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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,247

Journal Archives

COVID Stories

There is "the COVID story", and then there are COVID Stories.

"The COVID Story" is news. It's case counts. It's science reporting. It's slapping down rumors and conspiracy theories. It's exposing the stupid, venal mismanagement, and occasionally it's celebrating some selfless heroism here or there. It's the "big" story, and it's important, and by and large, it's what the media gives us.

The media is not giving us many COVID Stories, though.

I understand the challenge. Here in America there have been more than six and a half million cases. For each case, there is at least one story and, more likely, many. Stories ranging from the deepest of painful tragedy to heart-lifting triumph, and all between. Sublime stories, ridiculous stories. Deeply significant and important stories. Trivial stories, pointless to anyone but the one(s) who experienced them.

How do you capture all that?

I can't begin to imagine, but one thing I do know: In the sharing of stories there is healing, change, connection-- all the things we need most right now. We may shrink from sharing so much pain, as the teller or the reader/listener, but the sharing process is necessary and denying it will only delay what is needed.

No, I'm not saying everyone has to experience all of those millions of stories, nor that everyone must turn their story into something to share with all and sundry. Not all at once, not now. The raw pain can overwhelm, the anger and frustration can block connection rather than promote it, sometimes.

But ultimately we must all share our COVID Stories, with those we love, with strangers, with each other. We must re-knit the fabric of our community, our commons, our caring about each others' well-being, and our understanding of how others' well-being enriches us and enhances our own well-being.

We may need to do it in stages- after all, for some of us the stories are still happening, continuing to unfold.

And when a story is shared, we can acknowledge it. We can hear. We can let the story teller know we hear. "Oh, that sorrow touches me, too." "Thank you for sharing your gratitude/your hope/your strength." "Stay strong, you are not alone."

Sharing our stories is not a demand for help or action, it need not tax us beyond our strength to hear/read those stories. We do not have to rush out and try to make it better or offer advice or solutions. Just listen and acknowledge and connect. That can be difficult enough, but it is utterly necessary and it will bring rewards ultimately.

Here is a COVID story from me:

My mother is very elderly. Her physical health is good and she has had a long and productive life that has included almost 50 years in recovery from addiction to alcohol and pills. She has been a spiritual light for many.

But that light is dimming. Even with more than 40 years of recovery, the effects of addiction on the brain have contributed to a relentless march of short-term memory loss, inability to focus, and creeping dementia.

At over 90, the last five years have brought her loss after loss, as her elder siblings have passed, and friends in her age cohort have passed or lost the ability to stay in touch. She's always been sociable and deeply reliant on her network of friends and 12-Step program comrades for her sense of identity and accomplishment. And the friends who remain to her, her younger family members, and her 12-Step "family" were generously and joyously supportive of this, even as she went through the painful transitions of losing her independence.

She lost her ability to drive, but an AA friend provided a reliable weekly ride to her home meeting. She lost her best friend from childhood, but that friend's daughter became a frequent visitor and often helped her with shopping and errands and social time.

She had a health crisis last fall but younger family rallied around and her physical health, at least, recovered wonderfully. But the trauma of hospitalization exacerbated her cognitive difficulties and increased her problems with her lifelong mood disorders. It was another painful trauma when she had to move out of her home to an assisted living community.

Our hope was that she would be able to participate in structured activities, find friends- including some who had moved from her independent living housing community before her. A local AA group was investigating the feasibility of doing a regular meeting at the assisted living apartments. She was looking for a new home group in the neighborhood, and when the weather permitted she was walking in the new neighborhood.

But that was in January.

Then came the lockdown. And weeks of isolation.

Her hatred for her new apartment became a driving obsession. She thought moving might help.

The daughter (my older sister) who lives nearest and is her primary caregiver, moved mountains and bent steel bars (metaphorically speaking) to find her options and help her make a choice, and with high hopes, she moved a few weeks ago.

Into another locked-down community, because that's all there is.

She's getting worse. Her cognitive function is decreasing, the dementia is gaining ground. Her short-term memory loss has progressed to the point where if I call her on the video phone in the afternoon, she can't remember that we spoke in the morning, and says, "Oh, I'm so glad you called, it's been so long since we talked!"

She is a gallant fighter. She is getting help, but her care givers- my sister, the geriatric NP who is now her primary health care specialist, friends and family- struggle with how much she needs and the logistics of trying to meet those needs in the face of lockdown, social distancing, etc. She would doubtless be losing ground much faster without all we can do.

