Yeah, I know.

I haven’t been writing. Sometimes I wonder why I have this blog if I am not going to write in it. I thought that in 2009, too, but then in 2010 I began writing again.

The state of the world doesn’t help. The failure of democracy is watching a trainwreck in slow motion.

I once described a personal event to friends of mine as a trainwreck: “I am not driving the train, I’m not even a passenger, I’m just a farmer watching the destruction of his back forty.”

This time I’m a passenger. I may be a higher class passenger, who is more likely to survive what’s about to happen, but a lot of people around me will get hurt — some will die. I feel completely helpless against the terrorists who are overtaking the engineers.

And then there is the pandemic. Omicron’s transmissibility approaches that of measles, one of the most contagious diseases in the world. In spite of all our precautions, we’ve had a case of COVID in the household: Railfan came down with the virus around New Year’s. It was mild — more like a cold than anything else — but it still poses a threat. I have lung issues that make possible infection potentially quite serious.

I was in Georgia when Railfan got sick. I was helping the Rocket Scientist with his late mother’s house. It turned out she had a latent flea problem that came out when Atlanta experienced a freak winter warm spell. I’m allergic to fleas — and at one point had close to a hundred itchy flea bites. I was popping Benadryl and Xyzal to try and keep the horrible itchiness bearable. Foggers only did so much to control the problem — we had to call a professional to come out. We called a different professional out to deal with the rat problem, which was the reason there was a flea problem, to begin with. What can I say? The house had been closed up since April 2020.

When I heard Railfan was (mildly) ill with COVID, I started crying. I’m ashamed to say it was not about him (remember, he had mild symptoms), but that I would be forced to spend another week in Georgia. Thankfully, after ten days, his rapid antigen test came back negative and I could go home.

So I am home. I need to go to medical appointments I canceled, but the professionals want me to wait until next week and take a PCR test. I already took one, but it may have been too soon; tomorrow will be five days since I flew home. Flying home was an experience: on one of my flights the plane was crammed full; the guy right next to me wore a mask, but still. And I was in a United lounge, where probably a third of the people were maskless. And I had to eat, which means for a short time I was maskless myself. (I had no choice — I had take meds that had to be taken with food.)

So tomorrow I will take a rapid antigen test, which hopefully will come back negative.

It’s enough that I am considering lockdown again. We have restarted ordering at least some groceries online, although the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy is going to the store occasionally. And as concerned as I am about us, I worry more about the Red-Headed Menace and his Very Smart Partner. RHM and VSP live in the wilds of central Pennsylvania, which has even higher rates of infection. Is this the new normal? It’s a scary thought, one which invades my brain from time to time.

It’s a shame, really. It is a beautiful day here in Northern California, with blue skies and just enough wind to blow away pollution and keep our air quality at moderate. Tonight we will belatedly take down the Christmas tree (postponed since both I and the Rocket Scientist were in Georgia, where he still is), thus ending my favorite time of year. I am determined this year to find joy in spring, which once again seems to be coming early to us unless we get more rain soon.

And there are small discoveries and joys to write about: Amy Schneider’s run on Jeopardy!, Coke with coffee (not my idea, it’s actually a new product), a new way to mainline caffeine.

So, I will try to write more. I can’t say it’s one of my New Year’s resolutions since I do not make them anymore, but it may just be a goal. We’ll see.

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Gosh, that was good.

I don’t do restaurant reviews here, but this post is an exception. On New Year’s Eve, I had one of the best meals I have had in a long time, at South City Kitchen in Vinings, Georgia, near Atlanta. (South City Kitchen has two other locations, one of which has become a favorite restaurant of Hollywood types when they’re in Atlanta.) The Rocket Scientist and I chose to have their New Year’s Eve prix fix dinner, and I had a marvelous time. (Don’t worry, we sat outside on a terrace that was otherwise empty for most of the meal, next to an open window, and the servers were masked.)

Dinner started with “She-Crab Soup.” Rich and creamy, with plenty of crab, a cup of this soup would be a meal in itself, along with the cornbread and biscuits that came with the meal. (The lightest biscuits I’ve had in a long time. The cornbread was good, too.)

