Sunday, January 23, 2022

Random thoughts about the virus that's going to be with us forever

 A couple of the local schools are going back to remote learning only for the coming week. The combination of students testing positive, staff getting sick and calling in, and a distinct lack of substitutes for everything from teachers to janitors to bus drivers pushed the districts into shutting down for the immediate future. They say they're doing remote learning, but that's going to be hard to pull off if they don't have enough teachers to handle in-school classes. Brief closures thanks to a district getting slammed by influenza were not unusual in the past, but of course SARS-COV-2 has put its own distinct spin on things. Instead a closure lasting only a day or two and happening maybe once during a school year, now the closures last for weeks and come and go unpredictably. 

Back in April 2020 the Younger Daughter and I were chatting about likely outcomes for the pandemic. My prediction at the time was that it had already spread too widely to get it under control. COVID-19 was going to end up an endemic disease, one of those things that was around more or less all the time, and about all we could do was take the precautions advised not-quite-two-years ago (masks, social distancing, lots and lots of handwashing and cleansers)(I'm wishing now I owned stock in Purell)(or, more accurately, GOJO -- they invented Purell) and hope the virus eventually burned itself out. You know, sweep through the population, pick off the most vulnerable, and then disappear, kind of like the Spanish flu did back a hundred years ago. If we got lucky, pharmaceutical companies would manage to come up with a vaccine before it reached the point where trucks patrolled neighborhoods asking people to bring out their dead. 

As it turned out, Big Pharma did manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat and introduced vaccines a year ago. The initial reaction was for most people to happily get in line for the jabs. Lots of complaining about not enough vaccine for everyone who wanted it, people having trouble scheduling appointments, it was taking too long for the eligible categories to drop down to where just about any adult could get it. . . That enthusiasm didn't last long. 

The same conspiracy nutjobs who were (and still are) convinced SARS-COV-2 is a hoax, a bizarre way for the medical establishment to inflate its reimbursement rates, bombarded the rest of us with enough weirdness and right-wing propaganda that a sizable percentage of the U.S. population decided that given a choice between dying and getting vaccinated, death sounded good. 

At this point, to be honest, I'm fine with the anti-vaxxers and other Covidiots making that choice. I just wish they weren't cluttering up the hospitals and preventing other people from getting necessary care. You know, they wanted freedom from medical tyranny because they don't trust the doctors or the government. Fine, don't go to the Emergency Room. Do us all a favor and quietly die at home. 

Actually, one of the saddest things about the Covidiots is that even when they're dying from a disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country they don't want to believe they have it themselves. They and their families scream at doctors and nurses and demand to know what they really have. Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it as a description.

In any case, thanks to the fact we're still nowhere near having enough people vaccinated to really push SARS-COV-2 back into the metaphorical bottle, it appears we all are going to be living with it for a long, long time. As a society we've forgotten there was a time when epidemics swept through communities on a regular basis: cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, typhoid, measles, polio, diphtheria, mumps, plague, chickenpox, and others. Some of those are no longer an issue thanks to improved sanitation, some got eliminated (or close to it) after specific vaccines were invented. With most of them the death rates were higher than the mortality rates for SARS-COV-2. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from that knowledge -- hey, be grateful things aren't worse? -- but I do think seeing fair numbers of the general public routinely masked is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

And, speaking of masks, the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest messaging on masking and other issues is coming across as more than a bit muddled does not surprise me at all. I have seen the CDC from the inside. The individual scientists, the actual subject matter experts, do amazing work. Having seen them in action I have no doubt that if just one of those way-down-in-the-bureaucratic-food-chain experts was allowed to speak, whatever he or she said would be clear and make sense. It might be phrased in enough technical terminology to have a lay person reaching for a dictionary, but it would make sense. 

Unfortunately, having worked at the CDC as an editor, I know that communications never emerge from someone who is willing to speak plainly. Any and all communications pass through multiple levels of review. At each review, things get murkier. The editors fight the good fight, they try to follow the KISS rule, but the higher up the food chain one goes the less willing the powers-that-be are to speak plainly and unambiguously about anything. Endless hours are spent in meetings and fairly soon KISS gets buried under CYA. Your tax dollars at work.

