safe, unless that term ends during a crash. Short term investments, day trading for example, exists for the enrichment of those who can see those odd remarks and play with the effect they have. For the majority of us who don’t spend our lives reading the Financial Times, those little daily jumps up and down can seem disastrous.

I took a few days off and the average has bounced back. The money “lost” was by people who sold short, those who bought at the low point got some real steals. Those that just sat back and watched neither “won” or “lost,” they just stayed in the game.

In conclusion, the Dow Jones is meaningless, the average of make believe numbers. Don’t let it affect your blood pressure. Just wash your hands.

The Fairness of Life

Dr. Sergey Ryabichko, Helena Demkina and myself at Havana in New Hope



I haven’t written in about a week, my depression has been kicking in due to some triggers I have chosen to embrace. I started a few articles and may finish them, but something just hasn’t been right.

This morning, I woke up early to take Janice for an MRI. There was a message on my phone from a friend, who acts as a medium between me and my last girlfriend, Sam. I had only thought I was depressed.

My dear friends, Helena Demkina and her husband Dr. Sergey Ryabichko had been in an automobile accident. Helena had died from massive head injuries, Sergey was still in surgery.

The wedding Party, from left; Blake Cash, Samantha Carroll, Helena Denkino, Sergey Ryabichko, Yuri, and Amina



Right after my brain injury, Sergey and Helena had come to live with me. I had a large home and rented a room to them as Sergey completed his doctorate at Princeton University as a geneticist. They had arranged to rent the room while they were still in Russia, they arrived late in the evening straight from the airport. I had been renting out an extra room for a while, after the brain injury I needed to rent another room, which Sam and I prepared. I painted the walls with a disfigured arm; I know I did it, I have broken memories of it, I just can’t figure out how I did it without the use of my right arm.

They were a lovely young couple, after a few weeks they admitted they were not married. It was about that time I got Helena’s name right, with her accent I had thought it was “Eliana.” They were both slight of build, and very gentle in their ways. Sam and I fell in love with them, they were angelic, always smiling, their love for each other brightening the room. Part of my injury had been my loss of fluency in language, although I was still writing articles in English I don’t recall how I managed to complete them. Sam has told me I spent a week or so immediately following my accident speaking Flemish exclusively, now I struggle with all languages and am not entirely confident with English. I had asked my brain surgeon what I could expect to come back to me, and how to improve my chances. She told me to practice speaking with natives, and I had no idea how I would ever find natives with whom to practice. In that first year I had one tenant from Iran who spoke Farsi, two from France, Sergey and Helena, a Japanese and a Korean. I didn’t speak Japanese or Korean, but I wasn’t sure. It was a lovely time of remembering who I was.  

 

Gifts from Russia


Sam was familiar with a couple of Russian grocery stores in Philadelphia to which we brought Helena. She was excited from the moment we pulled into the parking lot and she saw the Cyrillic writing on the store. She would put her wrists together and clap her hands, laughing with joy. We came home with everything she was missing from home, and quite a few of mine and Sam’s favorites. They took a trip home at one point and returned with some incredible wheat vodka, or paint remover, it was hard to tell; it was one hundered and eighty proof I believe.

Sergey was working intense hours at the laboratory, often traveling when there was no public transportation; walking the mile and a half through the snow. The timing of his cultures was precise; he was immensely dedicated, making sure he was there for each process. Helena took an English course during the days, and would sleep on a schedule to match Sergey.

When the officiant finished, a nervous and wide eyed Helena said “Can we kiss now?”



In the Summer, they were married in my yard. Sam and I found an officiant and two of their Russian friends came for the ceremony. At the end of their lease they went home to Russia, then returned to Princeton a few months later to complete Sergey’s studies. They rented in another home, but still kept in touch and dropped by a couple of times. We would pick them up and take them to dinner and other events; one time we met one of Sam’s other boyfriends in New Hope, they made no judgements.

 

My original caption in 2016, “A glimpse of the sparkle that makes Helena so wonderful to live with”


Helena spoke about how Sergey had taught her to drive in Russia, but she wasn’t very interested in driving in the States. The last time I saw them they had purchased a car and had Driver’s licenses in New Jersey. Those thoughts swirl in my head now, wondering what happened. I have managed to survive about every type of wreck imaginable in my life, the thoughts of Helena’s last moments brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think I ever saw her express so much as discomfort, I can’t picture her in an accident. She had some severe stomach issues when she lived with us, the only way we knew was that Sergey told us, and we took her to the hospital, still smiling.

 

Our last meal together, celebrating Sergey’s doctorate and National Tequila day


The last I heard from them they had returned from another trip home to Russia, and even though we hadn’t spoken in almost a year they had a gift for me, a mink ushanka, from the Soviet era.





I invited them to join Janice and me at Havana in New Hope last summer; my friends had put together an Electric Light Orchestra tribute show; but at the last minute they called to say they couldn’t make it.

The first thing Janice said to me this morning, as she noticed I was reacting with sadness, was “Life isn’t fair.” Life is infinitely fair, fractally fair, as you break it down it is made of units of fairness. The ups and downs of life choose us all with equal fairness, sorry for going Biblical but Matthew 5:45 says it all. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” I know these things, but when I say “It can happen to anybody” I never think that my friends and loved ones are “anybody,” I am “anybody.”

Helena in New Hope, “That’s the most gigantic salad I’ve ever seen!”



I have lost friends and loved ones before, for some reason I find myself crying as I write. I have only felt this way once before, as I wrote of Emma’s life.

A friend said to me “May her memory forever be a blessing,” those words have never felt so meaningful. I am forever blessed with her memory, the world isn’t quite as bright without her. I’ve been searching for information about Sergey’s condition, when I have it I will add it here.

I have news on Sergey, it’s been a week since the accident, and he’s conscious and lucid. He has not asked about Helena, and they’re waiting until he is a little more stable to tell him. I’m planning to visit him in the hospital next week. UPDATE Due to COV19, the hospital will be closed to visitors as of tomorrow (13/3/20) so I will not be able to see Sergey until the mass quarantine has been lifted.

Additional update. Sergey sent a message to me on 30 March. He sounded in good spirits, and was aware of Helena’s fate. He had good news, her organs saved seven lives. Now we have to get through quarantine.

Update 26 May 2020: Sergey is home, says he still has surgeries ahead but they are elective, which I take means cosmetic. He is COVID19 positive, but has no symptoms.

Age of majority

Social drinking is allowed

There are a variety of opinions about the age of majority. It is the age at which you are no longer a minor, and a part of the majority of the population. That is a relatively “ageist” concept, any age below fifty would qualify by that definition. The importance of the age of majority is that it is when you are considered an adult, so it seems a bit odd to some folks that we have at least two different ages of majority recognized in America.

At eighteen you can sign a contract, buy a rifle, vote, and enlist in the military. You can’t buy tobacco products, alcohol, or a handgun until you are twenty one. The age at which you can marry depends on the state you live in, and the age at which your brain is fully developed is generally recognized as twenty five; which is also the age to which you may remain on your parent’s health insurance. Perhaps you can see the disparities here.

Arguments continue over what age constitutes being a child, such as when it is appropriate to charge a person with a crime as an adult; i.e. an eleven year old who premeditates murder. Depending on one’s point of view, an eighteen year old can be a man if he is committing a crime, or a child if he is the victim.

Conflicts are natural. When I was younger the voting age was twenty one. The age to enlist in the military (as well as to register for the draft)  was eighteen. The argument to alter the voting age was “If they’re old enough to fight in war, they should be allowed to vote on the positions that send them to war.” It was a reasonable argument, so rather than raise the age to enlist to twenty one in the midst of the Vietnam war, the voting age was lowered to eighteen. The war ended, but people who are seven years away from brain maturity are still allowed to choose national leaders. I haven’t seen any improvement in the choices made.

Ruger LCP .380 MSRP $349.00

The other day, I heard a similar argument. The state of Kentucky is considering a bill that would allow eighteen year olds to purchase handguns. “If they’re old enough to go to war, why can’t they have handguns?” was the argument from many gun owners and veterans I spoke with. There is an incredible difference between an M16 and a .380 pistol, and as far as I can remember, there was zero handgun training when I was in the military. The people who complain when anti constitution people argue without knowing the subject were doing the same.

Ruger AR15, MSRP $799.00

 

The age to buy a handgun was raised in 1968, as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 with the stated purpose of eliminating “Saturday Night Specials;” cheap pistols one could pick up without any background check. Anti-constitution people routinely confuse the AR15, the most common hunting rifle in America, with the M16, a fully automatic weapon of war.

 

An actual M16, sale price $31,399 plus licensing fees, assuming they are allowed in your state

 

If the bill in Kentucky should pass, an eighteen year old who could pass a background check and come up with about $500 for the pistol, ammunition, and a little time on the range could have a handgun. Cheaper guns are available, I received a .380 free when I joined a private shooting range in the 80s. The argument that they could be “sent off to war” is blatantly false, the first argument is that there is no draft, the military is a volunteer service. In addition, joining the military is not at all common. Seventy one percent of young people are ineligible for service, recruiters are missing goals, and the percentage of young people in the military is far below what many people believe it to be. Sharing this information with rabid gun rights enthusiasts resulted in replies suggesting I am on drugs.

What we, as a society, need to recognize is that age alone is not an indicator of maturity. I have known intellectually and emotionally mature teenagers, as well as immature and reckless grandparents. Our measure of maturity should not be based on our lives, we matured long ago. The world today is different, and it changes every minute. That is what we are supposed to have learned through our years of exposure.

Whatever ability, or “right,” is restricted by age may have millions of different reasons for the restriction; ranging from logical to ridiculous. The most logical path to me has to do with brain maturity, an easily measured arbitrator. Of course it does not apply to some people, nothing applies to one hundred percent of the population. Making the age of majority twenty five would be very inconvenient for most of America, but it would certainly be the safest route. Any age restriction assumes the tacit agreement that the years of restriction include education about the subject restricted. And that is where we as a society fail.

