Category Archives: Personal

‘Dooanld the Ready’

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I’ve called your attention before to the hilarious Twitter feed Donaeld The Unready, the chronicles of a king from the era of “The Last Kingdom” and “Vikings” who goes about blustering and promising to “Make Mercia Great Again!”

Sample recent Tweet:

As you probably know, my first name is Donald. My first name comes in handy because I can always tell when I’m being addressed by people who don’t know me or anything about me — they call me “Donald.”

But I was really confused this morning. My wife and I are planning a trip to Ireland in a few months. We signed up for a package deal that my brother-in-law and his wife are also planning to go on, out of Memphis.

Today, I got an email from one of the organizers telling us that… well, I’m still trying to sort out what it’s telling us. Something about our flight to Heathrow and from there to Dublin, I think.

Anyway, it addressed me as “Dooanld.”

Is that an ancient Irish version of “Donald?” No, that would be “Domhnall.” (The name is of Gaelic origin, by the way.  It means “world ruler,” which tells you I have yet to come into my birthright, and I’m kind of getting impatient about that. I mean, don’t names mean anything anymore?)

Also, how is one to pronounce “Dooanld?”

Whatever. I’m looking forward to the trip. Call me Dooanld the Ready…

Actual photograph of Dooanld the Ready. OK, so technically it's an actor portraying my ancestor Ragnar Lothbrok. Best I could do...

Actual photograph of Dooanld the Ready. OK, so technically it’s an actor portraying my ancestor Ragnar Lothbrok. Best I could do…

So much for my best-selling diet book

When I first joined the Smith campaign, Doug Ross suggested I take good notes so I could write a book about it when it was over.

That didn’t really appeal to me, but I did think for a moment that maybe I was onto an idea for a best-selling diet book.160.7

That’s because I lost about several pounds in the first month of the campaign, even though I was eating like a horse.

I had already been steadily losing weight in the months before, what with my walking/elliptical regimen. I had dropped down from 177.6 on the last day of December to 166.7 on June 26, a few days before joining the campaign on July 1.

I felt good about that progress, but as you know, it took a lot of hard work. I was a walking demon, averaging over 16,000 steps a day in some months.

But once I joined the campaign, my workout regimen was severely curtailed (like a dog watch) — I’d do the elliptical in the morning — maybe — and make no particular effort to walk further during the day.

And as I said, I ate as much as I wanted. Yet on the last day of July, I had dropped to 160.7 pounds. I appeared to be on track to weigh less than 150 by Election Day, easily.

And all it took was stress like I had never experienced in a job before! Pressure all day and into the night! Going from 0 to 60 in one day, and it never letting up!

A small price to pay for eating all you want, exercising only moderately, and still losing weight.

I was onto a best-seller, called “The Campaign Diet:” All you had to do is get someone to hire you as the most visible staff person on a statewide political campaign, doing a job you had never done before in your life! No problem!

But then, my premise started to fall apart. My weight hit its low point on Aug. 23 — 160.6.

Then, it started climbing back. Inexorably.172.2

It hit 165.7 on Sept. 25, and then 168.7 on Oct. 22. Then, during that week on the RV, my working regimen fell completely apart, and despite the fact that I was missing meals, it kept climbing. And as stressful as that week was, it didn’t do the trick any more.

This morning, at my lowest point in the day — after a short workout, and before breakfast — I hit 172.2.

I think the problem is, you get used to stress. Your body adjusts. It ceases to be a magic potion for weight loss. And then there’s the fact that eventually, the stress itself goes away. You get used to a new routine. You might even enjoy it.

So I’m back to long walks and watching what I eat, if I want to get back down into the 160s.

So much for the best-seller…

Congratulations to Samuel Tenenbaum (on a milestone I’ll never achieve)!

Samuel

Last week, my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum shared the above photo with me.

I’m proud to share it with y’all. And proud to know Samuel. He’s been giving platelets at the Red Cross for more than a decade, and on the day this was taken (eight days ago) he had officially given 250 units! He gets up and does it sometimes at the crack of dawn, and has been known to bring donuts for the Red Cross workers. So they love the guy. On the day he passed his milestone, he brought pizza.

Of course, to Samuel the milestone is already a thing of the past. That day, he reached 251. This past weekend, he gave two more units to reach 253. (They generally take two units at a time, and sometimes three.)

He’s the one who inspired me to start giving platelets on a regular basis myself. I had hesitated. Although I’d been giving blood for years, overcoming a lifelong horror of such things in order to do so (something I bragged about a lot), I had balked at this.

Why? Because of the inconvenience factor. Once you get good at it, you can give whole blood in little over 5 minutes, from the moment the needle goes in. Giving red cells only, which I did for awhile, takes a little longer — maybe 40 minutes or so — since they have to separate the red cells from your blood and pump what’s left back into you.

Whereas giving a couple of units of platelets can take as much as three hours from the time you walk into the place until you walk out, stiff from lying there so long. Not only that, but while you have to wait 8 weeks to give whole blood again and 16 weeks to give red cells, you can give platelets weekly! And as soon as that week is up, you’ll start hearing from the Red Cross again. Not because they’re greedy, but because they’re desperate: There are few platelet donors, and many urgent needs for platelets.

But, inspired by Samuel, I gave in and started giving platelets. And I compromised on the weekly thing, setting up a standing appointment every two weeks (I found I felt really tired for a couple of days after each donation, and figured I needed the recovery time).

