Diary

History

Consider what stuff history is made of, — that for the most part it is merely a story agreed on by posterity.

Henry David Thoreau
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Prime Directive

I’ve always been a serious boy. Mom used to complain when I was still in 2nd and 3rd and 4th grade that already I wasn’t bringing home library books with stories in them, I was bringing home books about how things worked and how to make things. “Can’t you just read stories,” was a question I heard way too often as I was growing up. Some things never change. While I’d love to be able to just sit back and have a lovely front-porch chat about everything and nothing — I never learned how to do that. I learned long ago that I’m just a big old socially obtuse moose.

It’s hard for me to witness the injustice in our society, a society that is supposedly based on the rule of law and some semblance of justice. But today there is one system of laws for the rich and one for the poor. Those who can afford lawyers and lobbyists can postpone their problems and walk away scott free. Those who cannot afford pricey lawyers end up paying the piper and spending time in jail. We jail more so-called criminals — many of whom are nothing more than citizens — than any nation on earth.

If the rich had been paying their fair share of taxes, the problem we face with COVID-19 would not be a problem because our healthcare system would be primed and ready for emergency situations. As it is, the CEO’s and upper management are rich and everyone else struggles. In the coming months there will be an onslaught of funerals because of the greed of management and government.

And yet, we cannot afford not to pay them off. To refuse to bail out hospitals and airlines and major corporations who employ the citizens of this country is to see the economy stagnate and shrivel. Government is left with the dilemma between lots of unhappy unemployed citizens who could riot or lots of dead bodies who can’t do anything. As congress argues about what to do this week we watch them making their choice. Hospitals already say they are not getting the supplies that Washington says it has sent. And one wonders just how long deliveries really take — specially if they haven’t yet left the shipping dock.

Why anyone wants to be President in this current climate eludes me. There is no pleasing everyone. But there are those who do. How it makes sense to spend a billion dollars campaigning for a job that pays a couple hundred thousand a year has bewildered me — but I’m just an average citizen and high finance must be beyond me. One thing is sure — having spent that much money, you know they intend to be the better for it — at whatever cost. And you and me, we are the cost.

I find it hard to write about anything other than the present situation in the U.S.. There are things I want to write about but the words just don’t come. I have been pondering some ideas I’ve thought about all my life — and I’ve been trying to synthesize new ideas that I’ve never dared think before about exciting topics — but I can’t keep my brain on task. And, given the nature of COVID and my own physical shortcomings it could be that I’m just biding out my few short months of life — I have been self-isolated and have no symptoms, but given the state of my lungs, contracting the virus would not be good for me at all. So, there is a sort of resolution that wants to be paralyzing — I have ideas I’m trying to work out onto paper but I can’t corral the thoughts in the mushy brain that lives in my head right now. So far I have fought off mental and emotional paralysis; with luck I’ll get past it. Staying healthy helps. Each new day makes me a little surer that we both will come out the other side. 🙂 But this situation is also why I’m so passionate about my plea for people to do what they’re being asked to do — and why I’m so angry about those who are ignoring the please for cooperation. I have no idea what will come of the next few months; as always I’m eager to find out — this life is an exciting adventure and I’m charging full bore into it — but my eyes are fully open eyes and I’m keenly aware of what could go, quickly, wrong. Still, life is for the living.

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Under Siege

It would be easy to let living under quarantine depress you. But you know, we aren’t the only ones ever to deal with such draconian times; and many have had it a lot worse than us. During WWII there were a few sieges against cities. The Living in quarantine isn’t much different than living in a. Medieval city under siege siege of Leningrad lasted some 950+ days and I’m sure the folks there were facing a lot more stringent problems than what we are facing with the conveniences we enjoy today. Siege of Leningrad — WWII

During Medieval times there were numerous sieges — bloody and terrible in worse ways than what we face today dealing with Coronavirus, but they were folks being locked up and contained just the same.

In 1453 the Siege of Constantinople was laid siege upon and that lasted for 53 days — almost 2 full months.