“Hot Topics” are avoided, resulting in shouting matches rather than informed discussion. Religion and Politics are more confused today than they were in my childhood, largely because they don’t get discussed. Even people who feel they understand a topic can be horribly misinformed. I strongly support the Constitution, and routinely find myself in arguments with people who claim to be on my side of the issue. One example is the legislation in Kentucky, held within a pro gun group. I was the only person against the legislation out of nearly four hundred responses. It hurts to realize that I am dissonant in an echo chamber made up of people I thought were like me. It makes me feel like the people I defend are not worthy of my efforts, they really are “gun nuts.”

The age of majority should be synonymous with the age of reason, but there is no way such a concept could be legislated. The majority is unreasonable.

 

 

Standards

 

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

 

 

I have been presented with a number of issues relating to the welfare of others. Universally I can see how American citizens are better off than most other populations. We have one right, secured from our government in its first documents. We have the right to complain.

Free speech does not imply educated speech, which in many ways is the point of our first amendment to the constitution. There are no standards, anyone can speak. It is our individual responsibility to discern truth from opinion. It remains our responsibility to determine the value of various opinions. For the most part, humans lean towards the definition of the borderline personality (severe leanings result in the label of “Borderline Personality Disorder”); thinking in a “digital” manner, black or white, good or bad, etc. Another faction of people understand that there is a grey area, yet that often leads them to believe that only three positions exist, black, white, and grey.

In my days as a photographer, I preferred studies of grey. Colors are often disputed, what I call purple you may call pink, yet the color of the object doesn’t change. The cones in your eye may produce a different sensation than mine, but the actual color remains the same regardless of the name we give to it. It does not have to be a matter of perception, we may have learned the names of colors from different teachers. Grey is not quite as easy. Grey is standardized, named by its reflection of light. Eighteen percent grey is referred to as “medium grey,” it is a photographic standard. It may be the shade that comes to mind when you hear the word “grey,” or anything that is neither black nor white.

A grey scale, drawn with pencils by my friend Vince Natale

 

Colors, including grey, give us visual standards. Words are radically different. Combinations of words are far more complex than combining colors, yet the same style of logic, “Black or White,” is applied. Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Love or Hate, are all things we recognize as opposites, but should also recognize as spectra. Adding to the confusion is the popularity of creating new words, or new definitions of old words, the exact same script can mean different things to different people. The fact that a sense of humor is subjective causes even more confusion.

What is a joke? Is it funny (and again to whom?), is it satire (with what intention?), is it merely camouflage for hatred? Far too many times I have heard what I interpreted as an attack excused as “I was only joking.” I just can not find demeaning other human beings as anything resembling a joke. For my black and white contribution, forgiving hatred as a joke is merely expressing the same hatred yourself.

Our world is not black or white. There is good within bad things and bad within good. Much of the interpretation revolves around who is benefiting, and who is being persecuted. The love of my life was connected to the Mafia. She did not see the Mafia as “good guys,” but she did see them as acceptable. She began to see the level of conflict when one of our dear friends, a Lebanese woman who filled a maternal role in our lives, suggested that Hezbollah was a good organization, “just like the Mafia, helping out poor people.” Emma could see the parallels being drawn, she heard her own excuses for “her people” being used by our friend for her people. Emma was a very black or white thinker, she cut most of her ties to the Mafia. When the issue came up at family gatherings she would not participate.

In my experiences in the LGBTQ world, I am a Bisexual. the word “bisexual” gives the immediate impression of the root “bi,” or “two.” These days, such a definition is seen as restrictive, offensive to those not covered by the historic definitions of sex. These people (Pansexuals) believe that because they do not feel restricted to only two sexes, people who are bisexual are separate, lesser for their restrictions. Before I go any further, let me explain how wrong the belief is. The history of the LGBTQ population did not start in 1979, but that is when it became more acceptable to speak about it. By 1990, the presence of those of us who are not strictly attracted to one sex was recognized. The world is not populated by people who are heterosexual and homosexual, the spectrum includes many variations. Some homosexuals are only attracted to members of their own sex, some are not. The term “bisexual” was adopted by these outsiders and expressed in The Bisexual Manifesto. Within that document, is the conclusion “Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality.” The Pansexuals have made assumptions. Also within that document of thirty years ago is “Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. . . don’t assume that there are only two genders.” Personally, I prefer the label “Queer;” everyone can understand that word means “different.” To me, the issue of bisexuality v pansexuality is an extension of every other prejudice; assuming another group is inferior. There is no difference between these two groups, other than the egos involved.

When we look at immigrants, almost everyone imposes their own prejudices. Mine is fairly simple and straightforward, derived largely from my own sponsorship of an alien. She didn’t like the word “alien,” saying it wasn’t used in other countries. She had learned English in England, where “buitenaards” was translated to her as “Foreigner.” Other dictionaries translate it to the word “alien.” She was a white person from Northern Europe, her naturalization did not take long.  At her swearing in ceremony there were new Americans from all over the globe, one had been in America for thirty years; that does not mean she had waited thirty years to get through immigration. I had a German roommate at one time who had been in America for thirty years and had no desire to become an American.

I see a legal path to citizenship, and people not willing to undergo the process. Failing to follow the legal path is illegal, therefore those people are illegal immigrants. There are many sad stories told about illegal immigrants, some of them are true. Many of the people attempting to immigrate are well educated, the majority is not. Facing the hurdle of the Department of Homeland Security (which now handles Immigration) can be difficult for someone who cannot write in their own language. There are thousands of reasons people choose to illegally immigrate, but it is still a choice, a decision. So I do not have immediate sympathy for people unwilling to follow the legal path. Does that make me “bad,” or “heartless”? I am somewhere on the spectrum, and probably the worst judge of my self.

As we progress through this election cycle, you will hear many judgements. Consider that an exceptionally small percentage of the people making these judgements are qualified in any way to do so. Is the person saying that Biden is senile a doctor? Is the person saying that Sanders is crazy a psychiatrist? The list is endless. As the Dutch political poster above says, believe no poster, inform yourself. Use your standards, not someone else’s description of their standards. Their grey may be your purple.

 

 

 

Proper sentencing

Justice delayed is justice denied, but what exactly is justice?

Our judgemental society demands justice on a regular basis, largely because most people do not feel that justice has occurred. In addition, they do not truly wish for justice, they want revenge. It helps to understand the meaning of the word “Justice.”

Our old friend Merriam Webster defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Simply put, justice is a process, not a result. People crying for justice most often want punishment, and most of the time they want a punishment which they define as “just.”

Donald Trump received justice in the form of an impeachment. He was found not guilty by a jury of his friends, which may not appear “just.” Had he been found guilty, there are many punishments which do not include being removed from office, and require that the defendant possess a conscience, one that includes the quality of shame. In truth, had he been found guilty and not removed from office, how many would feel that “justice had been served”? How many would be satisfied if he was censured?

Punishment largely depends on the person being punished. My partner tells the story of the worst punishment she ever delivered to her five year old daughter. She made her place her life size Barbie in the “time out” corner. Her daughter was horrified and behaved well for the following ten years. At one point I was incarcerated, and faced what could have been a substantial portion of my life behind bars. Perhaps because I am an optimist, I was not horrified by the prospect. I intended to write in my solitude, perhaps drawing inspirations from my fellow inmates. A suicidal person may not be deterred by a death sentence. At what point is the punishment of a life sentence recognized by the prisoner? On the first or last moment?

Life in prison is largely thought to be the most severe punishment. People tend to look at prison as an awful environment, a daily punishment. Many prisoners do not share that view. In my short time behind bars I saw the new prisoners arrive every day, and it was more like a reunion. Recidivism was the norm, everyone knew each other. This was not always a good thing, my cellmate recognized someone who had threatened him with violence previously.

Length of sentence is a factor, not because of the days inside, but because of the world outside. The common prisoner is not well educated or skilled, on release they may not be able to qualify for employment in a world that passed them by. They may not be able to function with the level of technology we take for granted. They may have lost loved ones, who continued their lives and became involved in other relationships; or children who aged, denying the prisoner their childhood. In determining length of sentence, much more should be considered than just the crime. A twenty year old sentenced to thirty years has had their life removed. A seventy year old sentenced to ten years may have well been sentenced to life. A life sentence does not necessarily mean death in prison.

The proper sentence for someone who has caused a death is often believed to be the death penalty. This is more “eye for an eye” than practical punishment. Those against the death sentence suggest life imprisonment, with the belief the prisoner will feel the guilt of their offense for the remainder of their life. If they feel no guilt they at least have the punishment of being removed from society. Today, a death sentence is unlikely to result in death, and the life sentence leaves many believing they will be released, either because of societal changes or appeals.

We form punishments based on what we fear, not what the criminal fears.

Harvey Weinstein was just found guilty in two of the five crimes he was accused of. He has lived under accusal for over two years, once charged he was allowed freedom with restrictions such as an ankle monitor. During this time, he has been removed from his company and watched it face bankruptcy. He has been unable to work, and with any luck unable to sexually violate other women. He wasn’t the picture of health to begin with, although I believe his apparent “disabilities” were falsified in the interest of leniency by the court. The man who once said “You’ll never work in this town again” will more than likely never work in that town again.

What would be a just punishment? Regardless of the comfort of his prison, it will never come close to his mansions. He will eternally carry the label of “Rapist,” although that has not slowed Roman Polanski much. With minimum sentences he will be in his mid seventies when he is released, assuming his health does not fail. His life, from what we see as his point of view, is destroyed, but is that enough? What if he’s an optimist?

Friedrich Nietzsche warned of the inherent dangers of prosecution, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The truth within this is most often denied, which he also spoke of, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

Finding the proper punishment requires understanding the monster who is being punished. We consider these people noble because they have not become monsters themselves. Yet when they do not mete out the punishment we desire, we consider them monsters.

We all peer into the abyss, the result is most often known only by ourselves.