So I built that standing appointment into my gmail calendar… which tells me I’m supposed to be there right now, as I type this! But I’m not.

That’s because I’ve been banned from giving, for good. It happened several months back — at the end of last summer, in fact. I just haven’t had the heart to take it off my calendar. I miss giving. It was my thing, you know. I can’t afford to give money, and my stupid asthma and allergies kept me from military service, but at least I could do this for my community!

But no more.

Here’s what happened: I got a call from the Red Cross one day. Thinking it was someone reminding me of my appointment, I was about to say, “I know; I know!” when I was told something unexpected. Someone, somewhere, had had a problematic reaction to my platelets. They wanted me to come in for a special blood test, just in an abundance of caution.

So I went in, and had the test done, and figured I’d be going to my next appointment as usual, and then… I got another call. I was told that because I had some unusual antibody in my blood, they could no longer accept my donations, according to FDA guidelines.

I was told I was perfectly healthy — that this condition was no threat to me. But the existence of that factor in my blood could be harmful, under certain rare conditions, to someone else. Again, the abundance-of-caution thing.

I got a letter in the mail with a couple of charts from my test with mysterious notations about a1 cells and a2 cells and b cells, and it made no sense to me.

All I know is, I can’t give any more. Ever, apparently. I just made the list, buddy.

Which means some of y’all need to do so. Samuel can’t do it all. And the need is constant: Platelets are only good for five days.

Why does he do it? For a number of reasons, starting with the selfish: It tells him he’s healthy, and each time you give, you get a mini-physical — blood pressure, iron levels, pulse, and so forth. But ultimately, as usual with Samuel, it’s because somebody needs to do it. “Each time I walk out of there, I know that I have changed the world,” if only a little bit.

More briefly: “It’s called, ‘Love thy neighbor.'”

Have you voted yet? How did it go?

quail hollow

As you know, there are two candidates I particularly want to see elected this year — James Smith and Micah Caskey. And as you may have noticed, in recent days I’ve been more anxious about James than about Micah — after all, Micah received 97.6 percent support at a recent county GOP meeting.

So I chose a Democratic ballot at Quail Hollow precinct this morning. I felt a bit weird doing so, since not a single Democratic candidate had posted any signs in front of the polling place, as you can see above. In fact, it occurs to me that the closest sign for a Democrat to this location might be the one for James in my yard, 1.6 miles away.

But I wasn’t quite alone — I was the 15th to choose a “DEMOCRATE” ballot, as it was hand-lettered in red magic marker at the sign-in table. (You can’t expect folks in Lexington County to know how to spell every weird, exotic word in the dictionary, can you?) And as it happened, only 44 had chosen a Republican ballot. Which was weird — my precinct going only three-fourths Republican. One of the poll workers told me it seemed a lot of my neighbors had voted absentee.

This, of course, raises the stakes on who those few voters were. Was it only the extreme partisans who would go for a Phil Noble because James is too sensibly centrist, or support a woman who is proud of being a purely destructive force (which is what is meant by “buzzsaw”)?

On my way in, there were two people standing in front of the entrance where candidates or surrogates are allowed to campaign. The young woman smiled at me, but didn’t say anything (was I glowering at her or something?). The young man said, “Mr. Micah Caskey thanks you for voting today!” I said, “Well, I like Micah very much,” which seemed to please him although he probably noticed how noncommittal it was.

(Man, I hope Micah wins big. If he even comes close to losing, I’m going to feel really bad.)

As a result of not having to vote on them, and no longer having to make an endorsement decision, I never made up my mind on a couple of hot races (or at least, they should have been hot) in the Republican primary. Since I didn’t have to, I just didn’t do the legwork:

Attorney General — I like both Alan Wilson and Todd Atwater. I don’t damn Alan for his Quinn association (I don’t do simplistic, or at least not usually), and I think he’s been a pretty decent AG. And I like Todd as well. I just didn’t focus enough to force myself choose between them.

Lexington County Council District 8 — Incumbent Ned Tolar has two or three opponents. I’ve seen a lot of signs for him, and for opponent Glen Conwell (the guy who got all that money from Lou Kennedy of Nephron). I tried doing a little web research on the candidates, and found virtually nothing. I’d have tried harder if I’d been voting in that one.

Anyway, have you voted, and if so, how did it go? I see that there were lines in some locations, even though there were not at mine…

I voted

There’s my famous daughter, in Dance Magazine!

dance mag

I’ve told you about my Peace Corps daughter Becca and her efforts to get dance education back up and running on the one Caribbean island most devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Now, she and her efforts in Dominica are the lead story in Dance Magazine — which is the magazine for folks involved with that art form. (My wife, who danced as a child, said she remembers seeing copies in her studio when she was 4 years old.)

Here’s hoping that, seeing as I’m her Daddy and all, the magazine won’t mind me sharing the whole piece:

Meet The Ballet Dancer Teaching Hurricane Maria Survivors

Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she’d been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.

But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica’s history.

Some of her students at a makeshift barre.

Some of her students at a makeshift barre.

The Peace Corps sent her home to South Carolina for two months while they assessed the situation.

“I spent much of the next few weeks worrying what had become of my coworkers, students and community, finding out only bits and pieces through news and social media,” says Warthen. “Many people evacuated to neighboring islands or the U.S. but even more stuck it out through the aftermath without roofs or enough food and water.”

When the Peace Corps asked her to return in December, she instantly agreed, even if that meant living without electricity.

