Category Archives: Musings

Who I Am, March 2019

I had to write a very brief intro to myself for a group describing who I “really” am at my core, “beyond your resume, awards, or accolades.” This is what I finally read to them:

I like people; crowds energize me. But I’m also inordinately self-contained (some might say self-absorbed) and feel nervous and stressed when I can’t spend a high percentage of each day completely alone. My wife is, if anything, even more self-contained. We don’t get out to socialize much.

I’ve written 15 books and published 10. I’ve written hundreds of poems and had dozens of them published in magazines and journals in virtually every state. Sometimes I try to pay my experience forward. Before we moved here, I had a specific area in my personal library for autographed books authors gave me as thanks for my help. Those books filled about ten feet of shelf space.

I’ve written over 200 songs and can still perform maybe 50 of them without looking at the words. I paid for college by performing music and giving 40 guitar lessons every week. These days I mostly play for the Egan Warming Centers (homeless shelters).

I think language is the fabric of civilization. People who devalue language — who use words carelessly or deceptively — pose an existential threat to civilization.  Being a fan of civilization, I oppose those people.

I value curiosity, creativity, persistence, and humor. I believe in education, science, and logic. My tribe is people who read. I have very little patience for sloppy thinking, intentional ignorance, and uninformed opinion. On the other hand, as my own brain, hearing, and memory decline and I make more and more dumb mistakes, I realize I can no longer mock the foolish with impunity. Therefore, I’m trying to develop tolerance for people who say things that seem to me to be patently and egregiously stupid. Developing that tolerance has been a slow process for me.

I love science, but I also believe in magic. Mysterious forces swirl around us, forces too strange and powerful for humans to understand or control. They exist outside the laws of cause and effect and beyond language but have some sort of symbiotic relationship with beauty, music, and love.  I call it magic; you may call it God. When I am cheerfully receptive to magic, I notice happy coincidences in my life. If I respond to those with wonder and gratitude, I am rewarded with more happy coincidences. That’s my religion. That’s who I am.

Can I name my new van Tonto?

Naming vehicles is silly. On the other hand, I’ve named blank sheets of paper for a long time, and occasionally make money at it. I named one ream of blank paper “Jumper.” Others pages became Belinda, Marcus, Malcom, Billy Billy Billy, The Magician who was learning electronics, Miss Pounder the exercise instructor who inadvertently taught math, Bruce the Duck who saved the day, the evil Nightsmoke, Pon, Braindead the Algebra Student, and many more. Naming things is kind of what I do. Continue reading →

Cicada Songs, Ebola Dreams

I’ve read several popular books about diseases recently: Rabid, The Hot ZoneSmallpoxDisease, Spillover, and  Deadly Outbreaks. More books on a single topic than usual, but not with any project in mind. It just happened, the way it happens to folks who start to read books by Michael Connelly or Rex Stout. Several focussed on diseases that leap from animals to humans (“zoonotic” diseases). No curious person could resist daydreaming about some of the unsolved mysteries one encounters when reading about diseases like Ebola and Marburg. You play detective in your brain and then you almost certainly come up with your own crackpot theory, just like I did. Continue reading →

Political Plagiarism

Rand Paul is upset that people caught him using lines from Wikipedia and elsewhere as if they were his own. He feels like a victim and wishes he could just duel someone to settle it all. Or spend a couple days in detention after school, but certainly not his whole career. His words, I hasten to admit. Personally, I think most of what he did was harmless and we should cut him some slack. Continue reading →

Goats and Pigs, Iodine and Thiamine: a Hypothesis

It’s easy to decide that iodine deficiency plays some role in neurological diseases like ALS and Alzheimers. For over fifty years we’ve known that you’re much likelier to get one of these diseases if you spent your infancy in a region that’s deficient in iodine. Another example: exposure to the fungicide maneb dramatically increases the chances of getting a neurological disease from a toxin; maneb works by disrupting the use of iodine in animals. Our instincts shout that iodine must be involved; but we can’t say it out loud. Although iodine deficiency remains the number one cause of mental retardation in the world, we can’t prove it has a role in Alzheimer’s or ALS. No one has found a smoking gun. Continue reading →