Resistance

 

On 18 February, a young Lutheran woman (Sophie, 21) and her brother (Hans, 24) were distributing pamphlets at the university they attended. It was night, so they were just leaving stacks of pamphlets in the hallway. Although Sophie had initially been a party enthusiast, restrictions on her freedom, such as being forced to teach kindergarten in order to be admitted to the university so she could study biology, caused her to speak against the party and the socialist government it had formed. A janitor saw them and called the police, who came and arrested them.

Like any activists, they had wanted their group to appear large and spoke of their movement as popular. Two others from their group had also been arrested. They were seen as enemies of the state and were questioned for four days, culminating with their trial, for which a special judge had been sent from the capital. They were found guilty of treason. They bravely faced their fate, Sophie saying “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” After their trial, they were allowed to see their parents. Sophie smiled stoically, not showing any fear. Their mother offered Sophie some candy, which she accepted saying “Gladly, after all, I haven’t had any lunch!” Magdalena Scholl, told Sophie to “Remember Jesus” as she left.

Later that day, they accepted their sentences. Death by guillotine. Seventy seven years ago today.

The party which they had been protesting was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also referred to by it’s acronym, NAZI . The woman was Sophie Scholl. Their resistance group was called “The White Rose.” Over the following year several other members of their group met the same fate, for the crime of nonviolent resistance, writing and distributing pamphlets.

Today, I and millions of others wear a white rose (that’s mine above), as a remembrance Of Sophie and nonviolent resistance.  We resist different things, but we do so without violence. In my lifetime, I have been in several resistance movements, starting with the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Dr. King was assassinated fifty two years ago. While violence has been used in pursuit of my various goals, it has been a last resort. As one of my colleagues said in the eighties, the conversation is over when you start shooting.

Champions of peace and nonviolence rarely die in their sleep. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden when he was assassinated at age 78. He had been accepting of Muslims and was blamed for their violence.  John Winston Ono Lennon was assassinated as he returned home by a madman who wanted to be famous.  Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by South African police by way of twenty eight days of beatings.

Nonviolence is routinely met with violence, a sad irony. Most people picture “resistance” as the French resistance of World War Two, romanticized by Earnest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Little is said about places like the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which successful disguised the presence of five thousand refugees.

Hermine “Miep” Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide a fifteen year old Anne Frank until betrayed by a neighbor, is not often recalled as a member of the resistance. Nonviolent resistance is quiet, acts of violence grab the headlines. The millions of LGBTQ+ people who have led successful lives under the radar are seldom thought of as a resistance members, because they resist the accepted norms of society by merely existing; when they are discovered they routinely pay with their lives, or at very least their social standing and vocation.

Most everyone has heard of “Pride” without recognizing its origin. The LGBTQ+ Pride movement originated in New York City, springing from the ashes of days of riots. Today millions gather for Pride events, proud they can be who they are without being victimized, seldom recognizing the brutality of the straight factions their forebears encountered. Today calling a trans woman “just a man in a dress” is seen as bigotry, when in my youth it would have been seen as victorious recognition, the alternative being death by beating.

Sophie Scholl was not the first person to resist tyranny, nor the last flame of an old idea. People have been resisting since Abel displayed his faith before his brother, who killed him with a rock. People continue to resist tyranny today all over the world. Resisting the President of the United States by revealing illegal behavior was met by an insistence to know the resister’s identity. No one thinks the President was going to shake his hand; that tyrant consistently destroys anyone who opposes him, calling for violence from his supporters or worse from foriegn governments.

Resist, even if it is only by your life continuing under oppression.

 

S

Evolution

Most people accept the theory of evolution to be true. It can be seen in many species, in some cases documented in progress. It is often used as the definition of belief in science; lack of “belief” in evolution is often a pejorative for poor education, or in attacks on fundamentalist Christians. I get that one, there is nothing in the Bible that is inconsistent with evolution. Why fundamentalists deny it does indeed point to a failure of education.

I am often confused as to why anyone would fight the actual process of evolution, and I see daily examples.

In case you don’t understand the process of evolution, organisms with beneficial genes survive to reproduce, those with detrimental genes do not. Often, detrimental genes do not prohibit reproduction; a gene which shortens life to thirty years could very easily be passed on by an organism which reproduces at age twenty.

Amy Schumer, who may or may not be a comedian depending on your sense of humor, recently spoke of her experience with In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF). Doctors were able to retrieve thirty five eggs from her, of which twenty eight fertilized. Of those, only one was viable. On average, about fifty percent of fertilized eggs result in viable embryos; it appears nature did not want Ms. Schumer to reproduce, but she wasn’t interested in Nature’s opinion.

Science is a province of exploration, we often find ways to do things which are more harmful than helpful. A great example is nuclear weapons. Just because we can does not mean we should. If one’s genetic makeup causes infertility, why would one wish to pass those genes on to another generation?

There are certainly instances in which infertility is not caused by undesirable genes, or are there? When someone has cancer, and treatment makes them infertile, do we really want to spread a genetic chain which is susceptible to cancer? If someone is infertile due to their behavior, do we want the genes which caused that behavior passed on to our grandchildren’s world?

The Darwin Awards, so named because the participants have improved the human genome by removing themselves from it, are a humorous recognition of stupid fatal behavior. Unfortunately, most of the participants have already reproduced.  Not everything is caused by genetics, but I strongly believe that common sense is an inherited trait.

Medicine, in general, is a fight against genetics. Long after I had produced four children, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There is no identified genetic link to MS, so it is unlikely I passed it on to my children. Other traits linked to genetics are frequently modified, starting with plastic surgery and continuing through geriatrics, in which we attempt to prolong life. An increasing amount of pediatric medicine is designed to allow genetically disadvantaged (depending on your definition, in this case I include Ms. Schumer) humans a long enough life to allow them to reproduce. Should we do that? I know it sounds cold and heartless, but condemning the offspring of genetically disadvantaged people to a lifetime filled with pain and disability is colder.

When I use the word “should,” I am not speaking of the moral issues involved; we all have different moral compasses. I am speaking of the impact such decisions have on our species. With our current inability to efficiently distribute resources such as energy, medicine, and food, does it make sense to further burden humanity?  I am not suggesting a Communist mindset, but what we are doing is abusing our resources. A wealthy person has a child for which they can afford to provide the medical resources required, but in doing so they consume the time and resources of the medical system which might be used to improve the lives of many productive members of society.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens is mildly arrogant in its assumption this planet was made exclusively for us, and foolish to believe that once we are gone, the planet has no future. Did Homo neanderthalensis consider the same? Something I found while researching this article is that one suggested cause of the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis is Climate Change. Life continued through evolution, adapting to the new environment. Our current Climate Crises will be survived through evolution as well.

We are aiming for a future of darkness. Infrastructure will fail, sources of energy will become increasingly difficult to sustain; an agrarian society, without electricity or medical technology, is a very possible future. Homo Sapiens Sapiens has developed too many weaknesses to survive radical change. By weakening our genome, we are developing the modern “Neanderthals”, while the future “Cro-Magnons” walk among us. Homo Evolutis will look back at our errors without the benefit of the internet. We are rapidly depleting our storage of information in non-digital form, books are no longer preserved. The age of narcissism has dawned.

Future archeologists may decode what we leave behind, will we appear to them as the progeny of ancient Rome, partying our way to extinction? I have heard before that porcelain does not biodegrade, will they only know us by our toilets?

I just hope we do not damage our hope for evolution by damaging the gene pool. It’s in bad enough shape right now.

Conflicting interests

I am pro-life, and also pro-choice. You may ask “How can you reconcile those two positions?” Let me tell you.

I don’t like abortion, yet I recognize its necessity. When looking at Roe v Wade, the court stated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and protecting prenatal life.

As a bisexual male, the argument “You can’t legislate morality” has been my response to morality laws all of my life, because it is true. Abortions did not begin in 1974, they became legal. They became licensed and regulated. They became safe. Banning abortion only causes women to seek out illegal abortions, which more than likely will be second or third trimester abortions, endangering both mother and child.

Yes, I said child. I, along with the majority of scientists, believe that life begins at conception. Abortion is taking a human life. If one lacks the maturity to recognize that fact, one is clearly not mature enough to raise a child; it could be said such a person lacks the maturity to create a life. Yet children are created by the immature on a daily basis.

“How can you justify the taking of life?” In the same way I can justify killing enemy combatants on the battlefield. It is intellectually dishonest to think that good people do not sometimes do things which are not totally good. The health and welfare of the growing child must be weighed against its right to life. A woman unprepared for the responsibility of raising children is a poor choice as a parent. The child is worse off, and the mother is as well. If children could be taken and placed in loving families, taxpayers would be paying for the child rather than both of them. Life in the police state which would make that possible has few admirers.

I do not use the phrase “Pro-abortion” because I am not. There are many abuses of abortion. I knew a woman when I was younger who had three abortions in the space of one year. In my opinion, she should have been sterilized. She used no prophylactics, knowing she could always get an abortion. There are certainly many more abortions taking place than would be desirable, most “pro-choice” folks would agree. In addition to the inability to legislate morality, there is no way to legislate common sense either.

I remember a walk to the pharmacy on a cold winter day when my condom had broken to get the morning after pill. Not everyone wants to have a child at fifty. There are circumstances in which every precaution has been taken, and they failed. My youngest son was conceived through an IUD. An estimated forty percent of pregnancies are unplanned, which is not to say they are unwanted; none of my children were planned.

The impact of a child on an unprepared woman can be devastating. An already poor mother is not enriched by another mouth to feed. A homeless woman does not have better chances of finding a home with a child. A damaged relationship is not improved by a child. The revelation of a sexual assault can tear a family apart. We can require sex education for every child, just like we require education in history. How many days was William Harrison President? Education does not imply the information is absorbed.

Roe v Wade allowed for restrictions, so take a minute and think about how they affect a pregnant woman. Unless a woman has a menstrual period determined by a Swiss clock, she may not be aware she is pregnant for well over a month. If it is her first pregnancy, or if she is in denial that she could be pregnant, it could be eight to twelve weeks before it becomes obvious. There goes the first trimester.