“Some people probably thought I was crazy for wanting to return to a place that people were still evacuating from,” she says, “but I was just excited to round up my students and start teaching again.” So excited, in fact, that she extended her service until January 2019.

She shares in a blog post for the Peace Corps that during her first week back, she held a “return to dance workshop” for the kids. She asked the students to write a poem describing their experiences, then had them choreograph to their own words. She writes:

Many students had traumatic tales of what happened during the storm, yet it was the things that were missing they most wanted to talk (and dance) about. Many were staying with neighbors since their homes were unlivable. One girl never found her pet puppy. Another missed the flowers in her garden. And they all longed for the normal things: eating fruits, going to school and taking dance class.

She’s found that teaching them has been transformational: “For these children whose lives have been so disrupted, ballet brings stability, a positive focus, friendship, joy, dreams, goals and something beautiful when much of the outside is still recovering from disaster.”Boo in Dominica

Unfortunately, Dominica School of the Arts’ dance studio—the only one on the island—was completely destroyed. The dancers are now taking class in an art gallery while Warthen raises money through a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to help rebuild the studio. Fortunately, she just found out that her $8000 fundraiser to repair the floor and mirrors is now fully funded.

“The people living in Dominica have adapted to a ‘new normal,'” says Warthen. “Most schools have yet to be repaired, so students are sharing space on shift schedules. Many businesses have closed and with them many jobs have been lost. Agriculture systems were quite literally uprooted. Maria did a lot of damage, but she also managed to instill a sense of resiliency in everyone that survived her.”

Meanwhile, Warthen’s found that her work in Dominica has not only been a way to empower her students and help them process this traumatic experience, bot it’s also reignited her own love of dance.

“I get to witness the total joy they emit when they dance,” she says. Teaching them has allowed her to feel the wonder of being a beginner again: “It’s the joy of jumping really high and relishing a slow port de bras. It’s synergy and dancing with other people that share your passion. This experience has reminded me how lucky I am that this is my life.”

Note that her project is now fully funded. Thanks to those of y’all who contributed!

I’m very proud of my baby…

Here's Becca dancing in the studio back before the storm.

Here’s Becca dancing in the studio back before the storm.

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

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To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

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I’m ashamed that I thought I was having a bad day

shooting

To begin with, I’m still not over this cruddy cold thing, and haven’t done my quota of steps all this week. That keeps me from feeling myself.

Then, I decided I had to drive the Volvo today because I’d be transporting grandchildren this afternoon and I can’t do that in the truck. And the Volvo was still like a rain forest inside because the rain took me by surprise the other day with the sun roof and windows open, and since the rain hasn’t ceased, I hadn’t been able to air it out. So I drove downtown with everything open to try to dry it out a little. And then a rear window wouldn’t go back up. With more rain on the way…

So over breakfast, I actually sent my wife a whiny text that began, “Not having a good day…”

Then I got to the office, and heard the news that reminded me what an actual bad day is like:

At least eight people were killed in a shooting Friday morning at a high school in Southeast Texas, police said, and a student was taken into custody amid the carnage.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said there were “between 8 and 10 people” killed, most of them students at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, south of Houston. Some faculty members were also killed in the shooting, which occurred before 8 a.m., he said….

God help those folks out there. God help us all…

Help! Help! I’m backsliding!

Sometime last summer, I once again started working out on the elliptical trainer in my home office, initially doing about 20 minutes a day.

Then, at the end of August, I discovered that there was an app on my iPhone that had been counting my steps every day for the past two years. I looked, and decided that following Doug Ross’ example of walking 10,000 steps a day was entirely feasible. I started doing it immediately.

Over the months, I built up and up. My morning elliptical workouts went from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 to 40 to 45 and most recently to 50 minutes (which means I get in more than 6,000 steps before even leaving the house), with an occasional full hour on the weekends. I started adding a walk around downtown in the middle of the afternoon, and another 3,000-5,000 around my neighborhood in the evenings.

My steps-per-day averages climbed:

  1. August (before I started counting) — 5,737 steps
  2. September — 10,510
  3. October — 11,308
  4. November — 11,892
  5. December — 12,988
  6. January — 12,476
  7. February — 15,536
  8. March — 15,294
  9. April — 16,346

For the first eight days of May, I was averaging easily over 17,000. And I was feeling great. In all these months, I had not once felt sick. Various viruses, sore throats, ear infections and the like swept through our family without touching me. I carried on, going from strength to strength.

I felt an abiding sense of achievement.

Then came last Monday.

It was the day I put out my signs for James and Micah. My wife said if I was going to call attention to our yard with political signs, I should mow the grass — or at least mow the weird assortment of green weeds that substitute for grass in our yard. I agreed. And such was my feeling of well-being that I mowed the front yard on a week night. You don’t know what a huge deal that is for me. Normally, mowing our hilly, just-under-an acre property is an ordeal that ruins my whole Saturday, after dreading it all week. But last Tuesday — after having done my allotment of walking for the day, I mowed all the parts of the yard that could be seen from the street like it was nothing.

There was one incident, of which I didn’t think much at the time….

I had had a horrible time starting the mower. This was the first time this year, and nothing would happen when I pulled the cord. I pulled again and again. Nothing. There’s no little bulb to push to prime the engine, so I tried detaching and reattaching the spark plug. Nothing.

Finally, I just started pulling again and again, getting a rhythm going, and on about the 16th pull, it coughed. So I accelerated the rhythm, and finally it started. It wasn’t running great, but it was running.

