Fall Colors and Good News

Was fall a long time coming this year? We had such warm weather during the first half of October that the trees seemed to hang onto their greenery a bit longer than usual. And now it’s the middle of November when a wind storm has usually blown all the color away. But not this year. It’s still beautiful. Many leaves are blanketing the ground, but enough are still on the trees to make for a wonderful reward for getting outside.

And I have good news regarding my war with vertigo. Wednesday, a week after my last post, I got my latest Covid Booster. The next day, I couldn’t move without throwing up. So I spent the day flat on my back, moving as little as possible. I had the absolute worst case of vertigo that I’ve ever had. I was better the next day and the day after, then it hit again. Monday, I saw a physical therapist who did the Epley maneuver for BPPV (when the canaliths in you inner ear move from their proper place into one or more of your ear canals). BPPV causes your brain to go crazy because it disrupts the means by which your brain figures out where you are in space. 

Normally, the Epley maneuver, when done a PT trained in it, helps nudge the canaliths back into their proper place. It might take more than one nudge, but over time it all gets better. Not this time. I was in the emergency room the next day, again unable to walk without throwing up. I’ve been better and worse since then, and getting very discouraged. Last week, I had one night without the vertigo, but the next day I was staggering around our parking garage unable to walk a straight line to our car. Ugh! 

I had a massage scheduled for Thursday, a rare treat, but one I decided I needed after a month of on again/off again vertigo. When I mentioned the vertigo, my massage therapist said she’d try a technique she’s used with some success for people with vertigo. Voila! I’m better! 48 hours and not a single swirl in my head. (She called it “lymphatic drainage” in case you need to ask for it.)

So: Yesterday, I had a normal day. Today, I’m having a normal day. I can barely remember whatever it is I do on normal days. I think I’ll bake biscotti!

During my long siege of vertigo, the country had an election. The results were not perfect, but my anxiety has decreased a bit. I don’t relish the antics of the Republican controlled House, but at least they can’t block judicial and other appointments that go through the Senate. And Washington’d 3rd district elected a very exciting young woman, Marie Glusenkamp Perez. Even Trump’s announcement didn’t shake me up because it just seems that the wind is out of his sails. 

On the other side of the world, Ukraine is suffering in the dark and cold after Russia aimed at infrastructure throughout the country. Russia can’t seem to get its act together with the actual war – it’s losing ground almost daily. But it can still fire rockets at cities. Think War Crime Trials when this is over, please.

The other good news in the culture wars is that the New York Times actually printed an article discussing concerns about the potential down side of using puberty blockers for young people who want to pursue gender transition. If you’ve had zero interest in the gender/transgender wars for the past five years, the fact that this nicely balanced article is newsworthy may confuse you. To help bring you up to date, just know that the NYT and most other mainstream media have been on the extreme trans-activist side of things. By this, I mean that any doubts about the wisdom of medical transition for teens has been verboten.

Now, however, European countries are facing up to the fact that there is insufficient research regarding puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for young people. As more de-transitioners go public with their experiences, these countries are rethinking their guidance on treatments. 

Sadly, in the US, this has become a political football. Red states have passed laws prohibiting medical transition for teens; Texas threatens to take kids away if parents approve treatment. California, leading the blue states, proudly proclaims that it’s a sanctuary state for any teens who want “gender affirming” care. Aargh! Keep the bleeping politicians out of this! Let the medical folks sort this out. If more research is needed, do the research, but IMHO, it’s stupid to legislate on the basis of insufficient data. 

Well, folks, I’m just going with the good news this week. We didn’t put election deniers in charge of elections; Trump is deflating, and I’m not worried about him; the NTY wrote a balanced article about a thorny topic; and I got outdoors to enjoy the still stunning fall colors. Hooray!

Stop Fearing Covid?

Is it time to stop fearing Covid? Rip off our masks and get some hugs? No one is really getting sick anymore, so let’s get back to normal.

Wrong. If you’re double-vaxxed and double boosted, you’re not going to die of Covid. You’re unlikely to wind up in a hospital. If you’re fortunate like us, you’ll test negative a week from when you first tested positive. But even mild Covid cases can still bring lingering effects. These might not qualify as Long Covid, but even post-Covid hives (yes, that would be me) can be annoying enough to make me regret our lapse in judgement that led to our trip to the ER and subsequent treatments. 