As far as long-lasting periods of being locked down, the Siege of Candia (now called Heraklion) in Crete was easily the longest siege in recorded history. That lasted 21 years. In other words those born in the first few years of the siege were old enough to fight in its final battles. If you think that being cooped up in a house for a few days is more than you can take, all I have to say is “buck up, Charley.”

If you’re interested, here’s the list of the 10 of the longest sieges in history. It might make you better to see your own confinement in more historical context.

While we’re on the topic of not feeling sorry for ourselves, what about all those who are worried about missing their graduations — what with school being cancelled in some cases till the end of the school year. I graduated school in 1964, a year ahead of my class. In the 1960’s a lot of my fellow students ended up going to Vietnam for their graduation. Many never came back.

It’s important to keep life in perspective. Yeah — what we are going through is not easy, and is not something any of us are likely take as “enjoyable” — but on the scale of life’s problems — for those of us who shelter-at-home and do not get sick, or those who get sick and recover — this is a relatively easy problem to be dealt with.

Yeah — there is the whole sanitation thing, the wiping down surfaces, the extra washing of clothes and extra showers and extra hand washings, and precautions about what you touch, or don’t touch in public places — but still, if you don’t get sick what you are going through is an inconvenience and little more.

I’m not going to say anything about the issue of money — for one thing Congress, slow as it is, is trying to arrive at a financial package that should help the hardest hit among us. It will probably give too much to those who don’t need the help as well, but our biggest concern has to be with the weakest in society and one can only hope that compassionate hearts will prevail not matter how asinine some in the government might be. I’ll hold judgement on what hasn’t happened yet for that reason.

As 2019 and 2020 were going the election was shaping up as a test of what we want this country to be in the future. Surely the differences between Democrat and Republican ideals are going to be tested in the fire of affliction and we’ll see who has the heart of the people, and who does not. Know for sure that an incredible number of citizens will be severely hurt — and I’m not talking about the people getting sick. Loss of jobs, bankruptcies, medical expenses, lost opportunities — people’s lives are being changed forever as I write this post — and you can be sure that they will not forget what they are going through now, and what they will experience in the next weeks, and months.

May God be merciful to us all.

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What will it take?

I live in a nation that, since it’s battle for independence, has never felt foreign boots on our soil, or citizens displaced because of war. We fought WWI and WWII and the Korean “Police Action” and Vietnam remotely without feeling bombs shaking our living rooms or walls falling down around us. Generations have lived in comparative luxury, unchallenged by the need to find one’s own food or shelter; relying upon distribution chains and the illusion that life can be as we want it to be.

How will we fight against an enemy like Coronavirus; an enemy with no remorse, with no ethics, no hesitation to wipe as many of us from the face of the earth?

You might think that this is a very negative way to begin a blog, and I agree it’s scary, but the situation the U.S. finds itself in right here and right now is just that: scary. But the scariest part is that a great many of our friends and neighbors still don’t believe it’s something that can affect THEM.

You and I can’t solve the pandemic alone. In fact, none of us is able to just make it go away. The virus emerged from the world of nature on it’s own, it will stay around for a while and eventually it will go away. That is the way of nature. Nature has ways that are beyond our ability to control, or to even understand. We aren’t superior to Nature, we are her vassals; we serve her whims in more ways than we consider. The only question is how many of us will suffer before we work together for self-protection?

Yesterday I mentioned the state park parking lots that were as busy as during a normal weekend. Today I read on my news feed that even as the infection total rises and even as the death toll climbs people are still praising government inaction and still arguing about why they are not complying with orders for self-quarantine or sheltering in place. Collectively we are not learning the lesson and until we do the rate of infection will rise; it’s not rocket science people. You don’t have to be a scholar to get the fact that sick people infect sick people and you can infect someone even before you show symptoms yourself. You can also be infected by touching things an infected person has touched — and those germs we are finding out now — can survive on surfaces for hours and days depending on the surface they land on. It’s a dangerous world out there — the very one we took for granted just a few days ago.

