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7
Jul 20

There’s audio here and I would be appreciative of your listening

No Phoebe and Poseidon on Monday? No. We had other cats to feature. I also had to do my work in the actual building on Monday. And the world has gone mad.

I was going to make that joke. But the local world has actually gone mad. There’s a banner on an overpass right now that says “A man was almost lynched” because a man here was almost lynched. There’s a video of the confrontation. A putrid, two minute and several seconds video of it.

So, last night there was a demonstration downtown about this troubling weekend event, as you might imagine. Someone chose to drive a car through some people. One or two people were hurt. One of them apparently mildly. The other was treated at a local hospital and released with a reported head injury. I’m also hopeful they’ll address arresting the driver of the car that did this terrible thing.

There’s certainly evidence. But there’s evidence of both, isn’t there? You can see it. I’m not putting any of that here, but it is out there if you want it, and it is all repugnant.

This is the thing about video: someone will always say “You don’t see what happened before the video.” And that’s a true and powerful insight you have there. What a keen legal mind you have. This is the real thing about video: no matter what happened before someone whipped out their phone and got the camera up, no action calls for what is seen before the unblinking eye.

At least one of my students was out there reporting. Apparently eye witnesses say the driver ran several red lights. So, in other words, done deliberate. And I’m really stuck on this part: one of my students was out there.

So vehicular assault in broad daylight, that ought to go somewhere, one assumes. One also assumes that state officials, the appropriate authority for where the almost-lynching confrontation happened, will figure out the threatened or attempted lynching. But they haven’t managed to do that yet, despite, you know, daylight video and plenty of incriminating evidence like work shirts, prominent tattoos and faces.

Madness.

But the FBI came down to look into the first crime, too. This was announced at this evening’s demonstrations which were, seemingly, much more peaceful for everyone.

So we’re having Phoebe and Poseidon on Tuesday this week.

Poseidon should also get a name for his love of cabinets. Cardea, if I recall, figures into hinged doors in Roman mythology, but I can’t think of anything close enough in the Greek, so we’re giving it to the mighty Poe, who was surveying his kingdom with great contentment here:

Phoebe and three of her favorite pursuits: a spring, a stair landing and the pursuit of belly rubs:

And they decided to sit together on the stove cover of my own design and creation. A rare display of getting along in proximity in their sibling rivalry.

So, yet again, spending a few hours building that little thing one weekend was worth it, I guess.

You know what else is worth it?

I talked to an epidemiologist today. We discussed whether the coronavirus is airborne. We talked about looking at the data and masks and the bubonic plague. We discussed whether I should get a haircut.

We also briefly mentioned the task of getting kids to wear a mask. Of course, she said, her children wear masks. She doesn’t have too much trouble with them, she said. But they are of a certain age now. And, being someone that tracks diseases, she probably brings home terrible images and scares them to death, as would be her parental right.

I’m sure she doesn’t do that. She’s a perfectly pleasant individual and probably her children listen to reason. And if they don’t, both of their parents work in public health, which means they’ve got plenty of adult experts in their lives to scare them senseless while mom and dad are conspicuously working on backyard appetizers.

Anyway, she says wear a mask. And be willing to leave places that have people not wearing masks. Stay distance and stay in well ventilated areas she said.

It keeps coming up: we had the stay-at-home orders handed down to give hospitals a fighting chance. Supplies were needed. Beds were needed. Crush the curve. Remember that, a few months and oh so many outrages and personal inconveniences and national outrages ago? Medicine and science needed time. Well, we gave it a bit of time, and now hospitals are filling up. There are a few more supplies headlines popping back up. And the consumer knows it. Stores are limiting paper goods and cleaning products again.

Let’s say everything about your health, and the health of the people around you. Mortality rates are lower than earlier projections. Thank goodness. Hard, hard earned trial-and-error have been teaching physicians for future rounds of patients, hallelujah. One of those things we’ve learned is this isn’t just about the sniffles, and it’s not just about your lungs. There are big, and varied impacts. One of the things still to be learned is how varied those impacts. Is it your lungs? Some other organ? Your mind? Medical science is still trying to figure that out. Another thing on the board, how lasting can the problems be? You can find nightmarish stories aplenty about that, too. You’re living in a big world of uncertainty right now, friends.

What’s amazing, according to every doctor and epidemiologist I’ve interviewed and seen interviewed, your best defenses are something so exotic as washing your hands and putting a protective covering over your mouth and nose. As most of us would prefer not to have our quality of life impacted in a negative way, please and thanks.

We didn’t discuss the covid19.healthdata.org charts, but we should have. They now have death projections stretching out to November 1st as a status quo, wherein some restrictions are being held and many are being eased, versus mandated mask wearing. And it looks like this.

