Monday, May 04, 2020

Fear and healthy respect

Things are really getting to me..  The funny thing for me is that my life really hasn't changed that much because of the pandemic.  Before all this started, I went out a little more than I do now, but not much.  My life was mostly spent at home with the people who live in my house, and it still is.  But all the uncertainty has really begun to weigh on my mind.  I find myself doing COVID-19  math with Alabama's numbers and the US numbers -  what percentage has been tested, what percentage of those tested are testing positive, what percentage of those testing positive are dying.  The percentage are relatively small (for Alabama they are 2%, 7%, and 3% respectively), but somehow that still isn't comforting. 

I wish that we could transition from fear (or denial) to a healthy respect for the virus and the situation.  I wish that I knew what activities were actually safe and which weren't.  Is it really okay to get take-out from a restaurant?  Am I really safe if I wear a mask in public and wash or sanitize my hands once I'm out of public?  Does wiping down my groceries really do any good?  But with so little reliable information out there it seems difficult to know, so fear remains the dominant emotion and healthy respect is difficult to achieve. For society as a whole it seems even more difficult, with some groups in total denial of gravity of situation and, as with most things these days, people's opinions being influenced by their political inclinations. 

I know that in general, people just want things to return to normal as quickly as possible, but as my priest said earlier in the pandemic, things won't go back to normal.  There will be a new normal, which is, as of yet, unknown.  Unknown is hard to deal with, at least for me.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Putting things in perspective

As I've mentioned here before, I have generalized anxiety disorder.  One way that I try to combat my anxiety is to put things into perspective.  That's not always easy to do, mind you, but I try.  With all the fear and speculation swirling around due to the coronavirus (SARS CoV2) and it's resulting illness (COVID 19), my brain has been tending to waffle between "It'll be okay" and "We're all going to die."  So in order to deal with that, I've been looking at some numbers to try to put things into perspective.  Here is what I have found.

A New York Times article from March 13, 2020 reports a possible US death toll for the virus ranging from 200,000 to 1.7 million people,
Between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to a projection that encompasses the range of the four scenarios. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.
These are disturbing numbers, no doubt.  The article does, however, say that these numbers were from the end of February and do not take into account the measures currently being applied to mitigate the situation.

Taking these numbers as my guide, I started looking at some statistics.  The most recent absolute numbers I could find for US mortality on the CDC website were for 2018.  In 2018, the total mortality in the US from all causes was 2,839,205 (source).  This is an increase over the previous year and our death rate has continued to increase, slightly, from 2008 to the present, according to Macrotrends.net.  For a breakdown of the numbers among the top 10 leading causes of death, I had to look at the 2017 numbers (no idea why those are the most recent on the CDC website).  These are the numbers I found:
Heart Disease = 647,457
Cancer = 599,108
Accidents = 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory disease = 160,201
Stroke = 146,383
Alzheimer's = 121,404
Diabetes = 83,564
Flu & Pneumonia = 55,633
Kidney disease = 50,633
Suicide = 47,173

A little perspective.  The lower number of the estimate (200,000) would be more than those who died in accidents, but less than those who died of cancer or heart disease.  If it was the higher of the estimated numbers, it would be comparable, though slightly below, the total of the top 5 causes of death combined.  These are all staggering numbers, but at least now I have a little perspective of what those numbers actually mean.

I did find another article, this one from the Washington Post dated March 11, 2020, that had a much wider range in its estimate.
His team put together a simple table that looks at various scenarios using case fatality ratios ranging from .1, similar to seasonal flu, to .5, a moderately severe pandemic, and 1.0, a severe one. The infection rate ranged from 0.1 percent of the population to 50 percent. That put the range of deaths at 327 (best case) to 1,635,000 (worst case). The deaths would not necessarily happen over a month or a year, but could occur over two or three years, he said.
What struck me (other than the wildly lower best case numbers) were that these deaths could take place over a period of 2 to 3 years.  If it were the worst case scenario numbers but over 3 years, it would actually make it lower than the number of death from heart disease in that same period.  Still a terrible loss of life, and I'm a firm believer in the "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee" philosophy.

