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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus - Ignore the Talking Heads, Listen to the Scientists & Medical Professionals

(What some would have you believe; note that it apparently stinks to be Hawaii & Alaska)

Preface:  Right off the bat I will confess to the fact that I have a conflict of interest when it comes to this topic.  Specifically, I have a daughter, Dr. Albert, who is a real-life scientist.  This is in addition to my bias against bull$hit, especially as spread by politicians and the opinion media.  On to the post.

* * * * * *

We live in an interesting age, one where truth can attempt to be re-written by a Sharpie and science marginalized because it provides truths that some voters may just as soon not want to hear.  As if ignoring a fact somehow changes it into a fiction.  Anyway, you can find some rational, non-politicized advice from scientists and medical professionals about the coronavirus HERE.   A key point or two is noted directly below.

"A mask that you have never used before and wear all day long, that gets damp, is not going to help you. You may touch it a lot because it is uncomfortable, lowering its effectiveness.
Quite simply, good hand hygiene and face hygiene will protect you from a lot of illnesses, including Covid-19.
    Risk is dependent on exposure. Some people will have an increased risk of infection, such as health care workers caring for patients with Covid-19 and other close contacts. For the general public in the US, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from Covid-19 is considered low at this time."

    This is a serious, nasty business.  As someone with asthma, I dread just getting a cold, as it takes forever for me to kick and inevitably ends up with me taking steroids that make me both bouncy and greasy (which, admittedly, is better than not actually breathing).  Needless to say, I want to limit my exposure to the virus, and quite frankly, you should too, especially if you or a family member is at heightened risk for infection.  Please take this seriously!

    For the record, you will not get good information about the virus from talk radio or any single source, including (unfortunately) the United States government.  I just want to put that out there, in case anyone wants to believe that coronavirus is no worse than the common cold.

    Here are some additional sources of information that are not tainted by the political lens.

    World Health Organization (WHO) Facebook Page

    WHO Webpage

    Coronavirus Live Map (New York Times)

    BBC Coronavirus Tracking (BBC)

    Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Information

    Wall Street Journal, What We Know...

    Center for Disease Control (CDC)*

    Again, please take this seriously by staying informed.  Spend less time listening to politicians and more time listening to scientists and medical professionals.  Have a plan for how you will manage your affairs if, for example, schools and other public places are closed.  Stock up on medications.  Have plenty of extra non-perishable food on hand.  Avoid traveling if at all possible, especially by airplane.

    Mostly though, be careful out there.

    (*) Note that increasingly, it seems that attempts are being made to politicize information coming out of the CDC, including placing Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coronavirus communications (reference HERE). I am not suggesting that CDC information is unreliable, but I am stating that I would not solely rely on medical/scientific communications coming through someone who doesn't have a great track record when it comes to actual science (reference HERE).

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020

    Ash Wednesday

    True stories:  When I was a kid, I found three experiences to be particularly traumatic.

    #1) Dental Work
    As a very young kid, we went to a dentist who didn't believe in using Novocain.  Not a drop.  As I type this, I still have a memory of that drill going into my baby teeth...the pressure...the pain...the smell.  Fortunately, by the time reached about age 12, the old Dentist stopped practicing (that or Simon Wiesenthal finally caught up with him) so we started seeing a new dentist.  This one was far more compassionate.

    #2) Needles
    Like most kids, I hated needles.  What made me particularly bad with the pointy things was the fact that I had surgery three times between the ages of 5 and 7, so I got stuck a lot.  It honestly wasn't until my 20's before that fear started to wain.  Nowadays?  Heck, I give instructions on the placement of an IV (top of the hand, thank you very much).

    #3) Ash Wednesday
    I loathed Ash Wednesday as a kid.  I literally hated it.  In fact, on more than one occasion I would become sick...real or imaginary...when the day came around.  Why?  Well, there are probably a few reasons, but three come to mind...
    • I simply didn't like someone smearing dirt on me.  It made me feel filthy.  Just writing that brings back memories of that gritty feeling as the dirty was spread on my all-too-large forehead.  It reminded me of filled ashtrays at home. 
    • Reminding me, as a young kid, that I was going to die seemed cruel, especially given my incredibly fertile imagination.
    • The exercise seemed so insincere, what with normally mean-spirited people walking around with this mark on their heads, saying "look at me, I'm so pious (in all of the wrong ways)".  It was a kind of "black badge of insincerity". 

    What's kind of ironic is the fact that the first two items have completely turned around on me as I've grown older.  I am border-line fanatical about my teeth these days, and I even had a dental implant done.  As for needles, well, see above...I really don't mind.  In fact, if it's something that will help me, well, bring it on.  Ash Wednesday, it still skeeves me out.  Luckily for me, nowadays I no longer have to pretend to be sick when the day comes around every year.  I still don't, however, like to look at people with it on their foreheads.  

    Monday, February 17, 2020

    IKEA Smell

    I make no secret of the fact that I really like IKEA.  In fact, it's about the only retail experience these days that I find the least bit interesting.  Simply put, IKEA turns shopping for things into an event.  In my case, that would be an event that is worth driving 90 or so minutes to experience two or three times a year.  Among the many reasons I enjoy about IKEA?  The smell.

    The Internet tells me that IKEA smells like cinnamon buns (reference HERE), but I don't buy it.  I know the smell of cinnamon buns.  I like the smell of cinnamon buns.  IKEA does not smell like cinnamon buns.

    If I had to describe the smell, it would be something that's a combination of:
    • A light cleaning solution/disinfectant of some type
    • 3,000 tons of laminate
    • The cafeteria, although not a particular food
    • Something sweet
    • Slightly herbal
    • Slightly floral
    Maybe this is part of some greater Swedish conspiracy to get folks like me to buy more reasonably priced but yet stylish self-assembled furniture*.  Maybe it's all in my head.  But the smell is there, I swear it is.

