Saturday, October 30, 2021

"I Am [In] The Way"

Have you heard the Good News? Religion is making a comeback! To those who cheer these things, it's a sign that goodness and morality will prevail over the forces of darkness. As a force of darkness myself, I'm a little irked.
The religious revival has closely tracked the requirement in certain areas that individuals get vaccinated against a pandemic-causing virus. And that is because one way out of the jab is to file for a religious exemption. Cue God.

How do you prove a religious objection to vaccination? Why, you declare a sincerely held belief. That's it--a sincerely held belief is all you need. I am not sure why the sincerely held belief of a person claiming the cloak of religion should have any more weight than my sincerely held beliefs, and I surely have some. For instance, I am appalled by state-sanctioned murders done in my name, such as executions or drone strikes. I am appalled by the rape and plunder of our mother Earth for profit. But all I know how to do is agitate and protest and vote.

God doesn't have my back on this. If there is a God who has my best interests at heart, lightning would already have obliterated the Republican side of the aisle and zapped Joe Manchin on its way out. But if you sincerely believe God told you not to get vaccinated, you've got your ticket punched.

God is always telling people what to do, not that he ever agrees with himself. So it's not hard to dig up something God said to suit your needs. God could easily have whispered to someone in London during the blitzkrieg that unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness, and things would have gotten real loud real fast.

Basically, we're letting the schizophrenics run the public health show.

So it is my sincerely held belief that public health is served by the judicious use of proven methods of reducing a deadly virus's available host population through vaccine--in fact it's a no-brainer of a sincerely held belief--and that we could thus save countless people from suffering and death across the globe, but my sincerely held belief will not even tip the scale against the sincerely held belief of someone who fully expects to shake Jesus's hand in the sky some day, as long as she promises not to use her brain.

I decided to look into these beliefs. The St. Thomas More Society offers four sample exemption request letters on its website. Here's one:

The vaccines act at a genetic level that invades the province of God. Our genetic physiology is His design, extraordinarily complex as only He could make it, and understood only as He can understand it. Our understanding is shallow. I cannot morally participate in tinkering with a powerful and dangerous thing, within this temple, that we poorly understand.
Dudes. Here's a thought. Unshallow your understanding, because we most certainly do know how this works. It doesn't diminish the glory of God in the least, if that's the way you want to look at it. But if you think this vaccine is tinkering in the temple, I don't want to see you eating a Twinkie.

Somewhat more persuasive a rationale is the notion that the vaccine was developed using fetal cell lines derived from an aborted fetus. This is true, or probably true. There are a few fetal cell lines that have been used to develop vaccines. Not very many actual fetuses have contributed. Human fetal cells obtained from two abortions in the early 1960s are still growing in labs and are used to produce vaccines for chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis A, shingles, and rabies. We effectively took out polio with an earlier line. But I get it, a cell line from a fetus aborted sixty years ago is one aborted fetus too many. Okay. Fetal Lives Matter.

But here's a thing. My sincerely held beliefs about our responsibilities to each other in a public health crisis are in strictly mainstream, love-thy-neighbor territory. Why are mine unimportant?

Go ahead and plant a moral flag for that sixty-year-old fetus. I can admire a sincerely held belief. But stick with it. You or anyone you love get Parkinson's? Alzheimer's? Arthritis? HIV? Keep suffering. Oh of course nobody you know has HIV. My mistake. Stroke? Spinal injury?

And if it's your sincerely held belief that aborted fetuses are ground up and put in the vaccine, you're just wrong. If you're determined to find a rationale to screw your neighbor, get your facts right. And understand that screwing your neighbor is what you're doing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

There's A Stat For That

Oh boy, it's World Series time again! I'm paying close attention this year because we have a real shot at a new major league stat. We could witness the first non-Dominican to four-hit in two consecutive games while Uranus, Neptune, AND Chiron, which is barely even a planet, are in retrograde, with the Dow above 35,000.
Baseball statistics. It's how you can tell a regular enthusiastic fan like myself from a serious fan who is pretty far along on the autism spectrum. The serious fan hoards statistics like a pika hoards hay. Statistics are the difference between Holy crap that big dude really crushed that ball! and Yankee slugger Giancarlo Stanton tied his own record for the hardest-hit baseball in history at 122.2 mph in a game against the Royals in August 2021 and retains the record for the hardest-hit home run at 121.7 mph.
We have this statistic courtesy the Statcast system, which has only existed for six years, and yet it is considered safe to assume that no one has ever hit a baseball  harder than Mr. Stanton for all of recorded baseball history. It is safe to assume that because it is demonstrably unsafe to quibble with a 6'6" 245-pound man with a big stick. How big his stick is might conceivably be of interest to a number of fans but that is not the sort of statistic we are now compiling.

