Tuesday, April 27, 2021


It’s official! Lauren will indeed be going to college in the fall, having sent in her acceptance and enrollment deposit last night. It’s all online these days so you can do that whenever you want.

This has been a long time coming, really. Preparing. Scouting. Applying. Deciding. Lauren has worked hard for this and to be honest she’s probably more prepared than I was when I was applying to colleges back in the Jurassic Period. Her grades are better than mine ever were, for one thing, and she’s got a much deeper wealth of experiences and activities to go with them.

This year has been a strange one for rising college students. The pandemic has put a halt to college visits so many of them are going in blind, and a lot of last year’s graduates chose to take the year off rather than start in the middle of a plague so the competition for admissions was intense. But she got into many of the schools she applied to and in the end it came down to a choice between three, all of them well suited for what she wanted – something large enough to give her a wide range of choices in majors, programs, and courses, and located in an urban setting so she could explore off campus easily.

Soon she will be off – we have a definite date for that now – and we will be empty nesters for real this time. We had a trial run with that when she went on her foreign exchange program and that took a long time for me to work out, but I will survive.

Because this is what you want for your child – your child who is not a child anymore, not really.

As a parent, you raise them to be strong independent adults and then they turn into strong independent adults and go off to their own lives. That’s how it should be. You remember all the times before, when they were younger, and you look forward to what they will become. And you hope that the world will welcome them with all the love and respect that they have earned.

Congratulations, Lauren. I’m proud of you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

You Be Doobie Do

So it’s 4/20, at least here in the United States where we write our dates with the month first.

I’ve never had any strong feelings about how to write dates, to be honest. There are good arguments for writing it in ascending size of units (day/month/year), the way the rest of the world does, but in the US most people say it in month/day/year format (“April 20, 2021”) so writing it that way also makes sense. It’s one of those things where either way is fine.

Unlike putting only one space after a period, which is unequivocally incorrect and inelegant. You can’t avoid it online, since computer programmers have decreed it mandatory and that’s why we don’t take style advice from programmers, and there are a great many nonsense arguments out there to defend one-spacing on a number of spurious grounds (all of which will be appended below in the comments, if experience is any guide) but I’m done with trying to convince people that they should not crowd their pages with rushed sentences and I’m not going to have that discussion again.

You do you and good luck with that, one-spacers, but don’t expect me to support your folly.

One advantage of the American style of writing dates is that you get little Easter eggs now and then. We have Pi Day, for example – 3/14. 14/3 doesn’t have the same resonance and the calendar stops at the twelfth month so there’s no 3/14 the way the rest of the world does it.

There’s no twentieth month either.

For long and complicated reasons that I can’t be bothered to look up right now but which I am sure made sense at the time for certain values of sense that include copious use of marijuana, 420 has become a symbol of the copious use of marijuana. This knowledge is one of those bits of American culture that floats around the edges of my consciousness without particularly attaching to anything meaningful, sort of like NASCAR or daytime television – I know these things exist and are important to many people but I’m not one of those people so that’s as much energy as I am willing to devote to those ideas.

I’ve never actually tried marijuana. I’ve had friends who enjoyed it and I’ve been in rooms with them while they did, but I can’t say it ever tempted me. I live in my head and I don’t like things messing with that. Honestly, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve even been drunk and probably have fingers left over. I don’t mess with my head.

Not really a party animal is what I’m saying here.

But you know, try as I might I just can’t really see how it’s a huge problem. It’s not something you want to be doing every day or while operating heavy machinery as the results will no doubt be sad, but neither is alcohol and we’re fine with that as a culture. The last time we tried to prohibit alcohol was rather a fiasco after all.

There are a lot of places where marijuana is now legal for recreational as well as medical use in the US, and the last time I looked at poll numbers 92% of Americans approved of this, including 85% of people who self-identify as conservatives so it’s not just a hippie 60’s leftover thing. I expect that it will be fully legal everywhere in the US in my lifetime and probably fairly soon, though my track record with predictions is pretty poor so take that for what it is worth. There are political reasons why this might not happen – drug convictions are felonies and in many states felons can’t ever vote again, and if you think that’s an accident or that it’s coincidental who tends to get charged with those felonies and who tends to get merely reprimanded for the same offense then you’re not paying attention to American history – but one never knows. Could happen.

It seems to me that the US would be better off legalizing most drugs, actually, and treating them as health issues rather than criminal issues. It’s worked in other countries, and it would cut down on a lot of the nonsense that surrounds them here. We could probably halve our prison population overnight, for example, and legal things can be taxed to support other legal things like schools and roads. You’d have to have some regulation, I think – age limits, for example – but we do that with alcohol and nicotine already. We know how that works.

So happy 4/20 out there, all you stoners! I’ll not be joining you, but I wish you well.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Traveling in a Pandemic

I spent a week visiting my mom earlier this month. We had a lovely time.

It is a strange thing to travel in a pandemic. I’ve gotten my vaccinations and I’m careful about wearing my mask in public so I figured I’d be okay, but even so. I really haven’t gone anywhere far from home – certainly not overnight – since Christmas 2019.

It’s a brave new world out there.

I flew out of O’Hare, which meant getting on a bus for a couple of hours since there was no real point in having Kim drive all the way down there to drop me off. Everyone got their own pair of seats (unless they came with someone) and the driver made periodic announcements about keeping masks on, though he was probably the biggest gap in that wall.

We are a year into a pandemic and people still don’t know how to wear a mask. Honestly, it’s like they’re going out of their way to be stupid or something.

