Friday, January 28, 2022

A plausible AiTA query?

I probably spend way too much time online reading stuff that just barely qualifies as fluff. I cruise through the various advice columns (or at least all the ones I can get at without being blocked by a pay wall), click on links to articles gossiping about British royalty, and cannot resist looking at the various Am I The Asshole pieces that show up on Facebook. 

Am I the Asshole (AITA) is, of course, a subReddit thing. People will posit various situations and then ask the People of Reddit to judge their behavior. The possible conclusions include NTA (not the asshole), YTA (you're the asshole), and ESH (everyone sucks here). Situations described run from the boringly mundane (AITA for feeding my kids leftover pizza instead of cooking lunch from scratch) to holy fuck, this person has the most selfish parent on the planet (AITA for wanting to go to move out of the house when it means my mom will have to start paying for a babysitter). 

For reasons unfathomable even to me, lately I've been kind of mentally weaving the various bits of fluff into one thread: an imaginary AITA post that takes gossip about the House of Windsor and tosses out a scenario. 

I (m, 37) got married a few years ago to the love of my life (f, 40). We've been blessed with two children, a boy and a girl. Since becoming a father, I've been thinking about writing a memoir, a family history my kids can read when they're older, maybe not until they're adults, and understand a little better why I made some of the choices that have affected them, like leaving our home country and going close to No Contact with my family.

I should mention there is some messy stuff in my family's past. My parents probably should never have gotten married. Mom was a lot younger than my dad and they really didn't have a lot in common. I think he caved to pressure from his parents to get married and have children so there'd be someone in line to inherit the family business (an old and established firm that's been around for literally centuries). Mom was young and idealistic. She truly loved my father. Unfortunately, he couldn't let go of an attachment to one of his exes. Whether or not he was physically unfaithful is debatable, but for sure he carried on an intimate emotional affair with the "other woman." Mom realized what was going on and was miserable. My parents divorced, and they both moved on with their lives. 

Tragically, Mom died in an auto accident a year after the divorce was final. It took awhile, but Dad's relationship with his ex came out in the open, she divorced her husband, and after waiting a few years for the scandal to die down they got married.

When I look at this woman who is now my stepmother I can't help remembering how much unhappiness she caused. She was a married woman when she was causing problems in my parents' marriage. I can be civil around her, but for obvious reasons she's not on my list of favorite people. 

Now that I've let a few people know I'm thinking about writing a memoir, Dad is putting pressure on me to not say anything that might upset my stepmother. I'm not planning to turn her into a villainess, but I'm also not going to pretend she was never there. Am I the Asshole for not caring if her feelings get hurt?  

You know, even though this is a mythical AITA, I'd swear I've read multiple variations on it already. The only things missing in the typical AITA post are tiaras and grandmothers with scepters.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Cleaning up the historical record

The Intertubes were nice enough to remind me (again) why it can be impossible to correct an error once it's been repeated a couple times. Not long after I became the person who was answering the Baraga County Historical Society's email, the Society heard from someone living in northern Wisconsin. That person wanted us to know that one of the photos on the website was wrong. 

The photo, which has been kicking around the central Upper Peninsula for decades, supposedly shows a group of men, mostly Native American (Anishinabe, aka Ojibwa or Chippewa) and one white guy. The white guy is identified as the Methodist missionary from Zeba; the Native men are all identified as residents of Baraga and Marquette counties and have familiar names such as Madosh and Loonsfoot. The occasion for the meeting is church-related. 

The email correspondent said that identification was 100% wrong. The photo was not church related; the people in it were not from Michigan. I told the person that descendants of the men in the photo had told the historical society it was indeed their great-grandfather in the photo; the museum's label was right. I wasn't real enthusiastic about making any changes at the time (I have to edit the website in HTML. It's not fun) so I let it slide.

The photo above isn't the one we had up; it's one I found just now doing a search on another site that posts historical photos from the U.P. 

Then the question came up again so I did more digging. The Wisconsites were right. The photo caption was 100 percent wrong. I found an original source -- Life Among the Indians by Benjamin Armstrong. The book came out in 1892. One of the illustrations is the group portrait. The white guy is Armstrong; the Native men are all leaders from Red Cliff, Odanah, and other Wisconsin locations. None are named Madosh or Loonsfoot. As a longtime friend and ally of the Wisconsin Ojibwe he accompanied the men on a visit to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Lincoln.

Graphic to the right is from the book. Note any similarities between it and the photo above?

I tried removing the photo from the Museum's website. I sort of succeeded. The photo is gone but a bad caption/link lingers on. I do not enjoy messing with the website. The HTML displays in a weird way -- a paragraph will display one long line of text that just scrolls across the page indefinitely. I get headaches just thinking about it. 

No surprise, my current approach to the website has been the lazy one: a couple years ago I added text to the first page saying the site was no longer being updated and was going to disappear soon. You know, eventually people would try to find us and get the 404 error message for page not found. As long as we're still up on Facebook, we're good. People can find us, and it's a lot easier to get current information. (I used to think that "soon" would be when the site hosting the museum website stopped billing us, but we haven't paid a hosting fee for a couple years now and the site is still up. Strange, but not our problem.)  

Anyway, since I learned the truth about the photo, whenever I stumble across it with the bad label on a Facebook page or elsewhere, I post a correction and note where the actual information can be found. Stumbled across it again this morning and had my usual WTF reaction.

Going by the comments replying to corrections, no one wants to believe it. Supposed descendants still insist it's great granddad in the photo. . . or a great great uncle. . . or the correction can't be right because there are so many photos around with the wrong label. You know, if there are multiple bad copies of something they have to be more accurate than the information provided by one of the guys in the original photo. 

And then we wonder why it's so hard to remove misinformation from public discourse. 

I have a friend whose hobby, his own personal exercise in self-flagellation, is to monitor and edit Wikipedia when errors creep into the articles about a couple of his favorite topics. He keeps cleaning things up; the stupidity keeps coming back. 

As for how the mis-identification began originally, I'd guess that multiple copies of the original photo were printed, all the guys involved gave copies to friends and families, those copies were not necessarily labeled, and years later when someone asked an elder who was in the photo they'd look, see a resemblance to someone they knew 40 or 50 years earlier, and say, "Oh, that's the Reverend and your grandfather" because they'd forgotten why the photo was in the family album to begin with. But that's a guess. For sure whoever the first person was who said "That's my grandfather Loonsfoot" didn't know the real story because if you had a relative who met President Lincoln you'd say so. "Spent six weeks traveling to Washington" makes a much better story than "walked down the road to the camp meeting."

Side note: Bishop Baraga does not look like he'd be much fun to be around. There's being careful not to smile when being photographed and there's looking like you want to strangle someone. Baraga definitely falls into the latter category.

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.