Friday, August 21, 2020

Please Stop Throwing Rocks

Even a hand-made mask like this one (made for us by Lori Vega and modeled by Kathleen) offers more protection against illness than a naked face.
This post originally appeared on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-06-00.
Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

—Bob Dylan

If you were drowning and someone jumped into the water to save you, would you try to pull them down with you? Of course not. Even the two percent of people who qualify as psychopaths would not try to kill someone who was trying to save them.
So, let’s take it out a bit. Imagine you are enjoying a sunny day at the lake. You notice a child having trouble keeping his head above water. A woman jumps into the lake and tries to pull the boy to safety. Would you start throwing rocks at the woman? I don’t think so. That would be Pure Evil.
Now the parent you like the most—it’s okay. Everyone gets along better with one parent that the other(s). Now your That Parent—your favorite—is fishing from a pier. Would you try to make them fall off? And if they did, would you impede anyone who tried to help them? No. You would probably jump in yourself to try to save them.
These are not random, silly questions.
If you are one of the people who believes your right to expose your face is more important than a front line responder’s right to breathe, you are actively trying to drown someone who is trying to help you and yours. You are throwing COVID-shaped rocks at first responders and healthcare workers. You could even be shoving your parent into the water to drown.
I’m not questioning your right to go bare faced. You have that right. Where fines are involved, you can choose not to wear a mask and pay the fine or to wear an additional piece of fabric.
But with the right to choose comes the responsibility for your choice. If you don’t wear a mask, you are choosing to risk the lives of everyone around you, including people you love. You will be responsible for their deaths if they die from an infection you chose to spread.
To paraphrase a church meme: It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in COVID-19; COVID-19 believes in you.
So, please choose responsibly. Please choose to protect the lives of your family, your neighbors, the caregivers who work for me and other agencies, and even me. More importantly, please choose to protect yourself. Wearing a mask is the single most effective step we can take to contain the spread of the virus and lower the death count. Please wear your mask in public.

Friday, August 07, 2020

A Little Phun with Physics...or is it chemistry?

abcdust It can be hard to visualize something smaller than something too small to see. This graphic lets you see how much smaller a coronavirus particle is than even a single red blood cell.
I’m one of those people who has to see something work before I understand how it works. I mean, I knew hand-washing and social distancing worked to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. I believed our scientists and healthcare workers. But how do you see something as small as a virus that is hundreds of times smaller than other things [see graphic] you can only see with a microscope?
Luckily, I’m one of those people who also thinks in metaphors. What if the infectious dose of the coronavirus was a like drop of food coloring?
Here is a fun little experiment you can use to show kids why hand-washing is important—and get the visual yourself. You’ll need food coloring, an spoon, a clear pint jar, and a clear quart jar. Oh! And an eyedropper would help.
Before getting started, let’s talk about spreading the disease. You’ve probably heard that the virus can “live” on hard surfaces for days and that it travels in droplets for more than six feet. One study showed that a sneeze can propel the virus for up to sixteen feet. So it’s important to understand that getting exposed to the virus does not mean you’ll die. It doesn’t even mean you’ll get sick or become a carrier. To get sick, you need to acquire enough of the virus to overcome your immune system, what scientists call an “infectious dose.”
Washing your hands and keeping physically distant from others reduces the dose when you are exposed. And that brings us back to my nifty little activity.
We’re going to pretend that one drop of food coloring is an infectious dose of the virus. If you put a drop of food coloring on the back of your hand, you’ll get most of it off. If you drop it on a hard surface, it just sits there waiting to be picked up by a living thing. It doesn’t live there. Viruses aren’t really alive. They are just stray bits of DNA that invade other living cells and hijack them to make more copies of the virus. Here’s where the food color analogy breaks down. Food coloring will probably stain whatever you put it on. Unless it is absorbed into another living organism, the virus will eventually fall apart and disappear.
Both hand-washing and physical distancing work the same way. The further the virus travels from its source, the more spread-out it gets. This process is called diffusion.
Let’s put a drop of the food coloring into the empty pint jar. It just sits there waiting for a victim to come along. But we’re going to interfere with its plans. We’re going to make it more diffuse by filling the pint jar with water, just as if we washed our hands to get the virus off. You don’t even have to stir it. As the physicists say, “Diffusion happens.”
Wait! Doesn’t that just help it spread more? Well, kind of. It spreads out more, but there is less of it in any given place. See how none of the water is clear, but neither is the virus as dark as it was when it was a drop sitting at the bottom of the jar. The virus is in more places, but it is spread thinner in all of those places. Now you’d have to drink that whole pint to get the same amount of virus as if you had put a drop on your tongue. If you stick your finger in the solution, it comes back a lot less stained than if you had touched the drop in the bottom of the jar. It’s spread out more, but it takes a lot more contact to get an infectious dose and contract the disease or become a carrier.
If you pour everything from the pint into the quart, the “virus” gets even more diffuse because some of it gets left in the pint. If you wash your hands again—or fill the quart jar with water—it gets even more spread out and less infectious. Now if you repeat this process with a gallon container or a five gallon bucket…you get the point.
Masks work in a similar manner by creating a barrier that reduces the amount of the virus that gets through.
If we all work together by washing our hands, keeping our distance, and wearing a mask, we can all live happily together. But it only takes one person to screw things up for everyone else. One person without a mask can infect lots of people. Let’s all do our best to keep each other safe.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Physical Distancing

