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Sunday, September 19, 2021

What Have We Become?

I often ask myself this question when I read about things such as the following. 

Middle school and high school students vandalize their schools, record the vandalism, and then post the videos on TikTok. This apparently is the latest fun activity for students.

Fist fights among parents and coaches at youth football games in New Mexico sent one player to the hospital.

Arguments, shouting and threats have become commonplace at school board meetings by parents opposed to mask mandates designed to keep their children safe while in school.

Nurses, who should know better, are refusing to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Many have been fired for their refusal.

The September 18 rally in Washington, DC, in support of the group of thugs and domestic terrorists that attempted to overthrow the US government because it did not like the results of the 2020 presidential election, was a bust. Only a couple hundred people showed up. But the fact that people are gathering in support of those who wanted to hang the vice-president of the United States and the speaker of the House, should concern all of us. Some 600 people have been charged to date. However, the ringleader of this attempted insurrection, the former orange-skinned president, has never been charged with anything.

We, as a nation, have become nasty, selfish, hateful and afraid. We are afraid of those from other countries. We are afraid of those who follow any religion other than our brand of Christianity. We are afraid of facts and science. We distrust the educated among us. We would rather get our information from uninformed talk show hosts than from experienced and knowledgeable scientists. We distrust the government. We distrust anybody whose beliefs do not align with ours.

We have closed our minds to the truth and to anything that doesn't align with what we believe. We no longer are able to have rational, calm discussions, about politics, about science, about the pandemic, about climate change.

Lacking any rational rebuttal based on facts -- real facts, not those from "my friend's third cousins' grandfathers' uncle" -- we resort to name-calling and threats.

Republican members of Congress -- who of course got vaccinated against the coronavirus before most other Americans -- refuse to actually lead by example and encourage people to be vaccinated. They refuse to condemn the antics of the governors of Florida and Texas who impose penalties on school districts that want to require their students to wear masks. And the ultra-crazy members of Congress march in protest over mask mandates within the US Capitol.

Welcome to America 2021.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Childhood Flashback

I just had a flashback.

I know that flashbacks are generally negative. They are common among military members with  on at PTSD and those who suffer from traumatic incidents in their lives. But this was a good flashback. Or perhaps I should more accurately call it a memory.

This flashback happened as I walked into my bedroom to close the window that I had left open overnight. I love to sleep with an open window when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. Living in the high desert, I don’t get to enjoy a lot of nights like this. Last night was one of those good nights. But as the temperature began to rise toward an anticipated high of 89°, I needed to close the window. All of a sudden I was transported back to my childhood. I suddenly recalled, and eve even felt, the experience of being a child sleeping in my bed in my small bedroom in my parents’ house in northern Illinois.

We didn’t have air conditioning back then, and in fact my parents had only a couple of window air-conditioning units many years later. So every summer night we slept with the windows wide open. Usually a small fan was running in each bedroom as well to circulate the air. 

What I experienced this morning was the memory of waking up in my bed to a beautiful, sunny day, with crisp, cool air pouring through the windows.  

That feeling was as real as if I were once again in my parents house. My parents are no longer alive, and their house was sold several years ago. But what a delightful, if brief, memory this was.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

An Abundance of Experts

I am truly amazed, no, I am stunned, by the dramatic increase in the number of people in this country who suddenly are experts in all things Covid.

These people must be closet epidemiologists, virologists, physicians and public health experts. After all, they know for a fact that masks don't work to slow the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. One woman on NextDoor proclaimed that wearing masks actually causes the virus to mutate. Another person claims, without proof or sources cited of course, that millions of people have died as a result of being vaccinated against the virus.

Still others exclaim that the vaccination changes one's DNA, or makes women infertile (that wouldn't be such a bad thing if it kept these science deniers from procreating). And what about those who say they won't get vaccinated because they don't know what is in the vaccines? Would they know even if they were told? For those interested, you can get more information about 'ingredients' in the approved Covid vaccines at  Some anti-vaxxers said they wouldn't take an 'experimental' vaccine. Now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval, with the Moderna vaccine expected to receive full approval soon, what lame excuse will these people come up with?