So, when it came time to empty the bag to dump onto the compost, I was reluctant to stop the engine. So I bent down to detach the bag, and… got a huge cloud of dust, clippings and other debris that hit me in the face just as I was inhaling, going up my nose, into my mouth, down my throat and into my bronchi.

But I continued the mission, and afterwards tried cleaning my breathing passages out with a saline rinse. No big deal, right? Take a shower and forget about it.

Yesterday's pitiful performance.

Yesterday’s pitiful performance.

But over the next few days, I started losing my voice, especially in the evening. I started coughing at bedtime, and had trouble sleeping, despite all the drugs I could think of. I kept up my routine — in fact, on Tuesday I achieved an all-time personal high of 22,158 steps — 8.9 miles!

But each night I felt worse, and Friday evening I was really dragging when I tried to walk the neighborhood. I just barely went 12,000 that day. On Saturday, I had to finish a big project on my deck in the hot sun, and only got in 11,277. Pitiful.

On Sunday, despite all my busy running around and cooking out for Mother’s Day, I only got in 8,479. Yeah. Below the minimum.

And this morning, I felt like total crud, Ferris. Puny, weak, achy. And when, at the start of my morning workout, I had that thought I often have in the morning, “Why not quit!,” I did. I hadn’t done that in I don’t know how many months.

And I still feel pretty cruddy, just kind of low-grade out of sorts. Achy, in all the muscles I used on that deck-reinforcement project Saturday. And I’m wondering if I’ll even get in 10,000 today, or tomorrow for that matter. At 11:38 a.m., I’ve only done 1,768 steps.

So… this is when all of y’all tell me to get off my dead ass and on my dyin’ feet, to drop certain appendages and grab my socks, to acknowledge that the going is tough but, being tough myself, this is the time to keep going…

Although I really don’t feel like it…

If my DNA helps catch a serial killer, I’m totally fine with that

my DNA

My DNA results overview page. I do not “shudder” to share this, with you or the cops.

This morning while working out on the elliptical, I started watching a movie on Netflix called “Anon.” It imagines a near-future in which there is no privacy. Apparently, everyone’s brain is wired to record video of every single second of his or her life — sort of like Google Glass without the glasses. And that data is easily shared wirelessly with other people, and is completely available to the police. The police can even access the last experiences of a dead person, which makes finding murderers ridiculously easy.

Also, you can watch TV or movies without a TV — they just stream in your head — and talk to anyone anywhere without a phone. Which, if an accurate prediction of the future, is really bad news for Best Buy. (First showrooming, now this…)

So since the main character (played by Clive Owen) is a homicide cop, a plot twist is needed to make his job interesting. In this case, the plot twist is that he’s on the trail of a serial killer who has managed to hack people’s digital memories, so that everything in the victim’s last moments is seen from the killer’s POV — so you see the victim being shot, but you don’t see the shooter.

I lost interest in it after 39 minutes, and switched over to “Babylon Berlin” for the rest of my workout. It may have been low-tech, but Germany between the wars was never boring.

But it reminded me of something I meant to blog about a week or so ago.

You’ve probably read about how the Golden State Killer was caught more than 40 years after his crimes when investigators tracked him genetically through a consumer DNA service like Ancestry. Basically, they found links to some of his relatives who had voluntarily shared their DNA info on such databases. Then they found him, and made a positive DNA match to something he’d discarded.

Which I thought was awesome.

But of course, this development immediately led to such headlines as:

The Golden State Killer Is Tracked Through a Thicket of DNA, and Experts Shudder

Data on a genealogy site led police to the ‘Golden State Killer’ suspect. Now others worry about a ‘treasure trove of data’

Really? Experts “shudder?” People worry about a “treasure trove of data” that not only can connect you to a 4th cousin, but help cops determine whether he’s a serial killer? Which would be a cool thing to know before you reach out to meet him or trade family information?

Why? That’s utterly absurd.

Sharing DNA info can lead to some pretty painful results for a lot of people. For instance, you can find out that your “Dad” isn’t really your Dad. This can lead to a great deal of family trauma and upend lives.

I’ve been lucky in that regard. My results have been boring. I am related to the people I thought I was related to in precisely the way I thought I was. There could be surprises in results from folks who have not yet been tested, but so far it’s been pretty vanilla. (Extremely vanilla, in terms of ethnicity — so much for those Ancestry ads that tell of all the exciting, exotic backgrounds people have found in their DNA.)

Not that there haven’t been surprises elsewhere on the tree. Some months ago, my daughter was contacted by a guy who was trying to find his birth parents, who thought a cousin of mine might be his father. Sure enough, he shows up on Ancestry as being right behind a couple of my first cousins in terms of his closeness to me. He narrowed it down to one of my cousins. I don’t know whether that cousin knows about it, because I haven’t wanted to pry.

Something like that can be upsetting to those involved, and I’m very sympathetic to that. But that’s just the DNA service working as advertised.

What these “experts” out there are “worrying” and “shuddering” about is the police being able to use these connections to solve crimes.

This does not worry me. If one of my cousins is a serial killer, I’d kind of like the duly constituted authorities to know that, and act upon it.

And I have trouble imagining a scenario in which that is a bad thing — although I’m sure we’ll see a movie soon that shows it to be a frightening thing…

Ha! I don’t even HAVE TO walk today, unless I want to!

Just keeping y’all current on my exercise routine, so y’all can in turn keep me accountable.16k

In February and March, I averaged more than 15,000 steps a day. So my goal for April was 16,000.