National Park Service / D. Kopshever. Are you a herd animal, a pack animal, or a lone wolf? Being a dog person, I like to think I’m part of a pack that works together to protect each other and get things done.
Daniel Case / CC BY-SA Even Wal-mart is trying to keep its customers alive by encouraging physical distancing. If customers each stand on one of these marks, they will all be six feet way from each other. Better six feet away than six feet under!
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-07-30 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-07-30.
He sings the songs that remind him of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him of the better times
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down


Someone much smarter than me suggested there is much more resistance to the phrase “social distancing” than there would have been had we chosen to call it “physical distancing.” I wish I could remember who said it or where I heard it, but I think that person is right. The distinction operates on the subconscious, emotional level where it seems many people live these days.
First, people are not really wired to be socially distant. We are often described as “social animals.” We can exhibit everything from a “herd mentality” to hunting in packs. Social outcasts are “lone wolves.”
This language underlines how dependent on one another we all are. In earlier societies, exile was often considered a harsher punishment than death, reserved for the most heinous crimes. We really do need to belong to a community. We really do need each other.
Next, we don’t need to be socially distant to prevent the spread of COVID-19; we need to be physically distant. At least six feet apart. Keeping our physical distance doesn’t mean we have to feel socially isolated. We have any number of options for connecting to people we can’t reach out and touch.
In the old days, a letter might take months or years to reach the intended person. We think of texts, email, and applications like Instagram as instant messaging. With FaceTime, Instant Meeting, and Zoom, we can even see the people we are talking to, even if they are in another part of the world.
And let’s not forget the telephone. It still lets us have one-on-one conversations with some degree of privacy.
But even in this age of miracle communications, some people remain isolated because of physical or mental challenges—or simply from a lack of sufficient broadband access. We should remember to reach out to these people…from a safe physical distance.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Worst Blogger Experience

Contrary to Google’s marketing spin, the New Blogger is only better if you:
  • Don’t know anything about HTML and don’t want any real control over your blog's appearance
  • Don’t use anything except a phone
I realize I am an anachronism in that I still prefer a monitor and keyboard to a phone.
This may well be the last post I make. We’ll see. I’ve tried to use the New Blogger and find it to be a real piece of shit. The old version worked, which is more than I can say for the new one. For example, the new editor insists on inserting random line breaks throughout the text:
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Fuck that!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The World Has Moved On

While I used to start most days with a full agenda, it seems most days start like this in the post-COVID world. But my planner fills up by the end of the day—sometimes by mid-morning. I still have to make sure all this activity is productive and not just frenzied motion.
This post originally appeared on the Hearts Homes and Hands blog on 2020-07-10.
Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.