But I can't help but think that if we had a competent, caring government, the worst of the pandemic would be over by now. Lockdowns would have eased, resources would have been made available to improve the situation of vulnerable and forcibly-isolated elderly people. The rest of us would not always be trembling on the edge of exhaustion and racked with anxiety. There would be some hope. There would be some optimism. There would be a sense that there will be solutions, and we will find them.

She might have access to more resources, more ways to socialize, things that would keep her from feeling the desperation of lonely isolation and the grinding anxiety of living in [Redacted]'s America.

She would probably still have difficulty, not all the cognitive decline or dementia would be staved off.

But she would enjoy life more, for longer. There would be more for her to do, more interaction available, more services, more help. More respite for her caregivers. More dignity. More serenity, however episodic.

Others have had more painful, sudden trauma, loss and suffering, I know. But this slow torment is also a COVID Story.


On the gifts given to American Presidents...

There is a long and interesting history behind the giving and receiving of gifts to and by U.S. Presidents. Official policies have changed and evolved several times.

Policies on gifts to other Federal Employees are quite clear, by law the definition of "nominal value" is updated every three years so that diplomats on foreign service are clear on whether they can take a piece of gifted art with them when they leave their posting, or procurement officers in various departments, etc., have clear guidance on whether that mocha latte' brought to the meeting for them by a friendly wannabe contractor can be accepted.

But for Presidents, things are different. As their official role requires them to be the official recipient of nation-to-nation gifts, they are exempted from many of the statutory guidelines.

(The Resolute Desk, for example, was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes.)

Most recent Presidents have sidestepped the question by voluntarily following, in a modified fashion, the rules for senior officials- they accept gifts graciously with personal thanks and "on behalf of the nation" thanks, and then they are referred to the Office of Protocol at the State Department for review. Most of the really valuable ones end up in a national museum. Many of the less-valuable but interesting, quirky, somewhat 'personal' ones end up being donated to the retiring President's nonprofit Presidential Library. A few very personal ones are taken with the retiring President, the "of nominal value" ones simply noted, the more valuable ones reimbursed to the nation at market rate.

I hereby prognosticate that in January of 2021 we will see the beginning of a tedious and annoying new process in Federal law as the cleanup gets underway and our overwhelmed and weary lawmakers grapple with the stupid and hitherto-unnecessary problem of restraining a kleptocrat in Presidential office. Of which hopefully we will never have another, but...

This is why we can't have nice things, right?


I have occasionally written here about my retired Marine Dad.

He did not serve very long, but he served long enough to become a Marine.

That is a thing it's hard for people who aren't family members or other Marines to understand.

Every one of our armed services has their particular culture and the comradeship and support they provide one another is lifelong. No disrespect at all to the other services.

Marines, though... there's an intensity to that identity that may have started out as deliberately cultivated to increase unit cohesion and maintain morale, but once it gets under the skin, inside the Marine, it takes on a life of its own.

Back in civilian life my Dad had difficulties settling into a job and couldn't really find a career path that worked for him more than a decade... when he started writing. Not the kind you get paid much for. When she was angry at him Mom would refer to him as "Peter Pan". I get that, but I can also see, now, from a distance, the things that contributed to his inability to settle into anything that would bring material success in the civilian world, and finally resulted in the divorce.

There were two responsibilities, however, that he never shirked. He never missed a birthday or Christmas with his kids, while he lived.

And he never missed the funeral of one of his Marine buddies, while he lived. No matter what it cost.

And sometimes it cost plenty. That was an element to him losing more than one job- whether he'd accrued paid time off or not, if there was a buddy being buried, my Dad told the employer he'd be back after the funeral, if the job was still there. Sometimes it wasn't.

He traveled to California, Texas, Nebraska, and South Carolina that I know of. In a beat-up car if he had one, on the Greyhound if he didn't.

He died of lung cancer before I was old enough to talk about it with him. I wish I could hear more from him about why it was so important to attend the funerals of those "losers" and "suckers"... the ones who served with him.

The armed forces of the United States of America are neither simple nor monolithic. They're a vast and complicated interlocking set of institutions with one purpose: To put themselves in harms way, when necessary, to keep not just their own families and communities safe, but to keep safe a nation organized around the idea that we all matter because we all matter.

They are not perfect saintly idealists, their leaders are not endowed with Higher Wisdom. They have many other reasons for being there- a job, a career, a desire for adventure, self-empowerment, interest in the technology, logistics, the institution itself. There are some not very admirable people in our armed forces, some whose choice to serve was influenced by not very admirable motivation.

