For Heaven’s Sake, Just Leave That Giant Virus Alone!

"Run, run for your life!"

“Run, run for your life!”

I learned this morning that a giant virus has been found in the permafrost in Siberia. I like reading science news but sometimes it’s a little unsettling. And I think a giant virus in the permafrost falls into this category.

Now, “giant” is not the same here as a big guy lumbering around a beanstalk. A giant virus is still smaller than anything a person who is not Superman can see with the naked eye.

But as we all know, size doesn’t matter, at least not when it comes to viruses that could defrost and grow and become stars in a sci-fi movie coming soon to a theatre near you.

The thing is, there may be a reason this giant virus has been buried in the permafrost for 30,000 years or so. If my mother knew these scientists, she’d tell them to just let well enough alone, for heaven’s sake, the same way she told me to stop poking at that wasp’s nest when I was ten.

Science is a wonderful thing, but I was in the grants and projects business long enough to know that when there’s money available for science grants, scientists will come up with projects to be funded. And this giant virus thing might very well be one of them… “Hey, guys, what do you think would happen if…?”

The article I read says the scientists have to prove that no humans or animals will be harmed in this experiment before they can “bring the virus back to life” – a phrase creepy enough on its own.

I’m sure the scientists are very very careful and know what they’re doing and want the very best for us all, but I hope they remember that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, you can’t get blowhard politicians to shut up, and you sure as hell can’t get those wasps back in their nest.

I don’t want to read in a month or so about a horrible “Oh, my God, no! Run for your lives!” moment in any lab housing giant viruses or listen to some scientist in a white coat try to explain that despite all precautions, the virus is on the loose and has, at this moment, taken Hackensack.

Let us be cautious when it comes to science.

To be honest, I’d rather read about a scientific breakthrough which assures that frozen food of any kind looks as good when it comes out of the microwave as it does on the box. Now that would be a genuine scientific miracle and a great contribution to humankind.

In my dreams.

From the Bottom of my Journalist’s Heart – Forget the Toad in the Blond Hairpiece…Go, Red Sox!

I started my writing career as a high school journalist. At that time, my high school was one of the few in the country that had a daily paper – the Wa-Hi Daily Journal. This was back in the good old low-tech days, of course, but our teacher – Miss Florence A. McGovern otherwise lovingly known as FAM for the way she signed notes to us – was determined that we would learn to be truly good journalists with an understanding not only of good writing but also of deadlines.

A daily paper of any kind is a great way to learn deadlines.

I tell you this because journalism is in my blood. Over the years since high school, I’ve written novels and plays and short stories and poems, but I am a journalist at heart. If I were ever brave enough to get a tattoo, it would probably be “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” Under FAM’s tutelage, we lived and breathed “the 5 Ws and an H.”

When I was a little older, The New York Times was my Bible. And when I lived in Manhattan, I read that paper every day. Over the years, I’ve continued to be an avid newspaper reader even as newspapers have become more a more a thing we read online.
My reading was, I’ll admit, a little slanted. I favored the straight news stories and the human interest pieces – often wrote them myself for one paper or another.

I liked reading news from all over. As a kid, I loved those tiny little science notes – column fillers – in the local papers, odd facts about this and that. (I liked encyclopedias, too. You might as well know the whole truth.) Alice may have found a cake that said “Eat me.” I found newspapers that said “Read me.”

Yesterday, however, an odd thing happened. I found myself looking at Google News – that algorithm-driven “selection of stories from around the world” – and skipped the main news section. I found myself more interested in the sports section and the health section and even the technology section which is usually like reading a foreign language for me.

Then I realized what I was doing. I told myself it was not a “head in the sand” thing, but in truth it was. I was dodging that guy with the hair who’s running for president.

I realized that I’ve overdosed on the so-called news about him, the inane story after story detailing every little thing he’s said and done in the last 24 hours. And I realized that I felt safe with the sports section and the health section and the technology section. Not so much the entertainment section as he’s likely to turn up there at any moment.

It seems odd to me, but understandable really, that I still want my news fix, I just don’t want it to be about the guy who more and more looks like a big angry toad with a bad blond toupee. It’s been nice to take a break the last couple of days and stick with what’s happening in baseball and football and racing (sad, that one) and read about breakthroughs on the medical front. I’m even interested in new developments in technology even though I still need an interpreter to really understand them.

And I’ve been reading small town papers that have serious things to worry about like wildfires and crops and end-of-summer forecasts for what kind of winter might be coming up. They almost all have a national news section with headlines about things that matter to their local readers.

It’s been quite refreshing to remember that there are so many interesting things happening – good things and some not so good, of course – that have nothing to do with Mr. Toad.

The great world is still spinning and good journalists have noticed this and reported it. I thank them from the bottom of my journalist’s heart. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the national news page in the New York Times or Google news, but I imagine it will be when the poseurs who purport to be serious reporters have stopped behaving like they all work for The National Enquirer. Or when Mr. Toad drops out of the race … whichever happens first.

For now, how about those Red Sox?

The Measure of a Man

“Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.”

