Posts Tagged ‘General writing’

NINE LESSONS

September 7, 2018

I didn’t think I would ever financially support a Republican candidate in my lifetime, but life is full of surprises.  The husband of my wife’s best friend is a sheriff’s deputy in a rural county and ran for Justice of the Peace.  He was a great candidate, knowing the vast land, larger than many states, the people, and the law, but the first and most important requirement, my wife told him, was he had to run as a Republican in that county. 

He did in 2014, but made the decision too late to get on the ballot, so ran as a write-in candidate and still got 30% of the vote.  But he lost.  That is Lesson #1 for the Democrats this fall: please stop rejoicing about the “almosts.” A year ago, doing better than expected was encouraging.  But the winner still voted to repeal the ACA.  The situation is dire enough that nothing less than winning matters.  

Our friend stayed in his day job, did well, and bided his time.  Four years passed, 2018 arrived, and he filed to run against the incumbent, who had a lot of problems, including a rumored federal investigation into corruption.  Lesson #2: don’t underestimate the power of incumbency; Lesson #3R: only results from the investigation may matter, not the fact there is an investigation. (Lesson #3D: any investigation matters, and if the result isn’t guilty, there needs to be another investigation.)

My wife’s best friend became a skilled, creative campaign manager, making a great video of her husband’s telling why he was qualified for JP, and what the position entailed, which was educational.  She got the message out every possible way, even by a horse-drawn float at the county fair.  Her husband looked right for the job, which shouldn’t matter but does, he was available for questions and was a straight shooter, figuratively and literally.

It was a three way race, and one of the other candidates was member of a certain religious group.  Lesson #4: that’s a problem in the rural West. I’ll leave it there.

We had a chance to win:  Lesson #5: You don’t really know what will happen.  Do not, under any circumstances, become overconfident:  2016s happen, and we had no idea what the voters would do.  Or how many would not vote at all.  

The days before the primary, the candidate’s wife called many, trying to get out the vote.  One of the county election commissioners thanked her for calling people and informing them.  The commissioner herself hadn’t been doing that. Lesson #6: don’t assume the electorate will show up. Primary elections are arguably the most important elections of all.  In this particular one, the Republican winner was going to be the JP.  The general election was a formality. The primary is a hurdle that has to be crossed.  Fail to get by the primary, if you are Eric Cantor, majority leader in the House, or Joe Crowley, headed for a possible speakership in November, your career is over.  Lee Bight, one Republican who believed in global warming and attendant climate change, was ousted by Trey Gowdy in a primary, the Gowdy who kept investigating Hillary Clinton. See Lesson #3D above.

The primary turnout in Arizona this year was 30%.  And that was a record.  Seventy per cent of the electorate, for whatever reason, didn’t vote. In the county where our race occurred, turnout was 25%.  A quarter.  In 2016, 81% of Republicans voted, 74% of Democrats. There’s your 77,000 votes in three states. In 2014, 21% of millennials voted.  In California, 8.2% of 18-24 year-olds voted, and the youth, who were 14.5% of the voting population, cast 4% of the ballots.  If the millennials continue to be relative no-shows in elections, they are going to be dictated to by the conservatives in my generation.  Just sayin.’  The problem we have in the Senate, where the Affordable Care Act narrowly survived, if one can call what has happened to it survival, where we have two conservative supreme court justices so far in this term (and a possibility of as many as three more), where Republican-leaning judges for federal courts have been approved in record numbers, can be directly laid to poor turnout in elections.  I am beyond angry at those who didn’t vote in 2014.  Lesson #7: Not voting because nothing ever changes is wrong.  Things can change for the worse, and the country has seen that in spades since the last election.  Or am I the only one who hasn’t slept well since then? 

A single vote does matter:  Florida in 2000, Virginia in 2017 (a tie occurred), and some House race virtually every year. If perfection is desired in a candidate, move to Mars.

What happened to our candidate was predictable, although we didn’t predict it: the results of the investigation into the incumbent would come after the election, enough of the certain religious group voters turned out, and there were too many no-shows.  He lost, finishing again with 30%.  

I was upset, not at the campaign, which I thought was wonderfully run, in the spirit of America, or at least the America I once knew and served, but at the selfishness of those who can’t be bothered to vote, the religious turnout for someone whose qualification is the right religion but nothing else, and how people in power can delay investigations until a convenient time, read “after the election.”  

Lesson #8:  gerrymandering and a profound war on voting rights were aided by state legislatures, the Supreme Court AND by those too busy to vote, still stuck in the mindset that both parties are the same AND by those who threw their vote to a fringe candidate who ran only for their ego and had NO chance of winning. The single best weapon is convincing every possible person on one’s side to vote. What swung Alabama a year ago was the black vote, black women in particular, who increased their turnout from 25 to 30%.  That still is paltry, but it mattered.  There were six thousand people who didn’t vote in the primary for JP3. True, it’s better sometimes that some of them vote.  We will never know what would happen if they all showed up and voted, but in this race, like every other race in the country, would at least be truly decided by the people, not a few.  It’s a different world when everybody votes, and I think a lot fairer one, too, usually. 

Ayanna Pressley (and yes, spell check, better allow the second “s”) had no chance to win, but the voters turned out and she won by 18%.  There might have been a different JP in that county come November, despite Lessons #3R and #4. Arguably, the JP is going to affect one’s life in that district far more than a single representative.  

In the low moments after I failed big time in my career change nearly two decades ago, I always knew the answer to, “If only I had resigned and gone back to school.” I knew the answer, and besides, one career of mine suffered but another one did well.  My wife’s best friend will never have to say, “If only I had…”  That might be Lesson #9.

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS IS NOT JUST COW PIES

August 4, 2018

It was minor, really, and I shouldn’t have gotten upset.  The bicyclist rode past me on the river path, waving.  The problem was that no bicycles were allowed on this quarter mile path.  None.  There was a sign and a gate, although there was a tire mark in a rut in the ground by the gate.  I liked the path, because if I didn’t have to worry about a bicyclist, I could walk on either side and not have to look behind me before crossing, unlike in the rest of the park where it was paved.  The park also had dirt paths where it seemed clear bicycles were not allowed, but they appeared there, too.

And it wasn’t just bikes.  I had a loose dog snap at me once, and another time a couple let their dog loose, as if the whole 413 acre park was for their dog alone.  In 3 minutes, the dog urinated twice, defecated, and chased some ducks off a small area of water.  I was incensed.  Dogs were supposed to be on a leash.  There was a sign.

Leashes are often treated as optional in other local parks, too, and I shudder to think how much urine and feces are in the woods near the trail. On the last 75 yards to the freeway-paralleling sidewalk near my home, there were 4 dog poops in the first twenty feet.  The Club once picked up 100 different poops in about 2 miles’ trail.  Sometimes, the stuff is bagged, and the bag left “for pickup,” as if absolving the owner from any further duty. I suggested to the Club members who wanted “dog hikes” that maybe they do periodic trail poop pick-ups on a monthly hike.  That got a stony silence.  