But they all have in common one overriding awareness: They have made the commitment to place their skills, their well-being, their lives if necessary, at the call of their fellow-citizens in the person of our civilian government leadership.

I cannot imagine how they must be feeling right now, knowing that their civilian Commander-in-Chief thinks that those of their comrades who made that ultimate sacrifice are "losers" and "suckers."

I cannot imagine what my retired Marine Dad would say about it, to his other comrades, around the grave site of one of their buddies being laid to rest.

Oh, wait. Actually, I CAN imagine that...


All Good Things Must End...

I have successfully avoided the change from software to "apps" and from ownership to leechware for some time, but even good hardware has its limits, and my lovely Cruncher is finally failing.

The chipset and socket configuration that support my Windows 7 OS are no longer available on a motherboard compatible with the rest of my machine. I have a reconditioned version of my original motherboard on order, but it is the second replacement in a year, and they are getting more difficult to find and taking longer to ship. So for this and a number of other reasons, including that my usage patterns and needs have changed, this will be my last attempt to resuscitate the Cruncher.

The only purpose in the resuscitation is to provide me with the time and an orderly way to transfer as much capability and data as possible from the Cruncher to my still-hypothetical new machine.

I invested a lot of money in software that ran well in a Windows environment: Adobe Creative Suite 4, Windows Office Pro 2007 with Access Premium, even a lot of smaller programs like Quicken 2014 (the last version available before they went exclusively to leechware). Yes, I know they're all madly outdated, but the point is that THEY WORKED. They did everything I needed, they were paid for, they never broke or messed up my machine, they didn't fight with each other or the OS, they didn't require constant updates. They just quietly sat there and did what I needed, day after day, year after year.

Some things are replaceable without too much pain- Libre Office works fine for basic productivity and most of the files created in MS Office will still be usable.

Not the Access files, though. Bye-bye to a couple of sturdy little Access databases I have been using for years. I have no way to recreate or replace them, and even if I could, those years of data couldn't be ported into a different environment. Access is just too idiosyncratic. So much for phenology and garden tracking records. Gone. I'll do hardcopy outputs if I can resuscitate the Cruncher, but I doubt I'll ever have time to output everything into .csv flat files in the forlorn hope that they could be retconned into a new version.

Years of financial data- I have no idea how I'll ever replace it and/or reconfigure it, and even if I did-- into what? Are there any financial management programs anymore? As far as I can tell, leechware is the only option. I will probably have to succumb, on that one- the data is too valuable. I hate surrendering to greedy extortioners happy to monetize my need and invade my privacy and doubtless also someday betray my trust for their own profit, but that seems to be all that's left anymore.

How did we get here? Faster, cooler, shinier, more gadgets more doodads more options more bells whistles glitter galore, more convenient, looks cheap, we only take a drop of blood at a time...

I am not looking forward to the frustrations of learning how much real function and personal control I have lost, in return for shiny doodads that meet no need except to entice me to spend more money and fasten more leeches onto my system. But in the long run it will be cheaper and less effort than struggling against the overwhelming tide.

And it will be cheaper and less effort than trying to adapt to an entirely different OS with an entirely different environment that has no compatibility at all with my outdated but still-in-daily-use software library and the many thousands of files deriving therefrom. I no longer work as intensively in applications that would justify learning how to migrate everything to Linux or Apple, or the ongoing work to keep up with the evolution of those products. I'd like to have the option... but right now, it's a bridge too far for a wholesale commitment that might never recoup the cost in time and money.

I do know how to de-bloat and marginally unfuck some of Windows 10's worst excesses. Some things will transfer. Over the long haul I'll probably manage to replace most of what's really important for daily life. But I will have lost a lot, and I'm grieving it a bit.

And reaching out to y'all for support and helpful suggestions.

IS there an option other than leechware to transfer my Quicken files to? One that has similar functions and capabilities?

ARE there any database products that can translate and use Access files?

Is it even possible to obtain "software" versions of programs on media that I would own, anymore? Or is it all "apps" from "stores" that require "subscriptions" and keep sucking money and data from you?

Are there workarounds that don't take large amounts of time and learning and effort and commitment to implement?

That's the real kicker, I think.

Talk to me, people... I'm depressed, and not happy about this future.


Being White and Female: How Toxic is Half the Privilege?