I am still recovering from oral surgery, so I was limited in what I could order for my entree. I settled on the shrimp and grits. I have never had shrimp and grits before, but this entree was exceptional. The tomato-poblano sauce could be served on its own as a soup. The creamy grits are the best grits I have ever had. I only ate part of it, so that I would have room for dessert, but am looking forward to reheating the portion I took home. It won’t be as good, of course. The Rocket Scientist had the pork chops, and they were smoky, moist, and flavorful, accompanied by tasty, nicely roasted sweet potatoes.

If I was less than impressed with any part of the meal, it would be dessert. Don’t get me wrong: the vanilla bean cheesecake was very good, with cherry compote. Perhaps because I was already full, I was not bowled over by it. It was simply a very good cheesecake. The best part was the lemon whipped cream. The Rocket Scientist, on the other hand, ordered the other dessert option, the bourbon chocolate bread pudding. That was wonderful.

Coffee rounded out a very nice meal. Good food, good conversation, everything you would want on a New Year’s Eve date. Or a date anytime, really.

So, if you’re ever in Atlanta, try out South City Kitchen.

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Dear Pentatonix…

I love you, folks. Really I do. I have been listening to you a lot over the past month — your “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is my favorite Christmas song. It is joyous, it is catchy, and the video makes me happy. But…

I don’t care how beautiful (and it is) or haunting (and it is)…. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is NOT a Christmas song. What possessed you to put it on your Christmas album? Didn’t you listen to the lyrics?

Neither is “Let it Go” a Christmas song, but at least that one is about ice and snow. (You are not the only group that does something like this — Home Free included “Colder Weather” on their Christmas album, and that is not about Christmas, either.)

Still love you people, though, and your version of “Hallelujah” joins Rufous Wainwright, Tori Kelly, and four other artists on my iTunes.

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Grinchiness.

I have a sore throat, so according to household protocol I am stuck in my rooms until it goes away or we find it’s not contagious. It’s not COVID — I have passed a Binex test this morning. But it could be something else. I know it’s early, but to pass the time I am watching Christmas television programs (the good ones — not Lifetime movies).

So, some thoughts on How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated original, not the two feature films). This is my favorite Christmas special, even more so than Charlie Brown or Rudolph. It helps to know the show when reading:

  1. “Welcome Christmas” is not the most annoying Christmas song ever, but it’s up there.
  2. Some of those decorations look dangerous. Especially the spiky things on the floor.
  3. His reaction is disproportionate, but the Grinch does have a point about the noise on Christmas morning with small children. Fire engines with “realistic sound,” anyone?
  4. I have read people complain about the roast beast having no bones. Clearly, it’s a turducken.
  5. Strawberries in winter are much more impressive than the traditional citrus fruit, which are in season. When I was growing up, my parents would give us a tangerine in our stockings. It confused me — I grew up in Florida! Citrus fruit was everywhere! The divinity, on the other hand…*
  6. Reprise of annoying song.
  7. Max is the best character in the whole story. I wonder what sort of dog he is.
  8. Impressive crafting there, Grinch. Making an entire Santa costume from scratch in an afternoon.
  9. Unlike “Welcome Christmas,” “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” is a wonderful song.
  10. Scary trip down the mountain. Max probably sees his life flash before his eyes.
  11. Most impressive pool shot ever.
  12. Who puts kids to bed with candy canes? Sticky, sticky!
  13. Taking all the food is a bit much.
  14. Cindy Lou Who is cuter than a sack of kittens.
  15. The Grinch is not the only one who lies to kids… Do you really think Santa exists?
  16. Leaving a crumb too small for the mice? What did the mice ever do to him?
  17. The candy and the ice cubes he took are going to make everything wet and mushy.
  18. Is it me or do the mountains look like Bald Mountain in Fantasia?
  19. Another reprise of annoying song.
  20. Awww.. nice messaging about the meaning of Christmas.
  21. Why don’t things fall out of the bags on the sled when they are tipped over Mount Crumpet?
  22. Heart growing three sizes sounds unhealthy.
  23. After he carved the roast beast, the Grinch was arrested by the Whoville police on multiple counts of Grand Larceny.
  24. And, finally, last reprise of the annoying song.

I hoped you enjoyed reading. Maybe next time I should do something longer, like It’s a Wonderful Life. Or probably not.