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not the dog’s fault—a dog is being a dog.  I have issues with bad owners.  And bicyclists who flout rules.  I used to ride, but I got off at a crosswalk, because pedestrians have right of way and on my bike I was a vehicle.  

This brings me to a basic problem in the country today, a key debate, really, that often divides along party lines:  the right of the individual to do what he/she wants vs. the common good.  

Many want to be able to go where they wish, take whatever animals they wish with them, do what they want, be it camping, shooting a firearm, hunting whatever they choose, driving at whatever speed they want to, running an outboard motor where they wish, taking up as much space on a campground, or an Appalachian Trail shelter as they wish, playing whatever music they want at whatever volume they wish, and consume whatever they feel like consuming, food or resources.

And not pick up after themselves….Or their dog.

The problem is the tragedy of the commons:  if everybody grazes cows on the commons, pretty soon, there is no grass left (and a lot of cow pies.)  If we cut down all the trees we can for “jobs,” pretty soon there won’t be any more cuttable trees.  We can, of course, say that there are the same number of trees, assuming replanting, but Weyerhaeuser doesn’t hire loggers on the basis of “tree counts,” even if some in Washington use the term.

We hunted the Passenger Pigeon to extinction.  We fished out the Grand Banks.  We almost exterminated bison.  We are in danger of losing all coral, and well on our way, given ocean acidification and warming, to losing all fish.  All of this has been due to no effective regulation.

Individual rights?  Or Common good?

I practiced medicine for years dealing with this dichotomy, which I called autonomy vs. accountability.  Many of my colleagues wanted to be left alone to practice the way they chose, regardless of whether it was out of date, not supported by science, or outright dangerous to patients.  Some crossed over to the accountability side only when their turf was invaded by others practicing outside their range of expertise.  When that happened, I was told to “do something about this.”  

The country is facing an environmental crisis by ignoring climate change, opening up formerly protected areas for resource extraction, relaxing rules regarding what is a poison, what is an allowable level of a dangerous compound, and who controls the land.  There are too many people having too many children, but I’ve given up on that one.  The irony is that the individual rights group believes they have a right to access, at any time, all land in their area (except their own private property, of course.)  Eliminating public land will shut everyone out of that land as the wealthy buy it and make it their own private property.  Normally, I would be glad to see the individual rights group get their comeuppance, but locked up land, unless it is wilderness, is unable to be accessed, so there is neither individual rights nor a common good operating here.

Head to southeast Arizona and one reads about mega-farms, many foreign owned, where nut trees were planted, incredible users of water, obtained by wells drilled far below the depth of current ones, which are drying up as the water table falls.  There are road signs saying to drive slowly and watch for earth fissures, as excessive groundwater pumping has caused land shifts. Eventually, the entire aquifer will be depleted, and the only life will be that which can survive the harsh climate with what little rain falls.  Oaks in the Chiricahua Mountains can no longer send roots deep enough.  They are dying. Many large agricultural concerns moved to southeast Arizona because there were no regulations.  Even some die-hard local Republicans want “withdrawal (of water) fees,” (it’s really a tax, but nobody wants to use the word) and some even admit there is a case for governmental involvement.  It’s so bad that rural Arizonans are actually using the words “climate change”.  Funny how when one is affected, belief comes quickly.

The Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains is a third depleted, this information coming from space, using a pair of satellites to compare gravity.  One may not understand gravitational comparisons, but all should understand quite well what will happen when mid-continent agriculture runs out of water.  The hundredth meridian “dry line” has shifted two degrees of longitude to the east, which may not seem much, but a 140 mile shift  involves 38 million acres of Cornhusker land.  Both Grand Island and Kearney are now on the wrong side of the line, the Platte is in real trouble, as is a lot of land in the region that requires a lot of water for agriculture, let alone wetlands for the Central Flyway.  

Assuming birds matter.  Or the Sandhill Crane migration.

The common good is not just for those who are currently alive but for humanity’s future.  We alive today are the individual; those who are yet to be born are the common good.  We are leaving to those unborn generations a planet where it will be impossible to find cold adapted species except at the highest of altitudes. There will be far fewer large mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, far less arable land and clean water.  The common good—future generations— will share excessive heat, dryness, and crowding, because too many individuals—who had skin in the game—failed to act.

We are not dissimilar to bacteria on a Petri dish kept in a warm room.  The difference is the latter mindlessly grow, increasing their numbers, until they run out of nutrients.  Then they die.

Perhaps there is no difference.  

NO SKIN IN THIS GAME

July 18, 2018

This year, for the first time in twenty years, I’ve been going to the gym to lift weights in order to strengthen my upper body.  Occasionally, I drive there, but it’s a short enough walk that does me good, going through Alton Baker Park, along the canoe canal, under I-5, into Springfield, through a quiet neighborhood, to the gym.  In summer, there is shade and wildflowers, and in fall there are some of the most beautiful colors in town. 

The workouts have helped me; I can do 20 push-ups now, rather than barely 12 a year ago.  It is said that the 60s are the time to build yourself up, the 70s to try to avoid damage.  I forgot what the 80s were for— probably making lists to avoid forgetting. In any case, the workouts have helped me, as a member of the High Cascade Volunteers, do the 2-man crosscut sawing of large blowdowns, some of the more difficult work I have done. Somebody has to hike into the woods with tools to clear wilderness trails, and its not like the Forest Service will be funded to do it.  It is good to be with a bunch of folks who like being in out of doors doing good work helping the land and serving people, the USFS motto.

On my way back home, I passed by some neighbors who were looking at grandchildren pictures.  I wonder what they think about how climate change will affect their grandchildren.  Do they care about it?  This is my generation’s legacy, their legacy, and I am ashamed of it.  Are they?

While I’m at it, are they worried about their own future?  What’s going to happen when Medicare is privatized (read: destroyed) and SSI disappears?  Voting mattered, you see, and well, those who didn’t vote, or played silly games with their vote, made sure the House and Senate went Republican back in 2014.  It mattered a lot at the state level, but down ballot candidates may be ignored.   Each day part of me hopes that if the country goes the wrong direction far enough, maybe many will be hurt so badly that they will finally decide that voting matters. That of course assumes that they still have the right to vote, currently in jeopardy, and they vote for the right candidates.

A guy I hike with, who voted for Jill Stein, so he could remain pure, I guess, decried the state of the country, too.  He didn’t like the fact that the Oregon congressional delegation pushes logging.  I don’t either, but they are a damn sight better than the “scientist” who runs every other year for Congress, who solicits people’s urine, because he is convinced he will cure a lot of disease with the knowledge. Or Greg Walden, who wrote the monstrous Republican health care bill. I told my friend that if he wants perfection, he should run himself. Perhaps if his VA disability check stops coming, he will realize that voting really does matter.  The perfectionism required by some Democrats is arguably as bad as any Republican.

Then I felt better when I remembered I have no skin in this game.  We have no children and no grandchildren. I volunteer at the community college, and I strongly believe in education, but if those with kids and grandkids aren’t worried about the climate, well, why should I be worried?  The country going in the wrong direction?  Yep. But my kids aren’t going to suffer, because I don’t have any.  