Do these doubters know what is in the hot dogs they eat, or the Twinkies or corn dogs or other fake foods they enjoy? Do they never question why they believe a politician rather than someone with years of study and experience in public health or medicine?

There is disagreement even among public health and medical experts about this virus and how best to control it. The experts are still learning about the virus. There is a reason it is called the novel coronavirus. It is a new virus, and out knowledge of this virus is evolving as the virus itself mutates.

Let's face it: We aren't going to eliminate the virus that causes covid-19, any more than we have eliminated the myriad of viruses that cause the flu or the common cold. So the best we can hope for is to control it. With so many armchair experts weighing in on the pandemic, I wonder why we haven't been able to get it under control yet?

There is a general consensus among most real experts (not those who heard from the third cousin of a friend's uncle) about how best to respond to this massive, worldwide threat to life and public health. 

So how about we stop listening to the armchair experts who think the pandemic is fake and covid is no worse than the seasonal  flu? Perhaps we all need to listen to the experts and do what they recommend.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Looking for Peace in a World Filled With Pain

Yesterday, the very sad anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, I found myself avoiding news coverage and retrospectives about the horrors of that day.

CNN aired a series of programs about the death and destruction of that horrible day. I refused to watch any of them. I know too well what happened. I have heard about the nearly 3,000 innocent lives taken that day, and about the first responders who have died from exposure to substances unleashed in the buildings' collapse. I am familiar with the tales of heroism by the passengers of United Airlines flight 93 as they broke into the cockpit and brought the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania, likely sparing the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. 

Instead, I decided to focus on beauty by looking at some of the photographs I have taken over the years of amazing landscape scenes around the world. I also investigated future photography trips for 2022. 

Sometimes, when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, when the grief and sorrow and painful memories threaten to overwhelm us, the best thing to do is to acknowledge the grief and sadness, and then to do something that brings us peace and beauty. This does not mean we don't care, or that we have forgotten that day. It means simply that we acknowledge the pain and accept that for us, the pain is too much to bear.

For me, peace comes from escape through reading, writing and looking at beautiful pictures. Going outside for a walk is another comforting activity.

Especially during this time of deep political divisions and a never-ending pandemic that threatens all of us, it is more important than ever to take care of each other and ourselves.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Day That Changed America

In two days, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on America by a group of radical Muslims.

And how things have changed since September 11, 2001. Suddenly terms and organizations unknown to most Americans became commonplace. The names of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden peppered our conversations. 

The United States went from a country united in grief, anger and despair to a country that finds people making citizen arrests of school principals for enforcing a government mask mandate. We are a country in which just more than half of Americans have been fully vaccinated against a deadly virus, with the other half refusing to be vaccinated and to wear masks out of some misguided sense of 'patriotism' and loyalty to a disgraced former president.

Personally, I like the nation of 20 years ago a lot better. As NBC News anchor Lester Holt asked at the end of a story about the differences between America in the aftermath of 9/11 and America today: :What has happened to us?"

September 11 is one of those days when everyone remembers where they were when they heard news of the attacks. 

I was on my way to work around 7:15 a.m. PDT when my car radio carried a report that an airplane had hit one of New York City's Twin Towers. It must have been a terrible accident, I thought. Then came news that a second airplane had hit the other tower. This was no accident. 
I was numb and in disbelief. And I was worried, as I worked for a federal agency in the San Francisco Bay area.

My agency shared property with the military. Traffic on the highway was at a standstill. I soon learned why. Immediately after the attacks, all the access gates were closed, with only the main gate remaining open. Every vehicle was searched inside and out and underneath for explosives as it approached the gate, and our IDs were carefully checked. We also were quizzed about where we were going. Which building was I going to?