Hives? Yup. When your immune system ramps up, your body can ramp up masses of red blotches here, there, and everywhere. Extra doses of antihistamines are helping to keep the annoying itching to a level I can live with. But I’m not sure this is my only after-effect. My legs are reluctant to walk; waiting for the elevator is more tiring than it used to be. I’m just not sure I’ve fully recovered. 

I’m old enough that I can never tell why these things are happening. Is my body embarking on the long, slow winding down process that happens when people near 80? Is my mild case of Covid going to speed up that process? Will I be fine in another week? Time will tell.

You’ll see a lot of references to Long Covid if you’re following sites that have been tracking Covid since 2020. But I’m not at all sure that “the economy” has incorporated Long Covid into its planning. I heard an interview with the CEO of United Airlines recently; he said they’ve added 5% to the number of crew members they need to have available to avoid cancelling flights. That increase is due to people taking days off for acute Covid. But what if Long Covid reduces the pool of people who are employable at any point in time? Raising wages won’t make them healthy enough to return to work.

And what about health care? Today I read that our local trauma center is turning away new patients because people who could be discharged to skilled nursing facilities can’t leave because there are not enough beds out there. Is this because of inadequate pay (yes) or Covid (yes) or Long Covid (yes). There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs around, and if you’ve called a clinic and been put on hold, you’ll know there are severe staffing challenges in some sectors. Of course we need to pay more for workers who care for ailing elders. These jobs are often held by immigrants, and immigration has not been opened up after Trump’s restrictions. Why is that? But with or without new immigrants, wages for these workers are simply a disgrace. 

My rant is winding down, but the answer is yes, we still need to avoid Covid. Good luck on that score.

Catching Covid in Kodiak

We caught Covid in Kodiak. Yes, we did. We had an amazing trip. Kodiak is awesome. Go see for yourself.

But we did one stupid thing, and now we are both positive for Covid. We are back home, but quarantining in our apartment in our very careful retirement home. We’ve been ridiculously cautious all summer, including on our road trip to Wyoming, to the point that I’ve actually lost weight because of our caution about eating out. But we blew it all for breakfast at a very busy Kodiak cafe owned by a relative by marriage. Service was slow as a slug, but our coffee was refilled constantly, so our masks were off for a long time. We are fortunate because we have very mild cases, and we are old enough to qualify for both the anti-viral and the monoclonal antibody treatments that are available. I got one, he got the other.

We skipped the museums we had hoped to visit on the last two days of our trip. We took a long walk along the waterfront, lined with many seafood processing plants, and the walk about did me in. That was a surprise, so I will have to be careful when we can finally leave our apartment. Neither the doctor I saw, nor the doctor my husband saw even blinked when we said we had reservations to fly home Thursday. I’d been afraid they’d order us to stay put until we tested negative, but they didn’t.

People are just so casual about masks both in town and in the airport terminals. I estimate ten percent of people wear masks indoors. Same at SeaTac, Anchorage, and Kodiak, and on the planes. Oh, well. I’m guessing that most people who are not as much at risk of serious disease as we are, and who don’t get very sick, don’t even test to see if they have Covid anymore. We could have considered our cases to be mild colds – except that the cough I developed was not like other coughs I’ve had. Top of my throat, and it just felt different. So this variant just circulates, and life goes on. But occasionally, a seemingly healthy person of any age gets seriously ill or dies, but fewer than a couple of years ago; and we are all so tired of this virus, so apparently the number of people dying or settling in with Long Covid now is acceptable. 

Besides which, Monkeypox sounds much more exciting! Let’s move on to that. 

The Psychology of Open Space

What comes to your mind in response to “the psychology of open space?” I tried a web search on that phrase recently and got suggestions for everything I didn’t want: home interiors; office arrangements; urban planning; outer space. When I initially put the words together, I was visualizing the American West, large expanses of land with few structures and fewer people. 

Open space has been on my mind since our recent road trip from Seattle to Cheyenne and back. We traveled through southern Idaho and Wyoming, opting for side roads when feasible. I was dumbstruck by the relief my mind experienced once we were east of the Cascades. Of course, it’s always a relief to get away from the demands of life that pile up at home. But I was surprised at the visceral relief I felt once we left behind the crowded vegetation of western Washington and could actually see the the form of the land. I felt as if I’d been let out of jail. 