Since, we don’t have any daughters or grand-daughters, the fact that there will be loss of abortion rights and birth control leading to a lot of poverty, homelessness, and more stress isn’t directly going to affect me, only my email box, which gets a dozen requests daily to do something.  I’m no longer signing, marching, or calling.  Somebody else’s turn. 

I’m not a union member, nor is anybody in my family.  Not my problem. None of my small family is gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  A sixth of the gay population voted for Trump in 2016.  A sixth!! That is when I ceased worrying about their rights.   I wonder how many states that cost.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not at all friendly towards gays, which ought to be of major concern to that sixth.

Michigan can’t sell beef to China, now.  Wisconsin-based Harley is threatening to build factories in Europe, South Dakota farmers are complaining about where their soybeans will no longer go, and those are all red states.  Not my problem.  They made their bed.   Hell, the president sided with Putin against our intelligence services.  For my entire adult life—nearly half a century—I have heard how the Democrats were soft on communism.  Now the Republicans have cast their lots with the Devil so they can get a conservative agenda—except on Russia, apparently.

This administration destroys; the only thing it creates is chaos.  There’s a lot of that these days, hiding the real harm that is happening. 

My wife and I are planning on visiting Vancouver this year.  Sure, the climate is going to get worse there, too, just as it has in Oregon, but most of the predictions are for 2050 and 2080, which is a bit beyond my timeline  I don’t want to move, but if after these past eighteen months people won’t vote in Democrats, even with voter suppression and cheating that is going to require more votes than normal, then I don’t want to live in a Christian theocracy where a treasonous, morally bankrupt president gets a free pass from boorish slobs who still are fighting Hillary Clinton, blame Obama for every ill, worried about a deep state, guns, and UN conspiracies.  I don’t want to live in a place where people complain about migrants but don’t believe in the climate change that is fundamentally behind much of the reasons for the migration.  I don’t think the 4000 member attended National Prayer Breakfast, where a Russian spy found connections by the way, is something we ought to have.  I don’t want to live in a country where Christians are pushing their agenda in my local newspaper, which recently ran an ad from Hobby Lobby about “Blessed is the nation whose Lord is God.”  Hobby Lobby was a Supreme Court case basically saying that the for-profit company should not be required to provide birth control coverage to their employees, because they thought birth control is immoral. We may be headed for no Affordable Care Act, no birth control, and no abortion.  I wonder what that is going to do to the infant mortality, childhood development, and the death rate in general.  I know what will happen to bankruptcies.

I am at the age where “That was too young” won’t be said when I die.  It is always a shame when people die too young.  But so long as they weren’t aborted, then it really doesn’t appear to register to many in this “Blessed Nation” that a death is still a death.  

In short, the country I served in uniform 40+ years ago, the country in which I have lived for nearly 70, is rapidly becoming a country that doesn’t fit me.  But as I said, I’ve got no skin in this game.  I can take my marbles elsewhere, and I may do just that..

WHAT I DID TO REPLACE MY FACEBOOK TIME

June 18, 2018

     

Well, I haven’t completely left Facebook these past four months.  I still use Messenger and WhatsApp to help a few with their English, and with Messenger, I have to log on Facebook.  The two posts came from briefly—oh, so briefly—reading something before I clicked to go on Messenger.  That’s how Facebook sucks me in, and I’m not sure I’m alone in that regard.  One was a nice picture of a friend, the other a birthday.  

Still, I haven’t been on Facebook for four months. I was spending too much time there and was depressed by the news, the conspiracy theories, the religious and other Trump supporters with their double standards and terrible grammar, the requests to march, sign, donate, all the great things everybody else was doing that I wasn’t, and not liking some of the rather nasty comments I received, some of which were from friends.

It took 37 days before anybody wrote me asking if I were OK, which was heartening, longer before any of my friends whom I have actually met, noticed.  Indeed, had I not asked in person how a trip was, they might not have ever figured out I wasn’t logging on.  Messenger and WhatsApp are also Facebook owned, so I can’t say that I am boycotting the organization, much as I might like.  It reminds me of my brother’s comment about the UFW (the United Farm Workers, for those who are too young to remember) decades ago.  He said he wasn’t boycotting California produce because if he boycotted everything produced by right-wing farmers, he’d starve to death.  If I boycotted every communication corporation, I’d correspond with almost nobody.

It was nice that I hadn’t posted anything between 22 and 24 May, avoiding getting caught up in yet another of Facebook’s many data compromises that somehow keep on occurring.  

Mornings, I now spend 45 minutes reading the major articles and the online opinions in The New York Times.  I don’t agree with all of the commentators by any means, but they are far better than the comments I read on Facebook.  Besides, if I go to a news site from Facebook, I can guarantee I will start getting spam emails that same day which will require my going in, unsubscribing, and being told it will be 10 business days (read: three weeks, since Fridays and Mondays are not devoted to business other than leaving early or catching up) before the emails disappear.

In conversations with my wife and friends, I often quote one of the articles. I get facts, which I don’t need to check, add a “like” or comment.  I read interesting articles, avoid time wasting videos and the commentary below, thereby avoiding many arguments with those whom I think are wrong but will never admit it. I like the Times’ op-eds, the regular columnists, superb journalists.  I understand what is going on in the world, the problem with Tasers we don’t hear about, mindfulness meditation, differences in metabolism, why indigestible oligosaccharides are important in infants (the gut biome) and why waist size is important. 

I no longer worry about posting what I have done, a time-consuming process that led to answering comments or spending irreplaceable minutes seeing who liked it, which didn’t matter, but somehow I let myself get caught up in it. I try to do a brief meditation in the morning and evening, because the Times had a good article about it with recordings I could download and play back at my convenience.  

I spend maybe twenty minutes on weather models I have access to.  I finally have the European Medium Range Model (ECMWF) which along with the Global Forecast (GFS) gives me an excellent idea of what is coming weather-wise long before I read about it.  I’ve made significant progress as a amateur meteorologist, but there is still much I have to learn.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 7.48.54 PM

GFS model for late 18 June 2018 showing cyclonic circulation (upper level low pressure) over southern Idaho with NE wind flow (blue arrows) that has already produced precipitation in western Oregon and which will will produce northern Rockies precipitation in the coming days.  The numbers are dekameters where 500 mB pressure (half the normal atmospheric pressure) is located.

I have time to get caught up on The New Yorker, Outside, Astronomy, and High Country News.  Sometimes I download books to the Kindle.  I discover books I am interested in by reading a lot; I tend to automatically turn off when somebody tells me “I should read….”  If I took everybody’s reading advice, I wouldn’t do anything else with my life.  

I’m not sure Facebook has anything to do with the fact that I am not leading as many hikes this year for the Club.  Either way, that is good for me.  I’m not taking as many group hikes, either, because I don’t know what I am getting into on a hike led by someone else unless I know the area where we are going.  Mileage can be wrong, more hiking can be added, and unplanned stops at bars or restaurants on the way home make it impossible for me to plan, and I like to plan. It’s difficult for a few who count on me to lead something so they can go outside, but they can go anytime, just like me. I’m starting to do trail work occasionally with the High Cascade Volunteers, and I have adopted a Cascade trail.  This is important, worthwhile work with good people trying to care for public land in a time of scarce resources.

