Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Gullibility, naivete, or flat out stupid?

Ol' Buzzard has a post up musing on humans and how gullible we can be. This isn't exactly a news flash -- look at what gullible people managed to put in the White House -- but it did remind me again of a conversation I overheard on a public bus years ago.

Back when I was finishing up my dissertation, during my last semester on campus at VaTech, I was totally dependent on public transportation. I took the bus to campus, I took the bus home. The studio apartment I had was out at the very end of the bus line, which meant morning or evening there were never many people on it that far from campus.

So one morning I get on the bus. As usual I'm the only passenger. Another person gets on at the next stop, but the bus is still basically empty. The second passenger sits right behind the driver and strikes up a conversation. He's all enthused about something he had seen on television the night before. I can't help but hear -- the dude is loud, he's enthusiastic.

Turns out he'd watched an episode of "The X Files." He's super excited about it. And then it hits me. It becomes clear that he thought that what he saw was real. He did not realize David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were actors; he believed they were real FBI agents. It was on television, ergo, it had to be fact.

At the time I was amused. Today, not so much. I realize now that what I saw was the equivalent of "if it's on the Internet, it has to be true."

Anyone else want to bet that if that dude voted in 2016, it was for Trump?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Words (almost) fail me

Loyal readers (all two of you) may recall I volunteer at the local historical society museum. As part of my volunteer duties, I let myself get suckered into serving as the Secretary. That in turn means I get to tote around the museum's Tracfone. Don't recall if I ever mentioned it before, but the museum got rid of its land line a few years ago when we realized that (a) most of the time that phone would be ringing in an empty building (when open hours add up to barely 8 hours a week you know there's not going to be anyone there to answer it), (b) even when we were there if it did ring it was basically a personal call for whichever volunteer happened to be on that day or a telemarketer, and (c) it was costing almost $1,000 annually. Granted, the phone service did include Internet but we almost never used it.

We did the math and figured out that if we invested in the best smart phone Shopko had in stock for Tracfone at the time we could cut the phone expenses by at least 75 percent annually, maybe more. Then we learned we could transfer the landline number to a mobile, and that was that. Changing the phone number had been the one thing making us hesitate. So back in 2016 we made the switch. When the museum is open the cell phone stays at the museum for the use of whichever volunteer is there. When it's not, it lives with the Secretary. Me.

Minor digression. One of the advantages of the cell phone is we were able to get a Square so now we can take plastic for payments. No more listening to visitors say "I'd love to buy this book but I don't have enough cash." Not a problem, we say, and people either whip out the Mastercard or start to stammer. Fun for us either way.

Anyway, I do tend to check the cell phone daily. It has the EBay and Amazon Seller apps so I can see at a glance if the museum has sold anything (we sell stuff that doesn't fit into the museum's mission on EBay and new and used books through Amazon). I can also see if anyone has left a voice mail.

So yesterday the phone said new voice mail. It was midday, more or less. What do I hear? Someone asking for a special tour, one by appointment, for her group. They had just gotten into town, were here only for the weekend, and were wondering if someone could meet them at the museum basically ASAP. What the. . .?? On our website we do say "by appointment." We also say it on the sign on the door. The sign on the door says "seven days advance notice." The website isn't quite as specific, but what do people think "by appointment" means? You don't call a doctor's office and say you'd like an appointment for five minutes from now.

I am kind of wondering just who she thought was going to answer the phone when the museum was closed. But that's a different issue.

I am happy the phone was turned off when the person actually called. Otherwise the caller might have gotten to hear "Are you fucking kidding me? It's a gorgeous sunny Saturday in July and you expect one of our volunteers to drop everything immediately? Hell no."

Would I have tried to set something up for them if  there had been more than a few minutes notice? Maybe. I've been kind of losing patience with the public recently so it's a toss-up. I'm still liking doing the cataloging, but for sure my tolerance for humans is dropping rapidly.

Monday, July 15, 2019

I should have known better

On my most recent trip to the library, I made the mistake of checking out To America, a collection of essays by Stephen Ambrose.  I should have known better. I have written before about being disappointed by Ambrose. This book annoyed me even more.