Once I had done my morning workout on the elliptical today — I’m doing at least 50 minutes a day on that now, which starts me off with more than 6,000 before I even leave the house — I had achieved my goal for the month!

I don’t even have to walk another step today if I don’t want to. But I probably will anyway.

So… can I do 17k a day in May? I think maybe I can.

I’m just so danged virtuous…

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (almost)

My MLB At Bat app brought the above video to my attention today.

The brief description:

Jaime Barria and Brandon Belt face off in a 21-pitch duel to set the record for the most pitches in an MLB at-bat in the modern era

Here’s the NYT’s report on what happened: “21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat.”

Now that’s what I call some baseball — not these towering home runs the app usually tells me about.s-l225

It reminds me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Kid Who Batted 1.000, by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill.

I read it over and over when I was a kid, checking it out from the school library multiple times to do so. Then I went years without seeing a copy, and had thought it was something I’d never see again, until my wife found a dog-eared copy that had belonged to one of her brothers. So I got to read it as an adult, and enjoyed it just as much.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Dave King, a farmboy who is discovered to have a weird talent: He can foul off any pitch thrown by any pitcher. He gets signed to a Major League team and leads it out of the cellar because he always draws walks — usually after wearing down and shattering the nerves of the opposing pitcher.

Finally, in the last game of the World Series, he hits a home run, thereby earning a batting average of 1.000 — albeit only in postseason play.

It’s great. If you can find a copy, I do recommend picking one up…

By the way, the real-life batter, Brandon Belt, didn’t quite equal Dave King’s achievement. After those 21 pitches, the Giants first-basemen flies out to right field…

Help the children of Dominica learn to dance again

dancers

Still from a video of one of Becca’s classes.

Y’all know that my youngest daughter did a two-year Peace Corps tour of duty in Thailand awhile back, because we went to visit her and I posted about it. There, she did the usual kind of Peace Corps work, like something out of the movie “Volunteers,” only Tom Hanks and John Candy weren’t there to help her. She was way out in the countryside on her own, teaching such things as English and basic life skills in the local schools. She was the only farang for many miles around. When someone had an event and wanted to draw a crowd, they invited her to present the award or cut the ribbon or lead the parade, and people were sure to turn out, just to see the blonde foreign girl.

You may not know that before she was in the Peace Corps, she was a classical ballet dancer. She had spent her last year of high school in Pennsylvania training intensely at a respected school there, stayed another year after graduation, then came down to USC to study in its dance program. But some of her teachers persuaded her to leave school and turn pro. So she did, dancing with companies in both North Carolina and Columbia before having to “retire” because of injuries. She went back to school, to get her degree from College of Charleston, then joined the Peace Corps.

She had no way of knowing those two paths would combine in a unique opportunity.

After she had been back from Thailand a short while — she worked for a dance company in New York during the interval — she saw an ad for a position in the Peace Corps Response program. The island nation of Dominica in the Caribbean, a place with few economic advantages, wanted someone to teach its children to dance. With Peace Corps and professional dance experience, Becca — being uniquely qualified — got the job, and started in January 2017.

The wrecked arts center.

The wrecked arts center.

Everything went fine (here’s a piece Becca wrote about her work a year ago) until Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria in September. There was no chance to evacuate ahead of time. As it bore down on the island, the storm started the day as a Category 1, and by landfall was a Category 5. Everyone knows what Maria did to Puerto Rico. But Dominica, a former French and then British colony before gaining independence in 1978, doesn’t get as much press. And Dominica was hit first — and harder.

Dominica was devastated. The island, which is rocky and mountainous and lacks the attractive beaches of some of its neighbors, had been building a bit of an ecotourism industry, but its forests were torn up by the roots, the trees littering the island. Agriculture was completely destroyed, plantations losing 100 percent of their crops. And practically no one had a roof that hadn’t been ripped open to the sky.

The almost 20 Peace Corps volunteers on the island had been summoned together to ride out the storm in a hotel in the city of Roseau. It was a harrowing experience. For days after, their only water was what had collected on the roof. Eventually, the Peace Corps hired some fishing boats to take them off and transport them to St. Lucia, from whence my daughter came home to stay with us a few weeks.

And then she went back. She was one of only five Peace Corps folks to return, and she did so at the particular request of local officials, who still wanted their children to have a chance at cultural enrichment.

Becca’s efforts have drawn some attention recently. Buzzfeed did a feature on her and seven other Peace Corps volunteers who were “Using Sports To Strengthen Communities Abroad.” Never mind that ballet isn’t exactly a sport, they had nice things to say anyway (mainly derived from the piece she wrote last year):

For Rebecca Warthen, ballet is everything that makes life worth living: beauty, romance, music, joy, passion, and physicality. So when she saw a Peace Corps Response opening for a ballet instructor and teacher trainer on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, she applied immediately, hoping to change lives with the art form that changed her own.

Warthen said one of the best things about dance is that you don’t need expensive equipment. “All you really need is your body, space, and the desire to learn, and your future is yours to determine… More importantly, they’re learning something new from a culture different than theirs, from a person with a different skin tone and different background, and through that they will become more accepting, open-minded people, which is what this is all about, isn’t it?”

No, you don’t need much special equipment to dance, but you do need a place to do it. And the one dance studio in the country — the Dominica Institute for the Arts — had been destroyed in the storm.

