Saturday musings

The things going on in Portland this past week are frightening and illegal. Federal police, US Border Patrol agents actually, (WTF?) are snatching up people off the streets, arresting them with no stated charges and taking them to unknown locations – that’s straight out of the dictator’s playbook. When the government can “disappear” a citizen like this, democracy is over. This has to be revealed for what it is and stopped. If conservatives want to get outraged about US citizens’ rights being taken away, stop focusing on mask-wearing rules and get focused on this.

I had an idea yesterday, kind of a daydream, to take a BIG overseas vacation once it’s safe to do so. I called it a “greatest hits” trip, in which K and I would go to 3-4 of our favorite spots in the world. So far my list is Verona Italy, the Highlands in Scotland, the west end of London, Barcelona (with a side trip into the southern France Pyrenees region), and Kauai. The first four could be done in a single trip fairly simply, but Hawaii is of course in the other direction.

We’ve been blessed with classic San Diego weather the last week or so. Low 80s in the day, 60-ish at night, and often a cool breeze blowing west to east in the afternoon. It’s pretty great. That weather (and the ocean that drives it) is pretty much the reason that Socal real estate is 2-3x more expensive than most other places.

If it pans out in tests, this could be some great news in the fight against COVID-19.

7-17-20, assorted thoughts

New grandson Jessamine is flourishing at two months. He’s a 16 pound chunk.

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If you miss travel, here’s a live webcam from Venice with views from all over that unique city. Gorgeous views, and not too crowded (no surprise there). I have great memories of our time in Venice.

140,000 US deaths attributed to COVID so far. And soooo many people still rant on about “you can’t make me wear a mask, I have rights…”. It’s sad. We really are living in an idiocracy.

I spent some time this week debating with folks on NextDoor/Fallbrook about mask wearing and politics. What really stood out was the extreme polarization and the personal attacks on those with different views. I finally gave up – I just don’t see any way to meet in the middle with folks who consider liberals “demons” and “un-American”. Or who think that Trump is our greatest President. The tribal sickness (fear and hatred of “the other”) runs very deep these days, and I have no idea how to change that. We’ve pretty much fractured America into two irreconcilable tribes.

I finally finished the new raised bed herb garden, pictured above. Turned out to be more of a project than I expected. Had to reinstall a new hose riser and connect to the irrigation system. I actually enjoy the PVC work, but it’s all below ground and now very tough on my knees. But now the fun part – go buy some herbs and stick them in the dirt.

There’s a whole lotta talk about having college sports this fall, but I just don’t see it happening. My bet is that there will be nothing to bet on for football or basketball season.

My weekly writers’ group is finally reconvening via Zoom next week. I think the big problem was that our ringleader/mentor Dave Putnam is not a fan of video conferencing. But he’s coming around. I’ll be grateful for some opportunity to learn again and share some work.

Well hell. Turns out that according to the government, most of us are worth more dead than alive. Go figure.

I love Scientific American, always have. I love understanding how things work and why. They just published a fascinating interactive bit on what we now know about SARS-CoV-2. Beautiful (scary) illustrations and clear explanations. And the complexity of the molecular and cellular-level interactions (adaptive warfare, really) is astonishing. It makes me wonder again about life itself – was it created, evolved or engineered? There’s so much complexity at every level.

 

 

Future shock

OK, this is potentially some very, very bad news. I realize this is anecdotal evidence, not statistical study-based evidence, but…the source seems credible. But if it turns out that COVID-19 is a lot like dengue fever, getting the disease a second time yields more severe symptoms and a higher mortality rate. This would also mean that COVID-19 would be with us forever – no herd immunity and no consistent individual immunity. That would be a game world-changer.

Let’s do a little brainstorming on what happens to the world if COVID-19 stays with us for years or decades:

  • Makers of effective N-95 masks will have a new (though shrinking) market of eight billion people.
  • Masks and possible respirators will become the norm in all society settings.
  • Public spaces will have to be redesigned to provide compartmented filtered airflow. Restaurants are a prime example of this.
  • Universal health care becomes a societal must-have, just like clean water and safe food. (This would be an unfortunate way to get a good thing.)
  • Populations disperse from dense cities into less-dense suburbs and small towns.
  • Telework becomes the norm. In-person meetings become rare, expensive and small.
  • Tele-education becomes the norm. The school experience at all levels is transformed. (Or, campuses are restructured to offer individually air-filtered pods instead of desks and tables. Sounds expensive.)
  • Commercial real estate gets crushed. There will be no need for big office buildings.
  • Air travel will become very expensive – let’s say airfares will be 3-5 times what they are today. Planes will have to carry 3-5 times fewer people.
  • Privacy will suffer because phone and/or vehicle location-based contact tracing will be deemed essential for society.
  • Life expectancy will probably decrease, as the odds of getting COVID-19 once or twice simply increase the longer you’re walking around in a world where it’s a constant.
  • Cross-county road trips will become the preferred way of getting anywhere within a continent. Autonomous driving will make that less difficult, perhaps even easy. An autonomous-drive RV starts to look like the most popular vehicle for the 2030s and beyond. Imagine driving your vehicle to the nearest freeway then letting it drive itself for hours at a time between cities while you sleep, watch TV, work, etc. That’s the COVID-accelerated future for transportation.
  • Charging infrastructure and vehicle batteries for that same road trip boom will become its own boom industry. Hundreds of thousands of gas stations will have to become electric charging stations.

Wow, that’s quite a list, based on two simple assumptions – (1) that you get no immunity from COVID-19 after catching it once, and (2) that there’s no effective vaccine. It’s possible that the world has changed or is about to change much more than we realized.

Finally, to offset all the angst the above essay might cause, here’s some good news about the Republican stance on vote-by-mail.

 

 

Hello, summer

I had a great birthday. Thanks so much to everyone who reached out to say hello and Happy Birthday – it means a lot.

We’re in the midst of a classic July heat wave for Socal. Daily temps above 90F and very little breeze to cool things down in the evenings. The only positive is that the pool is finally warm enough for me to venture in. K swims in it as early as April, in temperatures I would never consider. She’s tough; I like my warm water.

I’ve mostly recovered from the gloom and doom feelings of a week ago. Nothing’s changed other than my re-found ability to ignore the calamities and just think about a better future.

Emily has sent a lot of great pictures of the family and kids (example above). They’re very photogenic, wouldn’t you say?

I’m already starting to think about another trip(s) east in September or October. I’d like to:

  • See the kids and other family again
  • Play golf in NOLA with my buddy Jon at his annual member-guest tournament
  • See the fall colors in eastern forests

The BIG question is drive or fly. I can imagine that enough might change/improve by then to fly. Would sure be a lot faster. Just daydreaming, FedX should start a new service where they actually ship a person to a destination. Sedate you, package you up in a virus-proof pod with filtered airflow for 4-5 hours and voila – you’re there. Could call it SleepShip™️. I might do it, but K will have nightmares even thinking about it.

What’s next?

Cory Doctorow is an interesting person. Creative, out-of-box thinker and constructive instigator. His take on what’s next for our poor world after COVID-19 is…interesting and alarming. My favorite quote from his essay:

“Look: when the pandemic crisis is over, 30% of the world will either be unemployed or working for governments.

This isn’t after an Artificial General Intelligence Singularity in the distant future.

It’s next year.”

That seems about right to me, and it’s a sobering thought. Either we find a way to employ that 30% of our citizens or our nation falls/fractures. You can see the cracks forming right now.

Another gem from Cory as he opines that the real crisis we face is global warming/climate change, and the pandemic is just background noise:

“Keynes once proposed that we could jump-start an economy by paying half the unemployed people to dig holes and the other half to fill them in.

No one’s really tried that experiment, but we did just spend 150 years subsidizing our ancestors to dig hydrocarbons out of the ground. Now we’ll spend 200-300 years subsidizing our descendants to put them back in there.”

I definitely think he’s right about that. The hydrocarbon economy is ending.

A less esoteric way to think about this is that post-COVID it will be time for another WPA-like government-funded employment program, echoing the Great Depression. Build/repair infrastructure, replace hydrocarbon power with renewables, move away from factory farming of meats…there are a lot of things we need to do that involve loads of human labor. I could get behind that vision of a post-COVID future.

 

Pity party

Midstream 2020 is turning out to be a tough time to stay positive. The news is unrelenting and bad.