*f you are unfamiliar with divinity… it is a fudgy marshmallow-like candy with either pecans or peppermint bits. My mother was generally a bad cook, but she made amazing divinity. I could never get mine to set up properly.

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I find writing difficult today. Not b because there is little to write about; on the contrary, there is too much to write about. I suffer from outrage fatigue. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial (and the increasing seeming likelihood he will be acquitted of murder), the trial of Armad Aubery’s killers, the resurgent GOP, the increasing refusal of the Senate to pass voters’ rights legislation, the abortion ban in Texas — and the Supreme Court’s reaction (or lack thereof) to it; it all seems too much. I keep feeling that we are watching the slow death of representative democracy (such it is; it has never been perfect) in America.

Not that there’s a dearth of people writing — on blogs, Facebook, elsewhere — about the state of the world. I am following the Rittenhouse trial through the Facebook posts of my friend Jane, a very experienced trial lawyer who is rightfully outraged by the deference shown by the judge towards the defense.

I have suffered from outrage fatigue for many years now. The Trump administration went from bad to worse, with new revelations detailing even more horrors. I had hoped that the respite offered by the Biden administration would be enough to give me the strength to take up the fight once more. To write more letters to Congress, to write to this administration, to participate in protests.

Then came January 6th. The attack on the American capital shocked me but oddly did not surprise me. We have been heading this way for years; the election of November 2020 simply accelerated the attempted coup. Had Trump actually been elected President* (rather than simply psychotically insisting that he had), we would have seen a slower and more effective de facto overthrow of Congress. Whether we would see violence towards liberals (or more than we see now, as threats against elected officials increase) is an open question.

What did shock me was the response; the GOP denied that anything untoward had happened (these were “patriots,” after all), and much of the public seemed apathetic. We have one staggeringly close to an actual overthrow of the government, and most people seem to not care.

And then there are the swathes of the public that refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. I find it almost incomprehensible that large numbers of people faced with death from a deadly disease would reject a miracle of science, a way back to that normality they claim to want (and, in some cases, claim is already here, flying in the face of the strong evidence otherwise).

In October, I joined the club of people who know someone who died of COVID. Not someone close, thankfully, but someone in my extended family nonetheless. His siblings got vaccinated after he ended up in the hospital, but it should have not taken that for them to take care of themselves and other people.

As I sit here writing about all of this, I find myself grinding my teeth. Many people grind their teeth at night, I grind my teeth during the day. I have weird wear patterns on some of my teeth because of constant grinding. (And yes, I now have a mouthguard, but it interferes with speech so I hesitate to wear it during the day.) I once ground my teeth so hard I chipped a crown. The state of the world can cause me to do that.

The Not-So-Little Drummer says that means that I am not really suffering from outrage fatigue, that I really do care. I think perhaps I care so much I can’t bring myself to dwell too much on any one thing, the way I would have to to write about it.

Maybe he’s right.

*I know someone who rejects the notion that Biden won. A sibling, whom I had always thought of as being intelligent and relatively liberal (certainly for Florida) told another sibling that they were sure that there was election fraud because of the large numbers of ballots that came in late for Biden. I guess descriptions of the process which told how those ballots were the result of mail votes being counted, and that many more Democrats than Republicans took advantage of the process so as to reduce their risk of getting COVID-19, failed to register. It makes me want to hit my head against the wall.

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The weather is gray and misty; my favorite time of year. I was reminded of the book The Mists of Avalon, and thought would write a post about my heartbreaking disenchantment with the book. And then I remembered: I wrote about it in 2015. Rereading it, I like what I wrote, and I think you guys might find it interesting, too.

But now I’m left without a topic for today. Rats.

I am used to the situation where other people have written about topics better than I have. I just don’t encounter it with myself very often.

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Life intervenes.

So, I have been meaning to blog every day, since I am not doing NaNoWriMo. I haven’t been, but I actually had a subject for today (my favorite book cover — The Mists of Avalon) and how my love for it and the book itself were destroyed by finding out about its author, Marian Zimmer Bradley.

But I got caught up in doing stuff (starting with a dental appointment). And tonight is Bar Trivia.

Spend an evening struggling to write a blog post, or going out and seeing my friends and have fun?

Bar trivia wins. No contest.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll blog.

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The limits of love.