As I waited in my car to be cleared to enter the property, I called my parents in Illinois so they wouldn't worry about me. They weren't home, and as I later learned, they hadn't yet heard the news. But I left a message on their answering machine.

Nearly all employees were sent home, but I was among a few employees designated as essential personnel who stayed at work to handle the deluge of requests from local news media wanting to interview our senior managers for their thoughts and 'reactions.' I still wonder exactly what kind of 'reaction' reporters were expecting. So I and a couple of other people in my office arranged interviews, coordinated our efforts with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and developed talking points for our senior managers tapped to do interviews. 

This went on for several days, with little time to mourn the horrendous loss of life. I worked long days and was exhausted when I got home. Finally, on a day off work, I had time to process what had happened. As I sat in my favorite chair in the living room, watching the endless replays of the airplanes striking the Twin Towers, and listening to the non-stop news media coverage, the tears started. And they would not stop.

I went for a walk every day during my lunch hour. One day, as I walked near a fence that separated my agency's property from the military side, I heard an airplane approaching. This sound filled me with fear, as all flights over the US were still grounded. It was a US Air Force plane bringing a high-ranking person to the military base. But my nerves were so on edge that just the sound of an airplane sent my heart racing. Luckily, I was near the runway and saw the plane as it landed.

Life has changed in so many ways since that day, when cowards perverted their Muslim faith and used it as justification to kill innocent people. Now we must remove our shoes, coats, belts and sometimes our watches before we can board an airplane. We go through multiple document checks and are subject to patdowns, scanning and swabs for explosives. We are advised that if we "See something, say something." Security has been drastically increased at federal buildings, airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people gather.

The would-be terrorists continue to change their approaches to killing innocent people. They have hit 'soft' targets such as airports, subways, restaurants and other unprotected facilities. They kidnap, torture and murder innocent people. But American and other intelligence agencies and police departments, along with private citizens who are quick to report anything or anyone suspicious, continue to fight back. Terror leaders have been captured or killed, terror cells and plots have been interrupted, and people are willing to get involved in the fight against terrorism on land and in the skies. Passengers on airplanes quickly jump into action if another passenger appears to pose a threat to the plane, crew or other passengers.

I believe that Sept. 11 should be a national holiday. It should join other days of remembrance such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Cancel Columbus Day, which is a minor holiday celebrated by the federal government, but not by anyone else. And it is a growing source of irritation to Native Americans who resent having to honor a man who enslaved and killed so many of their ancestors.

Let us honor the nearly 3,000 innocent people who died on that beautiful autumn day in 2001. Let us also honor those first responders -- police, firefighters and paramedics -- who rushed in to help the victims. Let us honor the survivors who will forever carry the physical and emotional scars of that day. Let us honor all who were forever scarred by the memories of Sept. 11, 2001. 

And now, with our country horribly divided when we should be pulling together to defeat the virus that is our common enemy, let us work to regain the sense of a common humanity, a nation united, that we experienced in the aftermath of this horrible day. In 2001, people around the world joined in a common sorrow for a country with which other governments were sometimes, even often, at odds. Those differences were set aside in grief. People lined up at US embassies in countries around the world to sign condolence books.

That sense of fellowship and support was two decades ago. National tragedies should bring us together. They should drive us to set aside our differences. Instead, we are a nation divided over nearly everything, from voting rights to abortion rights to getting vaccinated to protect us and everyone else against a disease the does not discriminate by age, gender, race or political affiliation.

Let us never forget the tragic events of that September 11. And let us never forget that above all else, we are all Americans. We share a common pride in our country. We have a proud history of pulling together when times get tough. 

It's time to set our petty differences aside and work to find common ground once again.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

I Am Strong, But I Am Tired

I saw a meme with these words the other day. 

And this simple sentence struck a chord. I have been feeling tired mentally if not physically for quite some time. Then I realized that I really am strong, but I also am tired.

Life these days is tiring as well as tiresome. Until a new president took office, I was so tired of waking up every morning, fearful of what the orange tinted occupant of the White House had done to put our country at risk overnight. 