Our times seem to have turned around. Or as Stephen King’s Gunslinger would say, “The world has moved on.” Many of us have gone from wondering how we can possibly fit everything we need to do today in one day to wondering how we will fill the time. My planner looks remarkably desolate every morning these days. But when I review what I have done at the end of the day, it is full of activities.
Okay, they may not be fun activities. But they are activities—things that needed doing.
They say, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” That appears to be true for my planner as well. It is full of little things that add up to bigger ones. This was the case even in the Before Times, when we used to be able to visit each other whenever we wanted. Then as now, the question becomes, “Do all these little things add up to something meaningful?”
It was easy to let ourselves become interrupt driven, responding to whatever stimulus demanded our attention in the second.
It is easy to strive to fill our days with activity, any activity.
Regardless of what it means. This restless flailing, this unbound need to “just do something” is part of what is driving the current surge in COVID-19 sweeping across the country like a tsunami, especially in rural areas like Milam County.
  • In Rockland County, New York, a young man wanted to party even though he was already showing symptoms. His party caused at least 18 more people to get sick. According to abc7NY, at least two other parties have been held since then. Some of the young people are facing $2,000-per-day fines for refusing to give contact tracers information to help save lives.
  • In Roanoke, Virginia, more than 100 new cases have arisen from a road trip to party at Myrtle Beach. Other outbreaks tied to that house party have cropped up in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Image and Data source: Centers for Disease Control This map shows where in Texas people have died from COVID-19 as of 2020-07-10. The CDC keeps it updated.
Milam County and Texas in general are seeing more new cases and more hospitalizations than ever before. The rise in deaths will probably follow in the next few weeks, even though this part of the surge seems to be spreading mostly in young people.
In young people, the disease manifests differently. It can lead to heart attacks and strokes, which are often not listed as COVID-related deaths. But those young people are still dead, and their friends are still at risk. Remember, a stroke in a young person can lead to a long life of disability and suffering. All from one small decision. A friend of mine went from being a rising-star CPA to a welfare mom after a stroke when she was 27.
So, I’m asking you to think about the decisions you make today. Are you trying to accomplish something that will help yourself and the community. Or are you just filling time with something because it sounds fun?
“Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself,” according to Zeno. The opposite is true, too. Every little decision matters.
Please ask yourself why most of the rest of the world is able to move past the COVID-19 outbreak faster than us and choose wisely.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Worm Food

These thoughts were on my mind, and I jotted them down in my journal on Monday. I felt compelled to put them up here on the off chance someone might find them (useful).
I felt compelled to write these thoughts down. They are not empirical, but they do have a certain truthiness.
  • Markets are more robust, lifting more people, when they are free from monopolies of any kind.
  • The government itself is a kind of monopoly that can influence overall economic performance, either for good or bad. Therefore, regulation and stimulation, both of which will always have unforeseen consequences, must be carefully considered before being implemented.
  • Unregulated markets tend to evolve into monopolies or oligarchies that maintain their status-quo by suppressing creativity, innovation, and overall economic growth. Everything becomes zero-sum.
  • Every market has winners and losers. When the elites perceive themselves as losing, they will use any means necessary to protect their power. They will also convince themselves they are acting for the greater good. Some won’t care about the greater good so long as they benefit.
  • “What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee,” but the bees are not very good at recognizing what is good for them—especially when what is bad for the hive is pitched as being good for it. The inverse of Marcus Aurelius’s truism is patently false. Otherwise, nobody would poison the common well for their own profit.
  • Humans are remarkably immune to cognitive dissonance. Double think is a real thing.
  • I believe Greenspan was correct when he said the biggest problem with the economy was that nobody took the long term view. When asked why, he said, “because in the long run, we’re all dead.”
We are all “food for worms.” Memento mori.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Strike for Black Lives

I know it doesn’t sound like much given the infrequency and irregularity of posts on this page, but this site will go dark tomorrow to support the social media Strike for Black Lives. I actually did have a post planned, which will now appear later in the week.

Monday, June 08, 2020

How Long Do You Want to Live?