The Statcast system employs two cameras to replicate binocular vision and that, apparently, provides death perception to easily distinguish between bodies on the field. Oh wait, that's the Civil War. Statcast provides depth perception.
I became aware of this new layer of baseball stats last year when the announcer blithely reeled off the induced vertical break of a particular pitch. Well. That turns out to be a measure of the amount a pitch sinks in relation to where it would have crossed the plate if it just came out straight from the pitcher's hand, taking gravity into account. In inches.
The inches and miles-per-hour thing is important because it underscores baseball as being a great American sport and not some sissy metric-ass lollygag-in-the-park.
Your serious fan might note that the pitcher had achieved an induced vertical break of over seventeen inches. Your casual but enthusiastic fan would just say he had a wicked curveball. Or something. There are all kinds of pitches. There's a slider, which is actually a sandwich. There's a cutter, which is a ship; a changeup, which will cost extra when you're remodeling, a forkball, which is just plain rude, or an eephus, and nobody knows what the hell that is.
Anyway, with this new Statcast system, you get all different stats like the Catch Probability. This is the likelihood a fly ball will be caught based on such things as how far the fielder has to run, how much time he has to get to it, and whether he's in any danger of smacking himself into salsa on the outfield wall. All of this is information readily available to the regular enthusiastic fan using her own eyeballs but now the serious fan can tell you Tampa Bay right fielder Margot Manuel is currently in Outs Above Average based on his cumulative catch probability stats; and somewhere in a dank basement a nerd wearing stretch corduroys and an accountant's shade is working out an ideal roster for the Boss and not watching any baseball at all.

It's getting to where baseball is entering the same territory as that one dang butterfly that causes a hurricane halfway around the world by flapping its wings. Can we quantify how much the weight of the second-baseman's tobacco wad pulls him aside in his initial step toward the ball in play? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, with Statcast, at least we know exactly how it's hanging. They're talking about a fly ball, but it seems promising.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mycelium Mausoleum

I can procrastinate with the best of them--in fact, most of the time I'm just getting around to procrastinating--but there are things you can't argue with for long, and having a dead-rat smell inside your refrigerator is one of them.

You can let it go a day out of sheer disbelief. You can then imagine the smell is not coming from inside the refrigerator even though it wafts out only when you open the door; you can suppose there is a small deceased rodent behind the refrigerator, and that it will dry up into a cracker if you ignore it thoroughly enough.

You can suspect--if you're really good at this--it is not real at all, but instead is a neurological delusion of the olfactory centers in the brain, triggered by the sound of a refrigerator door opening, just like the one you used to store dead mice in when you worked in a toxicology lab for practically no pay at all.

You figure it's got to be one of those things, because the refrigerator in question is the beer refrigerator, and it's full of beer, which absolutely never smells like a dead rat outside of Iceland, where they make beer out of whale testicles.'s not completely full of beer. Ever since we took the keg out of it, forty years ago, because we found it attracted more friends than we really wanted, there has been room for a case and a half of beer and several blocks of cheese. I opened the door again. Same smell. But all the cheese is intact. Either swaddled in plastic or wax, every one.

Oh no.

The worms! The worms we kept for Studley have finally turned! We've got a million of them in there. We have four cottage cheese containers of mealworms all lined up to go to heaven in the form of a chickadee gullet, and we never seem to run out. (We haven't even opened containers two through four yet. It's possible we overbought.)

I withdrew a worm container and, with gingerly trepidation, pried open the lid. Worms. Live worms, mostly, that didn't smell.