I have said for years that the traffic jam scene in the credits at the beginning of the first season of The Walking Dead wasn't fiction, it was Atlanta on any Friday afternoon. I have also said many times that if there ever was a zombie apocalypse, we'd be fucked. By the time the upper echelons at the CDC finished holding meetings and trying to decide just who was going to do what, it would be too late. Nothing about SARS-COV-2 has changed my mind. The only reason we're not all dead now is this particular corona virus turned out to be not nearly as nasty as it could have been.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Adventures in e-marketing

 I decided to devote this afternoon to adding a few things to the museum's EBay listings. A donation box from a few months ago included an amazing stash of vintage women's handkerchiefs, items that were both kind of nifty and totally useless. I mean, one or two colorful floral ladies' hankies might be neat to have around for if we ever dress a mannequin as June Cleaver (or her equivalent) so she could have it tucked in a pocket or sticking out of the end of a sweater sleeve, but there's no way the museum needs to keep a stash of 30 or 40 of them.

When the handkerchiefs first emerged from the box my first thought was to figure out a fair price and buy them myself. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I saw a remarkably nice quilt made from ladies' hankies. I believe the original pattern was in a women's magazine in the 1960s. It involved folding the hankies to form butterfly wings, appliqueing them to a backing, and then adding details like antennae with embroidery. It was nice. I saw the hankies stash, had flashbacks to the quilt Betty flaunted several decades ago, and briefly fantasized about chasing down the pattern and doing something similar.

Thanks to the wonders of Google, I did find the pattern. There are actually multiple options for turning cheap handkerchiefs into quilt tops. Then sanity prevailed. I have a remarkably high stack of UFOs now. Did I really need to add another Unfinished Object to that pile? 


So I took a lot of photos of handkerchiefs, measured them, and then kind of shoved the stack to one side. Recent adventures in cataloging made me realized something had to be done with the hankies. They needed to stop taking up space on the table in the office. They either needed to go into PastPerfect and then a drawer somewhere or they needed to get listed for sale. The latter seemed like the better option, considering that the museum really, really needs to build up enough money to have the building re-roofed. Besides, how long could it take to list a few dozen handkerchiefs on EBay, especially when they'd be listed in lots and not individually?

As one might anticipate, it ate up the entire afternoon. 

The good news is that one lot sold within an hour of getting listed so it wasn't a totally wasted day.

If I ever do decide to make a quilt like this, I have learned brand new ladies' handkerchiefs are available on-line in packs of 30. Are they being used for crafts or are there still people out there who haven't figured out that Kleenex exists?

Get out the fire extinguishers

 My sister's putting candles on the cake.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Minor weirdness at the museum

I spent a couple hours yesterday at the museum. A brief moment of brilliance flared about a week ago that led to the secretary/treasurer/museum manager (aka yours truly) ordering a paper towel dispenser for the rest room. Since the day the museum opened almost 30 years ago, the paper towel dispenser has been the same type common in most people's kitchens, a simple rack on the wall that holds a roll of Scott or Bounty or whatever happens to be on sale. You know, you got to rip one sheet off at a time, assuming the towels tore evenly. Or, more likely, you got to curse quietly when the roll pulled loose from the holder and bounced across the floor and then you rolled it back up, stuck it back on the holder, and hoped the noise from the rest room fan masked the sound of your profanities. 

Anyway, it occurred to me that this particular dispenser wasn't the most sanitary piece of equipment to be using right now in the  time of cholera  middle of a pandemic. It didn't occur to me until I'd been flipping through the Uline catalog looking for something else when the towel dispensers caught my eye, but at least it did occur.  The cost was surprising low. Even the cost for the rolls for filling the thing didn't seem particularly costly considering how few people use the rest room annually. I'm actually a little surprised it took me 8 years of being the person who orders supplies for it to sink in that the rest room could use an update, but better late than not at all. 

