Category Archives: Psychological Musings

On being old and getting sick w/ some pictures of Superbike Racing

Last week, I walked out of a movie, feeling nauseous. By way of background, I have a cow heart valve, well, not exactly a valve, more of a valve part. It was installed in 2002 when my aorta started to give out. The valve leaflets had started to get calcium deposits and they were replaced with parts from a cow. As an aside, it isn’t really a cow valve, what I have is a valve part that has been manufactured from the cow’s pericardial sack, which is the tough tissue that encases the cow’s heart, by Edwards Lifesciences. I’m told that cow parts are used because the tissue is very similar to the tissue in a human valve. I’ve also been told – I don’t know for sure as I was anesthetized at the time – that the remanufactured valve parts arrive from the manufacturer, arrayed by size on some-sort of flesh like tray. I got the 25mm model. End aside.

Anyway, I was feeling nauseous and because of my cow valve, I started to low-grade panic. We ended up going home early, I went to bed, and the panic abated. The next morning, I felt punk but much better, then I had a piece of toast and a soft boiled egg and the nausea returned reinforcing my hope and belief that it was my stomach and not my heart. The next day Michele looked up nausea epidemics and said that there were bouts in New Hampshire, Yolo County, and Chipotles – I mentally added Portola Valley – and they usually ran for 24 to 72 hours. Now, at last, here is the point: I used to consider myself as having an iron stomach and, if it said 24 to 72 hours, it meant 12 hours for me, now I think, Oh, I’m on the 72-hour side of this time frame. It reminds me of a flue warning when they say “Be especially careful with children and old people.” and I realize I am the old people they are talking about. In this case, when the nausea ran past 72 hours, I started to panic again and, then, it was gone. I felt great, it was like a storm being pushed through by a warm front and after the storm everything is clear and bright. 


The whole experience has left me thinking about growing older and the differences between my reality and my expectations. Not in the main arc, I suppose, but in lots of little things. For example, every now and then, I mis-swallow, gagging slightly, I never did this when I was younger or, for the first time in 65, 70, years, since I was a young child, I now occasionally, accidentally,  bite the inside of my cheek or my lip. Now, my balance sucks but, when I was young, my balance was so good, I could walk the 2×4 top plate of a stud wall. Strangely, as I have gotten older, my sense of smell has increased and my eyesight has gotten better, two things I would not have predicted.

I want to end this post and am at a loss for a good ending, so I will leave it with a poem from the great Billy Collins:

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Explain to me why North Korea is an existential problem


Across 25 years and five administrations, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road. National Review

The threat, dubbed “the worst problem on earth,” has persisted across U.S. administrations and only grown more alarming over time. Outgoing President Barack Obama warned Trump during the transition that North Korea was the most urgent and vexing problem to confront. NPR

Across the political spectrum, all the news reports on North Korea act as if North Korea is an existential threat to the World and, especially, the United States. I don’t understand it. Nobody seems to have an explanation of why North Korea is such a big threat (I’m guessing somebody must have but if so, I missed it). We are told that Kim Jong-un is crazy and while he does seem to have a crazy haircut, he doesn’t seem to do crazy stuff. Except for the Kim Jong-uh is crazy stuff, nobody explains why North Korea is such a big problem, they just assume that you know, or everybody knows, that it is obvious.

What I do know, or think I know, at least is that North Korea is a country of about 25 million people ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the dictator appointed by and backed by the, then, Soviet Union. North Korea is next to China in the north – and China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and, theoretically, its biggest external influence – and South Korea in the south (duh!). Its people are starving poor and it still has a larger standing army than we do with (although it is considered to be ill-equipped by modern standards). What it does have is a limited nuclear capacity and an increasingly sophisticated ICBM program which North Korea is trying to parlay into an operational nuclear missile fleet – that’s probably the wrong word – capable of hitting anywhere in the United States. The treat of this program has scared the shit out of us going all the way back to the first Bush. The mainstream media have fanned these fears for over twenty-five years alternating between mocking Kim Jong-un – and he does seem easy to mock – and screaming “The sky is falling!” with no explanation of why this is such an existential problem.

What I think, or know I think, at least is that all this hysteria is made up, there is no real danger, North Korea is like a spoiled kid trying to get the world’s attention. Let’s just imagine, for a minute, that North Korea is fabulously successful in their schemes and they have a hundred nuclear-tipped ICBM ready to go. What are they going to do with them? Nothing, the same as Pakistan or Russia (Russia has about 7,300 nuclear warheads, with about 1800 ready to fire, by the way). If they use them on us or South Korea or Japan, the retaliation would annihilate North Korea along with the Kim Jong-un regime. The only thing a nuclear weapon does is prevent an attack. I read that North Korea is irrational to want nuclear weapon, I think it is irrational to not want them, just ask Moammar Kadafi. We have demonized North Korea since Jun 25, 1950, and we do have a record of attacking countries that we demonize. I think what North Korea wants is attention and the Kim Jong-un regime wants recognition as legitimate.

Demonizing North Korea sells newspapers and magazines, it gets people to watch the nightly news, and it gives the American regime in power a useful distraction. It does not contribute to a better world.