Photo by Unknown One thing centenarians have in common is being active in community and family. Here is Suna being active with her Master Naturalist community in the days before COVID-19.
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-06-04 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-06-04
You live and you die
And I’ll probably throw it away
But in the end it’s mine
And nobody has a right to say
“Go down lightly”
“Go down silently”
I’ll go down screaming
“Give it back! It belongs to me”

Janice Ian

Barring the Zombie Apocalypse or the actual apocalypse, how long do you want to hang around on this planet consuming oxygen? Have you given your lifespan much thought? I have. I’ve thought about it a lot more on the north side of sixty than I did when I was younger—and even more since the onset of COVID-19.
When I ask people about this (I actually do; I’m like that.), their answers generally fall into one of a few buckets.
Young adults tend to look at me like I’ve suddenly sprouted a wasp from my forehead. They haven’t given the question much, if any, thought. And who could blame them? When I was their age, I just assumed I’d live forever. (I’m still on track for that, by the way.) I still believed I was ten feet tall and bullet-proof.
A few people say, “As long as I can,” a comfortably meaningless phrase. It gives the appearance of answering without commitment or much thought.
The most common response is something like, “as long as I can still do what I want” or “as long as I can be independent.” This answer implies good health, something none of us can guarantee. Most of us never want to become a burden on society or our families. Once you’ve been a parent, letting go of taking care of your kids is hard. And the thought of them taking care of you is horrifying. That horror is led my partners and me to form Hearts Homes and Hands, a state-regulated personal assistance service dedicated to helping people maintain their independence through age, injury, and infirmity. I am already a clients.
I think that fear of dependency is why many elders say something like, “I’m ready to go Home.” Dad used to say, “I’m ready to see your mother again.”
But we’re not really in control of all that. Julius Caesar had a slave whose only job was to whisper in his ear, “You could die today.” As could any of us. But we could also outlive our bodies or, more frightening to me, our minds. We need to plan for both possibilities.
Dad used to tell me, “Plan to live forever and know you won’t.”
Dad used to tell me, “Plan to live forever and know you won’t.” That’s really good advice. More Americans are now over 100 years old than ever before. We’ve even had to invent a new word, “supercentenarians,” for people who are more than 110. One study found that centarians and supercentarians have three common traits, all of which we can start working on today, regardless of age.
First, they are involved with their families and communities. We can all keep up with the kids and grandkids through social media and writing letters, even if we can’t get out. Church is another source of community support, especially if we give support to others before we need it ourselves. Pets also help us build deep ties and reasons to keep going. Someone has got to take care of Fluffy.
Second, they all keep busy. One woman still ran her family ranch at 104. Dad planted corn at 92 while he was dying of cancer. The only thing that worried him when he was in the hospital was how well his crop had done. I know several people who still go into the office every day well into their seventies and eighties. One of my first bosses started a new company when he was 84.
The third commonality is that they want to be alive. The first two traits give them reasons to keep going, but the drive to live is something deeper. It is a passion for life. As singer-songwriter Janis Ian put it, “I’ll go out screaming, ‘It’s mine! Give it back to me!’” I really admire the fight in that answer.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Bored? Some Folks Will Always Be Homebound

Photo by Postmaster / Shutterstock I think Marcus Aurelius once said, “We choose to participate in the rave.”
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-05-21 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-05-21.
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back-door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen

—John Prine

You see them more and more on the evening news: people out en masse, partying in crowded, recently opened (or illegally opened) bars. Some have just come from rallies where they gathered around Patrick Henry’s immortal soundbite, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” You can almost hear the excess capitalization as they ignore the fact that Liberty and Death are not mutually exclusive. In a pandemic, they can be correlative, if not causative.
But I understand where they’re coming from. Boredom. At least, that’s what most seem to say on camera. “I’ve just got to get out of the house!” One day blurs into the next, giving us the new word “Blursday.” A meme shows a generic calendar with each column headed by the same word. “Day.”
Our brains thrive on novelty. The first bite of our favorite foods can cause our eyelids to flutter shut and our eyes to roll back in transient ecstasy. A month later, you’ll remember that first bite, but you won’t remember the ninth or tenth by the end of the meal.
Photo by EVZ / Shutterstock Nanci Griffith once sang about being a clock without hands. She was more right than metaphorical. Our brains measure time in very long increments and tiny ones. And those measurements don’t really relate to each other.
Savoring that first bite can seem to take as long as the rest of the meal. That’s because our brains have many clocks to keep track of time. None of these brain clocks have hour hands. They measure time in fractions of a day or fractions of a second. There’s nothing really in between.
We experience that first bite in what neurologists call “prospective time.” While we’re looking forward to it and experiencing it, our brains measure time in fractions of a second. But the rest of the meal doesn’t get as much attention as that first bite. Rather than form new memories of each bite, our brains overwrite the same memory pattern over and over again. We don’t experience eating the rest of the meal so much as remember it later in “retrospective time.”
The same thing happens all the time. We experience new things in prospective time, but repetitive actions blur into retrospective time. We tend to live in prospective time where the length a pause in conversation can have real meaning. We may have only a split second to react when we see a snake while hiking through the fields. Is it a rat snake or a rattlesnake? Boom! We decide. That’s why time drags on forever when we’re bored. Each tick of the clock may take a week. But when we look back at a month of boredom, it seems to have slipped by in a blink as each day blurs into the one before.
Now put yourself in a different place. What if you weren’t “stuck at home” because of a government order? (An order that is being gradually relaxed as I write this.) What if you couldn’t leave home because your body was unable to take you outside? What if you were stuck at home—maybe even confined to your bed—for the foreseeable future? For the rest of your life? Your mind would turn the seconds into minutes and the minutes into hours. But it would also turn the months into days and the years into weeks.
Photo by / Shutterstock If you’re feeling like you just have to get out of the house right now, please take a minute to think about those who will still be homebound when Shelter in Place fades into memory.
Many people are in this unenviable situation because of injury, disease, or age. Since 1891, these people have been called “shut-ins” or, more kindly, “homebound.” Shelter in Place orders have given all of us the opportunity to experience their reality. The difference is we can escape to protest or to deal with essential tasks. Even when the last Shelter in Place order is lifted, the homebound will remain…well, shut in.
One of the services we provide at Hearts, Homes, and Hands is to help the homebound deal with their persistent reality.
Even though it seems like it wouldn’t work, one of the best things you can do to fight isolation and boredom is to keep to your normal schedule as much as you can. Go to bed and wake up at the same time as before COVID. Prepare your meals and eat them when you normally would. Exercise on your regular schedule even if it means jogging around the living room or lifting your kids instead of weights. If you can’t go to work, set aside some time to learn new things, to write letters, or to play games—anything to create new experiences for your brain to look forward to.
But the most important thing to schedule is downtime. Set aside time to do nothing. That’s right. Make time to do nothing at all. Force your brain to be bored so it looks forward to and enjoys the experiences it can have. Contrast real boredom with routine, and most of us will really appreciate being able to focus on and savor that first bite of activity—whatever it is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

“It was paper when we started...”

Photo by The New York Times I remember thinking at the time, “That’s easy for you to say.”
The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
(That's what I want)

—Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford

It’s not often you’ll hear me say I learned a valuable lesson from Sam Walton, but today is one of those days.
Thanks to declining production and falling oil prices, I had to take a huge write down in the valuation of one of my properties yesterday. It was frightening and disheartening.
To be clear, this isn’t real money. It didn’t come out of my pocket, but it does affect my net worth. And banks tend to look down on reductions in net worth.
So, I’m grateful for the lesson I learned from Walton way back in 1987. After the stock market crashed on Black Friday, he lost about a half-billion dollars in Wal-mart’s market capitalization the following Monday. Walton shrugged off the loss. He said, “It was paper when we started, and it’s paper afterward.”
I remember thinking at the time, “That’s easy for you to say.” But the truth is, paper losses hurt about as much as paper gains help. That is to say, not much. I still own the land, and my taxes will go down because of the write down.