Now I’m tired of oh so many things. This administration is trying its best to undo some of the damage inflicted on the United States during the previous 4 years. The effort to get a majority of Americans vaccinated has slowed, but the appearance of the Delta variant of the virus seems to at last have opened the eyes of people to the threat this virus poses. I also hope that the recent granting of full approval by the FDA to the Pfizer Covid vaccine will encourage more hold-outs to be vaccinated. Vaccination rates are up, especially in southern states with the lowest percentage of the population vaccinated.

But I am tired of listening to the whines and the threats and the general distrust of science, and the excuses and the refusal of so many to do the one thing that can make a huge difference in the fight against this coronavirus. Parents are protesting mask mandates in schools. At least one Republican governor is threatening to withhold funding from school districts that mandate the wearing of masks. Who could possibly oppose anything designed to  protect children, especially those too young to be vaccinated, from a potentially deadly virus?

We could get this pandemic under control if only the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers would stop their mindless rhetoric about their 'freedumbs' being violated. Apparently these clowns feel it's OK to spread a potentially deadly virus to those with chronic illnesses and other medical conditions that preclude them from being vaccinated for legitimate reasons. The hypocrisy of these people going on about 'My body. My choice' is so blatant. They don't/won't/can't see the hypocrisy of demanding rights for themselves that they refuse to give to women regarding birth control and abortion.

I am tired of watching what should have been a medical and public health issue (wearing a mask, getting vaccinated) be turned into a political issue. This virus doesn't respect party lines. It is an equal opportunity threat to life. 

I am tired of watching helplessly as the women and girls of Afghanistan once again fall under the repressive Taliban regime, which says it will give females 'some' rights. Will women and girls be precluded from attending school, working outside the home and even leaving home without an approved male relative accompanying them?

I am tired of the divisiveness and finger-pointing that are so rampant in this country. I am tired of the Republikkkans' efforts to weaken Americans' right to vote. And I wonder whether America will be able to survive as a constitutional republic, or whether we will become a fascist nation led by a small group of oligarchs.

We certainly seem to be heading in that direction at breakneck speed. And the Democrats in Congress seem incapable of doing anything to stop this runaway train.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

It's the Little Things

 It may be a cliche, but it's the little things in life that can bring the most enjoyment.

This morning, for the first time in several months, I treated myself to a cup of my favorite tea, Good Earth Sweet and Spicy. I have loved this tea for many, many years. It was a long-standing tradition to have a cup every morning.

Then I developed kidney stones that required four surgeries to break them up with a laser, and I learned that black tea contains a high level of oxalates, the substance that is a major contributor to the formation of most kidney stones.

I gave away several boxes of Good Earth tea and other varieties of black tea last year. I started trying a variety of herbal teas, which don't contain oxalates. Some are not bad, but I missed my special tea. I still have two boxes of Good Earth tea, and this morning I treated myself to a cup. I don't let the tea get too strong (to minimize the amount of oxalate I consume), and I added a packet of Litholyte crystals, which bind with the oxalate and decrease its ability to form new kidney stones. I also enjoy the morning kick of caffeine, which herbal teas lack.

What a treat it was to enjoy a cup of this wonderful tea this morning! I have never liked coffee, so tea has always been my morning hot drink. After not enjoying this tea for several months, this was a special treat. 

Another little thing greatly enjoyed this morning was a cool start to the day. Afternoons still reach into the 90s here, but overnight temperatures are very pleasant. This is not to say that i am looking forward to cold weather, but a cool morning is welcome indeed.

Last evening we were treated to a heavy rain storm, which brought much-needed rain to this drought stricken area. Unfortunately, the heavy rain brought the realization that the roof over my patio has a leak, so rainwater got into the house around one of the living room windows. Time to call the roofing company. Luckily we don't get heavy rains like that very often.

So those are the little surprises I have enjoyed recently. What little things are your favorites?