A couple of pics from the Angeles Crest Highway with totally unconnected thoughts

Rules-00751I am not a big rule follower. One of the things that really bugs me is being told to do something only because it is the rule rather than being given a reason. But there are rules, conformities really, that just make life smoother; walking on the right side of a path for example or answering a question when you are the one who brought it up. Trump is one of those people that say – by their actions – “It’s my path, I’ll walk on any side I want” or “There might be tapes of my conversation with Comey.” and then, FORTY-ONE days later, says “I was only kidding.”. Everybody thinks that Trump must have had a good – as in real – reason for saying it in the first place, but I’m not sure, I think it is more likely that he is just a dick with no social graces. He is doing it just because he can. If theree is a reason, it is just of seeing how long he can keep people looking at him. He is the kind of guy that never gets invited back after a “get to know you invite”. He is sad…and a dick.

Rules LA-00738

Baldy-00753Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump’ headline in the New York Times

What most pisses me off about the Democratic Establishment is their complete cluelessness about the Nation they say they should be ruling. Until Trump won, they – they being everybody from the New York Times to Hillary Clinton who was already picking out her cabinet – didn’t have any idea that Trump was actually going to win. Sure, the Polls were off, but only the Liberal Polls, some of the Conservative Polls said Trump was going to win but they were dismissed as Fake News. What was really Fake News, it turns out, were the news sources we want to trust. That is also sad.

A couple of random thoughts on expectations and the Space Shuttle Endeavour

L A tripS1-00437For me, at least, the Space Shuttle Endeavour didn’t meet expectations. That is not to say that I am disappointed, I’m not. I’m very glad to have seen it. The hype over the Space Shuttle has been so great that it would be very hard to have the reality match it and I knew that going in. It sort of reminds me of seeing Lever House for the first time. Lever House was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings, and Merril – if you are interested – and it is a milestone in architecture. Lever House is a pioneering glass box, a pure glass form in the International Style, sitting on top of an iconic pedestal, in New York, the center of the new,  post-World War II world order. It was so new, so iconic, in fact, that it was copied, verbatim,  in both Paris and Berlin. I had been reading about Lever House for twenty years before I first saw it, but by then there were glass boxes everywhere; even  San Francisco had one, the Crown Zellerbach Building, again by SOM. Lever House was great but it was also pretty short at 23 stories, it wasn’t the earth-moving experience I expected. The Space Shuttle is also great, but it essentially looks like a fat, not very streamlined, airplane – sort of a truck-plane – not a spaceship.

It is rare that a hyped place meets the raised expectations, for me, at least. I can only think of two super-hyped buildings artifacts that exceeded the hype; the David and the Taj Mahal. I was stunned by them both; they exceeded all of my absurdly high expectations. In general, however, my favorite places and things were surprises. The Grand Canyon, especially from the North Rim, is great, and watching it during a storm, at sunset, was even greater, but walking into the confluence of Hurricane Wash and Coyote Canyon, with no real idea of what it was going to be like, was transcendental, even in the middle of the day. I think we are fixated on the best, and often the best is not that much better than the second best even though hyped to be much better than anything, anywhere (and the second best  – best being a subjective concept – usually has better parking and smaller crowds).

Meanwhile, back at the Shuttle, my first impression, on seeing the Shuttle hanging in mid-air, just out of reach of the crowd, is how crude it seemed. It is more well-used truck than spaceship. A lot of that is because the ceramic tiles are fastened to all the areas that get very hot, the tiles take a beating on re-entry, and seem to be replaced randomly, but the non-tile areas also look sort of cobbled together. It seems like an amateur job and, in the sense that this is the first time the builders built anything like this, it is. This is Shuttle 1.0 and there wasn’t a Shuttle 2.0, or 3.0, or anything but the first five shuttles of which, two blew up.  Rocket 1-00451

Shuttle tiles-00441

But, as amateur as the Shuttle is on the outside, the Shuttles engines? motors? rockets? are beautiful, handmade, huge, pieces of machinery. They are not amateur and are something like Space Motor 11.5. The design is as old as the German V-2, fuel and oxidant are pumped into a combustion chamber, exploded  – I guess, officially, oxidized –  and, superheated, pushed out of a nozzle at the other end.Shuttle engine-00447-2 To quote NASA, As the Shuttle accelerates, the main engines burn a half-million gallons of liquid propellant. Figuring for the six-minute burn time, divided by the three main engines, that is almost 28,000 gallons per minute per engine. Because the propellant is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, those 28,000 gallons are super cold.Shuttle engine2-00448
Rocket engine1-00449

As an aside, Like most lots of young teenage boys, I became very interested in space travel when I was an early teenager, and that interest led me to an interest in rockets. In the early 50s, the only serious books on space travel and rockets were translated from the German – Willy Ley’s Conquest of Space, I particularly remember – and that set my gold standard for what spaceships should look like. The Shuttle doesn’t  look like that. Still, it is a very impressive feat of engineering lovely conceived and executed.


A thought on getting a new camera

Yosemite-00079I got a new camera the other day and I am having a harder time, than I expected, adjusting to it; physically, mentally, and, most surprisingly, emotionally. Physically, the camera is much smaller than my antique Canon 5D – which is why I bought it in the first place- and there is not as much real estate on which to put dials so it takes two steps to get to many things I want, like exposure compensation, and my fingers don’t fall on the dials the way I would like. The zoom ring is manual on both cameras but they zoom by rotating the lens in opposite directions. I know that but I don’t remember it when I am looking through the viewfinder. But all of that fades in comparison to the emotional adjustment. Carrying a full-frame SLR around, especially with a tripod, puts one in the Serious Photographer League. Now there are no more head nods from other Serious Photographers and we pass on the trail in Yosemite. That was unexpected and bothers me more than I liked to admit.

The upside is that it is a way more capable tool.