If the woman lives in Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota or West Virginia, there is only  one abortion clinic in the state, and Missouri is doing its best to make that number zero. It is highly unlikely that clinic will be nearby, adding more considerations. Does she have transportation? Can she disappear for the time required?

“What about late term abortions?” What about them? Late is a bit vague, but 1.2% of all abortions were performed after twenty one weeks, 91% were in the first trimester, 27.9% were non-surgical (drug induced) and there are no figures for the morning after pill. The horror stories about late term abortions (the only ones in which the fetus is recognizable as human) are a very small number of abortions, and they are already only performed when the life of the mother is in danger; not because of any law, but because of medical ethics.

On the other side of the coin, “pro-abortion” people do exist. Often these people have never made the choice themselves, and are using abortion as a political football. While many women are able to have meaningful lives and contribute to society because they were able to abort a child which would have destroyed their lives, very few celebrate their abortions. Those who do get a lot of press because they are unusual.

“Why not just adopt out the child?” If you think ending a life is a difficult decision, how easy do you suppose it is to let go of a child once it has been in your arms? I know a woman who gave her child up for adoption. Despite promises to the contrary, she was not given any information about her child’s placement. After many years she found him, he had been raised in horrible conditions and had been in trouble with the law. He did not want to hear from her, blaming her decision to try to give him a better life as a decision to curse his life.

How can I be pro-life and pro-choice? Because I believe life should be a choice.

 

 

Privilege

As with most issues, the concept of privilege tends to be overblown while containing a measure of truth.

Donald Trump is not a member of the NAZI party, but some of his actions mirror their actions. Do not forget that NAZIs tied their shoes, tying your shoes does not make you a NAZI. Some factors apply in using the stereotype, many do not.

An article on Buzzfeed well illustrates that point. One single factor does not signify privilege, it is the cumulative amount of factors. I don’t think Buzzfeed has any more credibility than Psychology Today, but the survey, all by itself, is useful as a learning experience.

How Privileged are You? provides insight into what constitutes privilege. I have always felt offended when accused of “White Privilege,” because it has been based on the fact that I am white. I am more than just white, although hate groups such as Antifa don’t really care about facts. Physical assaults, verbal assaults, and prejudices have been based on supposition.

Not everyone is interested in learning. When my partner posted the survey on Facebook, for the purpose of comparison, most of her friends took the survey and compared their scores. One decided to go on a rant about Buzzfeed, shooting the messenger and in the process also the message. No, the results of a survey are not a diagnosis, but sometimes the act of sharing it can display prejudices you were not looking for. An excellent representation of this effect is “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”  That quote comes from the 1978 film “Superman.” Most people do not consider superhero movies the source of deep philosophical observations; those people also fail to learn from “War and Peace.”

The first lesson in the survey comes with the first question, “Are you White?” I was a bit put off with that opening, then I considered that it was one factor out of one hundred. My total “score” was twenty nine, “underprivileged.” There were questions that seemed faulty, “Have you ever been called a Dyke” and “Have you ever been called a Faggot” should have been a single question. One of the many questions that should have been there is “When you see a rack of magazines, are the majority of people on the covers your race?” As I said earlier, anyone expecting a certified diagnosis from an online test is foolish. This survey should only be used as a comparison among peers, just don’t let Antifa see the results, a score of one would be adequate for them to burn your house.

As mentioned, I am white. I was born in the South. I am a Christian. None of these things make me a racist, but I accept that they are three points out of hundreds that would make me so. I learned over fifty years ago the difference between correlation and causality, and try to apply it to every interaction. As I aged and was exposed to dangers which could be life threatening, I found that in some instances correlation is sufficient. I don’t need to know what is in that backpack with wires hanging out, but I don’t need to kill the person carrying it; I can walk away. Responses require circumstances with which to justify them.

There are many factors which constitute an individual. It is often said that Hitler liked dogs, but that alone does not make him a good person. He also facilitated the deaths of over eleven million people, and while that alone may not make him an evil person, the methods he used to accomplish that goal certainly add up to that conclusion.

Our society, drenched in information, continues to celebrate single issue decisions. The quickness of determining the state of that decision is frightening. I can see an indicator and immediately know what it means, most people cannot. A friend recently posted two photographs in comparison. One was a color image of Donald Trump reaching out to shake the hands of supporters, the other, a black and white image of Adolph Hitler doing the same. My reaction to the implied statement they were the same was that I couldn’t think of a single celebrity who has not reached out in a similar fashion. Then, as others noticed inconsistencies, it became clear the photo of Hitler had been altered (there was an American flag in the background, a person dressed as Lincoln, and Hitler had no feet). Simply noting that this was not only a poor comparison, but it was also falsified, made me a Trump supporter so she immediately blocked me. The simple observation that if what one party is doing is despicable, mirroring that behavior is not excusable, brings me back to explaining to children “He did it first” is not a defense for doing the same thing.

I’ve been noticing a snowball effect, that right along with knowledge, maturity is rapidly declining at a geometric rate. Double standards are celebrated as “necessary.” Moral standards are as rigid as cooked spaghetti. I am overwhelmed with the examples provided by an intolerant population and a rogue president. Literally overwhelmed, I can not finish typing a blog entry without several examples of my thesis occurring, and not just because I type slowly. Noting these issues results in hatred rather than self reflection.

In many ways, the survey on privilege was contrary to my core beliefs. Confidence is seen as a privilege, questions such as “I have never lied about my sexuality,” “I have never tried to hide my sexuality,” and “I am always comfortable with P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection) with my partner” imply that comfort with who you are is a privilege. While I agree that living in fear is an indicator of lack of privilege, paranoia is an indicator of lack of psychiatric help. I have had physicians refer to my “Texan stoicism” as a defect.

Give yourself the privilege of being comfortable in your own skin.

The hive mind

I remember a conversation with a colleague in the summer of 2006. He was talking about a new resource, “Twitter,” with which you could ask a question of any nature, and if anyone within the “hive mind” knew the answer they would respond.

I loved this man as if he were my son, and I mustered all the enthusiasm I could; “That sounds great Carlo, let me know how useful it turns out to be.” What I was thinking was “You’ll get the same results by shouting your question into the subway.”

Fourteen years later my partner considers Twitter a news source. It is, indeed, a lane on the “information highway” (a term acknowledged as meaningless before it was even popular); people answer questions and pass judgements, but there is no certification suggesting they “know” the answer. You could randomly tap phone lines and receive answers of equivalent veracity.

Sometime in the 1990’s reality started its move to the backseat and “diverse ideas” took the wheel. I recall applying for a position on a “diversity council” sometime in the 2000’s. The requirements included being “a diverse employee” and I certainly was a member of that group, different from anyone else. It turns out I wasn’t, they were not looking for someone different than themselves, they were looking for a “woman of color,” indicating they were all white men who could not specify which color other than white they wanted this diverse person to be. They certainly were not interested in my observation of that fact.

Twitter is without question a news source, a conduit through which one might derive the news, but its accuracy is on the level of conversations overheard on an elevator. The individual discerns the credibility of the reports, based on what image the reporter chose to use as an avatar, or claims to be credentials. The information highway is indeed a channel through which most of the information collected by the human race flows. A similar description could be applied to a sewer.

Raw information, everything that is known about the Earth for example, includes the information that the Earth is flat.

In fact, since the birth of the internet, totally wrong information has flourished, largely because only one answer to a question is actually “correct.” If one were to ask “should I vaccinate my child?” the answers (including “why don’t you ask a doctor instead of the less educated masses) would range from the precisely accurate to the drug induced surreal. You guess which is which.

I fathered four children between the late 70’s and the late 80’s. When the anti vaccination documentary Vaccine Roulette was released in 1982, a young Sergeant told me I must watch the report on NBC news “if I cared about my kids.” I considered my knowledge of the Sergeant, an attention seeking loudmouth who regularly stated or implied he was a “company man” (bizarre in the sense we were all in the community and knew he had never been with the company), and decided to watch the program anyway. Immediately I could see the flaws, over blowing consequences by using raw numbers rather than statistics, failing to mention the enormous benefits, playing on visuals of ailing children. Heartstrings were grabbed by two hands and connected to a locomotive.

Millions were convinced that vaccinating a child was life threatening for the child. I made an extra effort to have my children’s vaccinations complete, there were going to be well meaning vectors of disease everywhere.

That was almost forty years ago. Yesterday there was a report of a child dying from the flu, because its Mother had decided not to vaccinate it against the flu; then when the child contracted the flu from its unvaccinated siblings, the Mother refused to treat it with antivirals. When the child showed the “initial symptoms” of the flu, including a seizure, rather than seek a doctor’s advice, she sought out an antivaxx group on Facebook. When none of the suggested natural remedies had any effect on the virus, rather than seek a doctor’s advice she asked the group again. Not one answer suggested seeing a doctor. A four year old boy in Colorado joined sixty eight other children who have died of the flu so far this season; evolution is proven as those disease vectors and the pro-disease ideas which ended their lives never have the opportunity to reproduce.

I might ask how to clean a cast iron pot on Facebook, but if my child had a seizure we’re going to the hospital.

You, more than likely, know nothing about me. If my words resonate with your common sense, I pray that you investigate further to verify them. Would you take my medical advice, and apply it to your children? Apparently, fifty nine percent of you would. People do not take the flu seriously because “No one dies from the flu.” I take the flu seriously because one of my earliest exposures to information on the subject was my Grandfather’s story about coming home from world war one and burying his brother (by himself, mortuaries were packed with the dead) during the 1918 epidemic.

In 1918, fifty million lives were lost to the flu (one fifth of the world population). Comparatively, twenty million were lost to World War one. Today, epidemics are measured by the percentage of total deaths caused by a factor, 7.2 is the threshold. The current rate of mortality in America caused by flu (which produces a cause of death known as pneumonia) is 7.1. Compared to the Spanish flu, today’s deaths are minuscule; but with a century of medical advances they should be much closer to zero. You might say “No one dies from the flu,” so far this season “No one” equals twelve thousand American lives. Yes, I still take the flu seriously.

