Category Archives: random

Winter Solstice 2022

Today at last the northern hemisphere will reach the official starting point of winter, but we’ll also begin the long slow march toward the summer season.

Solstices are both an astronomical event as well as a moment when we can look back on past human history and consider the importance that ancient civilizations placed on these events. They built incredible structures, many of which still exist, to mark the occasions. Understanding earth’s seasonal clock was a matter of literal life and death.

I don’t think it’s an accident that holidays of family gathering and giving happen to fall so close to the winter solstice. Before Christmas, or Hanukkah, or the Roman festival of Saturnalia, there were older winter solstice traditions that marked the end of the harvest and hope for spring after the cold of winter. Those ancient holiday traditions have been largely lost to time, but they influence us even today.

So certainly we can look forward to a fun holiday season of gift-giving and family time in our warm homes. But let’s remember the most ancient of all holidays today and be thankful that no matter how cold it may seem now, spring and summer are coming once again.

Survival Stories

I have a number of things on my mind today that I was considering as topics for a blog post, but decided to talk a bit about survival stories. In particular I’ll discuss three that are of interest to me, two factual and one fictional.

I’ve always enjoyed reading survival stories and watching movies based on those who have survived in difficult circumstances. Often when I’ve been in places of extreme climate and terrestrial conditions I hearken back to these stories and think about how the individuals involved survived despite the odds stacked against them. Every time the answer is really simple: smarts and determination.

To survive is not a test of courage, nor a test of strength, or stamina, or even luck, though all of these can make surviving in desperate conditions easier. It is a test of one’s ability to make an accurate assessment of one’s current state and the conditions one has been placed in, and deciding upon the best avenue to extricating one’s self from the calamitous situation.

Most of us assume we will never be put in a survival situation, but there is simply no guarantee that this will be true. One could live their entire life in the comfort of suburbia and work daily in the safety of an office building, but find themselves trapped in a blizzard on a remote stretch of road and faced with a life and death decision, or in any number of other frightening situations. Reading these stories provides us with an understanding of what went right, what went wrong, and what we can learn from the success and mistakes of others.

The first story I’ll discuss is that of Aron Ralston, whose story led to the movie 127 hours. Ralston of course was forced to cut off his own arm when trapped hopelessly in a slot canyon outside Canyonlands National Park. As everyone who has hiked in that area knows, the odds of being found and discovered there are pretty close to zero (although the canyon walls to echo and carry sounds farther than you might imagine).

Ralston has become somewhat of a hero for having the courage to amputate his own arm, but he also made a lot of mistakes before he ever set out, despite his canyoneering experience. Mistakes that we can learn from. He was arrogant and reckless. He assumed nothing could go wrong. He didn’t communicate where he was going or what he was doing.

You have to tell people where you are going. Cell phones make this a tad easier as they provide a reasonable indication of one’s location (always carry one and try to make sure it’s fully charged – better yet get some type of solar charger), but when you are going into the remote wilderness one of the only means of rescue is having a basic understanding of one’s location, something nobody had. While he still would have lost his arm, his ordeal would have been much shorter.

So what did he do right? Well, obviously he correctly assessed the situation and concluded that his survival meant parting with his arm. That is a terribly painful reality (literally), but being willing to make a strategic sacrifice is sometimes necessary. In some stories I’ve read over time, sick and dying members of a party have to be left behind to give the others a better chance. Staying together is not always the answer, though it more often is better and safer for everyone.

Another decision upon cutting away his arm was to drink from any available fresh-water sources. Could they have dangerous bacteria? Yup. Is the need to get any hydration, even from a dirty water source better than none in the moment? Yup. If you survive the hike out you can always get medical attention for the possible giardiasis and gangrenous wounds. But without water, it’s over quickly.

Another thing he did right is know exactly where he was and how to get back, as well as know that the location he was in was not likely to be stumbled upon by another canyoneer. If you can trust that the location you are in is probably trafficked by fellow hikers, drivers, etc at least once a day, staying put might be the better option than risking a journey back.

The next story I want to discuss is a favorite movie of mine from the 1990s called The Edge. It’s a story of a group of wealthy urbanites who take a vacation at a remote wilderness lodge (I assume it’s Alaska but the movie never directly says). After a bush plane crash, a few survivors must trek through the wilderness to safety.

There are a few interesting things about this movie that I enjoy. First, the hero of the story is the billionaire businessman (Anthony Hopkins) who despite being placed in a desperate situation is able to reason his way back to civilization. At the beginning of the movie he is quizzed by his fellow travelers on what would be depicted on the back of an oar, and being well-read he correctly responds that it is a rabbit smoking a pipe.