In Connecticut 4691 – 4551 = 140 lives.

In Georgia 3,856 – 3,403 = 453 lives.

In Indiana 3,400 – 2906 = 496 lives.

In Alabama 3,442 – 1,682 = 1,760 lives.

In Texas 13,449 – 6,442 = 7,007 lives.

In Florida 17,472 – 9849 = 7,623 lives.

Wear a mask. Yeah, it’s itchy, but you can be that kind of hero.


6
Jul 20

Tigers, fireworks and back on campus, oh my!

We went to the nearby feline rescue this weekend. It was our first time out of the house for anything more than groceries or takeout or exercise since March. The place made at least a passing effort at taking everyone’s temperatures and masks were required. Smaller groups would be preferable, but they were limiting it to 10 people per tour.

It’s hard for people to stay out of each other’s way when they’re gazing in wonder.

Or just, you know, in general.

Anyway, our tour was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it’s slow out there so our guide let us linger so everyone could get their national geographic photographs. We stayed on the property for just about 90 minutes. They have 150 or so cats they take care of — it’s a rescue and you heard some of the bizarre and some of the sad stories — and a few dozen of them were on display for the gawkers.

And it was a warm day, being July. So there was a lot of shade for the cats, which was nice to see and no doubt appreciated by the animals.

They’re a mixture of oblivious to people …

And oddly curious about you. In fact, they’ve probably seen more people than I have in the last few weeks. And they get their space, too. So it’s a happy little setup, as these things go.

And almost all of the tigers were interested in me.

This guy seemed to know it, and he was telling me RUN!

As in, “No, please, go. I feel the need to chase something down … ”

Here’s a thing you learn about tigers when you’re just a few feet away from them. All the sounds a house cat makes, a giant cat makes too, and they scale up. Just the sound of one of these massive things giving himself a bath gives one a lot to think about.

And the cats really liked me.

Almost all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m a Tiger. Maybe it was something I was wearing, or my animal magnetism, or that I’d slathered myself in chicken juice before we got there.

And, look, I don’t want to question the craftsmanship of a professional here, but when a tiger is casually walking directly toward you, you have a moment to think about the durability of a chainlink fence. There’s just enough time to hope that guy had a good day at the fence factory. No hassles at home, no aching joints, no in-law distractions or musings about his weekend on the lake. Just good, solid, earnest, pride in his work.

You don’t have enough time, though, to consider the plant that makes the nails, whether the second shift was on their game when they made the ones holding the fence against the wood. And, goodness knows when that wood was installed and it may be rotten already. You don’t have time to think about those things, or the team that assembled all of this here in 19Who Knows When.

You become keenly aware of the idea, percolating in your head and not yet verbalized, that all of this would merely slow down a properly motivated machine like this.

I liked how she was sneaking up on me from behind the maple tree. Completely fooled me.

There were two of these on our part of the tour today. Got a glimpse of one, and while I try to avoid the fence aesthetic, it couldn’t be helped here, and I hope you’ll overlook it. How beautiful is this creature?

Anyway, a warm day also allows for the indulgence of a cool bath. All of the tigers have giant plastic barrels. Those big heavy duty things that are in no way a simulation to tender human flesh because the barrels are much more sturdy. They are playthings. All of the barrels are destroyed.

The tigers don’t destroy their baths though. They’ve got this whole thing figured out.

“Wanna come in for a dip? It’s hot out.”

“But it’s so nice in here … ”

Thanks, tiger, but no thanks.

Fourth of July was even more subdued than normal. No big civic events. We almost saw the little parade one of the nearby neighborhoods runs. We rode through the route on our bikes twice. Just missed it both times. We were the beginning, and the end of the parade, then.

We had cheeseburgers and corn off the grill, and cheesecake out of the fridge. Everything was delightful.

The neighbors, who have been working on their ballistics and trajectories for several days now, put on quite the impressive display. Had to be the better part of a mortgage payment. Anyway, this isn’t how you properly record fireworks, of course, but this is how I always remember them, fuzzy and dreamy. ‬

There were just things exploding every which direction. And neighbors elsewhere were launching things from decks. Here’s to prevailing winds and sensible precautions and the good old American technique of eyeballing flammable projectiles. But the big show was still going on. And it went on and on.

This was the fourth of five finales. They had a good time, and many of the neighbors approved. It was festive when there were few festive things taking place out of sensible precaution. How he managed to keep the really big explosions out of the woods that were just feet away is a mystery.

And, to his credit, they stopped promptly at 10:30. It’s a decent gesture and makes sense. He had to get up early the next morning to clean the debris.

(He did not.)