The hive mind is concerned with the Corona virus, which has an even lower mortality rate, while ignoring the near epidemic flu virus. The wisdom of the hive mind has suggested the virus can be avoided by not drinking Mexican beer, as well as suggesting the virus is a deadly world pandemic. Neither is correct.

Perfectly safe, unless you were looking for a real beer

 

Don’t be a drone. Escape the hive and think for yourself.

The false god of science-lite

When I was young, I was enamored with the sciences. It was a great time, advances were being made in every field, many designed with the space program in mind. I studied chemistry (hard to avoid when your father is a chemist), astronomy, physics, and anything that smelled “cool.”

As I got older, my friends were also attracted to the sciences, going on to careers we each envied, as our careers were envied by them. Mutual admiration was common as we advanced in the world.

Then one day in 1972 a friend said his candidate was neither Republican (Nixon) or Democrat (McGovern); he supported the Peace and Freedom party. He didn’t know the name of the candidate, but the name of the party was appealing after a decade in Vietnam. I became aware that half of the population has double digit IQs, not everyone had musical talent of any kind, some people were interested in a thing because they liked the sound of the name.

I don’t know that 1972 was a pivotal year, it’s just the year I noticed. It did happen to be the last year we went to the moon. It is when I noticed that some of the people who claimed an interest in science did not know what a science was. Astrology was called a science, Homeopathy was a science. The language took a subtle change; more people were “interested in science” than “the sciences.” Science had become a God. As with most religions, the congregation had no connections to their God.

Over the years I have heard people claim science is the reason they don’t believe in a God, or that science supports their opinions. I have seen the scientific method tossed aside for opinion and speculation.

I could never see a conflict between science and God, but then I don’t expect the Bible to be a science text. It is a religious text, I don’t seek answers to religious questions in Einstein’s work, although I do appreciate his view of quantum physics, that God does not play dice.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published paper in Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. It took over ten years for the Lancet to retract the paper, but it was debunked almost immediately. By 2001 it was uncovered that Wakefield had started a company prior to the publication that would faciltate suits against pharmaceutical companies for a fee. His methodology was riddled with corrupt and false data.  There was no question that not only was he a fraud, he was a con-man; this was to have been his biggest con.

Today, twenty years after having been exposed as a scam, people claiming to be scientists are still hawking the same old wares, repackaged with fresh faulty data, basing complaints on ingredients which have not been used in forty years or are present in dosages that are meaningless. There is more Thiomersal in tuna than vaccines.

The antivaxx movement is stronger than ever, based on a lie that has turned into a moral imperative. Who can argue with a mother who will not expose her child to what she believe to be a poison? Perhaps the mother of an immunodeficient child who could die from the measles? Personally, if this was simply a choice by double digit IQs to leave their children vulnerable to deadly diseases, I would view it as evolutionary positive, removing those genes from the pool. But it is not. Unvaccinated children are the building blocks for epidemics among the immunodeficient community.

How many people are immunodeficient? A small percentage, who use the same medical facilities, placing them in contact with each other. Epidemics can move like wildfire through the community.

If the flu, Measels, Mumps, and Rubella were not threats to public health, why did we go to so much trouble to find a vaccine? The brilliant, privileged Antivaxxer will say that the diseases are rare, and rarely are fatal. Remind the buffoon that they are rare now because of the vaccines,  one hundred years ago fifty million people died from the flu. The deaths overwhelmed society so much that my grandfather had to bury his brother. Only a few die from Measels, which is of little reassurance for the over one million parents of children who died of Measels in 1990 (two parents per child).

Ingrid Newkirk as president of PETA, said “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” demonstrating her lack of medical knowledge, and I might say spiritual knowledge as well. She was opposed to vaccines (indeed all medicines) because they are sometimes made with animal products, and always tested on animals. Apparently her childhood memories of a society plagued with childhood deaths and lifetime disabilities, then resolved by vaccines, lead her to believe that human life is cheap.

I once worked at an S.P.C.A. with a young woman who was under the impression she was a veterinarian. Her method of proof of death was to touch the eye of an animal to see if there was a reaction. One day we were discussing animal rights issues (like poking dying dogs in the eye), and she said “Well, I’ve researched this on my own. . . ” so I asked her which laboratory she had used for the research. She told me she didn’t need a laboratory,  she had “heard of” books on the subject. She had not even read the books, she culled her “knowledge” from the title and blurb, and called it “Research.” That was when I knew that the public understanding of what the sciences are is pitiful.

So today, when someone tells me they have two degrees in science, my initial impression is those sciences could easily be macrame and basket weaving. I know actual scientists, in fact I was raised around them, listening to conversations at cocktail parties my parents threw, and then in daily life. There are words they do and don’t use. So yes, I can determine your scientific background just from talking to you about a school play or a futbol match. This is not some superpower, you just have to pay attention to your sources of information. So I cannot understand why so many fail, then I remember how many people have double digit IQs.

It does not require genius to comprehend the sciences, just a mind open to new discoveries.

 

My Psychotic Break

I pretty much have to write about this.

A month or so ago, I found myself in a spiral of irritation. My sleep pattern slipped from not much to none at all. I was unsettled by something in my relationship and let it fill my mind. I spent the entire day of Sunday yelling at Janice. That’s what I remember.

In a lull of my mania, I asked for something to relax, Janice handed me a few of her pills. After that it gets hazy. The next thing I remember is the phone waking me. It was the police, they were outside my door and would like me to come out with my hands in the air. In my mind, I thought it was Sunday evening. It was Monday evening.

What I have been able to put together is that I was increasingly irrational, and threatened to kill myself quite convincingly. Janice was able to show me texts I had sent; I was horrible. But at this point in time all I knew was that I had fallen asleep and she had left.

I threw on some clothes, and slowly opened the door, revealing myself hands first. There was a nice little barricade set up down the hall, and the glint of laser sights from the rifles pointed at me. I invited them in, they placed handcuff on my wrists, and we took a ride to the hospital. My memory is still shaky at this point, I remember moments but not entire scenes. I know I was well mannered entering the hospital, and I know I lost all contact with reality shortly after arriving. I remember trying to bite one of the nurses, and seeing Janice through the glass door of my room. Later, they took me to a mental hospital, I had been involuntarily committed.

I arrived at the hospital Tuesday about noon, and suddenly realized I was missing an entire day. In my mind I was angry at Janice, thinking she had drugged and abandoned me. The conditions were as one might expect, a few steps up from Ken Kesey’s Oregon State Hospital, but the vibe remained. “Long Distance” calls had to be dialed from a special room, and for some reason anything out of the area code was considered long distance. It took another two days to get in touch with Janice. I think that was a good thing, I hadn’t quite figured out what had happened yet. She had been the person who had signed the order for involuntary commitment.

After release I was able to read the notes from my intake interview. I was described as having a flat affect. I remember slowly waking into reality, realizing the time lost, feeling shock.

It became rapidly apparent that the way out was to comply with treatment. I attended all the groups I could, making friends with the other mental patients. It was a fascinating microcosm of society, we had all, in effect, been equalized, stripped of our individuality. The depth of our mental illnesses determined our ability to recover. Some folks would obviously wait their time out and be released, some folks I seriously hope are never released, but I did not meet anyone who did not belong there. When I was able to realize that, I was able to realize that I belonged there, opening my mind to correcting my mistakes.

The groups were educational, not always about the subjects for which they were designed. One group about red flags put a bright light on one person’s attitudes about relationships, and also showed the folks paying attention that everything goes both ways. Had it not been such a hetero-normative group the message might have sunk in better.

I was (of course) open about my sexuality, I figured it would confuse the staff and spare me a room mate. It did, I was the only male without a room mate. A couple of women opened up about their sexuality, as far as I could see no one was uncomfortable in our group. We quickly became known as “The cool kids,” sitting at our own table at meals; then we slowly became “The old folks” as we dispensed our wisdom to the younger folks. The camaraderie helped us all.

As the week passed, new people arrived, most of them faceless, keeping to themselves, a few more aggressive, pointing out to us how we had felt during the early hours of our incarceration. I could see how I had been and was glad I had not been able to talk to Janice until after I calmed down. One person was particularly intimidating, and knew how to play the staff. He was what they called a “frequent flyer,” someone who had been there repeatedly. The staff knew he wouldn’t follow through on his threats, but we the patients did not. The tension was palpable, and I would like to think that my explanation to staff was a part of my release. I could see it from both sides and explained the difference between physical safety and emotional safety to a couple of nurses, people trained in the field who had just turned a blind eye to the purpose of the facility.

My medications were interesting. I received prompt attention because I take Truvada, an anti HIV drug. They wanted to know if I was HIV positive, so I was processed through medical quickly. Because I had drugs in my system (the ones Janice gave me) when I was admitted, they diagnosed me as a drug addict, and gave me anti-withdrawal meds all week. I received my anti-depressants as usual, but because Truvada and Fosamax are expensive they asked me to have them brought in. Remember the Long Distance issue? Knowing they would have to put out thousands for my meds helped me get permission to make phone calls.

That first phone call with Janice, on Thursday, was overwhelming. I was disgusted by the things she told me I had done as she gave me the timeline of my missing day. I thanked her for having me admitted. I was astounded that she cared for me, and missed me so much. I gave her the number to call in, so I could hear from her, and returned to my group. They could tell I had spoken to Janice, I was glowing. She called every evening, and for that time I was free, not incarcerated. She came to visit and time stood still.

I was released on Monday, and the morning was pure stress. I was told my regular psychiatrist had not been contacted, and I couldn’t be released without appointments with her in the next week. It was less than an hour before my scheduled release when I finally got my post hospitalization therapy schedule. We drove home and spent the rest of the day talking. I had the epiphany that the psychotic break was related to having never fully grieved Emma, and was up all night organizing her shrine, telling stories about each item.