The allusion to events later in the movie is obvious in that Anthony Hopkin’s character is smart enough to reason his way through all the circumstances that they will encounter and is thus unafraid as they occur, which leads to their salvation. And of course among his party there are those that are also out to get him. But because of his intelligence, willingness to read and educate himself well beyond the confines of his required business knowledge, and determination to meet the challenges, he survives. His habit of reading and acquiring knowledge mattered when it counted most.

One of my favorite parts of the movie are the scenes leading up to the encounter with the bear which has already killed one of the members of the party (I’ll forgive this bit of fiction because grizzlies don’t really stalk and kill humans in this way). He makes Alec Baldwin’s character repeat the line “If one man can do it, any man can do it”. Essentially what they intend to do is use a sharpened spear to make the bear impale itself under its own weight. Native hunters used they method, he knows, but they only need to know that they can do it.

I’ve often reminded myself of that mantra many times when I am faced with a difficult challenge. No, everyone cannot run a 9.6 second 100 meters or multiply two numbers of ten digits accurately in seconds. But for most any task or project or endeavor we can rely on the knowledge that if one person was able to previously accomplish the same task, we can accomplish the same task as well. We just need to understand how they succeeded and why they succeeded.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to our success or survival is our own self-doubt. Once we set aside that invisible internal enemy, we can overcome the odds stacked against us logically and systematically.

Finally, the amazing story of Julianne Koepcke. Julianne Koepcke was a seventeen-year-old girl who miraculously survived a plane crash over the Peruvian rainforest in the 1970s. She fell from the plane without a parachute, but because she was strapped to her seat (which acted a bit like a helicopter to slow her descent), and fell into the canopy of the rainforest, she was slowed just enough to survive.

Once on the ground though she had a broken collarbone, lacerations, and was hopelessly alone in one of the most hostile ecosystems on earth. This situation should have been a death sentence despite surviving the fall. But she had one huge advantage over 99% of the rest of humanity: she had been raised in the rainforest by her scientist parents and was both knowledgeable and unafraid of the rainforest.

She knew about the snakes and understood the dangers they presented. She knew she could acquire water from leaves. She knew that she needed to treat a festering wound or it would lead to her arm being amputated or her own death (she found gasoline along the way and used to kill the maggots). She knew that a king vulture meant that carrion was nearby and assumed it was other plane crash victims. There she found candy that she was able to use to stave off starvation.

Eventually she found a couple Peruvians in the forest who were able to treat her wounds, give her food, and bring her back to civilization. Her story is amazing but again leads back to one common element about all stories of survival: that it is a matter of reasoning and calm decision-making that makes the difference between life and death.

This was a girl that was not placed in a position to trek through the rainforest to survival, but when fate led her to that situation, she was able to meet the challenge. I think it’s important that we always consider what might go wrong, and think about what we can do to prepare ourselves for any situation no matter how unlikely it may seem. Not all of us live in the rainforest, or at high altitude, or in a desert climate, but a little knowledge and experience goes a long way when we are faced by survival situations.

Covid Craziness

A couple years ago we were going through the height of the Covid madness. Now at last, (with a degree of hesitation) I’m hoping we’ve gotten to a point where we can start having open conversations about the disease and the societal the response to it, and all that we’ve endured individually along the way, without fear of reprisal on so many levels.

I think our entire country and the larger world have been damaged psychologically by the covid pandemic. Less so from the disease itself than from the emotional response that anyone wanting to discuss the topic engendered. Why was it so impossible to even be allowed to discuss a disease without a massive outpouring of emotionally charged vitriol, eventually leading to censorship online, social castigation and the loss of friendships?

I created this blog largely to share a lot of what I enjoy and to share ideas and my hobbies. I used to have fairly intellectual discussions with people on a number of topics on online and in person, but I found that once Covid hit and the 2020 election season got underway, society was just not going to allow for the free exchange of ideas in an objective manner.

When the Covid pandemic began we were reasonably cautious as a family. My work went fully remote after previously requiring daily in-office attendance (and productivity actually increased as well as job satisfaction). I kept a watchful eye on the Johns Hopkins site for info on cases locally, nationally and worldwide. As Covid began to emerge in even our town and there were local hospitalizations and the first few deaths, we settled in for a stay-at-home life mixing our employment with home schooling.

It didn’t take the average person very long to see that the data for severe illness was skewing heavily toward the most elderly with comorbidities and that children were largely avoiding the illness completing. A large percentage of the population was completely asymptomatic. Containing the disease was simply impossible as it had already spread quickly to every corner of the earth and would, even if momentarily eradicated in one location, return swiftly once all control measures were lifted.

By the summer of 2020 our family had decided that the negative effects of isolation with its negligible health benefits was completely outweighed by the need to go out and be active. We took some roadtrips to places where restrictions were lifted and visited with friends and family.