I’ve become a better naturalist.  On my 4 mile walk through Alton Baker Park today, I identified  31 species of wildflowers.  So far this year, I have 109 on my list; only 18 of them I would have known last year.  That’s fun.  I saw a beautiful Spotted Towhee yesterday, instead of just hearing the zzzssst.  Today I saw crows dive bombing a hawk, a pair of Osprey high overhead, and a Steller’s Jay down at the river, an unusual place for one.  Next week I will do some trail clearing in the Three Sisters Wilderness and some trail scouting for clearing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  There’s a whole world out there to learn more about.

Inside, I keep my German alive with my daily crime video. I spend time with online bridge, where I am learning to count the hand, something not nearly as easy to do as experts think.  Counting the hand requires speed, which most experts can do automatically, but those of us slow processors require time.  By playing hands on a computer, I can swear at a partner who doesn’t exist or complain about bad suit breaks without appearing as a total ass.  If and when I can play and accept the bad with grace, I will be both a better person and ready to join others in duplicate.  I’m not ready, but I am making progress.  

Return to Facebook?  We’ll see.  Right now I am trying to help my corner of the world by keeping it beautiful, enjoying it, be it hiking, backpacking, canoeing, adopting trails, picking up litter, tutoring students in math, keeping my German alive, tipping generously, giving cats a home when we have a vacancy, and making sure I am doing those things that optimize my health as I understand the science. There’s plenty to do, and as I soon begin my eighth decade, I need to turn to.

REPORT FILED, NOT READ: “PEOPLE ARE BUSY”

June 4, 2018

My wife and I have devoted a significant portion of our lives to our many indoor cats.  We have given nineteen a home; each has taught us unconditional love—well, conditional on being fed promptly, perhaps.  We don’t expect others to understand that we need to line up good care for them should we travel:  it just can’t be “have the neighbor feed them,” which one person suggested, or “once a day stopping in,” as another thought.  The litter boxes need to be taken care of, and if one becomes ill, we need to have someone be willing to take the cat to the vet.

Veterinary care is expensive, and we don’t have insurance, because most of the conditions we would insure for are pre-existing.  Veterinary care is expensive, with key differences being usually getting called afterward to see how the animal is doing as well as being told upfront what the costs will be.  Also, people are expected to pay at the time of service.

Unfortunately, sometimes errors are made, which is something in common with human medicine.  

HC (Hors Categorie, from the cycling term of a very steep climb, “outside category”) was found abandoned in an apartment building in Tucson back in 2005 and arrived at our house a month after the sudden death of one of ours.  No cat “replaces” another, but when one dies, there is a vacancy, and there are far too many cats needing a home.  HC was a silver-gray guy, very quiet, and from day 1 never got along with Gryff, who lived to attack him.  So, he spent a decade in three different rooms, avoiding all other cats.  

After Gryff died a year ago, HC gradually started exploring the house, becoming a little more social.  He had almost no voice, so he just appeared, giving him the nickname “The Gray Ghost.”  

In 2015, he had an elevated SDMA suggesting the possibility of renal disease, and earlier this year he had an elevated creatinine of about 3.  We started giving him fluids and treating his associated hypertension.  In March, he started passing blood on the outside of his stool, which had become hard, suggesting maybe a fissure.  Then he stopped passing stool altogether.  We took him to an emergency center where an X-Ray was taken and he had a tap water enema, which didn’t do much.  We started Miralax and eventually he passed rock hard stools with some more bleeding.

He went back to emergency again, and the repeat X-Ray showed movement of the stool.  The radiologist’s report of the prior X-Ray showed was not told us. There was loss of serosal (outer membrane) detail and a suggestion of mucosal thickening consistent with possible colitis, pancreatitis, and even carcinomatosis.  An ultrasound was recommended.  We didn’t know any of this.

For the next two months, HC passed small caliber stools but was eating and comfortable.  He lost a little weight.  He again became obstipated in May and taken to our local vet, who also had received the first X-Ray report, but we didn’t know that, either.  HC received a stronger enema which led to full-blown diarrhea that night, constant leakage and exhaustion so bad that he fell asleep in his stool on the carpet.  Much later, we woke him and cleaned him with Dawn (it’s better for cats).  He then slept for another 12 hours.  He wasn’t eating.  

We were going on a trip across country which had been planned for several months.  We planned to have HC stay with a cat nurse, who had veterinary training, could board cats and give fluids and medication.  But the morning we were to leave, we were concerned enough about HC’s leakage that we took him to the emergency center.  I raised the possibility of a primary colon problem, but both the local vet and again the vet at the emergency center thought this was due to renal failure.  We thought that odd, since the creatinine elevation was modest; we have had several cats die from renal failure, and none had been obstipated.  But, we deferred to experts.  An ultrasound was not recommended, although had anyone looked at the chart they would have seen an X-Ray report from two months earlier recommending one.  HC’s colon continued to leak, and his renal function wasn’t quite as good, but he was thought to be able to be cared for at the cat nurse’s house.

We dropped HC off and left, not with a great feeling, but hoping things would gradually improve after the last enema.  They did for about three days, then he started having diarrhea again and was taken back to the emergency center.  For the next four days we had calls to the veterinary hospital.  Emails were occasional and difficult to download where we were at.  Replying was impossible.  Interspersed were cost estimates—well in four figures—as well as some frustration that each communication was with a different veterinarian.  

It wasn’t until the third day that we realized that the staff was treating HC as a renal failure cat, completely focused on that.  Only that day was an ultrasound performed that showed bowel mucosal thickening as well as pancreatitis.  A feeding tube was passed, and I was wondering how far we were going to take all of this.  It wasn’t the costs, but it was what we were doing to HC.  The final day started with a comment that he was a little better, barely eating, but HC wasn’t going to get better.  His numbers were not bad, but his condition was.  He could look forward—at best—to leaving there with a tube and tube feedings.  He would hate it and so would we.  And he would obstruct again, and that was assuming his pancreatitis could be treated. He also had a significant heart murmur.  

No, it was time to stop.  We both felt guilty about it, but not because we stopped but because we continued as long as we had. 

Perhaps had someone read the radiologist’s report—the two times we were at the hospital and the one time at the clinic—we would have realized what we were up against.  Or, I should say, they would have realized, since we felt all along that this was a primary bowel issue.

To those who know me well, it must be tiring to hear me rant about medical errors and the need to fix faulty systems.  Well, the errors have affected both me and my whole family.  I have ranted about poor communication in medicine, to stop important matters from falling through the cracks.  When my father was alive, he would tell me to calm down, saying “people are busy.”  Well, if people are busy, judging by the condition of medical care, too many are busy doing the wrong things.

I now am writing the vet hospital director, whom I know, to let her know what happened in hopes that somebody will learn from this issue without getting defensive.  I’m not optimistic. I don’t know what I will do with the veterinary clinic.  If they bring it up, I will mention it.  I just don’t want my care compromised because I spoke up.  I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.  I’d like somebody to learn, including the young vet who got my wife’s call about the cat’s not eating and told the tech to tell her to wait another day.  That’s a recipe for Feline Hepatic Lipidosis.