And finally I saw it. A pound of maitake mushrooms rotting in the bottom crisper because there was no room in the Real Fridge. That was the culprit, all right, every bit as fragrant as a rat gone by, and it had been since the day after I bought them. Maitake mushrooms look like a puffball with a mohawk and they're made of mycelium and money, and I was intending to introduce them to some garnet yams, oil, and feta cheese.

But now I'll have to wait until I save up again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A Visit From Beyond

DooDah is a mess

Ever since Studley Windowson faded out of our lives, I have become a backyard nuisance. I am a pest. I need another personal bird. Every bird out there can sense it and most find it alarming.

The crows are coming along nicely. Dickens and DooDah, along with their occasional companions Auxiliary Dickens and Ancillary DooDah, are accustomed to us and, I'd like to think, well-disposed. They're still a little skittish, but they're no longer so skedaddlish. Without question they show up when we do and project thought-images of peanuts in our direction. That's not the same as landing on us with delicate chickadee teeny-feety perfection and a pure heart, but crows are larger and stabbier, so it's probably for the best. Anyway, we're working it out.

But I can hear a single chickadee chip-note from anywhere in the house. I'll pop right up and run outside with mealworms. My mealworms are getting senile. I've had them for well over a year in the refrigerator and the ones that are still alive might very well be stringy or tough or morose, but they still move around a little. The chickadees hang out in the hibiscus. I approach them like a total creeper. And they don't exactly fly away. They sit in the shrubbery as I approach, and until I get my hand all the way in there they'll stay put and look at me.

Out of pity.

They think about it for a minute, and the first one says to the other, You know, that's getting a little aggressive, and the second one goes Oh, that one's okay, she used to be friends with my dad, and the first one says Kind of stalkerish, though, and the second one is all What's the matter, you scairt? and they discuss it among themselves, and then the first one says Suit yourself, I'm outa here, and the second one, who has held out just a little longer than he really wanted to anyway, says Oh, okay, if you're going, I'll come with you and make sure you're all right.
I know at least one of them knows what I've got. I think he is one of Studley's more recent kids. Once last summer I was feeding Studley in the hibiscus and this kid kept getting a little closer and watching very carefully. When he got within a foot of my hand, Studley ran him the hell off. So I'm figuring now that he's not being supervised, he's going to go for it. Any day now.

After all, Studley took a little time at first too. It was breeding time, and he needed a boatload of grubs because of all the beaks to feed, and at first I put a few out on the windowsill. Once he spied them and started looking for them there, I put one on my hand and edged it out. He was wary and then finally went for it like the big brave buttonheaded beauty he was. After that, the clip was off the chip bag. He landed on me, he landed on Dave, and eventually he landed on everyone we knew. Any friend of ours was a friend of Studley's. The man was a total ambassador.

So what I'm thinking is if I can just get this one fellow to give it a whirl, I'll be in 'em. Or a nuthatch. I'd totally be fine with a nuthatch buddy. All of which means I am now spending an unconscionable amount of time standing under the seed feeder like a statue with a hand full of worms, waiting.

Studley was easy to tell from the others. I did get to where I could tell Studley and Marge apart from the back--one of them had a slightly wider white edge to the wings, but I could never remember which was what. Mainly, I knew Studley was the one that landed on me and had a bum foot, and that left Marge for the other.

So now I have at least two standard chickadees loitering around. They're identical. But now there's a new, third kid in town. A distinctive chickadee. It's almost all white on the back. Oh my god.

It's Ghost Studley!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Craftily Bespoken

I got a flyer in the mail the other day. Nice photo of a young man, a shiny fellow, or at least recently exfoliated, with the tag line "Crafting Bespoke Experiences." Naturally, I was all a-twitter.

I flipped it over. I suppose I should not be surprised he turned out to be a realtor. If you're branding yourself as a crafter of bespoke experiences, you could be doing dang near any obscure thing. As a letter carrier, I could have marketed myself as a purveyor of hand-curated postal dispatch. Probably couldn't have gotten away with "bespoke" because--spoiler alert here--a lot of that crap that lands in your mailbox actually went to everybody.