Since her return, Becca has been teaching in the schools — those that remain — and other spaces as available. But she’s determined to restore the island’s one studio, a beautiful facility that had been donated by a Dominican who had had success in the wider world and wanted to give back.

Here’s a story on the Peace Corps website about her effort. It will cost a little more than $28,000. The people of Dominica, who don’t have much to give, have come up with $20,000 of it themselves. Becca is trying to raise the rest.

If you can, please help. You can give at the Peace Corps site. The people of Dominica, who want broader horizons for their children, will appreciate it. So will I.

Becca and some of her students.

Becca and some of her students.

Your Virtual Front Page, April 6, 2018 — Beach Edition

Detectorists

Sorry I haven’t had a chance to blog. We’ve brought four of our grandchildren down to the beach for a couple of days, since they’re on spring break from school. That keeps you busy.

This will be an actual news-free post. Although maybe someone will take an interest in one of the things that have interested me the last couple of days…

I saw a whale from the beach for the first time ever! — This was pretty exciting, and totally unexpected, even though I’d read about sightings in the area. I’ve been coming to Surfside Beach for six decades, and I’ve never seen a whale out in the water before. Yesterday, we had taken the kids out onto the still-busted Surfside Pier (you can go out about halfway), and just as we got to the barrier that marked our limit, my wife said “Look at that black shape moving through the water!” It looked like it was just a foot or so beneath the surface, and it was moving at an amazing speed. It streaked past the end of the pier, maybe 100 feet away, and headed parallel to the beach toward Garden City. It looked to be about the size of a school bus. Within 10 or 15 seconds it was out of sight. Absolutely amazing.

Have you watched “Detectorists” on Netflix? It’s great — We watched both seasons recently, and it was fun. The comedy, about some Brits who are really, really into metal detecting, is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, the guy who played Gareth Keenan on The Office. He costars with Toby Jones. In some ways it’s vaguely like “The Office” (we’re talking the original, not the American copy), only kinder and gentler and easier to watch. The humor is low-key and not as cruel — you don’t have to watch the over-the-top, painful humiliation of a David Brent. Anyway, yesterday on the beach we ran into a trio of kids who were real-life detectorists, searching the sand. At the very moment we met them, my grandson, 5, announced he’d just dropped his Lucky Penny. The detectorists pitched in and tried to help, but to no avail. Still, they were nice kids and we appreciated the effort.

Debris on the lawn.

Debris on the lawn.

Who even uses phone books anymore? — Later in the day, we were walking back toward the house when my wife remarked how something, perhaps a carelessly manned garbage truck, had strewn debris all down the street. Then, she noticed it was white plastic bags, and she supposed they were those freebie newspapers everyone throws away. Both guesses were wrong — they were phone books. Yellow-page-style phone books that probably no one on the street had asked for, and probably no one had ever used. But someone had convinced people to advertise in it, which is what such publications are about. Would it pay off for any of the advertisers? Seems doubtful. Who uses phone books?

Meanwhile, perfectly good books get thrown away — This was also yesterday. We were playing around on the public tennis courts when a lady from the Surfside library came wheeling out a loaded book cart, took them straight to a recycling bin, and threw them all away! After a moment, I went over to see what I could scavenge. By the time I got there, a lady who lived across the street had beaten me to it. This was a routine for her — she said they throw away books every week. Most, but not all, were books about writing — how to write a novel and such. I grabbed the two you see below. I thought my mom would enjoy having a manual to help her get the most out of her iPad. I couldn’t resist the title of the other one: As someone who has never been tempted to become a runner, it entertained me on a couple of levels. (No offense, if you own this volume…)

books

‘Breakers’ above Columbia

tulips

I’m having a busy day with little time for blogging, so I just thought I’d share a picture that I like.

This is what I saw from my table at breakfast Monday morning. They were left over from the Capital City Club’s Easter dinner the day before.

They struck me particularly because the night before, we had started to watch a new Netflix movie called “Tulip Fever.” It’s about the market bubble in tulips that drove Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, mad in the 1630s, before the inevitable collapse.

We didn’t make it all the way through — it started to devolve into one of those tiresome plots in which bad things happen because of mistaken identity. But I watched enough to learn that multicolored tulips like the ones above were called “breakers,” and were particularly highly prized. Or at least, that’s the way this film told it.

Of course, right after I took this picture, I moved the flowers so I could pull down the blinds so the sunlight wouldn’t blind me while I read the papers on my iPad.

Beautiful vistas are sometimes wasted on me…

An image from the film, "Tulip Fever."

An image from the film, “Tulip Fever.”

 

Everybody without mustaches stand in the back!

Treasury Department law office

Remember my post about how all the men on my family tree in the late 19th century had big mustaches?

Probably not, since it drew no comments. Nevertheless, here’s a sequel.

One of my great-grandfathers, William Oscar Bradley, was an attorney who left South Carolina to take up a presidential appointment with the Treasury Department. (That’s how his daughter, my grandmother, ended up meeting and marrying my paternal grandfather. The Warthens were from Montgomery County, Maryland, and were the only part of my tree not from South Carolina.)

Anyway, one of my cousins recently posted this image on Facebook, labeling it “Treasury Department Law Office.” That’s my great-grandfather William O. in the center of the photo.

There’s no date, but obviously this was smack in the middle of the “everybody’s gotta wear a mustache” period.

And if you didn’t, male or female, you had to stand in the back of the picture.