  • Scientists in Spain published a study that indicates that herd immunity may not be possible with COVID-19. So there’s one less way out of the pandemic.
  • Trump has gone full-on despot, not even trying to hide his more repulsive tendencies on race and culture. And 40% of Americans will still vote for him.
  • I think there’s a big day of reckoning coming in Q3 for financial markets. The US government’s propping up of citizen and corporate income can’t go on forever, and is scheduled to end in Q3. Many jobs and companies just aren’t coming back. Unemployment numbers will rise again quickly and families’ inability to withstand another 6+ months without income will become yet another crisis. I think the second half of the year is going to be a financial shitshow.
  • We’ve pretty much lost the pandemic battle in America. The huge, 50,000 case per day spike we’re seeing now is due to stupidity around Memorial Day and the start of summer. Right about the time that starts dropping we’ll get an equally large spike in cases due to the same stupidity demonstrated during July 4th. IF (and it’s a huge if) people started behaving rationally we could get some control of the disease and be on a downward trend by October. But that’s not likely to happen, meaning we’ll need to stay in semi-quarantine for all of 2020. And perhaps longer.
  • I don’t see any way that air travel becomes really safe this year. So if I’m going to see my KY family again in 2020, it means another cross-country drive. Gonna have to get mentally tough for that.
  • I don’t see any way that college basketball can be played this year. I know, this is small potatoes compared to the world’s real problems, but I love me some KY basketball. I look forward to it every year. It’s just one more thing to mourn a little.
  • And….my health is really shaky. I can’t decide or know if my constant tiredness is just (a) old age and not enough exercise (increasingly bad knee joint), or (b) an aftereffect of the long unidentified sickness I had during February and March. All I know is a year ago I could walk 18 holes and carry my clubs. Now I’d have trouble walking three holes, clubs or not.
    • Update on health – turns out the knee replacement surgery I had scheduled for April 2020 will now not take place this year. Kaiser is 6-7 months behind on their ortho surgeries, so I’m just going to have to live with significant knee pain for the foreseeable future. I know, not a disaster relative to other ills of the world, but just one more damn thing to deal with. As I think Will Rogers said (I can’t confirm the quote) , “The only minor medical problem is someone else’s”.

So yeah, I’m a little negative right now. Intellectually I know I have much to be thankful for, but emotionally there’s a lot to take in. I’ll chalk this whiny little essay up to getting it out of my system and just move on to a more productive mindset.

 

 

Back to the daily grind

I worked hard on my novel during April and May, taking advantage of the early days of quarantine. I spent most of June on my trip to KY and back, therefore got almost no writing done. My focus and energy were elsewhere, deservedly. But now that I’m back in Socal and the need to stay cloistered away is still present, it’s time to get back to writing and complete the second draft of Lost Hope. I have characters to  flesh out, scene descriptions to improve, dead ends to cut out (I *hate* having to reduce the wordcount, but if a section doesn’t advance the story, it needs to go), and structure to add/improve.

Getting the first draft done was a big achievement. I think the second draft will be a little tougher, as I have to fix all the rookie mistakes I’ve made. But I’m looking forward to producing a draft that I wouldn’t mind showing to others. My newfound friend and veteran author David Putnam  sent some kind words my way via Goodreads that has helped get me re-energized to do the work. Looking ahead at my schedule there’s no reason I can’t have the second draft done by the end of July. Wish me luck.

Back in Socal

(Slightly off-center photo above taken proudly by grandson Hudson, using my trusty Fuji mirrorless camera.)

After another marathon three day drive, this time westward, I’m back in Socal. Those driving days are really something – each day has a rhythm that I now understand and can work through. The first three hours are easy. By the end of the second three hours I’m tired and sleepy, and need something to distract me – a phone call, loud(er) music, a great extended NPR story – something. The third 3-4 hours are just an exercise in willpower and staying focused on the goal. It really helps me to have a definite goal/destination/reservation, because otherwise about seven hours in I’d say fuck it, I’m ready to stop. And I would. But my ten hours/day plan worked, I’m happy to say. I’m thankful I only had to do it three days running – each day I was a little more worn out.

I have mixed feelings about this journey. Not either destination, but the drive itself. On one hand hundreds (thousands?) of people do it all the time, aka truckers. So it’s not exactly a monumental human achievement. On the other hand, I’m not young any more and I’m proud that I had the willpower to make the trip. It feels good to have done it, and the journey and the impetus (grandkids) are things I will always remember.

Since returning home, the only notable thing that’s happened is a large leak in our water system. The day after I arrived we noticed water pushing up through the blacktop near the guest house. Not good. After a couple of days of worry and troubleshooting, it looks like that is nothing more than a big root that cracked a two inch PVC irrigation line. It’s getting fixed as I write.