I was in my forties before I heard anyone say "bespoke" and I strongly suspected it wasn't really a word. It's not a great word, in my opinion. You can't slide it into a sentence without it sounding like the wrench that got left inside the engine. But it has earned a vintage quality, having first been used in its current meaning in the 16th century, and it has strutted Britishly about mainly in the field of tailoring until recently, when it got discovered by Marketing, and now it is used willy-nilly to mark the user as a precious sod.

"Bespoke" primarily and historically describes tailor-made suits and shoes. If an item was bespoke, it was spoken for; it was ordered, or commissioned. Another word for it, in this country, is "custom." By golly, if you got something bespoke, it was not off-the-rack. It was made for you. Just for you! So our realtor friend is promising to give you an experience not meant for anyone else. Something he has fashioned for you and you alone.

That means he's not going to sell you just any old house on the block. He's going to sell you the one you want. Maybe you even specified you wanted one with an eat-in country kitchen and a big yard and he didn't even bother showing you the kitchenette on the postage-stamp lot--that's how bespoke the experience he is crafting for you is. And if you're the seller, it's your house he's going to represent. Not your neighbor's crappy old place. Yours.

You want that kind of mindfulness in a realtor.

It's possible I am being too snide, or even cultivating snideness. For all I know, this realtor indeed excels in facilitating artisanal transactions. It's possible his is a heart-centered mission that supports homefulness. He may even empower his clients' self-empowerment. If he really can create an ideal customer journey map, I think I speak for all of us in saying I can honor that.

And in any case I shouldn't judge. Here at Murrmurrs we are a bootstrapped enterprise of ideation and snackable content inputting. I'm mindful of that.

On the other hand, if he's just signaling he's gay, that's not going to make him stand out in real estate.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

SOL at the DMV

Way back last July, I got a notice from the state that my driver's license was going to expire on my birthday, which wasn't until late September. Smashing all previous personal records, I got right on it. This is not my normal operating procedure. I was kind of proud of myself.

What with one thing and a virus, they said I needed to make an appointment at the DMV rather than just walk in. So I popped online to do that. Eighteen screens later they had a calendar of available time slots to pick from. Every hour of every day was booked for two months out. But sometimes, they said, slots opened up and those would be posted Monday evenings.

The next Monday evening I popped online and eighteen screens later they had a calendar of available time slots to pick from and there was nothing for two months out. I sensed a pattern here. And I booked for the eighth of October, at which point my license would have been expired two weeks. If I'd waited until the week before my birthday, of course, I'd be looking at sometime in 2022. 

This time I was going to get a Real ID. It was about time, since that fake ID is over fifty years old now. The Real ID is a much more strenuous assertion of your existence than the previous versions. At some point, they promise, you won't be able to fly without it, although of course I can barely get off the ground now.

Quite a set of digital rabbit holes later, I was able to determine what current ID I needed to get the Real ID. It was serious business. They don't just take your word for it that you're a citizen in good standing, even if you're white. I would need either a passport or a birth certificate, both of which were in my safe deposit box, which I visit once a decade just to stamp myself as a grownup.

In order to get into my safe deposit box I needed my driver's license. I presented my driver's license. The teller squinted at me. "Are you aware your license has expired?" Yes I was. That's why I need to get into my safe deposit box. To get my birth certificate, without which I can't prove I ever hit air. The teller wasn't sure he could let me through the big iron gate with an expired license. 

Are you serious? I said.

He wasn't sure if he was. He had to check with somebody.

How about if you let me in there for now and I get my birth certificate and drive over to the DMV and get my new temporary license and come right back here with that and we'll put it back in the box all legit-like?
He told me I really shouldn't drive without a license.

I drove over here, I said. His face was unreadable but not reassuring. He also said I didn't look like my driver's license photo. I said Thank you.
I see what's happening here. I'm Charlie on the MTA. I can't get my license without my birth certificate and I can't get my birth certificate without my license. I'm in the lobby of the Wells Fargo on Sandy Boulevard, people--somebody heave in a sandwich!

I don't know how to prove I exist. But I am hungry. Therefore, I think I am.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Getting To The Bottom Of Things

The other day I got two big boxes delivered. The contents Required Some Assembly, and inside one of the boxes was the instruction to open that box first. That is because it was the box with the instructions (including Open This Box First) and the square screwdriver. Naturally, the other box was the one I opened first, just by chance, the one with no instructions and no square screwdriver, and went to the hardware store to buy the screwdriver, and now I have two square screwdrivers.