    I could rant on and on about how much I enjoy going to IKEA and why it's a terrific business (including their composting of cafeteria scraps).  In fact, over the course of the 11+ years of the blog I probably already have, but I am too un-motivated to check at the moment.  I will note though that I do have one IKEA complaint:  The don't sell ribs in the cafeteria anymore.  When I first went to IKEA, something like a dozen years ago, the cafeteria had ribs that were among the best I have ever had in my entire life.  Bar none, I swear.  Alas, the ribs are gone, and I have to make do with the Swedish meatballs (which are pretty good).

    To end on a high note, some IKEA humor.

    (*) All of the furniture in my home office is from IKEA, including two work surfaces, a bookcase, a dresser, a cube unit, a rolling file storage unit, and a Symfonisk speaker lamp.

    Friday, February 14, 2020

    Valentine's Day

    "Let us be lovers, 
    we'll marry our fortunes together"

    (Paul Simon, "America")

    I was trying to ponder the best way to describe a sentiment suitable for Valentine's Day, and for some reason the Simon & Garfunkel song "America" came to mind.  In particular, the line "Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together" stands out as one of those deceptively simple but yet incredibly poignant thoughts that I think requires a genius to come up with.  Put another way, I could probably write 600 words that wouldn't mean a tenth of what Paul Simon wrote in 9.  

    In the old days...and I mean really old days...people would literally marry their fortunes together, putting all they had into something else, something bigger, something important and worthy.  It's not necessarily a romantic or love inspired thought, but when you think about it, that does almost perfectly describe the meaning of true love.  I mean what is true love if it isn't putting all you have into something greater, something where two become one?

    Here's to everyone who has managed to find someone to marry their fortunes with on this Valentine's Day.  And if you're still looking, well, keep at it.  There is always something bigger on the horizon.

    PS - The best version, ever, of this song was performed by David Bowie during the Concert for New York.  Just Bowie sitting on a stage with a small keyboard.  Another example of genius wrapped in a deceptively simple package.  

    Sunday, February 9, 2020

    In the Living Years

    I have a posting on a relevant, timely topic all ready to go, but I'm not going to do it.  I'm just not feeling it.  Instead, this feels more important.

    This was at my brother Rich's wedding, probably 1988 or so.  In case you can't tell, I'm the one wearing the stylish hot pink tie.  That seems like it was a lifetime ago.  Or longer.  And so very, very much has changed since then.  

    Time, it seems, is a funny thing.  We measure time in terms of our planet's rotation on its axis and rotation around the sun.  Those would seem to be relatively constant things.  In reality, though, they are not.  In fact, they seem relative.  

    When I was a child, time passed incredibly slowly.

    Now, at age 55, time seems to fly by.  Except for the fact that, for example, it seems like only yesterday when my brother Chris (first on the left in the picture above) passed away in January 2017. Conversely, looking forward, my plan is to work until about age 65 and then retire.  That, in spite of how time at age 55 seems to pass by quickly, seems so very far away.

    Maybe time isn't so constant at all.  Or more precisely, maybe the thing being measured is constant, but the person doing the measuring isn't.  Regardless, these are heady questions that far exceed my pay-grade.

    What does seem abundantly true, but yet hard to fully appreciate, is that regardless of how fast (or slow) time passes by, it's probably most important (and for me, the most difficult) to appreciate the moment that we are in, not dwelling on the past or worried about the future.  I know this intellectually (I've pretty much read every book written by Eckhart Tolle), but actually practicing it is a different story.  I'd like to say that "I've got time to learn that", but who knows if that's actually true.  Unlike half-gallon jugs of milk, our expiration dates aren't printed on our side.  

    In any event, here's to the living years.

    Monday, February 3, 2020

    What the Leadership of the Scranton School District Fails to Grasp

    The screen grab, above, comes from a Tweet regarding this evening's Scranton School District (SSD) board meeting.  You can follow the reporter's Twitter feed HERE.  This is another chapter in the story of buried and ignored lead and asbestos findings in district buildings.  By way of backstory, click on THIS link.  Here's one key point of that article:

    "Scranton first tested its water in 2016, after the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, drew national attention to the issue. That June, the district announced it had shut off eight water fountains and 11 sinks after test results revealed elevated lead levels in the water. Officials had planned to replace the brass or bronze fittings in the affected places that summer, but the district has been unable to find any proof the issues were addressed."

    What Superintendent McTiernan fails to grasp by her comment is the perception that things are never actually taken care of in the SSD.  No one is held accountable.  The examples are legion, and some have been chronicled in this blog over the years, from an egregiously ridiculous no-bid busing contract that was actually renewed with no objections, to school board directors failing to attend meetings, to nepotism so bad that it boarders on shameful. 

    Case in point:  The felon former business administrator of the SSD, who pleaded guilty to getting free auto repairs from the district for himself and his "family", and received probation for his efforts.  Oh, and his wife (a.k.a. his "family") still works for the SSD.  Reference HERE and HERE.  You can't make this up.

    As someone who attended the SSD myself and who had children attend as well, I have to ask if I was exposed to lead and asbestos.  The harmful effects of these things have been known for decades, so why it even took until 2016 for this to come to light escapes me.  It should be shocking to no one that, for example, a 114 or so year old building might have asbestos issues.  In fact, the truly shocking part is the fact that no one bothered to look into it until 2016...and then they did nothing about it.

    The people involved in hiding the  2016 testing results should be held criminally responsible for their actions.  They intentionally put children and staff in SSD buildings in harm's way.  Scranton residents, current and past (including me) will have to make due with the heaping of shame upon prior administrations for yet another example of their gross incompetence.