I will confess the idea of ordering anything from Uline does not bring me joy. The company is based in Wisconsin and owned by people who thought Scott Walker was God's gift to the state and who no doubt are handing over wheel barrow loads of money to Ron Johnson's Senate campaign even as I type. Johnson had promised to serve only two terms, but oddly enough totally forgot that promise when the prospect of going back into anonymity in Wisconsin became imminent. In any case, right wing asshats is an understatement. On the other hand, they do supply an amazing range of equipment useful for almost any commercial venture, everything from dust mops to floor mats to caution tape. And a dozen different kinds of paper towel dispensers, which they promised to deliver in under 48 hours. (A promise they kept. It was ordered late Wednesday afternoon; UPS delivered it Friday.)

I opted for the Junior model of this particular type of dispenser. It doesn't take up much space and was relatively easy to mount. I didn't do the mounting, of course. I drafted the S.O. Anything that involves power tools, even if it's just a cordless drill being used to put in two screws, tends to get done by the S.O. The hardest part from my perspective was simply getting the first towel to emerge from the hole at the bottom. It's not as easy as they claim to get that first tail to drop down. 

While I was at the museum waiting for the S.O. to do the dispenser installation, I did a little more cataloging. L'Anse Township recently donated some drum and bugle corps uniform pieces -- pants, jacket, a feathered plume that once sat on a hat -- that were found stashed mysteriously in the Township Hall. The local drum and bugle corps, the Golden Eagles, were quite good in their day, even won a state championship 60 years ago, but faded away sometime in (I think) the mid-to-late 1970s. No doubt they faded for the same reason a lot of groups do: the original founders and members aged out (or got burnt out), no one replaced them, and that was that. The uniform donation reminded me that it has been 60 years so this summer the museum will do a temporary exhibit commemorating that anniversary. 

The uniform does present a bit of a mystery in itself. The jacket is small, really small (the corps was a junior corps so some of the kids in it were still in junior high and petite) but the pants have a 48 waist and legs that look long enough to have been worn by an NBA player. Two mismatched uniform pieces and a plume without a hat. Intriguing.

Fortunately, the museum has a lot more than just those three pieces for the planned exhibit. There are a couple bugles, multiple uniform pieces (both musicians and color guard), a snare drum, the heads off a bass drum, a couple color guard flags, and a lot of small memorabilia. The volunteer curator should have no trouble putting together a nice display. 

Photo was lifted from a Golden Eagles Facebook page that has unfortunately seen zero activity in almost ten years. Someone set it up before the corps did a 50-year reunion in 2012 and no one has apparently gone near it since. I'm going to do multiple press releases in the next couple of months hoping to scare more photos out of the woodwork. There must be people locally who took pictures at parades even if they didn't have kids in the corps. Wish me luck. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Hey, Medicare geezers, when was the last time your doctor saw you naked?

 The S.O. and I were chatting the other day, talking about doctor appointments and the annual "wellness" visit with one's primary care physician, and we started wondering just when was the last time either of us had an actual full-blown annual physical. In my case, it was probably in Atlanta. Might be the same for the S.O. In any case, it was before passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

One of the provisions of the ACA is that Medicare will pick up 100 percent of the tab for an annual wellness visit with your primary care physician. No co-pay like there always was (and still is) with an actual physical exam. And, yes, young folk, Medicare has co-pays just like every other insurance plan in the U.S. The stuff it covers (and there's a lot it simply doesn't cover, just like . . .) Medicare reimburses providers 80 percent of what they (Medicare) has decided is a reasonable rate. The patient is on the hook for the other 20 percent, although there are providers who are happy to just get the 80 percent -- they treat it like full payment and never bill the patient for the rest. Those providers are rare.

Anyway, the purpose of the wellness visit is supposedly to just chat with your PCP about your health, raise any concerns you may have, and decide if "further research is needed." This is actually the visit that had right wingers foaming at the mouth because it was originally framed as the moment when your doctor would ask you about care directives, the infamous living will. It got redefined as a time to talk with your doctor without getting naked. An office visit where the doctor and you would talk about your health in general and decisions could be made about what to do next. You know, do you need to actually take your clothes off for a thorough exam? Or maybe get a referral to a specialist? It was quite explicitly not meant to be an actual annual physical exam. 