But I did succeed with the assembly, and was feeling mighty, so I decided to tackle a new project. I am going to fix my feet. I have all the parts and all I need to do is get them hooked up right.

My feet aren't much trouble. They're kind of little, and don't prevent me from tipping over, but nothing hurts. I'm super aware of my feet because I know how important they are for everything else. A long time ago I had all kinds of pain; I'd gotten used to it. My back sometimes went out, my knees creaked, and my neck shot out thunderbolts of neuralgia from a childhood injury on my good days, and locked up entirely on the bad. My chiropractor told me (before climbing into her Bentley) I was in for a lifetime of Advil, ice, and adjustments. I put it all to Old Age: after all I was nearly forty.

But when my perfectly fine shoulder went out for no reason, I felt betrayed. That's when an old gentleman I knew told me he had cancelled his hip replacement surgery after using the exercises in Pete Egoscue's Pain Free book for one week, and I might want to give it a shot. I'd been doing therapy for a half a year by then to no avail. But after ten days of these simple exercises my shoulder was fine again. And my back wasn't stiff anymore either. I was stunned. It took me a full month of doing the neck exercises to eliminate thirty years of neck pain, but then I was pain-free, smelled nice, didn't rattle much, and was totally obnoxious at parties.

Not in the old way. I became an authentic flaming evangelist. Because apparently not everyone has heard the Good News. That little light of mine? I was going to let it shine like the Republican neighbor's security light through your bedroom window. Everywhere I looked I saw people with duck feet and bow legs and knock knees and a life of misery just around the corner, but I knew how to fix them. I chased people down trying to save them. Total strangers, even. They just needed to get The Book. I was indistinguishable from a Jehovah's Witness.

So obnoxious was I, in fact, that dozens of friends have told me, enunciating, they Got The Book. They didn't open it, or use it, but they had it, and hoped that was enough to make me go away.

I know the feet are really important. In fact, if you want to do Egoscue's carpal-tunnel hand exercises, you're going to end up on the floor with one foot up on a stool. It seems like cleaning the gutters by clearing out the trap under your kitchen sink. But if your feet are the slightest bit askew, it throws off your whole skeleton. You can get away with it for quite a few years but eventually you're going down. You'll be approaching forty thinking you're supposed to have pain by now.

Anyway, my foot strike is better than most, except my right one is a little squashy, but since I had no pain I never really addressed it. Then the other day I looked and saw a bump near my big toe. Was that there before? I looked it up online. It's a gol-durn baby bunion. A bunion. Some old-lady bullshit. Land sakes. Next thing my ankles are going to puddle over my black orthopedic shoes and I'll be wearing my nylons rolled down. I didn't even know what a bunion was. Evidently I can expect the piggy that went to market to start barging in on the one that stayed home. Oh, no, you don't. I can fix you.

So I'm finally doing my Egoscue Foot Exercises. It's supposed to take three weeks. I expect my bump to disappear even though it feels bony. I really do. One day I'm going to look down and that sucker will have been raptured.

I may get bruises from a stiff breeze now and I can't sleep on my back in case my own neck pleats up and strangles me in my sleep, but my feet are not about to take me down. I've got beer for that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

My Cherryot

When they notice the paint is exuberantly jumping off of their car, normal people consider it might be a good time to buy a new car. But this, of course, is my car. It's older than my blog. I'd say it was older than dirt, but some of the original dirt is still on it.

I was surprised to notice the paint vanishment, though. I figured if you just left your car at the curb and never bothered it with soap or wax or anything, the paint would just stay put out of loyalty if nothing else. Or if it was inclined to wander, it would be sealed down with all the bird poop. I mean, otherwise, what is the point of parking under the power lines?

Actually, I was a little set back by the bird poop accumulation, which has far exceeded previous efforts, and was beginning to develop some topography. In my usual deductive fashion, I thought it was evidence of my efforts to attract more birds to the garden, or maybe evidence of a new digestive enthusiasm on the part of the regulars. Took me a few days before it occurred to me that my standard car hygiene--God's Car Wash--had pretty much shut down for the last year. We did get two inches of rain a couple weekends ago but that was by far the most we'd had since last January. If you've been dissuaded from moving to Oregon because it rains all the time, fear no more. Now we're the land of smoke and dead trees.