Actually, I’m sort of guessing that it was a status thing based on something other than facial hair — maybe the seated guys in the front were the lawyers, and the folks in the back were the clerks who worked for them. Or maybe the people who arrived first for the photo got the seats. But I kind of doubt that. Surely if where you were in the picture meant nothing in terms of organizational structure, the gentlemen in the front would have given up their seats to the two ladies — right? I hope so.

I love old pictures. I wish I knew more about this one….

Here’s an idea: Why not just leave out the allergens?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Normally I would not post to ask the world to adjust to me and my food allergies, but here’s a case where it seems to me it wouldn’t cause anybody any trouble, or not much trouble, so I’m going to ask….

On the whole, this is a great time (if there ever is a great time for such a thing) to have food allergies. The world has become a far more understanding and accommodating place.

When I was a kid, eating out was like walking through a minefield. And if I tried to enlist a server in my cause, all I would get is a blank look. I came to believe that most people on the planet had never heard of food allergies, and when I tried to tell them, it was just the most outlandish thing they’d ever heard of.

And usually, they didn’t get it at all. Sometimes, they’d try to show they understood by saying, “So you don’t like cheese…” To which, if I were in an explanatory mood, I’d say, No, that’s not it. I don’t have the slightest idea whether I would like cheese or not. I’ve never had it. I suspect, based on the smell and my knowledge of how it is made (by letting milk spoil), I would not like it at all. But that is entirely beside the point. If you serve me cheese and I don’t know it, and eat it,I may die. At the very least, I’ll get really sick here in front of you, and it won’t be pretty. So just don’t bring me anything with cheese on it or in it…

… you freaking moron, I didn’t add, athough I wanted to.

But often, I just let it go, not wanting to converse about it any more than necessary. In fact, whenever possible, I’d avoid the conversation altogether. I didn’t eat out any more than I absolutely had to, and when I did I went to places I had been before and ordered things I knew were safe.

Now, at the slightest mention of an allergy problem, most waiters and waitresses become so attentive it’s slightly embarrassing. Some of them go fetch the chef and bring him out to interview me at some length.

As I say, embarrassing. But it’s gratifying to have them on board in the cause of not poisoning me.

Sure, there are some idiots out there who are dismissive of these things — watch, some of them will comment on this post — and regard allergies as a character flaw. But their ilk is rapidly become extinct as our species evolves.

This is also a good era for avoiding hazards with prepared, packaged foods. When I was kid, if I wanted a milk substitute for cooking or just to put on cold cereal, I had to use soy-based baby formula — something I had to make sure the other guys never knew, because they would have given me the business, as the Beav and Wally would say.

Now, there’s soy milk and almond milk and coconut milk and cashew milk and several other kinds, and it’s available everywhere, not just in specialty food shops. You buy it and take it home, and nobody looks at you funny.

Better than that… and here I’m finally getting to my point… makers of prepackaged food have started calling attention to allergens in their ingredients! You don’t have to read all the ingredients any more — just look at the boldfaced listing of allergens at the end! This saves a lot of time.

But it makes me want more…

There are a lot of food products out there that are sometimes made with allergens and sometimes not. And I suppose sometimes the allergens make a difference. Other times, I doubt that they do.

Take soy sauce, for instance. What would you think would be the dominant ingredient in soy sauce, aside from water? Soybeans, right?

Wrong. Unless it’s listed as “gluten-free” soy sauce, as often as not, the next ingredient after water is wheat. Which, aside from being a threat to people with celiac disease, is also an allergen. And while I don’t have celiac (although some in my family do), wheat is one of the things that I’m allergic to. Not as dangerously allergic as I am to milk and eggs, but it can cause my asthma to act up. (One of the things about having a bunch of food allergies is that you become a connoisseur of reactions — I know what allergen I was exposed to by how I react. With wheat, my breathing passages tighten up.)

To my knowledge — and if you know different, say so — there is no appreciable difference between soy sauce made largely with wheat and soy sauce that’s all soy.

So, here’s my question: Why not just leave the wheat out of all the soy sauce? Why go to the trouble and expense of purchasing and adding that extra ingredient, then having to put warnings on your labels about it?

It would never have occurred to me years ago to ask this, because I assumed that to most people, food allergies were such a mystery that it would be asking too much for a food product manufacturer to know something was an allergen and leave it out.

But now I can see, on every prepackaged food, that manufacturers know which ingredients are allergens — they point them out on every label.

So… why not just leave them out? Granted, few of us out here are allergic to this or that ingredient, but why not just make a product that everybody can safely eat?

This won’t work with everything — for instance, soy itself is an allergen. (In fact, I’m slightly allergic to it myself, but so slightly compared to my real allergies, I ignore it and just try to consume soy in moderation.) I’m not asking that anyone leave the soy out of soy sauce.

But it seems eminently reasonable to me to ask, why not just leave out the wheat, always?

Why not just make ALL soy sauce "gluten-free?"

Why not just make ALL soy sauce “gluten-free?”

This Pew typology quiz isn’t nearly as good as the old one

needy

Remember the Pew political typology quiz of a few years back? It was an attempt to classify people by their actual beliefs, getting beyond simple “left” and “right.”

It posed a lot of questions with only two answers and both of them wrong, but I found it intriguing. It placed me in what it called the “Faith and Family Left.” That bugged me because I didn’t like the “left” part — but I thought the “faith and family” part was fair enough. In fact, I liked it. And how often are any of us comfortable with the ways others describe us? Here’s how that category was described:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

Sounds kind of like me, doesn’t it? Even though it’s the group with the highest percentage of African-Americans (I joked at the time that Pew thinks I’m a black preacher) and I’m the whitest white boy at Bypass High, it felt more or less right. I chafed at some of it, but not all.