We were young, healthy, and made decisions that were right for us. If we were older and our health was more fragile, we would have handled things differently. We knew lots of people that remained locked away in self-enforced isolation and a child friend of my youngest son was kept essentially isolated in his home for over a year while all throughout our neighborhood kids played together. We felt terrible for that kid, whose family later moved away.

What nobody could do was discuss any of it online or even in the workplace. Or in public beyond personal chit-chat. If you were courageous enough to say you were not concerned with wearing a mask and doubted the science behind it online (it is now pretty well established that it made no difference other than to serve as a virtue signaling device), you risked personal attack and banishment.

If you questioned the narrative of the origin of Covid from bats or pangolins in the wild, the results were even worse. And while we had ZERO interest in pharmaceuticals that were touted as possible preventatives, we saw and experienced societal rage at its height delivered to those who tried to mention any that were actively in use in other countries.

Add to that our kids really needed to get back to school. My wife and I tried to help our kids with remote schooling but if we got an hour of actual schoolwork out of them it was a victory. About half the kids in our kid’s schools simply never logged on and effectively got 3 extra months of summer vacation.

When school resumed in the fall it came with all kinds of silly rules to stop the spread of a disease that wasn’t going to be controlled and which everyone knew was largely of no consequence to children or their mostly young and healthy teachers. We all went along with it though, knowing the alternative was simply no education at all.

The loss of education that so many kids suffered through this ordeal is something we’ll never quite be able to rectify. I questioned online how kids with parents that couldn’t stay home and didn’t have reliable internet were going to be able to keep up, and we know that our school district was actually one of the first to force a return to the classroom while many stayed remote for years. Those questions were met with emotional rage rather than concern for the kids.

In the media and on social networks to question anything was grounds for being abused and banned. You couldn’t ask if it made sense to close every store in a town except the Walmart and to force everyone to use the same entrance. Did that actually encourage or discourage the spread? Did it matter? You couldn’t doubt anything or discuss anything and the world had created two cults of believers and deniers.

For the Covidians the disease was almost a religion of ‘health’ practices and virtue signaling. For the deniers the disease was the source of government control. For people like us, it was a real disease that I actually got twice but one that we had to just live with. We couldn’t and shouldn’t sustain all of these measures that weren’t working and that were having more negative consequences for society than the disease itself.

In 2021 I got vaccinated twice and six months later I got covid. I felt ill with fevers and lost my sense of smell. About 8 months later I got it again and had only a minor sore throat. Those are just factual statements from my life experience. Would you believe that my posting of those factual statements led to me being warned on a social network about spreading vaccine disinformation? At that point I decided that I was done and I know a lot of people came to that conclusion as well.

Anyway, this long post should not in the least cause anyone to have an emotional response. It’s life history and a look back at the era that we all endured. One that I hope we can all look back on and really discuss without all the emotion.

Summer Solstice 2022

I would argue that the summer solstice is probably the oldest holiday in the world. For thousands of years the occasion was observed with celebrations and religious observances.
It is really cool in my opinion that so many of the world’s ancient civilizations were able to mark the solstice and built impressive temples to align with the rising summer solstice sun. While I have not yet been to Stonehenge or Machu Picchu or Chichen Itza, they are on the bucket list.

Happy Summer Solstice 2022!

Pre-Departure Covid Testing Finally Ending

The Biden administration finally announced that the pre-departure testing for international flights will end June 12, 2022. This is good news but it came well past the timeframe of when it made sense to lift it and they still insisted on a review in 90 days to consider reimplementing it.

I’m still annoyed that we had to complete this pointless covid testing to fly home even though we did it in as easy a manner as we could and it didn’t really affect our trip. It was obvious that no one took it seriously and it was another act of covid theater just meant for appearances without any real value to public health.

The fact that the testing has been lifted so late means that anyone that held off on making reservations to fly internationally must now do so at a time when flight prices are much higher and also still face the uncertainty of what happens after 90 days. In the end, it’s better to just make your reservations when the price is right and hope this administration goes away in 2024.

It’s time to fully and completely end every covid rule/restriction/policy and never reimplement them. Life must go on.

Ranking the Presidents

Since we are constantly bombarded by presidential rankings that are never objective and are entirely partisan, I decided it was time for me to tackle this task once and for all. I’ve read enough history to have the ability to do this (and will research any knowledge gaps along the way), and I can be reasonably objective in the manner in which I grade their individual effectiveness and performances.

To grade each president I will consider the following criteria (scores graded from 1-5 with 5 the highest):

  • Foreign Policy
  • Domestic Policy
  • Crisis Management
  • Cabinet
  • Enduring Accomplishments
  • Adherence to Constitution and American principles
  • Overall Legacy

Read on and see the results….