Jail? People love western Washington. How could I equate it to jail? I’m sure the pandemic has impacted my psyche along with other constraints of my life. But there is, for me, an experience of freedom when I can see beyond the nearest cluster of trees. Those of you who’ve read of my joy in getting out of the city and around trees, might wonder why I’m down on trees. Yes, it might seem like a contradiction, but it’s one thing to get away from the city, and another thing still to get beyond the trees. And this leads me to the question of what exactly is the psychology of open space.

If open space of the kind I’m discussing has such an impact on me, I wonder if it also part of the politics that dominate the west. I find some aspects of conservative politics understandable, but others, not so much. For example, in rural farming and ranching country, I get why people think governments are mostly intrusive and unhelpful. Yes, roads and bridges can be useful, but laws that limit what a person can do on her own land can only seem irritating (at best) or counter-productive (at worst). Most of these laws are the gift of coastal elites who live in areas where people live cheek by jowl and have a completely different sense of the urgent problems of the day. 

The closest urban dwellers come to understanding rural thinking might be the experiences of small business owners. As the gig economy has ramped up, more people have the experience of the nanny state imposing requirements that seem only to complicate life without necessarily solving anything. But it’s actual business owners who pay rent and have employees who have a real feel for government overreach. Even couples who own a small amount of rental property quickly learn that deep blue cities might lump them in with evil landlords who control massive amounts of residential or commercial real estate and regulate them all into the red.

We spent ten post-retirement years in a rural area (28 miles west to the first traffic light, 100 miles east to the first stop sign). I never quite lost my city sensibilities, but some friends did. The most obvious issue was rural wells. I’d never regarded the rain that fell on my house or the water under my house as MINE! But our new rural friends did, to my surprise. We each had un-metered wells, but when water wars erupted, neighbors were adamant that the county could jolly well keep away from our wells. No meters! But the upside of rural living was that any natural disaster (floods and landslides in our area) were an occasion to set aside feuds and pull together to get to the other side of the disaster, then return to the feuds. And I have to admit that I, who had always regarded government as accessible and something I could work with, began to see it as distant and irritating. 

So. I get part of rural politics. Still, there’s a lot that is confusing to me, and it’s the more personal part. Conservative, rural stances against abortion seem completely contradictory to objections to public health mandates. If you oppose a vaccine mandate on the basis of bodily autonomy, how could you favor forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy? Why doesn’t the woman who surrounds the “innocent life” factor into the equation? 

This seems like a throwback to the notion of original sin, i.e. just by being born, you are now sinful, whereas a minute ago you were innocent. This is one of the bits of Christian dogma that was easy for me to discard. I posit that our systems of justice and healthcare need to assume innocent until proven guilty. 

Meanwhile, I wonder why people can’t equate a public health emergency to a natural disaster. Let’s set aside our differences temporarily and do what we need to do to help each other get through this weird time. Of course we will need to look back at the evidence we gather and ask if we did the right things to address the pandemic, but can’t we just cooperate for a while? 

Beyond vaccines and abortions, I do get part of the loyalty to Trump. (Throw those rotten tomatoes at me! I’m ready!) I don’t agree with that loyalty, but I get it to a degree. If you are working your heart out to raise food for 128 distant people,* half of whom are not doing anything productive; if you are out in the sun and the wind and the rain and the snow planting and harvesting and tending the cattle and the sheep; if you are mostly irritated with government (except for the subsidies), I can see how Trump’s rants against the elites could appeal to you. If you think cattle rustlers and shoplifters should both be held accountable, I can see why chants of “Defund the Police” seem crazy. 

But revolution, or just tearing down the government with no end in mind, doesn’t have much appeal to me. I want a stable government I can tinker with; I think this could appeal to rural residents, too, if they thought about it for a minute. Revolutions bring chaos; massive disruption of markets; subsidies gone; no help for natural disasters; funds for infrastructure gone (could Wyoming’s 580,000 people pay for their thousands of miles of roads by themselves?) We all benefit from a functioning government. Toward that end, could we please just listen to each other for a while without shouting down the first comment we don’t agree with? Please?

*Each American farmer feeds 129 people. https://www.mcall.com/news/mc-xpm-1995-06-07-3031814-story.html

Take a Road Trip!

Want to get out of your Covid funk? See some sights? Prod some memories? Get emotional? Feel inspired? My advice: Take a road trip.