So, yeah, privilege in American culture has many dimensions and race and gender are only two of them. There's a poisonous mash-up of other characteristics we use to dehumanize each other-- who we love, where we worship, how educated our parents are/were, where we were born, what level of education we finished, what kinds of work we do, what ZIP code we live in, how healthy we are, how thin, how attractive, etc.

Many privileges are conditioned or affected by other privileges, but most often by the Big Two: Race and gender. Once those are assigned in the genetic lottery, our culture uses them to define us and place us in the hierarchy that has "White/Y-chromosome" at the top.

I am white and I can barely imagine the experience lived by not-white people in America and I certainly can't speak to it.

But I am also someone with two "X" chromosomes. And I've come to painful terms with the reality that even men who are heartfelt allies, who are fighting with us for our rights as full human beings, who have an intellectual appreciation of how integral the dehumanization of women is to our culture, can NOT see it as we experience it. Even men who are aware that the cultural definition of gender roles is a fundamental tool for maintaining that dehumanization, still reflexively default to assumptions about the role of the Y chromosome in creating differences between who men are, and who women are.

From this I have to hypothesize the extent and the persistence of my own blind spots from being raised in a racist culture. Because I can't see those blind spots from inside my white skin and my white experience. The pain I feel for the experiences of those who are not white will always be mixed with my own deep shame and sorrow and desire to escape the awareness of the privilege of whiteness that has dictated those experiences. My privilege.

Intellectually, I reject that privilege. Emotionally, I repudiate that privilege. Socially, I scorn that privilege. Politically, I strive to be aware of and demolish that privilege.

But on some deep, deep level, I fear losing that privilege.

On some level, having lived the experience of NOT having the privilege that would be mine if I'd been born with a Y chromosome, I'm terrified of losing 'the only privilege I have'. It seems like, maybe, it's my only compensation for the status of Superior Domestic Livestock that is allocated to us double-X chromosome types.

Let me be clear: What I want, what I am committed to, what matters profoundly to me on an emotional and spiritual level is making America a place where privilege is bestowed fully and equally on all of us by virtue of our humanity. Where we all have equal access to the choices and opportunities to earn greater privilege by virtue of our value to one another, or to lose our privilege by virtue of our choices to damage or disregard others' humanity. I am committed to that.

But in that blind spot, the blind spot of being white and female, fear lives.

I have to constantly remind myself of this, check it, look for its tracks in my unconscious choices and assumptions. It's work. I'm not complaining about the work, but nor am I overestimating my flawed human capacity to sustain the effort. I fuck up plenty. And try again.

I believe this experience of being white and female is at the root of some of the more toxic racism that white women perpetuate. A kind of frenzied psychic clutching at the half-privilege of being white, and a terror of losing that, if being white no longer bestows institutionalized advantages.

(Sometimes I ask myself: "Do humans who have a Y chromosome, but not the privilege of being white-- do they have a similar set of blind spots and fears?" Is there a kind of toxic misogyny that goes with being not-white but clutching that Y chromosome as the only superiority you have a baked-in 'right' to? I don't know.)

This awareness of blind spots is one reason why I am increasingly looking to women of color for leadership. It's not a fair burden to assign them, I know. Race and gender do not guarantee that a person will not have plenty of blind spots-- there are all those other privilege-meters we've established, after all. But I think they have a better chance at seeing clearly, and I appreciate all the women of color who are stepping up and providing leadership.


The Woman Without a Mask at the Emergency Dentist

Over the weekend my DH began experiencing pain in a tooth. Our regular dentist is an older man who has essentially shut down his one-man practice for the duration. So we called the "Emergency Dental Services" number in the phone book.

This number is shared by several practices who offer emergency services on a rotation basis. The first available appointment was at a large chain with an office quite close to home early this morning.

My DH has an issue with high gag reflex that makes almost any dental work painfully difficult, and he's learned to take a low dose muscle relaxant to minimize that. Which means he can't drive himself, so I provided the ride.

As I'm sitting in the waiting area, one or two other patients arrive, properly masked, and the (masked) receptionist screens them with a short series of questions, takes their temperature, and directs them to widely-separated areas of the waiting room.

Then The Woman Without a Mask arrives, and marches up to the receptionist, who immediately offers her a disposable mask. This all transpires without a word.

The Woman Without a Mask (TWWM) ignores the mask being held out to her, fumbles in her satchel, takes out a card, and holds it out to the receptionist, who reads it, and says "May I show this to my Office Manager?" TWWM hands it to her and the receptionist leaves with it.