As a result of my commitment, I am no longer eligible to own firearms. I agree. I had no idea what I was doing for over twenty four hours, had I chosen to resort to violence I had a solid arsenal and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition. The possibility I could have another break is higher after having one, so I have no issue with surrendering my weapons. The police were exceptionally nice, assisting with selling the firearms and returning items that were borderline inappropriate, like a set of rolling papers in packages designed by Olivia De Berardinas. I did like the expression on the detective’s face when he said how nice my rifles were, and don’t want to imagine the look when he entered the bedroom with the swing.

My doctors have been interesting, the “What happened?” opening was almost funny. Because what happened was not funny. My brain broke. You can call it a nervous breakdown or psychotic break or whatever makes you comfortable, but I did a hard reboot. I did things I do not remember any part of. I had conversations and wrote texts of which I have no memory. I am better, but the experience was moving. I am fortunate that Janice, against her normal intuition, called 911 and followed through in committing me. I needed the rest. I still need rest, but have spent the intervening month helping Janice move her mother in law (her husband passed away) into my home. I have watched my friend’s final performances before “retiring” to Arizona after fifty years in the music business and spent late nights hanging with musicians several times. I know I am slowing down relative to what I was before, but when I look at it I can not call it “slow.”

I know the path to illness and can avoid it, I am building my resources to be prepared.

 

World Pride Day

30 June 2019, 8th St at 6th Ave NYC

 

Pride Day became Pride week became Pride month. The culmination of Pride month was the weekend of 29/30 June in New York City. Janice and I arrived Friday and left Monday morning. It was a wonderful weekend in so many ways, the crash of backlash seems so incredibly offensive.

Fifty years ago a group of drag queens and other queers got tired of being abused by the police, so they fought back. The original Pride was days of riots. Today is a celebration, backed by corporate sponsors who occasionally have a horrible history of anti LGBT+ discrimination. The spin off march, Queer Liberation, works to remind everyone that the original Pride was a riot; and has no corporate presence. I really should have gotten up a few hours earlier and gone to that parade, but this was the big fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots so we wanted to see the main parade.

I am exceptionally grateful that I had the sense not to march in either parade. I’m not sure I could have kept it up. From the very first person to the last there were genuine smiles of joy. Everyone was smiling, there weren’t even any whining children despite many children being present. I had been standing for nine hours before I realized I had been standing for nine hours. Janice was starting to collapse, having been the center of attention on our block for nine hours. This is when we found that we should have stayed on the other side of the street. There were barriers to prevent crossing the street, and we were inside the perimeter of the celebration. When that last smiling marcher passed by around midnight, we were able to try to find our way home.

Fortunately, I remembered enough about New York Subways to avoid the frustration of finding a cab. As we entered the station, some idiot who thought he could take over the world monetary system was trying to use the ticket machine to do and a group of girls in line were fighting, so an exhausted NYPD officer unlocked the doors to get everyone onto the platform (for free!).

The vibe in the air was love, and acceptance. It was not unusual to see (or not) wonderfully sculpted garments that enhanced the beauty of the person adorned. There was a small amount of nudity, most women wore pasties and the majority of men kept their genitals out of view. I dressed properly.

Somehow I forgot sunscreen, I have the most unusual tan lines.

 

Janice, being full of excitement, actually got sunburn on her armpits from waving her arms in the air. Being exceptionally beautiful with rainbow heart pasties, she drew some surprising attention. Gay guys like boobies too, every camera that passed seemed to pause on her. Marchers would stop and cheer her “bravery,” often lifting their shirts to show they were already wearing pasties (or not). And perhaps raising our prestige on the street even higher, a couple of people marching and in cars for organizations made a point of talking to her from the parade, because they were friends involved in the same organizations. We even were noticed by a couple of professional photographers, one producing a story for a European magazine,  another the lovely Dianne Arndt, a New York based international photographer.

 

Courtesy Dianne Arndt

 

Being the fiftieth anniversary of the riots, New York was the center of World Pride Day. There were groups from many countries, but I only saw two Belgian flags (don’t read anything into that, I know plenty of LGBT+ Belgians). As well as other countries, other cities were represented, some just small towns I had never heard of.

 

 

One of the two Belgian Flags I saw in the parade

 

There were the traditional contingents of each variety of the LGBT+ community, and the corporate sponsors ranged from IBM to Fred’s Hardware. There were very few political statements, no matter how you regard LGBT+ folks, we come from every walk of life. The presence of church groups was nice.

Crowd estimates ranged from 800,000 people present to three million visitors to NYC for the purpose of the LGBT+ events.

 

Janice with a fellow “Pasties Pride” spectator

Of course, even after a wonderful weekend surrounded by my peers, we had to return to the real world. We came home, caught up with everyone who couldn’t be there or we had seen. Janice posted the above picture on her Facebook page. In addition to receiving almost a hundred “likes” from our friends, a relative of mine chose the occasion to make a rude remark. It felt weird blocking a relative. I have no idea what it will be like when we visit next so yes, I am appropriately intimidated. What I will not be is ashamed. Should she choose to argue (I have no idea what her problem is, I am loving a woman these days) I do feel better informed about her likely issue. Turns out the word “Homosexual” did not exist in the English Bible until the twentieth century. The word it is translated from is usually translated as “Child molester.” Early Bibles even contained the correct translation, some still do. Then there’s the clear words of Jesus when he tells people to grow, to love everyone, and hate no one.

I thought I understood the prejudice and harassment LGBT+ people live with. I was in that “privileged” group of Bisexuals who “pass” as straight. After all this time, people still don’t get it; what happens in my bedroom is as much of your business as what you do in yours is mine. I “came out” to more people who had simply ignored my previous attempts, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for someone with insecurities. I’ve had friends cancel engagements, stop talking with me, and in a few cases end our friendships. So much for our enlightened society.

This year, I am Proud. I have a sense of community I have never felt before. People of diverse circumstance and sexuality joined in support of all who stand outside. I also feel a sadness for those who deny love when it doesn’t fit their understanding, I personally cannot see two humans expressing love for each other and not feel joy.

So get out there, straight, gay, or any variation and spread love.

Surprises and disappointments

It has been an interesting month. Let me supply you with some background.

I am sixty years old. Forty two years ago, at age eighteen, I had my first homosexual experience. A classmate, far more experienced than I. It was the seventies, the cusp of AIDS. He would take the train into Manhattan on the weekends to play in the bath houses.

I was intimate with him a couple of times, and “friendly” with some of my other gay friends. It was odd, in this small group of people who had been friends all their lives, a large number experimented with Homosexuality for a few years, some for life. I am still friends with a few of them.

I went on with life, got married, had kids, left for another woman, and man. My first wife was having an affair and trying to get me to leave, so I did. I moved in with a female coworker, platonic at first, then one night she climbed into my bed. Then her gay male friend climbed into our bed a few days later. Then I met some of her other friends. This may have been the first time I used the term “Bisexual.” My father actually came to our door to tell me to return to my wife. Something like “You can’t have Bisexual orgies the rest of your life, you have children.”

Life went on, I eventually tried to make things work with the wife, but things were working fine with her. I remarried a couple of times but all my wives knew I was Bisexual, even when it did not result in any activity on my part. I was ever so slightly effeminate, perhaps androgynous, and would mention some previous encounter when all the Heterosexuals were talking about theirs. I spoke often about how the Red Cross did not want my blood because I had had sex with a man. I was occasionally flamboyant.

A few years ago, at my fortieth High School reunion, a man walked up to me, a former football player and now retiring as a coach. He saw in his team young people coming to grips with their sexuality. He said he admired how I had been, and considered me to be “the brave one.” I really thought everyone knew I was Bisexual.

Then something happened. I met a woman.

Not just any woman, I met a Bisexual woman. I met a Bisexual activist. Janice is not “in your face” with her sexuality, it is simply a part of her life, like your sexuality is a part of yours.

I felt much more open myself around her. Pride month arrives. I decide to make some public statements, and get a bit flamboyant. I dye my beard in Bi-pride colors, get my fingernails and toenails painted bi-pride colors. I wrote about Pride and posted about our activities on Facebook. Not exactly in your face but vocal. I made friends on Facebook with a couple of Janice’s friends, and spoke more in public groups. In a SpecOps group I am in, there was a discussion about a pride flag being flown at a military memorial. What an interesting place to be lectured about sin.

I noticed there were fewer interactions, I know my ex-partner was saying negative things to people but this was noticeable. My blog has had fewer views, my friends for the most part avoid me, my family has been silent when they are at their best, anti-LGBTQ+ memes were rare, and the occasional comment about loving the sinner but hating the sin. People I have known my entire life, and who must have known I was Bisexual, suddenly backing away. I am the same person today I was last year, forty years ago, and most likely sixty years ago. Nothing changed other than my talking about it, during Pride month.

I find it amazing that in a society devoted to understanding each other, there are people who believe I should be exterminated among my friends and family. When I was seeing Janice, Sam said “You have your family.” She was right, Janice’s friends have overwhelmingly welcomed me.

We’ve had genuinely funny posts that were liked by literally hundreds of our friends, but only by two who were exclusively my friends. I have to believe this is about people distancing themselves from me. I sent emails to most of my closer friends, explaining the situation and offering to talk about any concerns. Two responses, one being “Who didn’t know?” Obviously my friends are from different places in every way, but to have so many back off is unexpected.

I find this sad. One month devoted to LGBTQ+ awareness. Eight percent of the year to recognize what is suspected to be eight percent of the population. All year long we live in a world where Heterosexuality is the “norm.” Art, literature, films, and media portray heterosexuality on a daily basis, yet one example of an alternative relationship and the world calls it “in your face.”

On 30 June there will be an event in Manhattan. The culmination of Pride month takes place at the site it began, Stonewall. In addition to the Pride parade, there will be a Queer liberation march and rally. There is a portion of the community that is suspicious of the corporate sponsorships and such. You may have noticed yourself, all the references to pride in the commercials this month, but a gay character? Never. I am finding myself aligning with that group. I thought the level of acceptance was much higher, should the subject come up everyone gives the politically correct responses, but in real life, it doesn’t work that way.