Kyle Rittenhouse currently is currently being tried for murder. Remember Kyle? He’s the teenager who crossed state lines with an AR-15 to confront protesters, to show how much of a man he was. After murdering three protesters, he was able to walk past the police and go home. (He turned himself in later.) He now claims he was in fear of his life.

The actions of the police, in this case, are beyond the pale, and many have rightfully questioned the competence (and impartiality) of law enforcement that would hear gunshots and ignore the teen walking towards them with an assault rifle. Be that as it may, my thoughts keep going towards Rittenhouse’s mother. She drove him across state lines with that murder machine.

What the hell was she thinking? She must have approved of his actions — and the possibility he would kill someone — or else she becomes a poster child for the “world’s most dangerous and stupidly indulgent parent.”

Any competent parent knows that you don’t give children everything they ask for. Children and teens have limited notions of consequences, for themselves and others. Giving them everything they desire results in adults that are incredibly self-centered at best and sociopathic at worst. Guess which one I think Kyle Rittenhouse is headed toward being?

I love my kids dearly. But each of them knows that there are limits to that love. All of them know, because I have told them, “I love you, but if I find out you have done something evil, like murder, or rape, or domestic violence, I will turn you in. I will find you the best defense attorney I can, but I will still turn you in.”

Not that I ever think they will do anything like that. I have raised three moral, compassionate, human beings. (My statement was prompted by a discussion of another case — I don’t remember which one — in which parents smuggled their kid out of the country so the kid wouldn’t face prosecution.) But it never hurts to reinforce that each of us lives in a web of civic responsibilities. “Don’t do evil,” to swipe an overused phrase from the Google Marketing team, is the least of those responsibilities. (The extent to which Google lives up to its own motto is a post for another day.)

Maybe it’s being a lawyer that makes me feel so emphatic on this point. I have a responsibility to uphold the law. (And I wouldn’t be my kids’ defense attorney so there would not be any privilege.) Does this conflict with my instructions to my kids that if they are picked up they should not tell the cops anything beyond their name until they talk to a lawyer? I don’t think so. The Fifth Amendment is part of the law, as well, and I have a responsibility to uphold that, too.

But the basis of civil responsibility is the recognition that others matter, too, even people engaged in activities you don’t agree with. I wish Kyle Rittenhouse had understood that.

Or at least his mother had.

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Vaccine ethics.

I will not be writing about the ethics of not getting vaccinated when you have no medical reason not to do so. That is, in my book, reprehensible behavior, given that a person who does so places others at risk. They keep ranting about “freedom,” where is the rhetoric about “responsibility”?

No, my concern here has to do with those of us who do get vaccinated.

The FDA has okayed booster shots for adults in certain categories, and may well authorize booster shots for all adults. Is this ethical? Many people don’t think so, and believe that rich countries should make vaccine doses available to poor countries before they offer a third dose to their own citizens. The protection afforded by even one dose is more significant than the increased protection offered by a third dose.

It makes a certain amount of moral sense. It’s the inverse of the responsibility to get vaccinated when available. By using vaccines ourselves rather than distributing doses more widely, we are abrogating any responsibility we have to the rest of the world. (By “us” I mean wealthy countries, not merely the US.)

It makes epidemiological sense as well: when COVID rages in places where vaccines are not available, the virus mutates. Some of these mutations will undoubtedly be more virulent and more effective against the vaccines. The Delta variant, much more contagious than the original virus, developed in India during a time when COVID was running unchecked.

That said, when a booster became available (I have preexisting conditions which allowed me to get it early), did I avail myself of the opportunity to get one? Damn straight I did.

What are our responsibilities? I am not worried that I am taking away a dose from someone in this country, given the widespread hesitancy about the COVID vaccines. There seem to be plenty of doses to go around.

I tell myself that these doses will not be shipped anywhere else, anyway, so I should go ahead and protect myself. (I got Pfizer, which shows a greater dropoff in efficacy than Moderna.) But on the other hand, I have not contacted my elected officials to urge them to increase the availability of the vaccines to other countries.

Does this make me a bad person? I don’t think so. I think self-preservation is a valid cause for action. That said, I think the rich countries should relax patent protections for the vaccines (paying the companies in question if necessary) so poorer countries can manufacture their own doses.