A moment or two later the receptionist is back with (I presumed) her (masked) office manager in tow. The office manager hands the card back to TWWM and explains that this is a health care establishment required by law to have all staff and patients wearing masks in non-treatment areas and whatever manifesto is on TWWM's card does not overrule that law, and would TWWM please wear the mask if she is here for an appointment.

I'm sure y'all can write the dialog from there. "Freedumb". "This is a DENTIST and I'll have to open my mouth ANYWAY". And of course the "I can't HEAR you behind that mask, you're all breathless and indistinct and THAT'S the real risk".

And the office manager patiently reiterating that they cannot permit her to remain in the establishment if she won't wear a mask. Reminding her there's a pandemic raging in our town. ("Pandemic! More like PLANdemic!" ) Finally she leaves, muttering.

I said to the Office Manager "Why didn't you just explain to her this is a dental office, not a psychiatric facility?"

I think I gave them the best laugh of their morning.


6200 in a 19,000-seat venue is blood in the water. They gambled and lost, big.

Watch for an increasingly frantic exodus by any GOPpie who isn't irrevocably chained in the bilge of this sinking ship.

That is all.


Thoughts on Celebrating Juneteenth

First thought: I think there are reasons for Americans who are not black to celebrate Juneteenth. It marks a major occasion when lying to black people about their status to keep them in bondage was no longer possible.

I think it's important for white me to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate when a particular door to shitty racist behavior closed for white people.

I think it's important for white me to acknowledge, honor and celebrate when a major racial injustice perpetrated by white people was brought to an end.

Second thought: Black people have the right and the option to define Juneteenth as a holiday and white me wants to respect and honor and celebrate that definition.

But I do worry that if Juneteenth becomes "a black holiday" it will forever get pigeonholed and marginalized and its real significance might be lost. White me thinks it would be best as an American holiday. Like Independence Day. Very like that.

Third thought: Maybe the way white me can most respectfully celebrate this holiday is by LISTENING to the voices and thoughts of black Americans on their experiences.

So my celebration today begins by looking for the first-person stories of black Americans, historical and contemporary, on how racism is experienced, and how we can change it.


Stop blaming the apples.

Sure, they're rotten. Not just one or two, but barrels of them. Occasionally you get some good ones, but yeah, the number of rotten ones just keeps getting bigger, fewer in each barrel are salvageable...

But it's not the apples' fault that they're rotten.

The orchard is diseased.

A healthy orchard has many different kinds of fruit, for many purposes. Early harvest, later harvest. Fruit that's best for eating, fruit that's best for cooking. Fruit to use right away, fruit that keeps well.

And you don't grow them all together, because different kinds are vulnerable to different stresses, diseases, pests, etc., and if you grow too many of the same type close together, one bout of blight can affect all the fruit.

Of course, it's cheapest to monocrop. Pick one kind. Optimize conditions for it. invest in the machines to tend and harvest just THAT kind.

At least, until the blight sets in.

And then you've got an orchard of one kind of fruit that's good for one kind of thing, but it's being shoved into every niche, whether it's good for that or not. And when the disease sets in, you've got nothing going into the barrels but rotten fruit.

If you want to fix it, stop thinking you can do it on the cheap with a monocrop and a one-culture-fits-all growing environment and automated equipment.

Survey the ground, test the soil. Note the sun exposure, the prevailing winds. What kinds of fruit will do well at this end? You definitely need some cooking fruit, where will it do best? What do you need to grow that special kind that's going to be in demand later?

Tend it carefully and pay attention to it. Don't think you can cheapass it with quick-grow fertilizers. Amend the soil properly and pay attention to its health or it won't grow you healthy fruit.

Check the trees regularly for signs of pest infestation and disease, and don't hesitate to remove a bad tree if it won't respond to treatment.

Get the BEST rootstock. Quality rootstock will let you graft healthy and resilient bearing scions.

At this point, we may need to plow it all up and re-plant.


The tide has turned.

I use this expression deliberately.

My stepfather retired on the Gulf Coast. When I'd visit him, he'd suggest I take a walk on the beach... "before the tide turns."

See, when the tide turned, the beach would get littered with garbage, and a series of tarry, debris-defined lines... the stuff left there by the old tide, coming in and leaving the garbage.

Now the tide has turned. Float with it, or swim out to sea, or face the risk of being left on the beach like a desiccating jellyfish corpse.

Racism is not over.

Racists are forever.

But the system is changing.

And the tide has now, finally, turned.

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