To America is as I expected a collection of essays in which Ambrose muses on his life in general, how he decided to major in history at the University of Wisconsin back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (the 1950's), and how he stumbled into military history and succumbed to being a proponent of the Great Man Theory. Well, he doesn't actually come right out and say he deliberately decided to become an acolyte at the altar of the Great Man Theory, the if it wasn't for heroes like Eisenhower/Lincoln/whoever we'd all be screwed explanation for everything, but in essence that's what happened. He's also a huge believer in Destiny and the inevitably of progress.

This in itself would not be a terrible thing. Lots of people think that because things turned out a certain way, that's the only way things could have gone. You know, certain things were meant to be, there was no alternative. These people have not read enough Harry Turtledove books. Or, for that matter, any other alternative history. Nothing is inevitable. History is full of "what ifs?" There's a reason people talk about "turning points" in history -- those are the obvious times and events when things could have gone in a different direction. That doesn't mean they had to go in the direction they did; we just think it was inevitable because it's the result we've been living with.

Small digression: one minor example of an event that would have easily changed history as we know it. By coincidence, I am currently reading a biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was the second son, not even really eyed as a spare by his father. What if his older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy jr, hadn't died in action during World War II? Would JFK have bothered with politics?

No, what makes the belief in inevitability a Terrible Thing is Ambrose uses this sense of predestination, of it was meant to be, of (dare we say it?) Manifest Destiny to do a lot of jingoistic we are the best, the brightest, the greatest country on the planet because we inadvertently killed off the indigenous population, defeated evil doers like Hitler, and did our best to contain the Communist menace in Vietnam. After all, when Europeans came to the Americas, the natives weren't really civilized; they needed to be colonized and/or eliminated so the United States could be the great shining beacon of hope the rest of the world reveres today. He even manages to claim that the Europeans never practiced genocide, that all the indigenous deaths were the tragic but inevitable result of accidental exposure to disease.

And then there are the bloopers, like describing Tet as a "religious holiday." What the fuck, dude, it's the lunar New Year in Vietnam. How much research would it have taken for this supposedly great historian to have found out it's the first word in the Vietnamese phrase "tet nguyen dan," or feast of the first morning on the first day of the new year. It's celebrated by everyone -- Catholics, Buddhists, animists, whatever -- in Vietnam. It is not a specifically religious holiday any more than New Year's Day is any place else on the planet. I've been hearing Tet described as the lunar new year since Americans first got to hear the word back in 1968. Surely somewhere there's video of American newscasters talking about the Vietnamese launching surprise attacks during the New Year holiday?

His view on Vietnam, incidentally, is that if we'd just turned the generals loose and let them do their jobs the U.S. would have won that war. Right. More likely it would be like Afghanistan is now -- stuck there forever and reading more and more like a bad copy of a Joe Haldeman novel.

Bottom line: I'm avoiding Stephen Ambrose books in the future. Part of me has been thinking for years that I should read Undaunted Courage, but given that I already know quite a bit about the Lewis & Clark expedition I'm thinking now that wouldn't be a good idea. If I'm catching weirdness in the Ambrose books on topics where my knowledge is relatively superficial, I shudder to think what I'd find in a book where I'm already fairly well-read.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Speaking of weirdness

Given that it's been a number of years since the last Harry Potter movie was released, I am a tad surprised there's apparently still an active market for this item, especially when said item costs $199.99. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Medical weirdness

Back when we lived in Omaha, my primary care physician, Michael Sitorius, a wonderful doctor who was also department head for Family Medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, used to tell me that he always wished he had a student along on the days I wound up at the Family Practice clinic. I seemed to have a knack for coming in with stuff that fell into a weird category of common enough to pop up on a regular basis but not so common he could count on having examples for students to see.

None of it was ever truly serious, just annoying. Like a Bible cyst, i.e., a ganglion cyst that's pretty common in people who do tasks that involve a lot of repetitive motion, like keyboarding. A blocked salivary gland. Trochanteric bursitis, better known as a pain in the ass (it's bursitis that hits your hip). Nothing dramatic, nothing life threatening, but nonetheless stuff doctors get to deal with regularly but students often miss seeing while doing their clinical rotations.