I will meet HC at the Rainbow Bridge.  And he will probably wonder why I was so cruel to him in his final days.

FACEBOOK ABOUT FACE

March 13, 2018

I stopped going on Facebook during Lent, not that I observe it.  It was sheer coincidence, plus the New York Times.

A day or two prior, I hadn’t even considered such a possibility, but a concatenation of events led to my decision.  I had been having significant insomnia—middle of the night awakenings during the darkest hours of both life and the position of the Earth.  Admittedly, I haven’t slept all that well since medical school, when I was on call every other night, every third, or in my subsequent practice, 581 times, where if I woke up and gave clear advice I wouldn’t easily get back to sleep.  Or, if I hadn’t fully awoken, I would learn the next day what I had said that I had no idea left my lips.  Neither is healthy for a doctor, or his patients, a fact I futilely bemoaned until I finally left medicine for good.

After that, I did sleep better, until the run-up to the 2016 election and subsequently.  I may not be alone in this latter experience, but in any case, I realized I needed to do something about my sleep hygiene.  One issue was clear: between my recent subscription to the online Times and my nine year sojourn on Facebook, I was constantly bombarded by bad news and dozens of daily requests to support causes, sign multiple petitions, read “must reads” (a term I come close to using the word despise) demonstrate for or against issues, and of course donate money to every 4+ emergency on Earth, with the expectation I’d carry the banner for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  I wasted ample time watching videos I didn’t need to watch, reading conspiracy theories that astounded me, and deleting cookies from sites I went to, after I discovered they increased my spam.

I liked the concept of Facebook, because I could be in better contact with my brother and nieces. But Facebook can be like eating potato chips. It’s easy to take a little bite (log on), and have another one (look at one more post) and eventually eat the whole package (spend a whole hour).  One is a problem of consuming excessive calories; the other a problem with consuming precious minutes.  Neither potato chips nor Facebook is healthy in large doses, junk food and junk news.  When I comment, which isn’t often, my grammar and spelling matter, at least to me, so they take time. And for what?  Getting 100 likes, a rarity, doesn’t change the world, or even a small part of it, compared to spending a day out in the real world trying not to be a jerk.  I’m not Nicholas Kristof, Eugene Robinson, Gail Collins, or Thomas Friedman, whose words provoke thought and change many minds.  I wondered how much of what I read was true. One can get news from Facebook, but the Times, The Washington Post, or Reuters are far better.  It wasn’t just right wing posts that bothered me; many left wing posts had for months spoke about an imminent end to Trump’s presidency.  It wasn’t going to happen.  My comments that the man had been and still was grossly underestimated, were mostly ignored.  (Read: no “likes”.)

Facebook is more than politics and religion, although those are two dominant subjects.  Much on Facebook are highlight reels of people’s lives.  It is almost competitive, I think, regarding who has done the most interesting thing, gotten the most likes, posted the best pictures, received the greatest compliments, or had the most shares.  I didn’t need this.  Competition is toxic. I didn’t think Facebook was improving my life, and I decided to act. I said nothing online about my decision, I just disappeared.

For a couple of days, I occasionally found myself automatically opening the bookmark, quickly closing it, as if seeing the blue border would somehow would be like a blue computer screen at night, adversely affecting my circadian rhythm.  There were comments about me, posts of hikes I went on, conversations showing up temporarily on the banner in the upper right corner of my computer screen, but I didn’t bite.  I didn’t have to know the details about the best snowshoe trip of the year I missed or see pictures of my friends having a great time.  I was freed from reading comments or wanting to argue with those who with online anonymity have helped make the Internet a stew of hateful, ignorant, false, poorly written missives.

There was more.  A picture of me a while back had someone ask why I wasn’t smiling.  A friend of mine—in real life, too—wrote, “Mike never smiles.”  That hurt.  When one has only words to go on, no ability to see body language or hear intonation, words alone are insufficient.  I do smile, of course, but many pictures of me were taken during hikes I led, where I had responsibility for several others and couldn’t be a happy-go-lucky hiker.  No, I may not smile when I am asked to pose for a silly ass picture when I’m concerned about why some people are lagging or wonder why so many seem to be directionally challenged. I had been pilloried on Facebook the year before after leading a difficult 26 mile hike (called by the individual posting a death march) that I said at the outset would be long and hard. The hike was 20 minutes longer–a huge issue in a 9 hour hike–because the individual videoed the first part, solely because of wanting to post it.  We paid dearly later, when it was much hotter and we were more tired.

I hadn’t thought much about the competitive aspect of Facebook until I went off it and suddenly didn’t feel I had to make my hiking posts sound like the greatest thing this side of Eden.  Indeed, when I came home from a hike, I now had free time.  I discovered quickly that I could read more books and magazines.  I had more time in the morning for the New York Times, good, accurate news, opinion, with useful links and still have time left over to do other things.  I even started listening to podcasts again.  My life was simpler, less cluttered.  I could please myself, rather than try to be erudite to those who could care less about my comments, or the small few who might actually read them.

I watched the number of Facebook notifications increase on my phone screen to 10, 20, then 50, 60.  I got two emails from Facebook listing the number of pokes, likes, comments.  I deleted them and in my second week away, went snowshoeing in the Mt. Hood area.  When I got home, a friend posted a bunch of pictures apparently, because my email had links to the post.  My iPhone Facebook app read “99,” which maxes out the number of comments I have waiting for me. Nearly all are a “like”, and it really isn’t important.

Let the posts wait.  I don’t need the constant hounding that I “must” do something for the sake of the world.  No, I’m not going to give my opinion about the President so I can be asked for money, and should I donate it, be asked to give a “tip” to the organization asking.  I won’t be emotionally blackmailed by someone who says “I’ll know who my real friends are because they will share this post.” I don’t fight cancer by sharing a post but by supporting sound science.   I won’t see the requests for donations to some medical charity in somebody’s name.  I won’t read about people’s detailed medical problems or see pictures of “friends” or their elderly parents in some hospital looking absolutely blank.  I’m not seeing any of that.  And you know what?  The world still turns, and while country has indeed become worse, it was going to anyway.  After a fortnight, nobody with my email address has contacted me asking where I am. I’m not surprised.

I’m sleeping better, too, although it is probably bedtime restriction and phototherapy rather than being off Facebook, although the positive changes have been in the last two weeks.

I don’t usually give advice to people because they neither want it nor take it.  I just report on things in my life that I find interesting and if others do, too, great.  I thought it would be difficult to stop logging on.  Nah.  The real world is better.

Will I go back?  Yes.  But I will declutter my news feed, post far less often, and have strict time limits.

I will not return to eating potato chips, however.

PREPOSITIONAL OBJECT AND EQUAL PAY

January 22, 2018

I try not to get into too many arguments online.  It’s not possible to convince some that contrails are just condensate from aircraft exhaust and that yes, we really did land on the Moon.  I stopped arguing online about global climate change a few years ago.  I wasn’t going to change anybody, and I got tired of hitting my head against a wall.  I’m rooting for Mother Nature.