But Pew has a new typology quiz now, and I hate it. (Actually, it’s relatively new. I tried last year and hated the results so much I didn’t even write about it. Today, I decided to give it another chance, but it came up with the same stupid answer.) The questions demanding one of two wrong answers are even more egregious, and I simply refused to answer some of them. Which means Pew assessed me on the basis of incomplete information. And this time, it decided I was one of the “New Era Enterprisers,” which right off sort of makes me want to gag.

I ask you, does this sound like me?

This relatively young, economically conservative, Republican-leaning group tends to be relatively moderate on immigration and views about America’s engagement with the rest of the world. Most say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing and that immigrants strengthen the nation. As is the case with other GOP-leaning groups, a majority of New Era Enterprisers reject the idea that racial discrimination is the main reason many black people are unable to get ahead. Nearly two-thirds favor societal acceptance of homosexuality. New Era Enterprisers are less critical about government than other Republican-leaning groups.

Really? “This relatively young, economically conservative, Republican-leaning group?” I try to picture that person, and I see John Dean before he started ratting out the Nixon White House. And if I were really a member of this group, I would have little memory of Howard Dean, much less John.

OK, yeah, I favor engagement in the world. But doesn’t that make me more of an old school postwar internationalist? More of a John McCain type? Or a Scoop Jackson, among the Democrats? And yeah, I’m less critical about government — but how does that put me in this group?

The only way it fits, overall, is that this category seems to be less ideological all around.

Pictured above and below are two of the questions I refused to answer. How could I?

Of course the country can do more to help the needy — such as passing single-payer. And it does NOT have to go further into debt to do it. False choice.

The one below is worse. I don’t think racial discrimination is “the main reason” many black Americans have trouble getting ahead. Nor would I for a second say that folks trapped in multigenerational poverty are “mostly responsible for their own condition.” There are many forces that can frustrate a poor person’s best efforts, and to say racism is “the main reason” is to blind yourself to all the others.

Anyway, I don’t have time to think about this any more. I need to run out and start a tech company and make a billion dollars. Because that, apparently, is the kind of young fella I am. A New Era Enterpriser. Sheesh…

racism

Memphis knows how to throw a party (or something) for St. Pat

catechismNo doubt some will cite this as evidence that my Ménière’s has reached the point at which I need a hearing aid.

But in my defense, my wife was out in the hallway when she said this, and I was in the bathroom with the exhaust fan running — although the door, I admit, was open.

Anyway, she had come upstairs to tell me that her youngest brother was on his way to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Memphis (my wife’s family, the Phelans, are real Irish Catholics, not pretenders like me), and that he had told her something alarming about that parade.

She said the people on the floats throw catechisms to the crowd.

At least, I thought that’s what she said. I considered it a bit odd — most such parades aren’t that, shall we say, holy — but nevertheless arguably appropriate, since St. Patrick converted the heathen Irish to Christianity.

Then my wife said something odder. She said she thought that sounded “dangerous.” I reflected that maybe so, if they were hardbacks. But they could throw paperbacks, and maybe there are some abridged, pocket-sized versions…

Then she said other things that made me wonder. I asked her to repeat the first thing she’d said.cabbage

This time, I thought she said they were throwing “catechists,” and that did sound dangerous. If you go throwing people, religious education teachers, off of floats, someone could get hurt.

But something about this version sounded even more suspicious, so I finally asked her directly whether she had indeed said they were throwing catechisms or catechists.

She roared with laughter at this point (which frankly I don’t think is the kindest way to deal with my affliction). She had been saying, “cabbages.” They were throwing cabbages from the floats.

Yeah, OK. That could be dangerous.

You can stop laughing now…

Look out! What's that they're throwing? The St. Patrick's Day parade on Beale Street.

Look out! What’s that they’re throwing? The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Beale Street.

Look what I found: My old press cards

press cards

I was digging around in the closet in my home office, trying to find a staple-plucker to use on some multi-page documents I was digitizing, when I ran across these.

They are:

  1. My Tennessee Press Association press card from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
  2. My Secret Service press card from the 1980 presidential campaign (the one with the beard). I probably got this before going up to Iowa to cover Howard Baker’s unsuccessful bid in the caucuses.
  3. My Secret Service press card from 1984. I was an editor by this time, but I was the sort of editor who didn’t believe in letting my reporters have all the fun. Also, I had a weekly column to write, so I couldn’t stay tied to my desk. I liked to go check out interesting events — such as when presidential candidates came to town — myself. The schedule of a p.m. newspaper allowed this, especially if the event happened in the afternoon or evening. Morning newspaper editors can’t get away from the office as easily.

Halcyon days…

Hey, alla you kids get offa my campus!

Horseshoe

The Horseshoe.

Part of my daily routine of getting in at least 10,000 steps (and preferably 15) is to take an afternoon walk around downtown, usually through the USC campus and around the State House before heading back to ADCO.

This has been particularly peaceful this week, with the kids gone for spring break — even though it’s not, you know, technically spring.

I suppose I’ll be tripping over them again next week. But it was nice to have it mostly to myself for awhile…

The Russell House -- a student center with no students.

The Russell House — a student center with no students.

Thomas Cooper Library.

Thomas Cooper Library.