Except, of course, it gets treated like one. You make an appointment for an 'annual' with your PCP and by default it becomes the wellness visit. Or, as I tend to refer to it, the "yes I'm still breathing" chat. You get your temperature and blood pressure checked, the nurse or technician reviews your record (any new medications? Been to any other doctors since the last time you were in?), and that's about it. Your doctor comes in, asks if you have any concerns, reminds you (if you're a woman) you're overdue for a mammogram, and life moves on. The guy I see will usually get out the stethoscope and listen to me breathe (confirming, I guess, that I'm not a revenant), he'll ask a few ADL-related questions* (e.g., can I still tie my own shoelaces), we'll make small talk about infectious disease (he went to Africa as part of a team responding to one of the Ebola outbreaks a number of years ago, I worked on the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases at the CDC), and we go our respective ways. No feet in the stirrups and an ice cold metal implement being inserted into a very personal space, no quick manual boob exam, no doing a quick scan of exposed skin for odd looking growths. None of the stuff that used to be a routine part of an "annual."

I see this as typical of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The intent of the wellness visit provision was to improve elderly person's health by giving them an opportunity to talk with their doctors. It was meant to be a complement to other routine care, like an actual annual physical. It was not supposed to replace it. But inevitably it did -- a wellness visit takes a lot less time than a full-blown physical, which means more patients can be scheduled in a physician's day, which in turn means more money and reduced expense for the provider. It may seem kind of minor, but when patients keep their clothes on you don't have to worry about providing gowns for them to change into, there's no time being wasted while waiting for patients to undress, there are no supplies like gloves or lube being used, cleaning the exam room between patients is a lot faster and easier. It adds up. 

It also makes perfect sense that in the profit driven model that is the American health care system that the wellness visit would morph into the primary visit. Next step, as we've already seen during the pandemic, is going totally to telemedicine. Health care delivered via telephone and Zoom meetings. We're all really close to being able to list WebMD as our PCP. 

Which, in an odd way, is rather comforting. Back when the annual was truly an annual, I swear every year found me with a new comorbidity. Since it became the 'are you still breathing' visit, no new pre-existing conditions have emerged. I am apparently a heck of a lot healthier now than I was ten years ago. Ignorance can be bliss.

 *ADL - activities of daily life. Questions about ADLs are meant to determine if you're still capable of living independently or do they need to start getting a bed ready for you at the local nursing home.

Friday, December 31, 2021

When will women achieve true equality?

A post about gender stereotyping, criminality, and sexual perversion is kind of an odd way to end the year, but news reports kept yammering on about the verdict in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. There seems to be a general feeling that the only reason she was charged was because Jeffrey Epstein is dead -- and, despite historic examples of digging people up to draw and quarter them, you can't try a corpse. So what's the next best thing when you can't put a cadaver in the dock? Charge his girlfriend as a "better than nothing." As a feminist, this pisses me off. Is it strange that it annoys me that this disgusting evil person isn't getting the credit she's due?

Is perversion the last bastion of gender stereotyping? Is there some rule that says women can't be evil, sadistic perverts who are equally as bad as their male counterparts? Why must Maxwell still be described as being essentially powerless, a tool who Epstein used as an enabler, a person who was basically a mindless minion just doing Epstein's bidding? It is gender stereotyping at its worst to assume that in a relationship between two rich perverts that the woman was the weaker one.

It's also a weird cultural contradiction. After all, women have been portrayed as temptresses, the people who lure men into sinning, for millennia so why does the media keep framing it as Epstein using Maxwell to help with his decadent life style and not vice versa? Or even as it being a mutual recognition of shared kinkiness and a perverted interest in adolescent girls? What if instead of Maxwell enabling Epstein, Epstein was enabling Maxwell? Witness reports make it clear Maxwell sexually abused the teens she recruited long before the girls found themselves giving Epstein special massages.

In any case, regardless of which pervert was the dominant sleaze in the relationship, it would have been nice to see Maxwell treated as a free agent, someone in charge of her own destiny and doing exactly what she wanted, instead of being framed as a poor dumb woman who let a manipulative dude exploit her.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The road to Hell

The year is almost over, and as usual things did not go as planned. Or hoped for. I started off with every intention of doing more with this blog, writing more, being generally more ambitious. I set a reasonable goal: do more posts than I did in 2020. Translation: do at least 39 posts between January 1 and December 31. 