Donald Trump is big in the news again this morning. Every morning. But other stories are in the news as well. Like the story about the young firefighters in Washington State who died trying to help bring relief to that beautiful part of the country that’s become an inferno. Much more important than news of Donald Trump.

One of the three young men, Tom Zbyszewski, attended the college I attended for part of my education – Whitman College – in the town where I spent many of my growing up years – Walla Walla. I read about Tom this morning and learned that not only was he a bright science major, but also a sometime actor at Whitman’s Harper Joy Theatre. I walked the boards of that stage in my time and I could imagine this young man like so many others I knew – happy, laughing, serious when necessary. Part of a wonderful community of workers and players, a beloved young man too soon gone.

Images of Donald Trump grew much smaller in my mind.

But one image lingered – Trump’s statement that he should be getting paid to be on the news shows or at least that they should donate to his favorite charities.

When has a presidential candidate ever asked to be reimbursed for appearing on the news? Never as far as I know. Other candidates have been candidates, not reality TV stars who believe they should be compensated for their appearances.

Donald Trump touts himself as a successful businessman despite many lawsuits against him – one coming up next week in my own county – and bankruptcies, bad deals. He’s rich, God knows we’ve all heard often enough that he’s “really really rich.”

But more to the point, he’s petty. And eager to be offended, jumping at the chance to set the offending party ablaze. And a liar and a punk. I suppose if he were asked about the firefighters who lost their lives, he’d have some arrogant answer about them being “stupid” or “losers.”

Don’t misunderstand. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I know how politics works and I know we’ve had some pretty miserable politicians from time to time, even politicians who were well-regarded until other facts began to emerge.

I also know a showboat when I see one and I know a repellent jackass when I see one of those. And there’s a difference.

The showboat does what he does for show. The repellent jackass does what he does to hurt others.

Do we really want a petty, repellent jackass as our President – or even a candidate?

Personally, I’d like to see Donald Trump suit up and go to the middle of a blazing forest and fight his way out. His expensive Palm Beach togs would get rumpled and that blond mop would be tousled as hell in the process, but Donald Trump might come out of it a man – which, at the moment, he is not.

Rest in peace, Tom, and your fellow firefighters. Good men all.

You Have Thirty Seconds to Give the Right Answer!

Several years ago, I walked into a Nordstrom store and bumped smack into a large sign that asked: “Is Your Coat the Right Length?”

I thought for a panicky moment and realized I had no answer. I did not know whether my coat was the right length! My therapist and I discussed this for a full month. And we concluded that I am, without question, a Philistine among shoppers. I don’t know the answers to any of the dozens of questions posed to me – and you – every day. What’s more, I don’t give a horse’s patoot about it.

Advertisers love rhetorical questions and they should, because these questions are intended to catch us off guard, make us feel wanting and, as proper consumers, spend a lot of money. Too often, it’s money we don’t have or can’t afford to spend, but we have to keep our Consumer Image intact.

I live in sunny San Diego now, so I never worry anymore about the length of my coat. I’m more likely to ask, in my Philistinian way, “Why do I still have this coat taking up space in my closet?” San Diego is a pretty free-wheeling place when it comes to dress codes and Goodwill Industries and I thank you, San Diego, for that.

We do, however, have questions in San Diego, particularly since it is a city of beautiful bodies which are so often on display and I don’t mean just at the beach. In another time and place, long long ago and far, far away, women of all ages in warm climates but especially women of certain ages covered their bodies with a comfy and fashionable garment called a muu-muu.

This idea apparently never caught on in San Diego and I know I’m right because the magazines here are filled with photos of women, none of them over 33 and nary a one in a muu-muu. In fact, I have a weekly publication right here beside me that, like the old Nordstrom store, asks serious questions including, “Is the Brazilian buttlift right for you?”

When I saw the question, I had the same panicky feeling I felt so long ago about the length of my coat and then after ten seconds I recovered, took a look in the mirror and laughed out loud. Yeah. Right. A Brazilian buttlift is the answer to the battle I’ve been waging with gravity for the last few years. If I walked into the buttlift place, I’m quite sure the entire staff would have the same hilarious time I did even thinking about the possibility.

But let’s not stop with the Brazilian buttlift. There are places here where I could get the buttlift and breast augmentation if my breasts had not already decided to augment on their own. I could get my teeth whitened, a facial, a blow dry and I could get my lipo sucked. All at the same place. Okay, maybe two places. All for around, oh, $30,000 or so. Wait! There’s a coupon.

It’s not just San Diego, of course. I saw an ad for a Brazilian buttlift in the Portland, Oregon, paper and I have no doubt I could find the same thing in newspapers across America even in Maine where a Brazilian buttlift would be visible to the public for about ten days out of the year.

These questions and possibilities are enough to make a Philistine like me want to sit down and have a good calming cup of coffee. And the circular from Bed Bath & Beyond that just came offers two pages of possibilities for making a good cup of coffee, but first I have to answer another question: “Which brew’s for you?”

That panicky feeling is coming on again.

You’re Taking My Picture, Why?

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that we’re all subject to random photography now that cameras are part of just about every digital device on the market.