Because that is a matter of enlightened self-interest.

God, I will be so glad when this disease reduces itself to flu levels so I can stop worrying about this stuff.

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A couple of odd thoughts about music.

October (and the beginning of November) have been a bitch. December may not be all that much better, sadly. I’m resorting to the nuclear option: I’ve started listening to holiday music. That’s right: nearly two weeks away from Thanksgiving, and it’s beginning. Unlike after turkey day, I’m not listening to it nonstop, simply the preparation of the Holiday Playlist and listening to several iterations of Pentatonix’s version of “Come All Ye Faithful,” which is the most joyous version of any Christmas carol ever recorded. I love all of you, so I won’t inflict (if that’s the right word) the video on you this early. The day after Thanksgiving, however…

I have a new musical obsession. If you watch The Voice, you have heard the magic that is A Girl Named Tom. They have an album on iTunes, which I bought. The version of “Wichita Lineman” they performed on the show is superior to that on their album, but I can’t seem to find it. (That video, though, I think you need to see.) For one thing, unlike a lot of successful Voice contestants, they have some idea what dynamics are. Each of them is perfectly competent, but the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts.

I am happier with The Voice than I have been in several seasons, although I won’t be if Girl Named Tom doesn’t make the finale. You can never bank on the taste of the American viewing public, however.

If you are a Voice watcher, you are already familiar with their tradition of having acts in the finale perform with established musical stars. I really want Girl Named Tom to reach the finale because of which act they might have a chance to sing with. I would be pulling for Pentatonix. If they did Christmas music it would be even better.

Music is making me happier today, somehow.

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How’s your week going?

I won at trivia last night. I not only won, but I also dominated, winning by seven points over a three-person team. I am trying to figure out how.

I tanked the handout round (consisting of two handouts), getting the lowest score of any of the seven teams. (TV opening credits was the first, financial institutions was the second.) The next several rounds I did okay in, but not wonderful. Each of those rounds had a team that crushed the round. (I did better in the music round than I usually do.) By the time the bonus rolled around, I figured I was pretty much out of it, so I bet the max.

I got the bonus round. Bonus Q: place these movies in chronological order: Cars, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Toy Story. (Answer: Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars. Sometimes having kids pays off in the oddest ways.) It seemed to me that most of the teams got the bonus, but it turns out I was wrong.

I did well in the double-point round.

I had written myself off after the third round, and closed off my tab early, expecting to not even place. I wasn’t upset about this, merely resigned. I rarely even place in games, at least recently, contrary to what people seem to think. I was preparing to leave right after the game, before the winners were announced, but got held up. I was so shocked when I won that I asked C. — my friend the trivia host — whether he had done the math right.

He assured me he had.

So I am left with confusion and a certificate for a large pitcher of beer which I will not use. (I will either give it to the bartender to stand a round for the next person who orders a large pitcher of beer, or maybe one of the kids will use it.) I am trying to figure out if there are some sort of “life lessons” that I can pick up here.

So far, I’ve come up with:

  • Don’t give up too early; you may be doing better than you think you are.
  • Go big or go home: if you have nothing to lose you might as well bet the max.
  • I’m just as smart as the next guy, even if I do not win at trivia very often.
  • It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

It’s been a good week for trivia for me. In addition to winning at bar trivia, I had a good day in the “mini-league” I’m doing over at Learned League. (Learned League is an invitation-only trivia league that friends had been urging me to join for years, but which I finally did in 2020. I expected I would have a rough time actually finding time to compete, but it’s turned out not to take much time at all.) It’s all very good for my ego.

I am still trying to decide on NaNoWriMo; I am leaning against it since I would have already lost two days of writing.

I think it might be a good week overall; in spite of the foot doctor telling me that the pain in my left foot was arthritis and beyond having good arch support and wearing a brace when it hurts there is nothing really that can be done. (He also suggested ibuprofen and icing when necessary.) He also referred me to physical therapy, and since I am already going to physical therapy I can just add it on.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy is planning to paint the outside of the house. This is exciting, and the house is way overdue for a fresh exterior.