Back to work today. It’s my first time working in the building since mid-March, 116 days for me. Everything else has been work-from-home, which we are both fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ll be back off and on campus sporadically for a while, in the hopes of having a semester. And then, if things go according to plan, we’ll have an oddly structured semester. A lot of things have to go right for that, however, and while that is the plan and the hope, it’s easy to be skeptical about it.

But! Yet! We are still a considerable ways removed. It is impossible to say from this vantage point what our reality will be in August, September and October. Why would you want that sort of certainty in your daily routine, anyway?

So today, we moved furniture. Large rooms will stay the same size, but their capacities are considerably reduced. Our commons, which would seat 50 something is down to 17. Our largest classroom has a fire code of 72, or thereabouts. It has a covid code of 21. Our standard sized rooms will seat eight plus an instructor. It’s going to be a strange school year, to say the very, very least.

So after this morning’s bike ride I got cleaned up, donned a mask went to campus and got sweaty again flipping tables and stacking chairs. When this comes up I like to smile and say “This is why I went to college. And grad school!”

Also, today, Harvard went entirely online. And the U.S. government said “If your school goes entirely online and you’re an international student, you must go home.” It’s going to be a strange, sad school year. We’re going to be a hybrid institution. I’ll be doing a lot of my work from home, and I am incredibly fortunate in this respect. That’s been a lesson for a lot of us this year, hasn’t it? You can be both in a fortunate situation and still not in an ideal situation.

But tigers!


29
Jun 20

And here’s how we start another week

Here’s a shot from a weekend bike ride. This was just after a turnaround spot, just after I got passed and dropped for the rest of the ride. I was well and truly put away for the rest of the day. I saw her here, caught one more glimpse and then rode alone for 40 more minutes.

Some days she’s too fast, and some days I’m too slow. And I wasn’t even moving terribly slowly during this ride, which could only mean that she was moving quite fast indeed. Fortunately, I don’t mind riding alone.

She wasn’t on this road, which invites you to slow down and enjoy the narrow lane because it is a continual, slow incline for just under two miles. But it pays you off with a nice reverse S-turn, just after this photo, that I was in no way capable of enjoying.

So I spent the rest of the little climb thinking “The last time I was here, I could really race up this road.” So I guess I’ll need to try this again some day soon and try to give it a little more effort.

You know who gives the perfect amount of effort, every time? Phoebe. She’s got this whole thing figured out.

She also likes to take naps in blankets. She gets in them herself, usually completely hidden, but on this given evening she poked her head out to make a Phoebe wrap. Look at those little freckles on her cute nose.

Poseidon, in his natural water habitat.

You know how you can dissuade cats from doing things with a water bottle? If I shot Poseidon he just looks up at you. “What?” But he’s discriminating about it. He’ll wait until water is coming out of the sink at the proper rate before he sticks his head down there to have a sip. He also likes the shower.

And basically everywhere you don’t want him to be. This is a jump-on-the-kitchen-counter-and-over-to-the-fridge-and-in move. He can do faster than I can write it, much faster than you can read it.

He’ll turn around and find some plastic to chew before you can figure out how he got there. And, like all cats, he’s quite talented at increasing his mass by 40 percent and making each joint uniquely inflexible on demand.

Like he’s been in quarantine or something.

It should be an interesting week ahead. I have a fun podcast on tap tomorrow. And we have a three-day weekend ahead. Maybe, instead of sitting in the home-office I’ll spend Friday lingering around the library downstairs. Fortunately I have a few days to figure out what my holiday plans might be. There are no fireworks, but the signs say a nearby neighborhood parade is still in the works. For now.


24
Jun 20

Pictures of small fossilized creatures

Here are more marine animals turned to stone by time. I picked these up off the shore of a lake and now that they’ve been documented here for no reason I will return them whence they came. It’s important that these things go back to the wild. They’re destined to roam free, stepped on and kicked and maybe picked up and marveled at by children of all ages.

And, also, to take up a good day’s worth of space here on this humble little website. And maybe on social media. There’s always a need for content over there.

Check out these articulations. I believe these, at least some of these anyway, are comatulida, which is an order of crinoids.

Those layers, I just learned, are called synostosis.

Even on the broken ones, I like the ridges. These things have so much character.

If you squinted just right, and I put some greenery and fake foliage on the paper I might be able to trick you into thinking these were castle towers or something. Maybe you’d think I got them from a train set.

Donut or Cheerio?

OK, that’s a Cheerio. This is definitely a donut.

So there’s three types of the common crinoid fossils things in my experience — and the third one is relatively new to me. There’s the one that’s got dirt or mud or fossilized sediment inside. The more desirable version are the ones that are still hollow, like our friends above which resemble tasty treats. Through that axial canal runs, which ran through all the stem segments of the living organism, you would find the nerves and the digestive system that sent nutrients along the body.

