Monday, October 17, 2016

The Information Age Sucks.

If you know me, you know I've embraced parts of cyberspace with enthusiasm. I enjoyed CompuServe back in the 1980s. I've been on Facebook for some years (thank you, Maureen) and have posted many hundreds of my dad's photographs and my own. I don't text often, but email is my favorite form of communication. I've been in online writing groups, and I'm a devotee of GardenWeb (now Houzz). And on and on. But I wish we'd never been given any of it.

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, we had Democrats and Republicans as we do today, but there the resemblance ends. I remember when no one had television, and I remember when we got our first one. (My dad gave me a choice of a TV or a puppy. I chose the puppy, but somehow he morphed the dog into a 12" Admiral console.) The news was broadcast on TV, but most people got their news from the newspapers.

My dad read one paper in the subway on his way to work in the morning, and another (the New York Herald Tribume) in the evening on his way home. People communicated with each other in person, or on the phone, or by letter. This is how we got our information. All of these methods allow for error, of course. Newspapers have never been 100% accurate 100% of the time, and as for talking to each other, do you remember the children's game "Telephone"? We all have our internal filters, some more . . . um . . . interesting than others, and what goes in doesn't always come out the same way.

But most of the time informational errors back then were relatively minor ones, and differences were subtle. The contrast with today is dramatic. And disturbing.

Today we are swamped with information, and depending on who you are, a great deal of it may be completely untrue. Crazy fiction. Dangerous stuff. We've heard quite a bit of it in recent months, but the fact is even in non-election years the emails go round and round, spreading stories most of my friends would never believe, but there are people who believe every word. President Obama wants to change the National Anthem to "Kumbaya"? Syrians punish their children by pouring boiling water on them? I read both of those things in forwarded-many-times emails sent to a friend.

And then there are the websites. NPR interviewed a woman who used to run a website devoted to challenging the "conspiracy theory" websites and their like, but she gave it up when she could no longer keep up with the huge number of them.

People pick up what they read on these websites, what they get in forwarded emails, what they hear on "hate radio," and they post it on social media, where it goes "viral." Wonderful. Never in the history of the world have we experienced this. Where it will lead, I have no idea. But I'm not optimistic. On "All Things Considered" this afternoon, there was a feature on an organization that talks to people around the country about Islam. We heard one of their speakers address a group in Montana. He spoke like a reasonable person, but the NPR reporter had to point out over and over that what he was saying about Islam wasn't true. Building on what the speaker said, a woman in his audience stated with conviction that Muslim refugees want to come here to convert us or kill us. Others in the audience agreed with her.

Monday, June 06, 2016

I Need a New Relationship

I broke up with Doxycycline last night. We'd been together nearly four months—this time. We've had an on-and-off relationship for years. He swore he could help me get over my painful experience with Lyme, and for a while it seemed that he did. But he was so controlling . . . dictating what I could eat and when . . . and abusive too! My gut bacteria hasn't been the same since we met.

So last night I decided that I'd had it with him. (He took it surprisingly well.) But you know me . . . I'm not about to sit home alone with only Lyme, Babesiosis and Bartonella for company. I'm going to get in touch with Herb. Actually Herbs, plural. (Why settle for just one?) And that handsome hunk, Homeopathy. He's been good to me in the past.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Balls (said the Queen, "If I had 'em I'd be King.")

It was a rite of spring in the Queens neighborhood where I grew up—and in every other NYC neighborhood, I suspect: The annual trip to the corner store to get a pink Spalding (often pronounced "Spaldeen") Hi-Bounce rubber ball.

In this ritual, you didn't just pick up a ball and pay for it; you had to test them first. Trying several, we'd bounce them on the wood floor of the store to see which one bounced the highest. Some of us tested them by dropping two of them at the same time from the same height. The judging criteria was always the same: highest is best. Once that was determined, we'd plunk down our 25¢, and spring would begin.

I still think think about this, maybe even every year, although it's been a very long time since I ventured out to buy myself a pink rubber ball. I went looking for one today though. My older grandson is four, and I am itching to play catch with him. The way I see it, he will reap the rewards of all the ball games I played as a kid. I hope he'll see it that way too. Thanks mostly to my dad, I love having a ball in my hands.

Because of age and the damage done to my shoulder from pulling a lawnmower cord, I can no longer attempt the perfect football spirals of my youth, or indeed any overhand pitch, but I can lob a gentle underhand to a 4-year-old. And I can still pluck balls out of the air a fair percentage of the time.