Hopefully a little perspective will help me to keep calm and carry on.  But as Douglas Adam suggested, the last thing a person really needs is perspective...
[Upon putting his wife into his newly created "Total Perspective Vortex"] To Trin Tragula's horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.  (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe p. 77)

Saturday, January 18, 2020

2019 book list

Here we are again, halfway through January, and I'm just now getting around to posting my meager book list from 2019.  Over all, 2019 felt like a lost year.  My husband needed cancer surgery and radiation treatments.  There were multiple visits to family out of state.  It seemed like there was very little time for enjoyable pursuits.  Here's to better things in 2020.  So now, without further ado, the list of books I read in 2019.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singer - Maria Augusta Trapp (the inspiration for The Sound of Music)
The Weans - Robert Nathan
Ghostly Paws - Leighann Dobbs
Island of Time - Barbara Kent Lawrence
The Gospel According to Mark - New Revised Standard Version (yes, the book of the Bible)
Good Omens - Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
The Other Island: Ben's Story - Barbara Kent Lawrence
A Tale of Two Kitties - Sofie Kelly
The Cats Came Back - Sofie Kelly

I found the Trapp Family Singers book very inspiring, but little like the movie, really.
The Weans was something I remembered hearing about when I was an undergrad in college and read it on the airplane flying to visit family in Washington.  It was a bit disappointing and very short.
Ghostly Paws was also disappointing.  A little too much magic and too little logic.
Island of Time and The Other Island were sort of two sides to the same story.  I liked Islands of Time better.
Reading St. Mark's gospel was my Lenten discipline for 2019.  It was interesting.
I read Good Omens because of the Amazon Prime series (starring David Tennant) based on the novel.  I enjoyed and finished the novel.  Less so for the series - we didn't finish watching it.
The two Sofie Kelly novels were the latest installments in the Magical Cats series that I have been reading for the past few years.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Few Words About Walls

"People have been building walls all through history.  Why do you assume walls don't work?"  This is a question I've seen asked recently on Facebook (I'd provide a link, but I can't find the post).  Here is my answer.

First and foremost, walls in history have usually been built primarily for military purposes - to stop military invasions.  One very famous wall that sometimes gets mentioned is the Great Wall of China.  This is what China Travellers website has to say about the purpose of that wall:
The Great Wall of China was built to protect China from its enemies and invaders from the North, especially the Mongols. The Mongols were a tribal group that would regularly conduct raids into China. Despite the wall, the Mongols eventually conquered China. The Wall also kept Chinese citizens from leaving China.
I would draw your attention to the fact that "Despite the wall, the Mongols eventually conquered China." It was big, and beautify, and ultimately didn't work.

Another example of a wall built for military purposes is the Maginot Line between France and Germany.  Built after WWI, this wall was supposed to deter another German invasion of France.  And while the wall itself was well made and strong, it obviously didn't stop the Germans from invading in WWII.  In fact, it was so unsuccessful in producing its ultimate goal that it has become synonymous with a false sense of security.  In fact, Merriam-Webster defines Maginot Line as follows:
1 : a line of defensive fortifications built before World War II to protect the eastern border of France but easily outflanked by German invaders
2 : a defensive barrier or strategy that inspires a false sense of security
These walls were built primarily for defensive, military purposes and they ultimately failed.  So let's look at a wall that was built primarily for immigration purposes - the Berlin Wall.  The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop people from leaving East Berlin for West Berlin.  According to Wikipedia:
Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin; from there they could then travel to West Germany and to other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989 the Wall prevented almost all such emigration.[7]
Ah ha!  A successful wall you say.  Yes, it was a successful wall, but it was also a very well guarded wall. Again from wikipedia:
The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls,[4] accompanied by a wide area (later known as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses.
It was also only approximately 87 miles long.  Trump is asking for a much longer wall to be built - anywhere from 234 miles to 1000 miles according to a report from cnbc.com. And even the very effective Berlin Wall was not perfect.  Going back to the Wikipedia article:
During this period over 100,000[6] people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall, with an estimated death toll ranging from 136[8] to more than 200[9][6] in and around Berlin.
And let us not forget who wanted that wall torn down.  I believe it was the much revered (in some circles) Ronald Reagan who famously said "Tear Down This Wall."   In the late 1980s, a wall built for retarding illegal immigration was seen as a threat to freedom and liberty.  So why is one such a good idea now?

These are some examples of why I assume walls don't work and are a bad idea.  Where there is a will, there's a way.  People will always find a way around, over, through, or under a wall.  Building a wall doesn't get to the root of the problem, it just spends a lot of time, money and effort to reroute the problem. 