Small digression: I got lucky in getting Dr. Sitorious as my PCP. When I called the clinic the first time to make an appointment, I was told I'd get whoever was next in line, which was fine with me. I figured that when the clinic was part of the university medical system, anyone working there had to be qualified. Turned out he was a great doctor, one of the best I've ever encountered.

Anyway, I was thinking about Dr. Sitorius this summer because I've had two things pop up fairly close together, both of which are pretty common but no one ever really talks about: BPPV and pincer toe. If they did get talked about, I probably would have heard about them before I acquired any personal experience with either.

First, BPPV = benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. It's an inner ear problem. Calcium crystals that form in the canals of the inner ear shift position and trigger vertigo. You move in a way that was never a problem before (roll over in bed, sit up, whatever), the rocks in your head migrate and things start spinning. BPPV is most common in older people but can occur at any age. It is a leading cause of falls. Based on consultations with Dr. Google, I figured out that was most likely what was troubling me.

Google was also full of links to instructions for the simple exercises a person can do to fix (at least temporarily) the problem. Being blessed with decent insurance, however, I decided to ignore the DIY methods and get a confirmed diagnosis from an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Having lost a friend last year to brain cancer influenced me, too. Her cancer caused annoying but not apparently serious systems. By the time she mentioned them to her doctor and he ordered scans, she was Stage IV. A few months later she was dead. Bottom line: if there are symptoms that might be neurological, don't procrastinate.

Anyway, turned out it was BPPV. Took one simple maneuver to reset the rocks. That was a couple weeks ago and I haven't had a dizzy spell since. I do find myself wondering how many older people have BPPV and don't realize it. They just put an increasing problem with dizziness down to getting older, assume they're stuck with it, and start restricting their activities because they're afraid of falling.

Anyway, BPPV solved. Which brings me to the toe. Awhile back I noticed one of my toe nails was starting to grow in a rather odd way. It seemed to want to form itself into a talon. It started off normal enough at the base but then the sides started migrating toward each other. It didn't hurt, but it was definitely odd looking. It got pointier and pointier. Trimming it was becoming trickier and trickier. I started wondering if I was going to have to get out the nail clippers we used on the last dog we had. You know, people aren't supposed to grow talons. We have no need to grip telephone lines or, if we felt like channeling raptors, eviscerate prey with our feet.

Once again, because I'm blessed with decent insurance, I decided to bring in an expert. I made an appointment with my podiatrist. I'm not sure just what I was expecting when I saw him, but for sure it wasn't that he was going to reach for the stainless steel pliers.

Okay, he didn't reach for the pliers as soon as he saw the toe nail. First he asked if I wanted it gone. Turns out removing funky toenails is the most common procedure he does. Apparently the number of feet that come ambling in with disgusting toenails is mind boggling. You go off to podiatry school and learn all sorts of stuff involving bones and tendons and nerves and have visions of doing really interesting medical things with feet and what pays the clinic rent? Ripping off toenails and treating plantar's warts. My podiatrist said he used to track the number of toenail removals but quit counting at 50,000 (he's been in practice for a good number of years now).

And, yes, removal does consist of literally grabbing the nail with the pliers and ripping. Fortunately, it also includes the use of a local anesthetic so you have the strange experience of seeing it yanked off without feeling a thing. It is a permanent removal. There are supposedly things you can do to correct the nail but they tend to be futile -- once it's decided it wants to be a pincer, the nail does not want to change its mind.

Anyway, he said the type of toenail I had is called a pincer nail and is remarkably common. He said sometimes people will have it happen to every toe so end up having all ten nails removed. (At this point I toyed with the idea of inserting an image, but thank me, Gentle Reader, the photos I found were all too gross even for me) That got me to thinking. Why is it so common? And why did it wait until I was older than dirt to start happening to me?

Once again, Google was my friend. Several reputable web sites (e.g., Mayo Clinic) supplied answers. There are a bunch of things that can do it, but the one that stood out for me was the correlation with certain medications like beta blockers. Guess who took a beta blocker for years? You know, I'm pretty conscientious about reading the prescribing information on drugs, all that fine print that usually concludes the list of side effects with "and death," but I don't ever recall reading that my blood pressure meds would make my toenails go weird.