Yesterday I cooked pumpkin (and discovered the big food processor didn’t work, so was reduced to using a mini food processor. It was slow and frustrating, but I ended up with three bags with almost two cups in each (Call it about 1 7/8 cups. Close enough that the recipes will work.) Today I cut up dried fruit and put it in a bag to soak with a couple of ounces of spiced rum. Tomorrow I will make pumpkin date bread.

And the Braves won the World Series, so the Rocket Scientist is happy.

What are you going to do?

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Random tech issues and NaNoWriMo.

My backup drive Chuck bit the dust. I can’t even reformat it, and it’s not really worthwhile to take it somewhere to get it fixed or get the files from it. So, I spent $40 on a 2T backup drive which is about the size of a thick credit card.

Its name is Albert, after Bierstadt.

It astounds me how cheap memory has gotten. I spent twice the money on Chuck and got half the storage. (I have a thumb drive with 250G of storage. I named it Diego.)

My major concern with Albert is that it’s small enough, it would be easy for me to lose it. I kept losing Chuck, and it was over twice the size of Albert.

I also have a large screen to work with now. I rescued an old iMac that someone had wiped and set out on the curb, and the Rocket Scientist turned it into a monitor. Working with a large screen is easier on my eyes, and having a full keyboard to work from allows me to use a keypad for entering numbers. Having a two-button mouse helps too, and I have an easier time using a mouse than a trackpad.

I also use my computer in a common space, rather than isolating myself in my room. Even when no one else is out there, it’s good for me to be out in the open. For one thing, it helps my posture: I am sitting in a chair, not slouching on my bed.

I have not yet named the monitor. It’s not only mine, you see, and other people in the house have different naming conventions. The Rocket Scientist names his computers after Greek Muses. (Actually, he just told me that he had named it: Annie, after the Little Orphan. That works.)

I’m glad I chose artists. There are a great many to choose from. I only regret that I can’t refer to some of my favorites, such as Chagall and Singer Sargent, and Whistler. (I don’t use first names used by people I actually know.)

Not a tech issue, but related: should I do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year? I pretty much have to decide today or I will get tremendously behind and not be able to finish. (I need to average 2,000 words a day every day in November — and I can’t write on Thanksgiving.) For those who are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it is a challenge for people to write a 60,000-word novel in a month. Not a good novel, mind you, just something with characters and a vague plot. I wrote one several years ago, and have wondered ever since whether it was good enough to actually edit into a real book.

I have an idea for a book I thought of several years ago. I would write about election workers coping with an active shooter. Four years ago, that was unusual – now, given the death threats facing election workers, it seems “ripped from the headlines,” rather like an episode of Law and Order. (I am just waiting for election workers to be murdered in, say, Georgia.)

I wish I could use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to get a new computer, but a) it’s recreational and b) I can’t afford one anyway. I would name it Piet…

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Today’s topic: science.

I watch The Voice, quasi-religiously. And, so doing I have to suffer through commercials, including those for other NBC programs. On one the newest is a science-fiction thriller called La Brea.

In La Brea, a group of people fall through a sinkhole into a far past (or is it?) This past is populated by scary creatures such as giant sloths. In the same ad where the giant sloths appeared a character said “I think we’ve fallen back into at least 10,000 BC.”

I was all prepared to be outraged about this. “No!” I thought. The Egyptians had a thriving civilization on the banks of the Nile!

Well, no they didn’t. Not even remotely. Egyptian civilization dates to the 4th century BC.

The problem with my outrage turns out to be that Megatherium (giant sloths) did in fact co-exist with humans. As did giant short-faced bears, and Irish red elk, and the last of the saber-tooth cats. (And the wooly rhinoceros! Can you imagine? I find that more impressive than giant ground sloths.) These all died out in the Quaternary extinction event, which went on from the mid-Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene era, which began in the mid-11,000s BC. People were around long before that. And had early civilizations before that. (Dogs were domesticated around 12,000 BC, cattle even earlier.) Cave paintings in Altamira date to 36,000 BC.

Clearly, in my trips to the Natural History Museum in DC, I was too hasty to stop and look at the anthropology exhibits. I was too busy charging ahead to the gem and mineral section so that I could look at the Hope Diamond.

I sometimes sneer at the lack of knowledge of civic sometimes shown by MAGA-types. Clearly, I have my own areas of academic darkness. (As a former history major I feel vaguely ashamed.) Not that they have much more knowledge of prehistory than I do, but that maybe me sneering at things like some of the exhibits in things like Creationist museums are not quite warranted. (Displays showing humans with dinosaurs are right out though.)