When I was a kid, the family car was mostly used to get to the grocery store, piano lessons, church, etc. So every month or so, my dad would say, “It’s time to get some cobwebs out of the engine.” And we’d take a short road trip. Happy Jack Road was a favorite. Or back to Pine Bluffs, where my mom grew up. Or out to the Veedawoo picnic grounds. Short, but useful for many reasons, but most important, we were all in the same space for a few hours, away from common temptations that sent us in different directions.

My husband and I just returned from two weeks driving from Seattle to Cheyenne and back. I’m exhausted, but really glad we did it. We decided that we are going to visit each of our home towns this summer, and I picked late May to early June as the most likely time to see a tinge of green on the Wyoming praries. We took the route through southern Idaho and Wyoming, which we hadn’t done in decades. It was spectacular. I can’t imagine a better place to be a geologist: everything you want to see is right on the surface. And, best of all, Apple says my screen time was down for the duration of the trip.

Our camping gear went unused except for one night in Oregon when the weather was perfect. Every other day the weather was dicey. We had thunderstorms, days of solid misty rain, and lots of wind. So we were glad we were not explorers who had no options. Because of Covid, we stayed away from sit-down restaurants, opting for drive-throughs or take-out and eating in our rooms. We wore masks indoors, but saw few others doing so. Good news: no one gave us any grief about it. I guess if you’re spending money, you’re not going to get insulted.

I won’t put all of my observations into this one post, but I’ll hit a few highlights today.

One: things looked good for the most part. Of course, the wind did the job of the street cleaners in most of the towns we drove through, but I was surprised at how clean and prosperous things were. Naturally, all the towns had some empty storefronts, but they were holding their own. No ghost towns. I think it helps to be so far from big cities; some services have to be available to people without driving an hour or more. 

Two: The landscape is stunning. I have rather dreary memories of all that open space, but perhaps my recent experience cooped up in Seattle listening to freeway noise and looking out at building after building prepped me for enjoying the vastness of the American West. On our way to Twin Falls, the highway crossed a slim, but deep canyon of a tributary of the Snake River. We turned off and paid $7.00 to wander through a state park with short trails that led us to places where we could look into the cut made by the river. The landscape looked flat and monotonous, yet here was this deep narrow canyon cutting right through it. Surprises like that appeared every day. 

Three: The Snake River is amazing. Headwaters are in Wyoming, south of Jackson and the Tetons, but its route to meet the Columbia on the Washington/Idaho border goes all over the place. I began to comprehend the discussion about the “lower Snake River dams” as we could see that there are also some upper Snake River dams that support the expansive agricultural plains in Idaho. 

We followed the Payette and Salmon rivers north from Boise to get to Grangeville in the middle of Idaho. Again, absolutely stunning scenery. Steep hills, green at this time of year, rushing river due to all the recent rain. The road was so winding that I could do without winding roads for a long time going forward. But awesome.

Four: Agriculture. I’m convinced that we need to find a way to help city folks understand Big Ag. Small, organic farms capture our imagination, and people tend to feel quite proud when they can feed themselves on mostly small, organic ag products. But Big Ag (and Big Organic) feeds most of us, and we need to understand it better. I know people who won’t eat beef because they think cattle spend their entire lives in feed lots. Those folks need to drive around WA, ID, WY, MT. More cows than people scattered all over the landscape, living free. Yes, most go to feedlots before slaughter to pack on the pounds faster. But cattle growing up on the range are making food from land that cannot be used for crops. In any event, cattle are complicated, we need regulations to monitor antibiotic use and other issues that affect our health, but practices are evolving in a good direction, and we should celebrate this.  

There is so much we city folk don’t understand about Ag in general, and Big Ag in particular. I’m sure we could do it better; I’m sure farmers and ranchers don’t always know best and grumble at any and all regulations. But I’m also sure that they love their work, love their rural lives, and wish we trusted them just a bit. More later on all that.

I’ll quit for today. Please share any thoughts you have about “the West!”

Let’s Not Assume Guilt by Association

Recently, an article crossed my path for a second time, and this time it caught my attention. It was basically a challenge to the self-ID phenomenon that has carried the day in gender fluid circles, but it didn’t stop with that. The author, Jonathan Kay, in his article “The Search to Explain our Anxiety and Depression: Will Long Covid Become the Next Gender Identity,” went on to cast aspersion on “contested illnesses.” It took me a while to figure out how he was linking gender self-ID and his collection of contested illnesses, but the link was his assumption that people could self identify into genders and also into illnesses.