My shopping expedition was limited to Walmart and Dollartree this morning, and there was not a Spalding to be found. Walmart had a couple of glitzy looking supercharged balls, infused with helium in some fashion, guaranteed to travel farther by kick and higher by bounce, confirming that "simple and basic" just doesn't appeal to the masses anymore. Or at least the marketing geniuses don't think so.

Dollartree had a Spalding wannabe called Pinky Hi-Bounce. I bought one for a dollar, but it doesn't have the same feel. And it doesn't have the same smell. We always sniffed our brand-new Spaldings. It was the only time they would have their distinctive smell—no surprise when you consider how often we bounced them on the city sidewalks, gutters, and vacant lots.

When I got home I looked online and found that Amazon sells the Spaldings for $6.20 apiece. One of the commenters said they cost 25¢ back when he was a kid in his NYC neighborhood. Someone else said they're available in sporting goods and toy stores for a lot less than Amazon's price. I see a trip to Dick's and Toys R Us in my future.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tick Tock . . .

I just scanned this slide of me (I'm the big one) with my cousins today and my first thought was, the good old days, when we didn't have any ticks to worry about. Then I saw an article about a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine this morning. It found that long-term (12 weeks) antibiotic therapy doesn't help Lyme symptoms. I can't say I'm surprised, as so few people on Lyme message boards ever seem to get completely well. The study concluded:

"On one side of the schism stands the evidence, which grows stronger by the day, that persistent symptoms attributed to Lyme disease are not amenable to longer antibiotic therapy; and on the other, there is a multitude of patients suffering from debiliating neurologic, cognitive, musculoskeletal or even multisystemic symptoms. Standing witness at the tug of war between these two sides, we still do not have an answer."

I'm on long-term antibiotics, and I hate it. They mess with my good bacteria, despite taking probiotics, and deplete my serotonin, draining my energy and enthusiasm. No fun. And I haven't noticed any improvement in my symptoms, which are mostly neurological (thanks to being bitten in the back of my neck). So I won't be sorry to stop, but I wish there were an answer to "Now what?"

The outdoors has always called to me this time of year. I love living close to nature, and I love growing things. But after six bites last year, despite all sorts of precautions, and numerous bites in previous years, my beautiful property no longer welcomes me. It has become a threat.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Two Days at the Dodge, 14 Years Ago

In 2002 I spent two days at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. Two years earlier I attended for all four days, but this time I was distracted by my flooded basement. I carried a notebook in 2002, and jotted down notes. Here they are:

Trying to estimate how many bales of hay it took to cover all the acres of mud.

Moans from new arrivals as they read that Billy Collins is absent.

Sharon Olds radiant as she described the “beautiful, healthy spiders” that thrive on Duke Farms, and calling the main tent “a temple to Ariadne.”

Shuttled 10 minutes to our parked cars.  Getting off the shuttle bus, and then getting back on when we realize we have no idea which parking lot our car is in, but this one isn’t it.

An attractive middle-aged woman, normal enough in her jeans, sporting a black cardboard mustache.

The annoying reality that in every panel discussion there will be those in the audience who use the occasion to mount a soapbox of their own, taking up valuable time—usually to describe an epiphany we experienced 20 years ago.

Ceclia Vicuña’s accent so strong, and her voice so soft, that it is many minutes before we realize she is saying, “Clit, clit.  Growing.”

The food tent:  $8.00 for a little package of eight sushi.

A drink at the Marriott:  One pinot noir and a Virgin Mary = $18.00.

A massive undertaking:  the basement/foundation for a Duke mansion that was never built.  Room after subterranean room.  A maze, really.  And then the owner died.  Covered now with mud and moss, and the remains of trees that fell in.  I stare and stare, unable to turn away.

Staring, too, at the simultaneous readout of the poets’ words in the main tent.  It is there for the hearing impaired, but I am fascinated by its creativity.  It must be done with a voice recognition program, monitored by someone scrambling to correct its mistakes.  When Vicuña speaks of mist being “the semen of the mountain,” it comes out seaman.  “Burlap” is burr lap. My dog sometimes has a burr lap.  A mother with a burr lap would have unhappy children. 

Franz Wright giving new meaning to insufferable, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer. 

Two “church ladies” clutching each other for support as they scuttle out of the “Sacred and Profane” panel discussion, faces rigid with the realization that Mark Doty is reading a blow job poem.

Big soft dog asleep in the grass next to our workshop tent on the river.  Sun glinting on the water.  Sun soaking into the long, golden brown fur of the dog.

Sharon Olds saying she had a desire to give everyone in the room a cookie.  C. K. Williams quipping, “Give ‘em a car.”

Port-a-Potties that flush and sport mini-sinks with foot-pumped running water.