Here are some one-liner thoughts as I mull over memories of the drive west:

  • The simple description of a three-zone country is so accurate. The green zone east of the Mississippi, the Great Plains, and then the western desert. Throw in a mountain or two, and that’s pretty much it.
  • My radar detector was helpful in keeping my anxiety down, but probably not that helpful in actually avoiding tickets. I tended to drive at the speed limit plus 9-10 mph, figuring I wouldn’t get pulled over for that.
  • The BMW’s nav system was super helpful. I now know pretty much all its nuances, and I got a lot of benefit from it both on the open road and in Louisville.
  • T-Mobile’s coverage across the Great Plains is awful. I had long periods with no coverage on a major interstate highway. So much for the “best network”.
  • Costco’s packaged hard boiled, peeled eggs are a great road snack. Same for their dried beef snacks.
  • Who in the hell is Kruangbin? I heard a lot of their music on the road, particularly teamed up with Leon Bridges. I could listen to Texas Sun all day.
  • I also decided I like Tame Impala a lot.
  • The last driving leg into Socal was a real shocker. After 2000 miles of fairly open road, the traffic as I approached Riverside at midday was horrific. Our little part of Socal is peaceful and green, but not far from home – it’s pretty grim. Crowded, hot and desolate.

That’s about it. Happy 4th of July weekend to everyone!

 

Last night in Kentucky

Tomorrow I start the long drive back to Socal. Louisville to OK City, then to Gallup NM, and then to Fallbrook on Day 3. Another road trip, another three days to keep the wheels between the lines and think about things. It was anticipation all the way here; returning thoughts will be more retrospective and as I cross into the great Southwest, definitely anticipation about getting home.

It’s been great – I got tons of time with Em, Greg, Hudson and Jesse, which was the whole point. I probably spent more time with them than if I were living here full time – that’s natural, knowing that we had a limited time together. But it was sure better than just a weekend. Qualitatively and quantitatively better.

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I got lucky with the AirBnB, this was a really good setup. Love the location – I didn’t realize how central the Frankfort Avenue area is to everything.

Here are some of the better pictures I took on the trip, culled from hundreds taken.

Sunrise in Oklahoma, 6am.

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A beautiful trail at Creasy Mahan Nature Preserve.

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A tired but loving Mom.

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Great Blue Heron at Taylorsville Lake.

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The water boys at the lake.

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Me and Jesse.

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Hudson feeding horses at an historic community farm whose name I will have to find.

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And there were some great memories that I unfortunately didn’t get pictures of:

  • Golf with Greg and cousins Donnie and Chris at Hunting Creek.
  • Dinner at Le Relais with Mike.
  • All the great scenery on the drive east.
  • A nice impromptu lunch with cousins Chris and Marcie at a restaurant on the Ohio River.
  • Seeing Jesse’s weird little baby smiles.
  • The amazing, powerful thunderstorms that regularly blow through here. I miss these so much in Socal.

Next post…either in route or at home. Three time zones, 2100 miles and a world away.

 

 

Kentucky update, 6/22

Random musings after two weeks in Louisville.

I’ve been here almost two weeks and the weather was unseasonably mild most of that time. It was great, but real KY summer weather showed up 2-3 days ago: 95 degrees F and humid. Now that I think of it, the hot weather pretty much showed up promptly on the summer solstice, June 20th. Figures. Long, hot days…classic Kentucky summer. When I was young I could run, practice football, play basketball, do hard labor at the lumberyard in this heat and not really feel it. Now if I try to just walk a half mile in this heat I’m gasping. Not good.

One big unknown in my lack of fitness is whether I’ve actually had COVID-19 or not. I spent quite a bit of sleepless time last night thinking about it, and I’ve got myself convinced that I did in fact have it. A mild case, correlating to my O blood type. The symptoms were there – a cough that lasted 3 weeks, a sore throat, extreme fatigue, and then later coughing up phlegm as I recovered. I still don’t have the lung capacity or ability to exert myself that I did in January. So I’m self-classifying myself as one of the recovered. I’ll still socially distance and wear masks around others indoors (I’m convinced, but not reckless/stupid).

I’ve now driven to Ashland and back twice to visit my Dad (who’s doing fine, picture below with Phyllis in their isolation chamber), and the drive is beautiful but tedious. Green, green, green…so much green. Basically it’s a drive through 200 miles of forest with just an occasional pasture or river. The green satisfies a deep need in me, but six hours of it at a time (round trip)…that’s the tedious part.

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Had a great Father’s Day with Emily and the grandkids (picture below). Spent lots of time with them (that’s pretty much the point of this trip), and Emily took me to a wine bar I’ve wanted to visit: Cuvee Wine Table. Great place, and we had lots of 2 ounce tasters of wines from all over. My favorite was a 2012 Gran Reserva Rioja.

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The new season of Yellowstone started on Father’s Day. Absolutely love that show, and it’s Costner’s best role ever. I plan to go back and watch all the episodes from the first two seasons – it’s that good.

I thought of one other KY name for a creek: “ford”. I’ll add that to the original list.