Most of these look like they might be cyclocyclicus or pentagonacyclicus, according to this 1968 study I’ve suddenly found myself reading. And the new type, to me, are the ones with the specific shapes through the columnal feature. Like these.

Let’s take a closer look. This one is a floricyclus.

I just found something called The Fossil Forum and two things are clear. The little samples I find are relatively modest and, second, I can’t be sucked in my something called The Fossile Forum.

That 1968 paper — Classification and nomenclature of fossil crinoids based on studies of dissociated parts of their columns by Raymond C. Moore and Russell M. Jeffords — has almost 30 pages full of photos. I don’t see this one there, and it’s not even especially rare.

I’ve seen it’s kind in similarly vague and casual photographs like this one before, so it’s nothing new.

Please remember, dear expert reader who finds this at some point in the future, this is obviously and quite clearly not my field. I’d love to be corrected, however, on any of these errors, big or small.


22
Jun 20

Mondays always have the worst titles, don’t they?

It’s Monday again, and welcome back to the part of the week in which we work on things. We’re still doing that. The emails are flying, the Slack channels are a-flurry. The video chats continue apace.

I had a two-hour student chat on Friday, and what’s more, the students are the one that asked for the meeting.

Hanging out with students is always fun, even when they are work meetings. Some students, when everyone was still living under a more restrictive lockdown, invited me to a few social video chats. That was kind of them. They are thoughtful and fun. And it was great to hear from them, see how they were doing, and to make them laugh. I became the butt of a lot jokes in those chats. It was worth it. Anyway, the video chats on Friday were about work. And going forward there will be more of those as we try to implement the things that will be our normal routines for the fall.

Normal. Routine. Aren’t those some concepts?

I suppose some people have routines that won’t change over much. And all of us will get used to the new rigors and routines soon enough. I’ve had the good fortune to be in my share of meetings to discuss what the new routines will be. The long and the short of it is that it will be odd getting there, weird getting used to it, and then a slow inconvenience we’ll work through.

But that’s what you do. You work through it. We’ll all have it to work through, all of us, in some way or another. We may as well do it with a smile. A smile that no one can see beneath a mask. Better learn to smile with your eyes.

Did you know you can smile with your whole body? When I used to do costume character work, in high school and college, you couldn’t help but to smile for pictures under that big helmet. Pretty quickly you noticed. After some time you manage to stop smiling under the headgear. But then you realized, or if you’re like me, you had to be told, to smile anyway. It comes through in the photos, in your posture, in your attitude. So you may as well smile.

By the way, when I smile, my eyes get small. So if you see me squinting, just know.

Here’s a routine, the cats!

Phoebe has a ‘You shall not pass!’ mentality in the hallway. It’s an effect roadblock. She slows you down by her cuteness, and you’re thrown off your game by a sudden urge to rub that belly.

It’s an even more effective obstacle when she does it on the stair landing. You’ve got to turn to the right, maybe you want to avoid a step, but there’s also this furry little thing.

I’m not clear at all how that’s comfortable, but that’s a cat’s posture for you.

Poseidon got interested in the camera lens.

And he’s always interested in this stovetop cover. I built this to keep the cats off the stove. Now they just sit on this thing. And, apparently, they’ll sit on it anywhere.

I’d moved the cover to another part of the countertop to clean the actual stovetop, and he’ll apparently sit on it wherever. So that was, one supposes, a good Saturday project.

Speaking of Saturday, we went for a walk through the woods, and we ran across a spotted fawn that was completely unconcerned by us. Mom was off looking for a snack and then she came back, saw us and we all stayed a respectful distance from one another.

Saturday was our anniversary, too. We spent most of the day reading through old tweets that our friends wrote that established the precise timeline of events. We looked at the menu for our wedding dinner, the eye is still drawn directly to the typo all these years later, and looked through our wedding photos and the honeymoon book. We made ourselves a crab dinner to celebrate, since we aren’t going out to eat. We listened to Sam Cooke and Al Green while we cracked shells. For a day, it was delightful.

This was right after the ceremony. We got married outdoors, under a canopy, in one of the hottest places in the country on the hottest day of the year. The heat index was 127. I was wearing summer wool. There is no such thing as summer wool. My bride looked beautiful:

(Still does!) After the ceremony was complete and we walked back up the aisle we walked inside a building. The first things she said as we began our marriage were “Oh thank goodness, air conditioning!”

For an anniversary, it should have been a more elaborate day. But, for an anniversary, revisiting the day was also perfect.