So after the rain a lot of the car looks a little neater now, not that I was inclined to get a new one anyway. It would be fun, and if I did it would be all-electric, but even an all-electric car has nothing on mine, virtue-wise. Mine's all-gas but it's parked. And there's a significant cost to the planet of manufacturing a new one. And the electricity for a car might come from coal. So. No new car for me, unless someone creams this one. Have at it.
Besides, there's a lot to be said for mine. If someone scuffs it up, as someone apparently just did last week, I don't really care. That's a freedom. My curb-feelers work great, and will until a little more rubber is scraped off the sidewalls. My blind-spot protection is second to none, as long as I have a passenger with a good set of lungs. Thanks to the hole in the floorboards that Dave created with his imaginary brake pedal, we've got a good auxiliary Fred Flintstone power boost system, or good enough--he's seventy now, so he can't keep up highway speeds for long like he used to.
The sound system isn't all it could be, I'll admit that. We still have a thumping bass but the treble is way out of practice and both of us have trouble with the lyrics of everything except Build Me Up Buttercup.
It might be nice to be able to unlock the doors from a few feet away, but you don't really need them unlocked until you get there anyway, even if it's raining, which it isn't anymore. We do each have to roll our own windows down by hand. But that's fun. It's worth it just to put a young person in the seat and watch them feel along the side panel for the button like they're trying to find the spot that makes the bookcase wall turn around in a mystery movie.
I'm sure I could get used to one bell or one whistle if I had it. I'd probably get to where I couldn't imagine doing without it. But there's also a lot to be said for keeping the number of things you can't live without to a minimum.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Human Bean

Sure is a lot of talk about abortion these days. There has been all along, of course. I remember when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. I said something laudatory about it and was shocked when someone pushed back on my enthusiasm, and kind of hard, too. Well, shoot. I was nineteen and not accustomed to imagining other people had different opinions.

People still do, no surprise. I don't see a lot of point in arguing about it. Feelings run strong. And it's not just a matter of deciding when a human being arrives on the scene. That's too fine a line to tease out. Heck, there are people who believe it's a sin to try not to get pregnant, so we're all across the board here.

Right now we're rolling back abortion rights for women carrying six-week-old fetuses, at which point the items in question aren't even the size of a normal bean. A small lentil, maybe. But I'm a small person who was a small baby and I don't think size is much of a metric of worth. What is more to the point is whether the lentil is human. It's a tiny bean, but is it a human bean? Does it have more substance than a thought or a prayer?

Opinions differ. But it gets more tangled than that. I'd say a bean with human DNA probably is human. But does its humanity matter to me? Not all that much, frankly.

There's a tremendous conceit involved with the obsession over fetal human life. There's clearly a conviction at work here that not only is the human bean's humanity entirely evident at every stage, but that it is even more precious because of its presumed state of innocence. It's more important than the grownup variety of human that, since birth, has been demonstrating its sinful ways and relative worthlessness for all to see. The human bean is in a state of perfection and must be brought into the light, and when it disappoints us later we'll jail it or execute it or diss it on the social media.

I got a problem with that. I got a problem with the whole premise. I don't think human beings are all they're cracked up to be. I like a bunch of them, and I am horrified by the thought of murdering them, in an alley, or in a war, or, especially, in cold blood by the offices of the State, but I consider our species to be one among many, with some interesting attributes such as a certain kind of cleverness that destroys as often as it creates. We are admirable and we are deplorable. What I do not believe we are is chosen, or special. Or in short supply.

But we will be.

Because we clevered ourselves onto an existential precipice with our wish for dominion and our disregard for the clear consequences of our actions; and we've already been pushed over that precipice by our greed and callowness. If there is a ledger being kept on our value to the universe, which I doubt, we may finally be held to account. In the meantime, anyone with any political aspirations who is not devoted to trying to back us out of the hole we keep digging will never get my vote. I don't care what they think about abortion.