At this point, I don't think it's going to happen. Granted, I'm a mere four posts short of achieving that goal, but if I couldn't manage to write four posts a month for the past 11 and a half months what are the odds I'll crank out four in six days? 

In my defense, I was doing good until Summer happened. Once the weather turned decent I definitely lost interest in thinking. Or writing. Not that the two always go hand in hand. 

Maybe I'll do better in 2022. And maybe pigs will fly. Stranger things have happened.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Vaguely missing the South

I have told the story before about ambling to the bus stop one morning in Atlanta and finding myself behind two good ol' boys talking about dining at an acquaintance's house. Topic of discussion was apparently the protein portion of the meal, a possum that allegedly resembled a cooked chihuahua. At the time I was intrigued, but not intrigued enough to intrude on their conversation and ask how it tasted. 

I had no idea then (and still have no idea) just how one went about acquiring a recently deceased opossum in a metropolitan area like Atlanta, although I suppose it was possible to trap one on the patios of the apartment complex. We had a possum visit our patio occasionally. I remember thinking back then that the beast looked like road kill without ever having been flattened out on Buford Highway. I felt no desire to terminate it, toss it in the crock pot, and slow cook the beast. I mean, possums eat ticks. Who in their right mind wants to eliminate a beast that vacuums up ticks?

So what has me thinking about cooked possums today? I've been working on a new exhibit at the museum, a nod to Hunting and Fishing in Baraga County. The exhibit will include a cookbook published by the US Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service in 1943. During the war, meat was rationed. Beef was hard to come by for the average cook so the Extension Service decided to promote Good Eating from Woods and Fields. 

Good Eating has recipes for various wee beasties one doesn't see front and center on the dinner table very often these days. Granted, squirrel is still popular at wild game feasts (an event many sport hunters' clubs hold occasionally as a fund raiser). It's also a traditional ingredient in Brunswick stew, although modern recipes usually don't mention it. Today's cookbooks (and Google recipe search results) usually list chicken or pork as the meat of choice. But when was the last time you heard anyone talk about roasting a woodchuck? (Not a bad choice, incidentally, if one is ever lost and starving in the wilderness. Woodchuck has a lot of fat so just like porcupine would be a high energy food.) 

According to the S.O., skunk is edible, too, if you know how to handle it. He occasionally reminisces about the time back when he was young, he and his father stopped to visit with some geezer living the carefree bachelor life in a shack that had been part of a lumber camp. The dude invited them to dine with him. The S.O. did not recognize the taste; his dad told him later it was skunk. Whether or not it was is debatable, but apparently it was a possibility. Somehow the Extension researchers missed skunk as a culinary delight; there is no skunk meat loaf or skunk goulash in Good Eating.

There is, however, raccoon meatloaf and raccoon goulash. And more. Raccoon can be used in multiple ways.  As it happens, I once knew a source for acquiring the main ingredient (one raccoon) for those recipes. Whenever we drove from Atlanta to Hemphill, Texas, to visit the Younger Daughter we'd pass through a town just west of Vidalia, Louisiana, where the proprietor of a retail establishment there advertised regularly that they had "fresh coon today." The establishment was one of those typical deep South gas stations/convenience stores/god knows what places that look like it hasn't been open for business since the Eisenhower administration but locals will tell you serves the best fried chicken in the county (or, it being Louisiana, parish). We never stopped. Another opportunity lost; somehow I doubt I'll ever see another "fresh coon today" sign board. 

Which means I've never done a test drive of the following recipe. However, if you happen to have a source for a recently deceased raccoon, the US Department of Agriculture believes (or believed, 78 years ago) that this is edible:

Fricasseed Raccoon

8 Servings 

Cooking Time 2-1/2 hours 


1 raccoon 

2 tablespoons salt  

1/2 teaspoon pepper  

1 cup flour  

1/4 cup fat 

2 cups broth  

1. Clean raccoon and remove all fat. Cut into 8 or 10 pieces.  

2. Rub with salt and pepper and roll in flour.  

3. Cook in hot fat until well browned, add the broth, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender.

Monday, December 6, 2021

WTF is wrong with some people?