The other day, however, I perhaps influenced two men.  I should probably quit, and I probably will remain silent.  The first was an individual whose arguments were basically contrary to most things I believe in.  He is not stupid, but he certainly is on The Other Side. Yesterday, he and a friend of mine had about as nasty an exchange as I can think of.

I read where he used “whom” following “to,” which is acceptable, if whom is an object, like “To whom it may concern.”  In this instance, however, the “whom” should have been “who,” for the personal pronoun was the subject of an objective prepositional phrase.  Here’s an example: “I will give this to whoever can clearly explain the difference.” The last six words are the object of the preposition to, and it is an independent clause, the whole object.  “Who” is used for the subject.  “I will give this to whomever you recommend.”  Here, it is whomever, because the subject is “you” and the phrase “you recommend whomever” has whomever as an object.  I later deleted the comment, because it wasn’t necessary, but the individual saw it before deleting and agreed with the grammar.  OK, he leaned something, which is good, and so did I, along with the fact that the individual could be wrong.

Being wrong, and admitting the possibility one could be wrong is important to me before I engage in arguments.  Otherwise, I either remain silent or do a monologue. Silence makes me wish I had done something; a monologue makes me wish I hadn’t.   The woman’s march had just occurred, and another individual was in a Facebook Fight with a few women about unequal pay between the sexes.  He didn’t believe in the gap, and demanded evidence.  I went ahead and Googled an article about unequal pay and read it.  That led me to an American Enterprise Institute article, from the conservative think tank, and I read it, too.  While perhaps two or three points were reasonable, they were drowned out to me because of all the pejorative language against liberals and Obama’s statement in the Lilly Ledbetter case. I really expect more professionalism from AEI writers.  Frankly, I write better.  The title, referring to the evidence “as elusive as Bigfoot,” turned me off.  I suggested in my post that I would review the AEI article in detail if he would review another article in support of the claim.  I also mentioned that willingness to admit one might be in error (which I did in the post) leads to a lot more fruitful discussions.  Three hours later, with no comment, I just wrote, “I’m still waiting.”

To his credit, the individual answered, and so I went to the AEI article about unequal pay. It led me to a fact checking site, along with a few others, and in about 30 minutes I had a considerably more information about unequal pay between men and women.  This is the post I put out.

“It’s actually very interesting.  If one controls for the same job title, employer, and location, there is a gap—about 4-6%.  This is considerably less than the 23% (or 21%) often quoted, although over a career, it amounts to maybe a half million dollars both in earnings and benefits.

The AEI article has a point here, although one of their unanswered questions—have you ever heard of a female real estate agent making less than a man?—should have been answered by them, for it is one of the largest discrepancies of all, as is the female personal financial advisor, both cases showing that women make half as much as men or even less.  For cashiers, it is 92%, computer programmers 95%.

“The 21% comes from definitions of full time and comparing across all jobs.  Seniority has typically gone to men, which explains some of the gap.  It’s fair to examine seniority, but not in the context of equal pay for equal work.  This is not appropriate, although it has been used.  On the other hand, it is equally inappropriate to disparage all the data, because here and in all developed countries their is a gap, just not as large as is often stated.  Still, I chastise the latter (My Side) for saying it will be 70 years (or 170 for another measure) for full equality.  Yes, at the current rate, but that is not a sensible extrapolation in my view.

“I think the AEI would have done better to have admitted that equal pay for equal work is not present, what the number is, and dispensed with the statement referring to “Bigfoot sightings,” which given my propensity to hike in the Pac NW wilderness might actually occur (!)

“What I hope comes out of this argument is some learning by both sides as to the scope of the problem.  I certainly learned something from this, how the statistic is calculated, what should be measured, the fact that there is a gap, and in some professions very significant.  I’d like to think that most of us will look at some of the “sacred cows” in society and find the truth.

“Not that I want to discuss the following in detail, but other examples include that most gun deaths are suicides and the number of deaths per 100,000 is flat.  I’m not saying that is good, but it is factual.

“I’m just tired of spending my days arguing and decided it was time to get both sides to look at an example of the other, and find where the grains of truth are.”

With some trepidation, I read the reply:  “That is truly beautiful.  Thank you.”

I tend to delete most of my posts on Facebook.  I try not to read too much, because it’s depressing what my friends post, it’s depressing what some believe, and it’s depressing to spend a day arguing with people who dig in and aren’t going to be swayed.  For some reason, I rightly picked a misplaced personal pronoun written by one who was not only intelligent enough to know what one was but also likely the type who would not want to have his post contain an error, I gently corrected his grammar, leaving the argument alone.  That action may have led me to decide not to assume the equal pay issue was what I had been told until I first fact-checked it, surprising me when I found that some data was misconstrued, even as the argument, if not quite as strong, was still valid.

I still remember a debate in junior high school about paving all dirt roads.  Back then, I was adamantly against it.  I had a wise teacher who made me argue in favor of it.  I hadn’t thought of that in years.

 

LIFE EXPERIMENTS

December 27, 2017

“Experimentation is an act of humility, an acknowledgment that there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different.”  Sendhil Mullainathan

I read this in the New York Times, somewhat surprised by that Mr. Mullainathan had yet to perform the experiment that he said would be an act of humility.  The experiment was whether or not to change the diet soda he was drinking, that’s all.  He did mention an example of a brief tube strike in London; when it ended, about one in 20 riders had found different means to get to work and got there faster.  The others resumed their old ways.  I don’t consider changing diet soda’s being a significant life experiment, but then again, I’ve kept shirts for 25 years.

Experimenting is a life style choice, not necessarily a virtue: my wife has had two major interests, aside from me and our cats.  The first is horses, which has been as close to lifelong as could be possible; the second, radiology, she spent 40 years doing before retiring.  Many of the new things she tried were through me, but horses and films are her world, where she has been content and extremely competent in both.  She is exceedingly good at considering new alternatives when I bring up issues in my life, priorities, or time.  Her father took up hobbies of carpentry, gardening, sailing and golf.  He tried them long enough until he was comfortable with his competence, and then he did something new.

I’m the same way.  I admit it takes me a while to change computers, morning habits, or routes to places I commonly go.  Habits are an efficient way to get things done, and most of my life I have had to be efficient.

When it comes to experimentation, however, I go far beyond what kind of diet soda I drink (none, for I gave it up years ago).  I even go beyond the experimentation with becoming vegetarian, which was a big change in my life 27 years ago, but hardly the biggest.  Or doing without caffeine and even alcohol.

In 1984, I saw three bright planets in the sky, thought others probably saw them as well and might wonder what they were. I wrote the newspaper, asking if they were interested in an astronomy column.  Not hearing back, which didn’t surprise me, I wrote again and finally called, reaching a staff member who asked for 3 different length columns, which I submitted for consideration.  I ended up writing 750 columns, self-illustrated, over a 20 year period.  I had no formal training in astronomy, but I knew how to observe, write, and find answers to questions, even before the Internet.