The world is so much stranger — both then and now — than most people, including myself, can comprehend. We have the opportunity to learn so little of it in school, and some of us turn our curiosity to other, vaguer areas, such as the social history of Britain in the 19th century, or the ways in which current society resembles the run-up to Nazi Germany or the Fall of Rome, take your pick, and cherry-pick your facts to satisfy whatever political points you wish to make. (Not that there are not some parallels, but they are less clear than people believe.)

It’s a lot harder to politicize wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths. Or, to take another current example, octopuses. Octopuses are phenomenal! Just look up John Oliver’s piece on octopuses to see why.

Oh, I suppose you could start a discussion about climate change and the ways in which it is leading to mass extinctions that resemble the Quaternary mass extinction event. It’s an important conversation to have.

But in the meantime, I am just going to marvel at the fact that human beings actually got to see giant sloths. And that an over-the-top (at least judging from the commercials) television show got their facts right.

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I am full of grief.

I thought it was simply depression, but the more I experience, the more I think it is something else.

Depression is soft and enveloping. It smothers. It pins your hands to your sides, and drops you into a black void. You don’t necessarily feel sad, you feel empty.

Grief knifes you in the heart. It is broken glass strewn in your path. Instead of soft darkness, you find yourself filled to the brim with pain.

It is all I can do not to cry.

I am not grieving my mother-in-law alone. G. and I did not have the strength of relationship to cause me to mourn her passing in depth. I feel deeply for the Rocket Scientist, but that’s a different emotion.

I am grieving my mother. I know she lived a long life and died peacefully, but I wish she were here. I wish she could meet the Not So Little Drummer Boy’s fiance (at least over Zoom, like the rest of us). I wish she could have seen The Red Headed Menace graduate from college, and know that he is currently working on his Ph.D. I wish she could see how Railfan has grown into a responsible and useful adult, and how he is working hard on getting his bachelor’s. I wish I could talk to her about how I feel useless and sometimes unlovable, and have her reassure me that yes, there are people who love me.

I miss her. I thought I had stopped grieving her, had “moved on,” but apparently not.

I had always been skeptical of people who claimed to be grieving someone years after their death. Not anymore. I know what it is like now, how it is complicated by feelings that you should be over this loss, that grief is self-indulgent.

I will be better. I hope that happens soon.

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Things I like recently: fall, pumpkins, eggnog (even if the store is starting eggnog season early), chili, medical care (which I have had far too many opportunities to rely on recently)…

And Says You!. Says You! is a quasi-game show on NPR (meaning the points are almost randomly assigned and don’t mean anything). Instead of recent events (like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) or general trivia and comedy (like the now sadly defunct Ask Me Another), Says You! focuses on language. Not that there isn’t general trivia — such as occasional questions about movies or music — but mostly around words, words, and more words. Two rounds each game are devoted to “bluffing words” — one person on one side is given the actual definition of an unusual word, and the others on their team have to make up fake definitions. The other team has to figure out which definition is the real one.

I started to listen to this program precisely because of this round. I was hauling stuff to the recycling center, randomly listening to whatever was on KQED, when a word was used which had been submitted by someone I knew. It turns out that she and her husband are frequent contributors (including one week when they wrote the entire week’s game).

I used to listen every Sunday. Then, for some reason, I stopped. By that time I had signed up to get the podcast, so I collected many weeks of programs. There they sat until this week.

Says You! has been getting me through the past week. I am struggling with depression caused by the death of my mother-in-law, the fallout (including an ER visit to make sure that the pain in my leg was a pulled muscle and not a blood clot) from a stupid trip on a sidewalk in Georgia, upcoming very expensive oral surgery (and the fear that it might be the first of many), and general under – the -weatherness.

Listening to back episodes has helped me stretch my brain in the same way that weekly trivia does. It also helps my ego, when I get the answer before the panelists. They’re smart, but not impossibly so. The same people show up every week, so they feel almost like friends. And I learn things. And given that several of the panelists are brilliant punsters, I almost always smile.

I don’t know what I am going to do when I run out of episodes. Maybe by then I’ll feel better.

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