Every so often this meme makes the rounds on Facebook. It's usually shared by people waxing nostalgic for the days when everyone's childhoods resembled Beaver Cleaver's or Opie Taylor's, at least in their minds. Not surprisingly, it usually gets labeled as the classic white racist boomer fantasy. You know, the elderly white guy's favorite "memory" -- the good old days when everyone's dad was a genial but strict clean cut dude in a suit, and women knew their place as well as doing all the cooking, cleaning, and catering to their men while dressed in neatly pressed cotton dresses,heels, and a tasteful string of pearls. It goes without saying all the neighbors were white. 

My response to the meme is usually to state I don't miss the good old days at all. I'm old enough that I remember polio, being quarantined for measles, and, when I was older, the gender stereotyping that steered girls into home economics and bookkeeping classes while boys got to take shop or advanced science and math.Why couldn't girls take shop? Because then the boys wouldn't be able to tell dirty jokes or use vulgar language. Shop was where boys could be boys; home ec was where the Future Homemakers learned how to set the table for a formal multi-course meal, right down to the fish forks.
Are fish forks still a thing? Did anyone ever actually use them outside dinners served by English aristocracy? Then again, on a less pretentious scale, exactly what is the point of having separate forks for the salad and the main dish? As far as I can discern, the main purpose of having a plethora of silverware on the table, all the various spoons and forks and knives, is to signal that you're doing well enough financially that you (or, more likely, your minions) can lay out an array of metal that will baffle any peasants present at your banquet. 

But, as I was starting to say, it hit me this week that I actually do miss the America I grew up in. I miss the days before the Internet and social media, the days back when stupid people were unable to form echo chambers where they can parrot each other's delusions. You know, the days when if someone was an asshole the only people who had to hear that person being an ass were people who actually knew him. The days when people might have been mean and petty but their meanness and pettiness didn't affect anyone other than the poor saps who were stuck with them through marriage or work. The truly dumb fucks did the bulk of their pontificating through letters to the editor of the local paper. The L'Anse Sentinel used to have a couple regulars who could be counted on to fill page space with their tinfoil hat theories. (For all I know, they still do. I rarely read the Sentinel.) Those people were generally mocked by the community as a whole. They functioned as a source of amusement and not as a symptom of an increasingly dysfunctional culture.

Now, of course, the tinfoil hat types clog up the Intertubes. They band together in cyberspace and encourage each other's lunacy. Worse, after encouraging each other online, they engage in behavior that not long ago would have been unthinkable. Crazy people living in Florida can inspire equally crazy people living in Idaho or Vermont to engage in aberrant antisocial behavior like issuing death threats against politicians or policy makers they disagree with. Harassing the families (including young children) of school board members or public health officials is a recent example. My news feed lately has had way too many stories about the hell school board members are being put through over stuff that shouldn't be issues at all: trying to prevent the spread of infectious disease, for example. There are depressingly large numbers of people deciding to not run for school board again once their terms expire because it's not worth the stress.

Or worse. One of the most disheartening stories recently was about the harassment directed at the school board chair in Hastings, Minnesota. The woman and her family experienced so much vitriol, including credible death threats, that she and her family had to move. And what inspired all the hate? She was the chair of a school board that had voted to require masks for in-school students as part of the school district's response to the COVID pandemic. (Other recent examples of nutjobs harassing school boards include freakouts over library books with adult content -- as if high school students had never heard an obscenity or knew what sexual intercourse is -- or demanding schools eliminate Critical Race Theory from the curriculum when CRT isn't there in the first place. The stupid, it burns.)
I keep thinking there are all sorts of things that in the past people might think but they'd never say out loud. Now they don't just say the crazy shit out loud, they rally others to be equally delusional or nihilistic. Social norms have become meaningless to them. You used to have to be drunk or certifiably crazy to yell obscenities at a school board or city council meeting, and for sure you had to be not in your right mind to phone death threats to a neighbor. Not anymore. Now you can do and say whatever horrible thing pops into your head and not only will you not pay a price for it, you'll have fellow amoral, cognitively challenged asshats forming a cheering section.