I don’t want you to fear; I want you to take all the actions you possibly can to protect yourself. Fear helps nothing, saves nothing, accomplishes nothing. Action based in knowledge changes everything.

I read last night that California and New York have changed their testing for COVID-19 policy. Both states will not routinely test, and in fact they will only test if the results of the test are likely to change the outcome of the treatment. They are reserving test kits for the most ill and for the healthcare workers working to save lives. That’s a scary decision, but it’s the only decision left to them.

Ask yourself, how can these other countries manage to do so much better at testing that the Great United States of America?

We know a lot about what’s happening in other countries, but to be honest we don’t know a lot about what’s happening here. We have not tested on the same scale as other nations, we were unprepared for what’s happening — but the comparison above indicates that not every nation was unprepared. Some nations took the warnings of scientists to heart and worked to address their weaknesses. The U.S. did not. Plain and simple. The numbers don’t lie.

There is no answer to the title question. I don’t know how long it will take. But you and I and our families and friends are going to be here to find out — and our own actions will help shorten that time, or lengthen that time.

Now would be a good time to have confidence in your neighbors. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, I don’t think I’m very confident in them at all. After all, look who they voted for; the one man who has made the situation infinitely worse because of his inability to admit his own mistakes.

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Tips on Isolation

You can find this article on the New York Times website


I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share

Take it from someone who couldn’t: Go outside.

By Scott Kelly

Mr. Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

Being stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit.

But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.

Follow a schedule

On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five-minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without.

But pace yourself

When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge-watched all of “Game of Thrones” — twice.

And don’t forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.

Go outside

One of the things I missed most while living in space was being able to go outside and experience nature. After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature — the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face. That flower experiment became more important to me than I could have ever imagined. My colleagues liked to play a recording of Earth sounds, like birds and rustling trees, and even mosquitoes, over and over. It brought me back to earth. (Although occasionally I found myself swatting my ears at the mosquitoes. )

For an astronaut, going outside is a dangerous undertaking that requires days of preparation, so I appreciate that in our current predicament, I can step outside any time I want for a walk or a hike — no spacesuit needed. Research has shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health, as is exercise. You don’t need to work out two and a half hours a day, as astronauts on the space station do, but getting moving once a day should be part of your quarantine schedule (just stay at least six feet away from others).

You need a hobby

When you are confined in a small space you need an outlet that isn’t work or maintaining your environment.

Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book — one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab — is priceless. Many small bookstores are currently offering curbside pickup or home delivery service, which means you can support a local business while also cultivating some much-needed unplugged time.

You can also practice an instrument (I just bought a digital guitar trainer online), try a craft, or make some art. Astronauts take time for all of these while in space. (Remember Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s famous cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity?)

Keep a journal

NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.

Take time to connect

Even with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends. Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses.

Listen to experts

I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, whether it was science, engineering, medicine, or the design of the incredibly complex space station that was keeping me alive.

Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts, like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

We are all connected

Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.

One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others. As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do — I’ve seen people reading to children via videoconference, donating their time and dollars to charities online, and running errands for elderly or immuno-compromised neighbors. The benefits for the volunteer are just as great as for those helped.

I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.


Oh, and wash your hands — often.


Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

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If people are staying at home with family members, especially kids and special needs family young or old, they may want to make a Just in Case list of things their kids or family members need, health issues, doctors names and numbers, etc. Since we don’t know when or if it will hit and how hard, making sure that your family is taken care of in the best way possible if you have to be absent for any length of time would help both future caregivers and your family. Most of us don’t like to think about this, but it seems a real possibility that caregivers could get sick, leaving behind kids that are healthy or showing no symptoms. It would be hard to play catch up with a kid who is worried about a sick parent, or lost them due to illness, especially if they have special needs. I have also thought about including personality quirks about my kids. Some are easy to get talking but others need to be snuggled first before they will open up. Having a “cheat sheet” would lessen the learning curve.

COVID Cheat Sheet

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