I live in a kind of touristy locale where the – okay – tourists flock with their camera phones and camera tablets and camera cameras. It’s kind of amazing to watch them. If it’s not moving, they’ll take a picture. If it is moving, they’ll take a picture. I watched one guy throw a fit trying to arrange the six people in his group as if he were filming a scene for the Oscars. It’s a vacation, pal!

Tourists are one thing, but having your picture taken in Starbucks or another other public place when you don’t want to have your picture taken is quite another.

It used to be that you could take pictures of people at random, but you could not publish those pictures without their permission unless those people were Brad Pitt or Elvis or one of the hundreds of Kardashians who populate the planet.

With the advent of technology – aka the Internet – this has all changed. It’s still not a good thing to post pictures of non-celebrities, but it’s unlikely anybody rude enough to take random pictures – and post them – really gives a damn about that.

“People looking stupid” is perhaps second only to “Cute kitten” pictures on the Internet.

And it’s annoying to realize that someone is taking your picture, someone sitting three tables away at Starbucks for instance. Especially if the person is not only snapping you, but talking to someone and laughing.

There’s an old line about behavior in the bedroom: You can point and you can laugh, but you can’t point and laugh at the same time.

I think the same applies to random picture taking. When it happens to me, I tend to start wondering if my shirt is on backwards or if my hair has suddenly gone nuts (entirely possible by the ocean) or my RBE face is B-er than usual or maybe I have spinach in my teeth although I haven’t been near a piece of spinach for days.

The other day this happened. In Starbucks. But as luck would have it, I discovered a counter move in a moment of Eureka brilliance!

A young woman a few tables away from me was chatting and laughing on her phone and snapping pictures more or less at the same time. I had my sketchbook with me and was making some notes in it, trying not to pay any attention after I noticed what was going on.

She’d look at me, laugh, hold up the phone, laugh some more. I wondered on what snarky blog or photo site I’d be appearing before the end of the day.

And that’s when I had the Eureka moment. I put my sketchbook in obvious view, took up my pen and began to sketch the woman. Now, there’s something even more unsettling about realizing you are being sketched without permission because the artist has to keep looking at the subject very purposefully and intently. There’s nothing casual about it. The next time she glanced at me and realized what I was doing everything changed.

She kept talking, but ducked her head. It became an interesting game, because every time she looked back at me, I was still “sketching” with fair intensity. She ducked and dodged, pulled her hair over her face, turned away and finally contorted herself into a position my yoga instructor would envy in order to avoid the mad sketcher across the room. It wasn’t more than a couple of minutes before she packed up and left.

I have no interest in taking random pictures of strangers, intruding in their lives for whatever reason. As an artist, I do sometimes enjoy doing sketches but sketches don’t get posted or emailed to friends with snarky comments. Nobody laughs at them. Nobody even sees them.

It feels terrific to know that I now have a way to counter intrusive photographers taking my picture in public places anytime I notice it happening. They might always have their phones, but I always have my sketchbook, too.

The best part is you don’t have to be an artist to do this. Just get yourself a little notebook and a pen and you’re in business.

Sketchers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but annoying camera goons who think everybody is fair photographic game.

Daughters of the Goddess Don’t Vote for Trump

Daughters of the Goddess don’t brake for jerks and they don’t vote for Trump.

And if he thinks he can alienate half the voting population (aka women) and win anything worth winning, Trump is wildly mistaken.

The Sisterhood is strong, and Donald Trump is sadly out of step with the twenty-first century. We are the mothers who raised our daughters to think for themselves, to respect themselves, and to run like hell from abusive men who would try to make our daughters less than they are.

We know men like Donald Trump better than they know themselves. We know what kinds of men speak so dishonorably to and about our sisters. We know how you slap each other on the back and snicker and make goddamn fools of yourselves.

We know which of you are mama’s boys and which of you are so mean and nasty your own mamas don’t like you any better than we do.

We know which of you claim to support Donald Trump no matter what he says because you’re mad as hell and you’ve seen too many Jackass movies and you’re 52 years old with a pot belly and still think it’s cool to make wisecracks when a woman walks past your pick-up truck.

We know you think you’re hot shit and that Donald Trump is your guy and that he gives a damn what you think.

We know you’re going to wake up some morning and get it. Donald Trump doesn’t care about you. But you’ve slugged down the Kool-Aid and followed him everywhere and raised his numbers and stood by while he insulted the women you claim to love who are now calling you out for your own bad behavior.

We know Donald Trump will not get the nomination and he won’t win as a third party candidate either because he’s alienated the rest of us and he can’t buy back the votes. Nobody’s that rich.

We know the Sisterhood is strong and that in 2015 there’s a clear-thinking Brotherhood on our side, a Brotherhood of men who are real men and know what it means to love women and to take our side when some pasty, flop-haired sidewinder goes megalomaniac on us and starts talking trash about mom and sis and aunt Sue and little Elly and the woman who loves you every day and night of the week.

We know the difference between the men who say, “I wanna be just like Donald Trump when I grow up,” and the ones who are already grown up and say, “Anyone who talks about women the way Donald Trump does is a bona fide jerk and I want nothing to do with him.”

Daughters of the Goddess don’t brake for jerks and don’t vote for Trump. And neither do the men who love them.


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