A few years later, at 43, I decided, not on a whim, that I was going to take a 6 month leave of absence from a busy neurology-neurosurgery group to go volunteer for the US Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  I was going to be away from home, in a place where I had no reputation, nobody I knew, and a job I wasn’t at all sure I could do but thought I could and would like.  I suspect more than one of my colleagues thought I would be back at the office in a month, but I found I could do the work, loved it, became competent, stronger than ever before in my life, and left somewhat sad, because I knew I had a very special experience, one I would never repeat.

I then did another experiment after I returned when I changed jobs at the peak of my earning power.  I left practice to become medical director of a hospital, a hybrid individual neither physician nor administrator, distrusted by both groups.  I stayed in the role 5 1/2 years, grew, became interested in quality improvement, rising to vice president in both state and local medical societies, respected for the analytical knowledge and approach I brought to my job.

Lest one think that I went from one high powered job to another, without any risk of failure, I then undertook, at 49, one of the biggest “experiments” of all.  I bet my career on being able to become a Masters trained statistician who was also a physician.  To do that, I had to apply and get accepted at an out of state university, review calculus I hadn’t seen for 30 years, and then commute nearly 300 miles one way, every week, to be a graduate student, about as lowly as a medical student, for two years.

Somehow, I got through the first semester of Mathematical Statistics, my happening to know (in class) one day the integral of log (x) dx*, which the professor, later my advisor, told me, “I realized then you were for real.”  School wasn’t easy, and every night I cussed at integrals, matrices, computer programs, at the same time as I was teaching two days a week and caring for my class.

When I got my Masters, alas, I had not taken a course in marketing.  I found minimal work discovering I could understand “no” by the sound of the disinterested voice on the other end.  I failed economically, but by then, despite my bitterness at the medical community, which took me 5 years to get through, I looked for new opportunities and found them in several other fields.

I became interested in medical errors, their similarity to aviation with the exception that aviation had a system where one could learn from them, and back then medicine did not.  I wrote two bills for the Arizona legislature creating a reporting system for medical errors.  The bills died, but from that failure, I was asked to write a monthly column for the medical society.  I became a writer.  I wrote three different monthly columns at one point: astronomy and reasons we make errors being the two others.  I won the Creative Expression Award for Human Values in Neurology in 2003 and my article “Astronomy for Writers and Editors” was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Competition.

I brought my math to bear in the public schools as a ten year volunteer, before becoming a substitute teacher for four years in one district, my statistical and real world knowledge of math helping me immensely with the students.

In 2008, I became a volunteer at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, and two years later, after seeing my eleventh total solar eclipse with a German tour group, I decided to learn German. I had no idea I would teach people about cranes, see as many (17) total solar eclipses as I have, all over the world, and could learn, if only to the intermediate level, a foreign language.  I watch German Krimis (crime movies) for relaxation.

Life is to be lived.  I sometimes envy my wife, who is satisfied with a deep knowledge and love of horses. I have never been able to stick with an interest as long.  On the other hand, to any who might envy my interest in so many facets of the world, I say simply to keep your eyes and ears open, for opportunities are common but are not often announced.  Failure is a big, often recognized, opportunity. It is your life to live, and it is your decision—nobody else’s, unless you cede authority—to choose.  Finding yourself truly content is a sign you are probably living properly, regardless of whether you run “experiments.”

*log(x) dx is integrated by parts

u=log x; dv=dx

du=dx/x; v=x

From this, the result is uv-int(v*int(du))=xlog(x)-int(x*dx/x)=xlog(x)-x or x(log(x)-1) (+C).

I REALLY SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME

December 8, 2017

I really should have stayed home that Tuesday evening and not gone to the German Stammtisch at Track Town Pizza.  I go there most Tuesdays to practice my German, to listen, speak, and to talk to people there.  It’s good to get out.  I only stay an hour, because the place has low ceilings, serves alcohol, and gets noisy fast, so that I have difficulty enough understanding English, let alone German.

Last Tuesday, I got into a political argument, first one in a long time.  It was my own fault.  Oh, I can blame the other individual, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait.  Unfortunately, however, a lot of things that have stewed inside me for some time came to the surface.

Normally, I try to steer clear of these arguments, with the exception of climate change, where I immediately put out my four rules: no pejorative attacks, required p-value, confidence intervals or margin of error, what happens if one side is wrong, and verifiable predictions locally, nationally, and globally.  That has always ended the discussion.  I need that approach for politics, although I admit difficulty these days in avoiding pejorative attacks, since my default mode when I get angry is a severe case of sarcasm.  It’s one of my huge flaws.

Anyway, the initial trigger was discussion about an upcoming lecture being given by a German official about immigration.  The individual with whom I was talking—an immigrant himself, I think—was saying how the speaker from Germany was lying.  I had no facts, so I let it go. I’m a grandson of an Irish immigrant, and I believe are that if more countries were problem solvers, rather than problem causers, there would be fewer immigrants. But the fundamental cause of immigration woes is overpopulation,  and unless we control population, immigration, with its attendant problems, will increase.  There are two major realities: one, we can’t grow indefinitely and two, we must control our numbers.  Unfortunately, population control is not on the agenda of The Other Side—or for much of my side, either for that matter.  A lady recently profiled in Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, had three children.  I almost wrote a letter about it then thought better.

We then got into a discussion of weapons, after the individual mentioned a recently deceased friend of his who had several machine guns and a half million rounds of ammunition in his home.  I was shaming myself silently for being secretly glad his friend—63, massively overweight—died suddenly at home. Half a million rounds of ammo and at least one machine gun.  Wow.  Another listening to our conversation asked why the dead man—or anybody else—needed a machine gun.  We got the usual Second Amendment response, and that is where I started getting angry.  I wasn’t going to argue the wording, but I wagged my finger at him—something I inherited from my father—and said “I hope some day you feel the same kind of pain those who have lost people to gun violence feel.”

I’m not a Christian, and while I don’t have to be a jerk, I don’t have to be nice, either.

I’m not honestly sure what else was discussed, but the individual blamed Obama for the drug trade in this country. I was a bit stunned, saying that we have had a war on drugs that began when Mr. Obama was a child, and that he hardly was the person responsible.  I mentioned the Bush years, which seem to have vanished into the murky morass of 21st century history so far, the two wars and one recession have been blamed mostly on his successor, but while the man said he didn’t like Bush, he had absolutely no use for the Democrats.  Social programs, he said.  That was the reason.  So I asked him what sorts of social programs were a problem.  Unlike Mr. Obama, who is a centrist, or Ms. Clinton, who is center-right, I’m a liberal, but I can find wrong with some social programs.  I couldn’t get an answer, and as angrier I became, the quieter my voice was. I kept asking which social programs he was against.  I could have said that Social Security should have means testing.  I certainly would limit the tax deduction for children, in a somewhat feeble attempt to try to decrease population, and limit the mortgage deduction to $500,000.  This man couldn’t come up with anything, despite my quietly asking him “Which social programs?” five times.  All he could come up with was disability: “I see people getting disability who are better off than I am.”  OK.  That’s an issue, but it is hardly budget busting, and are we going to end disability payments because some cheat? The answer to some is yes. The Other Side wants to restrict voting because some cheat, which I believe was fewer than 10 in the last election, the first one’s documented being a Republican.  I am ignoring the almost certainty of one party’s involving the Russians and the definitive asking by the nominee for the Russians to publish every email they had.  That’s illegal and treason.