Being blown away by a poet we’d never heard of (Aahron Shabtai).  Telling him later, “You must have a very happy wife.”

Marilyn Chin reading a poem about a bad date, explaining that displaying the mangled sword of Hirohito is not a strategically good thing to do if you want to impress your Chinese girlfriend.

Two blind men with their dogs.

Friends raving about Jane Hirschfield, whom we didn’t hear.

New Jersey:  More near misses on the highways in two days than I had in the past five years.  Fast food restaurants that ask, “Cash or credit?”  Waiting in the middle of a line of 12 cars at a Wendy’s drive-through at midnight.

Yusef Komunyakaa reading his poem about the mice that died of fright at the sight of an owl:  “…the shadow of its wings was like a god passing over the grass.”

Mark Doty reading his poem, “Migratory:”  “Only animals make me believe in God now…so little between spirit and skin.”

The long, long line at the coffee concession.

The even longer lines at the book signing tent, spilling out the door onto the grounds.

Komunyakaa softly saying if a poem contains too much information “the passion of participation is denied.”

Mark Doty describing 99-year-old Stanley Kunitz as “constantly open to change and transformation.”

Wiping away tears as Joyce Carol Oates read her prose poem about her mother’s heartbreaking childhood.

Olds quoting Langston Hughes:  “To some people, love is given—to others, only Heaven.”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Have a pill . . . or not.

It's so widely known now that overuse of antibiotics has created a scary situation. More than one scary situation, actually: Not only has it led to drug-resistant superbugs, but it could permanently destroy a person's good bacteria.

Still, so many doctors keep prescribing them for viral infections--or, more accurately, infections that are far more likely to be viral in nature than bacterial. Antibiotics do nothing for viral infections. Why do they persist in doing this?

The most common excuse I've read is that patients expect a pill, usually an antibiotic. So what? Is there something in the Hippocratic Oath that says "Give 'em what they want?"

Sick all week with a sore throat and sinus infection, and beginning to develop a cough, I woke up feeling so thoroughly infected yesterday morning that I visited an urgent care center to have my lungs listened to and get an opinion on whether or not to go to my daughter's for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

The Physician's Assistant, who looked all of 18 and sounded so cheerful she practically chirped, offered me an antibiotic. If she'd given me a good reason why I should take it, I might have. But she didn't. She said, "Well, you came here, so that means you want to take something, right?" Wrong.

Later, I remembered she was the one who offered me an antibiotic for a rash on my eyelid that turned out to be shingles.

It bothers me that this obviously goes on all the time there, and probably in countless other facilities across the country. Perhaps the only way to stop it, or at least slow it down, is for the medical consumers to speak up. Of course we don't want to turn down antibiotics when we really need them. But when they're offered, it wouldn't hurt to ask why.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is Nothing Ever Simple?

I ordered two items from a website I've used before. Most of their stuff doesn't appeal to me, but they have some good sales occasionally. The two things I ordered were a winter face mask to give as a gift and a pair of slippers for me.

An email acknowledging the order said I was entitled to a free magazine subscription. I've gotten these from them before, and it's a good deal. I usually give away the subscription, and this time I wanted to order a technology magazine for my son. But the website neglected to give me the code necessary to place the order, so I emailed their Customer Service. "Raquel" replied, telling me the code had been sent.

"I never got it, Raquel."

Next, "Jerome" said he'd sent me the code.

"It didn't arrive, Jerome."

We went through this with "Patrick" and "Olivia" before I finally got the code.

The winter face mask arrived without a problem.

I was eager to get the slippers, and happy to see a package in my mailbox yesterday. But instead of dark brown slippers, inside the box was a pair of white plastic Crocs. So I wrote to Customer Service again.

"Nadine" responded immediately. I explained that I wanted the slippers, so I would return the Crocs. She said she had arranged for the return, and attached a label for me to print out. The label said I was returning the winter face mask.

I wrote back. No, I said, the winter face mask was fine. I received a pair of Crocs in error. I want to return them so I can get the slippers I ordered.

That's okay, the reply from "Horace" said. He explained that he had arranged for the return, and attached a label for me to print out. The label said I was returning the slippers.

Politeness be damned. "NO NO NO!!" I wrote. I wrote a few other things, pointing out that it was their mistake that had landed the Crocs in my mailbox instead of the slippers I fervently wanted. (Well, I didn't say fervently. I thought it might be misinterpreted.)

So "Adam" wrote back and said I should use the label Horace sent. He said it would be fine, but added that they couldn't guarantee my slippers were still available.

I printed out the label, which states in bold letters that the slippers are being returned. A photo of the slippers is on the label too. I slapped it on the box containing the Crocs, and sent it on its way.