In many ways, I feel a level of resentment. I had been erased all my life. I thought I was being open and everyone knew who I was, but they just pretended it wasn’t there. Until I made some noise. Then I wasn’t there.

On the third anniversary of my brain injury this year, I promised myself to become more involved in life. That involvement has taken some unusual turns, but each has been revealing. Finding truth is always the mission, regardless of the truth discovered.

 

 

Adjustments

When I met Janice, we were both polyamorous. Now we find ways to justify the  title. Our lives are simple and sweet.

Pride Weekend at The Woods. All we are wearing are our Birkenstocks.

 

And kinky.

We have found what we never expected. Someone to Love, and be Loved by. Sure, we have a physical relationship that would wear out teenagers, but the warmth, comfort, and happiness we gain merely by proximity is typically thought to be once in a lifetime, and we already had our turns. I just couldn’t think about someone being as precious to me as Emma, and although I have said “I love you” to several women since she died, it never took me as long to say it. This is special, I was kind of afraid to say the words because they had meaning I had not thought possible. When Sam saw us together for the first time (only the second time I had seen Janice), she could see the energy between us, and proceeded to bail on our relationship. At another time I would have argued for her to stay, but I couldn’t wait for her to leave.

There are simple things, our shared preferences exceed those of any woman I have ever lived with. Yes, we are living together. We rarely spend a night apart, the location just changes. She can’t leave her home and responsibilities, and there is no way in hell I would ever make New Jersey my state of residence again.

Our shared passions are nearly identical, and have always been compatible. We’re even going to a baseball game together. She loves sports and I can identify the shape of the ball in each of them.

The passions that we share include our very being. We both have carried labels that were inaccurate, and are more free than ever to be proud of who and what we are. Sam had made quite the point of allowing me to explore “that” side of myself, what a joy to be with someone who is that side of myself, and understands it is not a side, it is all of me.

An interesting aspect has been the reactions. I was pretty sure everyone knew I was bisexual, or at least suspected. It wasn’t “important,” we never talked about it; I would just occasionally say something about an encounter that had not been with a woman. Janice was an activist with Queer Nation, she was very publicly out, so I held her hand thinking I was publicly out too. Apparently I have been too subtle all these years. A number of people distanced themselves from me, most were polite (at least they thought they were).

So I find myself coming out at age sixty. For those who chose to not remember the boyfriend I had at 19 (forty years ago), or the bi/poly household of 1985, it didn’t just go away. And I find it disturbing that my “open minded” conservative friends have had so much trouble understanding I have always been bisexual. Being in committed heterosexual relationships did not change that. I did not “pick sides” and choose Hetero, I just had no male lovers. When a heterosexual person is single, does that mean they are Asexual? Interest remains.

I am free. No longer constrained by domineering partners, I get to do what I want. I can go to a nudist camp for the weekend with my lover. We can go to a swinger’s party and share ourselves with like minded consenting adults. We can go to a hole in the wall adult bookstore and get a standing ovation for our performances. I am harming no one. I am measurably healthier since meeting Janice, both mentally and physically.

Janice and I are bisexuals. We are polyamorous in the sense that we have other lovers, but only as a couple; We “play” together. Just in case you were interested. I know the orientation and sexuality of almost everyone I know, why didn’t you know mine? And why do you think my mentioning my sexuality is “shoving in your face,” when I can’t breathe without enduring the countless examples of your sexuality being shoved in my face and being called “normal,” implying I am not. My sexuality remains an insult to this day. How would you feel if the same was true of you?

I am not asking you to understand me. I am asking you to accept me as your equal, treat me with the same respect you did last year.

Love is Love

 

Paperwork

 

I was in an automobile accident last September. I received the compensation from the other driver’s insurance yesterday, almost four months later. I don’t know how long it usually takes, I haven’t been struck by another vehicle in over twenty years, but State Farm appeared to be dragging their feet. The young woman who ran into me had not reported the accident to State Farm, so they knew nothing when I went to have the car repaired, but they went ahead and offered me eighty percent of expense. After the car was repaired, I sent them the estimate and photographs. Then nothing.

After a few rounds of sending them the documents, both from home and one of their offices, we determined their security was so thick they really could not do business with the general public. They could not receive my emails because I have a foriegn (Belgian) account and they could not accept the documents at the office because I had them on a flash drive, which they could not attach to their secure system. This was in November, after I wrote about the story on their Facebook page. They had a representative to handle my case contact me, and I was able to send the documents to her private email. Then nothing.

In early January I wrote another post about their lack of response on their Facebook page. I do not recall ever having to call out a company in public in order for them to do their job, apparently it is the way to get things done when dealing with good neighbors. I received a call from another representative, who explained the first representative was on vacation. She was able to locate the claim and authorize payment that day. Not only that, but she said due to the errors they had made, they would pay the full eighty percent rather than deducting for repairs they do not usually pay for.

I’m supposed to be happy at this point, but I realize that had I not written negative posts about State Farm on their social media page, nothing would have happened.

This all brought me back to the aftermath of my TBI, and the hoops I had to jump through while the physical wounds were still healing.

I was fortunate. I had met Sam barely a month before, and due to some unusually difficult relationships leading up to that point, I had taken the approach of total openness. When I was in the hospital she knew everything about me to the point the hospital staff thought she was my wife. They allowed her to stay the nights with me, which was good for everyone. Sam has told me about how I dealt with hospitalization; apparently I thought I had been taken prisoner, and was plotting a spectacular escape involving launching the oxygen tanks through the door. When I was sent home Sam took a month off work to take care of me, and helped guide me through the paperwork required to pay my expenses. I do recall saying “I don’t see how they expect someone with a brain injury to be able to do this stuff” when trying to fill out paperwork.

My first year of TBI was filled with blessings. An old friend set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses. My landlords allowed me to sublet the extra rooms in my apartment, and I had wonderful tenants who spoke some of the languages in which I was once fluent. Sam helped me enroll in Medicaid and apply for SSDI. I had wonderful doctors.

There were plenty of bad things, it was after all a year I had planned to not be in America, but everything worked out beautifully. Today I am actually better off than I was at the moment of the TBI, my financial situation is restored, I own my home, I have Medicare for insurance, and I get better parking spaces.

I still watch the TBI pages on Facebook, trying to offer encouragement to fellow travelers. I see the frustration and expectations, and I can see again how fortunate I am. Sometimes it is simple, like the other day when a woman could not understand her teenager’s behavior. Her description was of a normal teenager, but she thought it was due to his TBI years earlier. I told her how lucky she was, that this is normal for a teenager and could be taken as a sign he is healing. Most of my recovery may be attributed to my positive outlook, I never presented the typical anger following a TBI, but I could see some of the possible causes of exacerbation. The “normal” world, unable to see physical manifestations, demands normality.

When applying for SSDI, an attorney is recommended. It is not something even a “normal” person is expected to be capable of. When it comes to applying for medicaid or unemployment, no aid is available, yet I suspect most people finding themselves in need may not possess the required competence to complete the process. My social worker was thankful Sam had helped me arrange all my documents, I don’t believe our appointment took more than half an hour.

Bureaucracy is not forgiving of the disabled. I believe that my handling of State Farm indicates that I am healing, if I had been in the daze I was in immediately following the TBI I would never have thought to write about the issue on their page (and I wouldn’t have been driving). It does appear that the anger typically following TBI would have led me in that direction, but I did not experience that anger. And things still worked out.

One other symptom of TBI is tangentalism, which my speech therapist tried to correct. This is when I feel I made a breakthrough. Tangentalism keeps my mind examining all the possible connections, it has always been part of my thought process, so I did not wish to “cure” it. The self evaluation I filled out when I completed physical therapy asked if and how often I say inappropriate things. My response was “no more than before the TBI.” Being inappropriate allows the ability to explore topics others shy away from. As I look over the six years of blog posts, I am comforted by my consistent inappropriateness.

Challenges of Recovery

The second greatest challenge about recovery is recognizing my limitations. The greatest challenge is recognizing I have limitations.

This was not an issue before the TBI, if something needed to be done I did it. Even in the immediate aftermath of the TBI, I needed a room painted for a tenant and was not happy with the job Sam was doing, so I took over and painted the room with my left hand, the right being immobilized.

Over time I realized that some of my limits were because I never recognized how difficult daily activities were. Driving, which was once as difficult as breathing, involves several portions of the brain simultaneously; I had to recover enough to realize I wasn’t doing it well. Today I limit driving to less than one and a half hours each way, with a rest period of at least as long as the drive once I reach the destination. My first attempt at driving on my own, when I was still in physical therapy, showed me the variables I had not considered. Sure, I could drive ten miles to my therapist, but I could not change a tire when I had a flat.

A good part of my time is spent weighing the possible hazards of any activity. I am not paranoid, but the majority of my various careers revolved on my ability to identify the worst case scenario, I’m good at it. Sam has noticed my energy limits, allowing me to budget my activity. I presently have less than five hours a day in which I can be physically or intellectually active, after which I am physically and intellectually exhausted. Breaking down events, allowing rest or at least inactive periods, allows me to go a full five hours. Pushing myself can bring that to three hours.

This weekend there will be a march in my old town of Princeton, NJ. It appears the town that invented “Jews vs NAZIs Beer Pong” was a natural for a white supremacist group. The Mayor and Police Chief of this Sanctuary town have advised against counter protests, on the surface claiming a public safety issue. Knowing the Mayor and Police Chief, I suspect the reason is to avoid making the national news, which might hurt enrollment at the University.  A friend is involved in the counter-protest.

When I heard of it last night, my first reaction was to ask “When and where?” with every intention of being on the front line. Even when Sam said we had guests expected that evening, I was working out a way to do both, and/or explanations why I couldn’t be home for the guests. In an odd nostalgic way I miss the taste of tear gas.