Let us remember also that walls in the past have not just been built to keep people out, but also to keep people in.  I'm reminded of "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost, in which he says:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.
And, as Reinette (aka Madame De Pompadour) reminds us in "The Girl in the Fireplace" episode of Doctor Who:
A door once opened may be stepped through in either direction.
A wall, once built, blocks passage from both directions. Think about it.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 Book List

Here is the list of books that I read in 2018:

The House of Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Keeper of the Castle - Juliet Blackwell
Give Up the Ghost - Juliet Blackwell
The Fast and the Furriest - Sofie Ryan
The Moviegoer - Walker Percy
A Ghostly Light - Juliet Blackwell
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
The Bone Garden - Tess Gerritsen
My Antonia - Willa Cather
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

I read 13 books in 2018.  Not too bad for me.  As you can probably tell, I took a turn into the classics this year, with only a few light reads thrown in.  Well, Alice in Wonderland was really both - a classic and a light read - but it was on the list of classics that I found online and I had never read it, so I figured "what the heck."  I was hoping there would actually be more to it than what you always here about it, but no, not really, just a kids story like you'd expect.  I had actually read A Christmas Carol before, but I was in middle school at the time. My husband and I watched "The Man Who Invented Christmas" and it inspired me to re-read it.

I think I'm all caught up on my murder mystery series - Magical Cats, Second Chance Cats, and Haunted Home Renovations.  I think there may be some new ones coming out soon, though.  The one Tess Gerritsen novel that I read this year was one of her "stand alone" books, not in the Rizzoli & Isles series, although Isles did make a cameo appearance.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Obsessive Thinking

I have an issue with obsessive thinking.  Sometimes, when I get an idea in my head, I just have trouble getting it out of my head.  It could be a problem that I'm trying to solve or an issue that I am wrestling with.  Or it could just be the lyrics to a song that I'm puzzling over their meaning or what they mean to me.  Whatever the subject, it tends to stick around and monopolize my mental energy.

On a couple of recent occasions, the thoughts/issues that I was wrestling with lent themselves to sending an email to someone to express my thoughts on a subject.  In each case, I felt that the person I was emailing wanted to know, or needed to know, or would benefit from knowing my thoughts.  In those cases, I felt better after sending the email.  It's not that I completely stopped thinking about the issue, but I felt that my mind could rest from the subject at that point.  The obsessive nature of the thinking subsided.

My catharsis in writing down my thoughts made me think of the lines to a song - Breathe by Anna Nalick:
Two AM and I'm still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, its no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
Now I'm no poet or lyricist, but I do feel that getting my ideas carefully thought out and arranged in writing is helpful.  In many cases, however, there isn't necessarily an individual that I can, or want to, email about the topic on my mind, so I'm thinking that I will try do that here on this blog.  I haven't blogged regularly in long time, and I still may not do it regularly, but I think it's worth giving it a try.  I could just write my thoughts in a journal or diary, but I think there is also value in the knowledge that I am sharing my thoughts with someone else.  Even if no one actually comes across them and reads them, they are out there.  Maybe that matters somehow. 

I have to be aware also of what Anna Nalick goes on share in the next few lines of the song:
And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
'Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you'll use them, however you want to
I know that sometimes people will come along and take offense at the things that are said on the internet, but I suppose that is the risk that I'm taking.   And, it's my blog, so if the comments get annoying, I can always disable them for an individual post (as has only happened once).

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2017 Book List

I just realized that it is the last day of January, and I still haven't written up my book list from last year.  So, here it goes, the books I read last year:

Exhume - Danielle Girard
Paws and Effect - Sofie Kelly
Telling Tails - Sofie Ryan
We Have Lost the President - Paul Mathews
Murder on the House - Juliet Blackwell
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands - Jorge Amado
Home for the Haunting - Juliet Blackwell
Last to Die - Tess Gerritsen
Die Again - Tess Gerritsen
Call After Midnight - Tess Gerritsen
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
I Know A Secret - Tess Gerritsen
We Have Lost the Pelicans - Paul Mathews
When the Bough Breaks - Jonathan Kellerman
The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett
Fool's Puzzle - Earlene Fowler

That makes 16 books.  A marked improvement over last year's 10 books.  There are still a lot of mystery series books in there.  The one Terry Pratchett novel, the first in the DiscWorld series, was  the one scifi/fantasy novel.  And the Amado and Hawthorne novels were my forays into serious literature this year. 

I find that I am getting a bit tired of the formulaic mystery novels.  I feel like I'm reading basically the same thing over and over.  When I read more serious things, I feel like I get more out of it, but it takes my longer to get through them, as a general rule.