O’Hare is pretty much the same chaotic mess it’s always been. I had my boarding pass and wasn’t checking any bags so I just went straight to security and they marched me through. They make you lift your mask so they can check your ID photo, but otherwise it was pretty smooth. You still have to take off your shoes and get them X-rayed for some reason – one halfwit “Shoe Bomber” decades ago and we have Permanent Security Measures, but 149 mass shootings just in 2021 as of this posting and the idea of going to the root of the problem and addressing the criminally easy access to guns in this country is greeted with anguished rage by the ammosexuals who dominate our culture here in the United States.


Don’t even get me started on the whole “3 ounce” rule that provides so much security theater these days. On the flight back to Wisconsin from Philadelphia the TSA stole my pepper spread. “That’s too big,” the guy said. “It’s not a liquid and other guy wearing your uniform – the one standing not ten feet from you at this very moment if you want to check with him – said it would be fine,” I replied. “That’s too big,” he repeated. And so my flight was spared the ravages of a sealed jar of crushed cherry pepper spread. Their sense of relief was palpable, I’m sure.

But I got through the security at O’Hare, put myself back together, and headed off to find my gate. And was immediately confronted with this:

Marijuana is now legal in Illinois, but not in many of the places where people are going, so I suppose it just makes sense to have such things. Still a bit jarring for someone who lived through the “Just Say No” 1980s, though.

I got to the airport early, which always makes me feel more at ease (I’d much rather wait where I need to be than wait in traffic on the way there), so I had time to find lunch. They don’t feed you on planes anymore, because the last thing they need in a sealed tube with recycled air is 200 maskless people spreading disease. Of course that just moves the maskless people to the airport, but the ventilation is better and you can just walk away from the food court and find a quiet gate where you can eat your lunch. Half the restaurants are closed anyway, and there are no vending machines anymore, which I admit I didn’t understand – I’m not sure what makes them more dangerous than all the people in the food court, but there it is.

Both of my flights were full, which was a bit of a surprise to me. There wasn’t an empty seat on either plane, so there I was, shoulder to shoulder with strangers for two hours each way. I had a middle seat on the way out, in fact. The flight attendants were pretty good about enforcing the mask rule (which on airplanes carries the weight of federal law) and while there were a few people wearing chin straps they dutifully pulled them up when asked.

The bizarre part came at the end of each flight.

Picture it:

We’ve just spent two hours in a packed flight where “social distancing” means six inches between you and your neighbor. We land and taxi to the gate. And then they announce that they will be dismissing us by row, front to back, so as “to maintain social distancing and avoid crowding in the aisle.”

I think that ship has already sailed.

Although I suspect that this is a policy that they’ve been hoping to implement for years and the pandemic just gave them an excuse to do it. It certainly made getting off the plane easier and less hectic. Everyone on my flights complied pretty well except for the one big guy in the back of the plane who saw us as his personal missionary audience and tried to sell us his personal religion all the way up the aisle. I wasn’t too sad to see him skate off the plane early, to be honest.

Since I flew in I had to get a ride out to my mom’s apartment. Kim set up Lyft on my phone and it seemed to work both times. Both drivers had masks, though the return trip guy had one that kept slipping. They were both okay, though. I am old enough to remember being told not to get into cars driven by strangers and to be careful about meeting people on the internet, and here I am using the internet to get into cars driven by strangers and it’s not even the strangest thing I did that day. Things change.

I am safely back in Wisconsin now. I enjoyed the time spent with my mom, and perhaps at some point travel will be more normal than it is – a moving target, given the oddities that we have freighted down travel with over the last decade or two, but still.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine today.

So far, it has to be said, I feel pretty good. The only side effect I’ve noticed is a general feeling as if I had run into a doorjamb bicep first yesterday – it’s a bit sore but nothing I’d really notice if I weren’t looking for it. I’m told that the second day is when things will either happen or they won’t, so I’m hoping my luck continues to hold.

It was a fairly pedestrian event, getting the shot. I drove down to the local vaccination center, about a 12-minute ride from my house. There was plenty of parking. I showed the guy at the table the form that I’d printed off and filled in the night before, showed them my card from the first shot, and stood in a line of people about four deep.

Five minutes later I was standing at the front of the line, and a minute or so after that the young woman in the blue scrubs pointed me at one of the stations so I went over and sat down. It was the same guy who’d given me my first shot, and we traded some talk about the prospects of the Philadelphia Eagles this season while he jabbed me with the needle. We both agree that Carson Wentz is going to be happier elsewhere, and likely the Eagles will be happier with him elsewhere too. So win all around.

The shot took about a minute, what with all the swabbing and the bandaid, and then I was directed to another room where I handed over the form and sat down for fifteen minutes, just in case something untoward happened. There being no unpleasantness, I left and drove home.

Simple. Easy. One might even go so far as to say boring.

And yet.

For all that the actual events were nothing exciting, the fact is that it did feel historic in a way. We’re a year into this pandemic in this country (why there are still people who haven’t figured out how to wear a mask, I don’t know – I potty trained toddlers faster than that) and only now are we looking at what might be the end game for it. Only now are we looking at responsibly returning to something vaguely resembling normal activities in the near future.

To get to this point required a marshalling of science and industry on a grand scale. Most vaccines take years or even decades to develop. This one, building on a significant pile of basic scientific research, took less than a year. And there’s at least three other vaccines in common use as well now.

I once developed a 20th-century world history class for a university that wanted me to teach mostly nursing students, so I ended up skewing the entire class toward health care issues. We looked at the 1918 flu. We looked at the eugenics movement. We looked at WWII as a medical issue. It was a few years ago, so the last thing we looked at was growing antibiotic resistance.

Walking into that center felt like walking into a new unit of that class.

It’s a good feeling, and those have been few and far between over the last twelve to fourteen months.