I didn’t mention my relief that a person with a half million rounds of ammunition was dead. When the individual stated with some outrage that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was in the house and planned to destroy the weapons, not give them to the dead man’s heirs, I didn’t know the law, so I kept quiet.  Destroying them sounded like a good idea, like beating swords into plowshares, but I’m no expert on Isaiah.

I remember that during a break in the arguing, the other man said that he wished the conversation hadn’t gone on because “I don’t want you to think badly of me.”

“I already do,” I replied.  And I suddenly got up and left, walking out, not turning back to look.  I cared not a whit for what he thought about me.

Several days later, it’s difficult for me to remember what it really was that pissed me off so much, and I’m ashamed I spent so much anger accomplishing almost nothing.

I should have quietly exited the conversation, rather than getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.  It’s difficult these days to read the news, see the direction of the country, and not be worried, lose sleep at night (unless this is age), and feel powerless to do much about it.  I’m frankly weary of dozens of emails clamoring for money for some candidate, promises to impeach (which doesn’t solve the problem; conviction is then necessary, and I also know who the second, third, and fourth in line people are), and the continuous surprise that things turned out the way they did. I find it stressful that I wish for bad things to happen climatically so I can say “I told you so,” and I hope those who voted for this government get hurt.  That’s petty, considering these people won’t vote Democratic even if their candidate is a pedophile or groped women.  We already know that.

I walked outside into the pouring rain.  Wonderful. I love the rain.

OH WOW, I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT. THANKS.

November 24, 2017

I’ve probably written about this before; if so, I apologize.  I happened to think about the incident when I awoke this morning.  I slept well, which is a blessing as I approach the last year of my sixties.  Most of us my age and older don’t sleep as well as we’d like: through the night without awakening, and awakening refreshed.  It’s a good night if I’m up once, fall back asleep, and awaken on my own, without one of the cats standing on me, yowling (that was this morning, at 4:47), or barfing up a hair ball.

Anyway, for some reason, a dream maybe, I awoke thinking of one day when I volunteered  in the calculus class at Sabino High School in Tucson.  I occasionally helped out there, if for some reason the college algebra or geometry classes where I usually worked didn’t require my presence.  I liked Dave, who taught calculus; indeed, years ago, when email was new, Dave was the only faculty member with one, which is how I contacted him and began to help.

Anyway, that particular day he began by discussing the behavior of the function y=x^2, a parabola, near where x=1 and y=1.  Specifically, he was looking at the rate of change or the slope of the function as it approached the point.

IMG_9104

What we learn by the slope is how fast the curve is changing at that point.  People get this concept wrong all the time.  If we hear the rate of growth of population is slowing, some people think the actual number is going down.  It isn’t.  It is still rising, not just as fast.  This is extremely important to know, and worth repeating: If the rate of increase is slowing, the actual number is still increasing, not falling.

Dave started by showing the slope where x=0.99 and y=0.99*0.99, or 0.9801.  The slope then was (1-0.9801)/(1-0.99), 1.99/0.01, or 1.99.  No problem. Then he let x=0.999 and, with a calculator, squared it, 0.999^2, which was 0.998001. The slope was now 0.001999/0.001, or 1.999.  He continued, saying that as x got closer and closer to 1, y would get closer and closer to 2, and the limit; that is, if we could take take x as 0.99999999— to an infinite number of 9s—and here he paused….

IMG_9106.JPG

Notice the pattern for y—first is .81 then .9801, then .998001,then .99980001.

“You’d need a big calculator to calculate y, but the slope would be 2 at the limit.”  he stated.

I sort of blurted out without thinking, “You don’t need a calculator to get y.”  The words just appeared, I swear.  Everyone in the class turned towards me.

Dave looked at me, held the marker out in one hand, and said, “come up and write it down.”   He wasn’t at all angry.  We had known each other for several years at this point. As I walked up to the board, I asked, “How many 9s are there in your number?” I have bad astigmatism.

“Eight.”  So, I am multiplying 0.99999999 by 0.99999999.

Without a calculator.

“It is one less 9, followed by an 8, followed by the same number of 0s as you have nines, followed by 1.”  That would be 0.9999999800000001.  Take that, Texas Instruments.

I then turned to the class.  “Last year, I was here when this problem was discussed. You”—-I pointed to Dave—-“said that there was probably a pattern, and you were absolutely right.  I found it in a few minutes. The pattern is one fewer nine, an 8, the same number of 0s, and a one,” repeating myself.

Dave is good: he knows what he has taught, what a student should know, makes the student think and find answers to his questions, because they have all the information available.

I could have added that Dave, as a good teacher, didn’t take my coming to the board as showing him up; indeed, he knew that I was modeling exactly the behavior he wanted in his students.

I’ve been down that road before.  A dozen years earlier, I was in grad school getting my Masters in Statistics.  I had several professors.  One was absolutely brilliant, able to teach an entire difficult upper level graduate course in linear models without consulting notes.  There may have been one time where she made an error that another student caught, but that was it.  She was brilliant.  I’m sure I mentioned that in my post-course evaluation.

What I didn’t mention, because there were only 7 of us in the class, and I knew I would be identified, is that had she more patience with those students like me (it was the only B I got in grad school, and I worked hard to get it) who were not as brilliant, she would have been a life-changing teacher, the top of the heap.  The best teachers have patience with those who don’t have their skills.  Occasionally, I approach that.  Dave was there. So was my advisor.

My advisor didn’t need notes when he taught, either.  But he had patience with me, and that mattered a lot.  He got me out of New Mexico in 2 years, which I deeply appreciated. I haven’t seen him in about 15 years, but when I emailed him asking if he could help a friend of a friend–a free favor– he replied immediately.   He knew—damn it, I was pissed so many times when he did it, but he was dead right to do so—when I had exactly enough information to find the answer of a problem I asked him about.  He either knew the answer outright, or knew how to get it, but he was not going to tell me, but rather would give me what I needed to know—and not one hint more— to solve it.  I would then struggle for hours in some instances before having an epiphany among the papers strewn on my desk, on the floor, some crumpled and near a wall where I had thrown them in anger.

By doing that, my advisor forced me to use the new tools I had learned, to make mistakes, to figure everything out, and learn that way.  It was painful, but it was learning.  It was education, and it worked.

I’ve never gotten to my advisor’s or Dave’s level: substitutes don’t have a close relationship in one meeting, and in my brief for-profit so-called university teaching experience, students wanted everything handed to them.  But when I tutor today in the advanced math room at the community college, I occasionally encounter material far beyond what I know.  Sometimes, I try to help anyway.  And as I go through the problem with the student, asking him or her at each step how they got there, there is often a pause.  The student suddenly says, “Oh, I see what I did wrong. Oh wow, I can’t believe I did that.  Thanks.”  And walks away.  I’m still wondering what the answer was.

It just dawned on me that maybe my advisor sometimes didn’t know the answer, either, at least when I asked the question.  But he knew me well enough to know that I was capable of finding it.

Oh wow.  I can’t believe I did that. Thanks.