To prove his case, he led readers to the website of an organization calling itself “Body Politic.Yes, clearly Body Politic is Woke, and yes, it has become a gathering place for people with Long Covid. But Kay, a journalist I respect, has fallen from his pedestal of Rational Critic of Woke on this occasion. I believe he has engaged in the logical error of assuming guilt by association, just one of many traps we can fall into when we are determined to expose wrongthink of one variety or another. 

I consider myself a skeptic of some of the contested illnesses Kay cites in his article. Yet I have seen one friend who claims EMS (electromagnetic sensitivity) come to a book club meeting and comment to the group that the EMF signals seemed weaker than usual, only to have the leader announce that Wi-Fi was out that night. On another night, she commented that signals seemed stronger than usual, only to learn that the store had bumped up the Wi-Fi signal recently. So now I believe that she really is sensitive to things that don’t affect me at all though I claim no expertise as to her illness.

Multiple Personality Disorder is another diagnosis that many challenge today. Yet another friend from years past had this diagnosis. I accepted this claim of hers with a giant dose of skepticism until I saw her switch during a discussion when I said something that triggered a reaction in her. Her voice changed; her demeanor changed; she attacked me in a way she had never done before. It was all very spooky, and had I not seen it, I would not have lightened my skepticism several notches; yet I claim no expertise as to her mental illness. 

Likewise, I have a friend with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome). I moved into a condo next door to her one year, but found her reluctant to engage with me. After a couple of years, we were finally friends, close enough that she could disclose to me the physical limitations she lived with. This woman is a retired art teacher and librarian, a gifted artist, someone who enjoyed travel, loves to see art exhibits and go to movies. Yet she can do but a fraction of what she would love to do. Travel is out of the question. And even at home, she is limited to a few hours a day that she can enjoy any of her pleasures. Why would I doubt her? She clearly wants to do more.

My point with these stories is simply that I have been blessed to know, and count as friends, these individuals who are doubted by society. I do not claim to have any special knowledge about their conditions. I have learned from them that it is indeed a hardship to suffer in a way that you cannot disclose for fear of ridicule. It is a hardship to be doubted by medical professionals. And there is a deep need to find others with similar experiences. If you reach out online and a find a group who understand what you’re talking about, you will appreciate their acceptance even if they are Woke. You may find others who are not Woke. You will count your blessings that they are ready to include you without checking your Woke or anti-Woke credentials.

In the year since Kay’s article appeared in Quillette, we have accumulated many more cases and much more knowledge of Long Covid. Researchers  have yet to find agreement on which symptoms are most useful for diagnosis, much less find a cure. Yet doubting individuals who claim Long Covid just feels wrong because the harm of such doubt is serious; it only increases their challenges; in this case it detracted from the rest of the article which expressed concerns regarding more common campus identity issues.

I have no close friends who are trans, but friends of mine have children and grandchildren who are. I write about my concerns with gender identity, and some of what I say brings squinty eyes from these friends. Yes, I have concerns about gender-affirming care that includes hormones and surgery for kids and teens. I have serious doubts about moving men, who suddenly claim to be trans, from a mens’ prison to a women’s prison. (Do we need a trans prison? I don’t know.) I don’t want to harm trans individuals, but harm can come from more than one direction. Jumping on a bandwagon of support too soon (another way to short-circuit clear thinking) can be as harmful as shunning people for things we don’t yet understand.

Young people who are questioning their gender needn’t be turned aside. Engage with them. Sort out all the concerns they have. Good therapists who are concerned about the lack of research in this area have formed the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, SEGM, to support each other as they develop positive alternatives to the gender affirming model of care. Acceptance and engagement is a viable approach that avoids the potential harms of uncritical affirmation or thoughtlessly rejecting a patient.

Because the war against Woke has been so intense, it’s been easy to fall into logical errors of one type or another while arguing against it. Kay went all-out for guilt by association. But confirmation bias plagues us all – all day every day, every one of us. It’s seriously unpleasant to read or watch things we don’t agree with. I try to read from a wide variety of sources, but I only read things that feel “honest” to me. Rants don’t merit my time. Still, I have to discipline myself to take in opinions that are seriously at odds with my current thinking. 

If avoiding logical pitfalls seems important to you, I suggest a visit to Logical Fallacies. This, and other such sites are helpful if you need a refresher course in the many ways our good intentions can pave the road to hell! Even those of us who don’t believe in hell will benefit from avoiding these pitfalls.