Another thing that (should) happen with TBI is the ability to slow down. As I slowed down and considered the possibilities, I realized it could easily be more than a five hour trip (one hour each way travel plus three hours on site). Emotions would be high, violence could be expected, and arrest was not out of the question. I am somewhat ashamed to say I would rather be incarcerated in my home town than in another state, but it is true. The Princeton Police have gone out of their way to prove their stupidity several times in the last few years, I do not wish to be their latest example.

When I woke up in the hospital I felt old, now that feeling is more of defeat. I have tried to publicize the counter protest, this article being one of the ways, and I have known that I am not up to front line activism for a couple of years, but there are NAZIs in my old neighborhood! I should be there! Not this time, but if they come to my neighborhood I will be out there in a wheelchair if that is the best I can do, depending on circumstances I may be armed.

Another challenge of recovery is accepting my current capabilities. I don’t like it, and see a couple of therapists and a support group to try to deal with it. Fortunately (?) I am actually old, turning sixty last November, and have had Multiple Sclerosis for thirty of those years; I would have become more cautious even without the TBI (maybe). Part of accepting change is recognizing how powerless we are to stop it.

There are many challenges on the road to recovery of TBI, the majority of which are mental. Unfortunately, following TBI mental faculties are typically lower than usual, making the recovery a longer path than originally suspected.

 

Living with a cat

A few months old, in her perch by the window

 

For much of my life, dogs were the preferred pet. Because most of my life I lived in apartments, I only had a few dogs over the years. My second wife wanted a cat, so I brought one home from the SPCA. We realized he had been born around the Autumnal equinox, so we named him Autumn. He was a blonde tabby, exceptionally clever and playful I even taught him to fetch. When we divorced my ex-wife kept him. I was called when he needed to go to the vet, and when he eventually died, I buried him.

My third wife was a dog person, when we met she had a rottweiler. She wasn’t exactly afraid of the dog, but she feared he would one day attack me. One night we were playing and he snarled, and she decided to have him euthanized. I do not believe I was ever in danger, but fear is not a rational thing. She had a deep scar on her face from the dog, and didn’t understand that dogs could snarl during play.

We went a few years without a pet, then we started to see mice in our apartment. Emma was unusually frightened by mice. She genuinely believed they were taunting her. One day she called me at work, from atop a chair, to tell me to come home immediately because the mouse was laughing at her. I arrived home a few hours later and she was still on the chair. This is a woman who threw a meat cleaver at me once. I called the landlord and got permission to have a cat.

A woman who frequented the restaurant where Emma cooked rescued cats, and had just found a litter in a box next to the highway in Delaware. We chose a little tortoiseshell furball, and Emma decided to name her Autumn because she looked like a pile of leaves. When we took Autumn, she fit in the palm of my hand. Today she weighs fifteen pounds.

Autumn proved to be an excellent mouser, although she didn’t always clean up after herself. I found a dried carcass under the sofa, and one time she entered the bedroom with one in her mouth, holding it by the tail. At first we thought it was one of her play mice, then she casually flipped her head, throwing the mouse onto the bed.

Autumn is a cave cat, she likes to hide in small spaces. When she was little she would climb under the covers. She has always slept with me, at first on my chest, then between my legs (try turning over with a ten pound cat on top of the covers between your legs), now at my feet. When we get in bed she follows me into the room, and once I’m settled she jumps up and finds a place to lie against me. I don’t know precisely which year we got Autumn, it must have been around 2005, making her about fourteen now. She bonded strongly to Emma, who was home most of the time, and Emma loved Autumn possibly more than she loved me. Autumn would hide whenever we had guests, one time when a home nurse was administering an IV of Methylprednisolone we heard a muffled “meow” from the sofa, Autumn was hiding inside. When Emma was preparing to leave the hospital for home hospice, all she could talk about was sleeping in her own bed with Autumn. She didn’t make it home, and with the first grieving visitor Autumn came out to the guests.

Since then she has moved with me to Princeton, to live with my new family and their cats. Rascal and Leroy were large males, used to living on the street. I once saw Rascal casually walk across the street to block the path of a bulldog walking down that side. The two males let Autumn know it was their house, and were rarely friendly to her. When we all moved to another house it was Autumn who was the first to explore every nook and cranny while the boys stayed huddled in the cat room. They accepted her as an equal.

Autumn has seen several women pass through my door, first Emma, then Lieve, then a couple of girlfriends, and now Sam. Sam was not an animal person at all, but she has come to adore Autumn. It is comforting to have another human to occupy Autumn, I am always the one who administers medicine and takes her to the vet, so at times she doesn’t trust me much.

One thing I have taught Autumn to do is whisper. Sam didn’t believe cats could whisper, and was amazed to see her do it on command. She “guards” me, according to cat body language folks; standing next to me and facing away. When I come out of the WC, there she will be standing guard. Following my TBI she rarely left my side. My psychiatrist wrote a letter identifying Autumn as my support cat, which came in handy when we moved to a no pets building.

Autumn provides a great deal of emotional support for me. I cannot consider losing her. I can not. But she is sick, and I have been forced to consider life without her. She started vomiting in October, so I took her to the vet, who did blood tests and X-rays and gave her anti=nausea meds. The vomiting returned after the meds wore off, so we tried it again, more tests and meds, this time when it returned the frequency had increased to more than once a day. The vet recommended an ultrasound, so we took her for that and they found a thickening of her intestinal wall, which could indicate irritable bowel syndrome, or lymphoma. To determine which it is, they want to do biopsies. I took her for the appointment, but the feline internist didn’t want to do the biopsies without more tests, so she ran those. When the results are in we will talk about biopsies. In the interim, we’re keeping Autumn on the anti-nausea meds.

The question that flashed by was “how much do you want to spend on a cat?” Autumn is far more than just a cat, and it really isn’t costing that much money. Yes, I’ve spent about $2000 so far and the biopsies will run closer to $3000, but in her lifetime she has cost me very little. Vets, food, and litter probably run about $250 a year, so an additional $5000 amortized over fourteen years slightly more than doubles that amount. My greatest fear is she might have a bad reaction to the anesthesia. Biopsy would be either through endoscopy or surgery, the internist seems to prefer surgery, but to me that is too big of a risk. I prefer the endoscopy.

I never thought she would live forever, I just didn’t think about her mortality at all. I am fairly sure she’ll pull through this, I just hope whatever meds she has to take taste good. She hates the anti-nausea pills, even when I crush them and dilute them with a can of food.

I am here in the new year

Good day. It has been six months since I last wrote, and three years since my TBI. Three years ago I woke up in the hospital, and when I say “woke up” I mean “regained my senses.” During the last three years I have continued to regain my senses, it has been a bumpy ride and there is no reason to believe it will ever end, the most difficult part of “recovery” is acknowledging it can never be complete.

As I look over my records, I have written fifty one articles for this blog during those three years, many of which I have no memory of writing, which is a large part of why I stopped. I could not remember what I had already written, and even at the exceptionally slow rate I was writing I felt I was repeating myself. I intend to thoughtfully chronicle my recovery process, and maybe turn it into a book. That sells. My last book didn’t sell very well, but its purpose was not to make money.

I can look back clearly enough to see I have had ups and downs during recovery, I have been better than I am now and have been much worse. It has not been a linear journey. There were times I was almost my “old self,” I know I have cooked meals for gatherings  and can see the words I have written, but I have been unable to do either for at least six months, I can’t recall the last time I prepared a meal.

One exceptionally positive thing I learned in the last round of therapy is that I am retaining information, my difficulty is retrieving it, finding where it is stored in my brain. One test was a panel of twenty items, drawn simply in black and white. After looking at the page of items for sixty seconds, I was asked to remember them. I remembered seventeen. We went on to other tests and then thirty minutes later the therapist asked me which items I remembered, and I was able to name sixteen of them. But it wasn’t the first seventeen minus one, I forgot some and remembered others. Ten minutes later she presented me with a series of cards, each containing an item, but this time there were forty, and my goal was to identify which ones were on the original page. I was able to identify all twenty, with no errors. The information was all in there, I was just unable to identify it all at once.

Among the things I have written off forever are the languages in which I was fluent, but every now and then a phrase slips out in one of them, usually unexpectedly. I still have fun trying to decipher words written in Cyrillic, but I cannot understand a word spoken by my Russian friends. They still presented me with a beautiful ushanka, for which I found a proper pin.

They did refer to it as a “Soviet” hat

A great deal has happened in the last three years, I have been observing but rarely commenting. The national election of 2016, which I had tried to avoid by emigrating to Belgium, was all I had expected it to be. The situation that foiled my “escape” from America has found my forgiveness. Folks are still running about spreading their version of hate and calling it love. I’ve been to a fair number of concerts, and can remember most of them without prompting; and I traveled a bit, visiting both parents with Sam, who had never seen Texas and very little of California before. The problem with my inner ear has been corrected, however, in return I lost a bit cognitively. I am no longer the smartest kid in the room, and I no longer need to be. Some strengths never faded, my sense of direction has remained, at least according to Sam, superior. My technical abilities remained intact, I have driven to a friend’s home over an hour away to repair her copier, and have done some small things in the local community. I have retained the ability to see through the fog of misdirection, which may or may not be a blessing.

I was exposed to so much kindness after my injury that I feel natural helping others out now. I gave an acoustic guitar to a young man in a rehabilitation facility who is suffering a TBI much more severe than mine, and just the other day someone in town asked on the community page if anyone knew how to assemble IKEA, and I volunteered, repairing the drawers in a dresser.

Today I look at a new year, and try not to laugh about the attention paid to a specific date. Every day is a new beginning, every day we are new people, so there is no reason to mourn the person I was before 1 January 2016. My ability to not worry about things I cannot change has been a benefit as I recognize how few things I can change today. It will be little things, creating ripples which hopefully are strengthened  by other ripples of the same frequency.

No promises on how often I’ll be writing, it would be lovely to once again write every day, perhaps that will happen some day. Three years ago I woke up as an old man, I have since been certified as disabled, but I feel neither old nor disabled today.