Pandemic Tree

Every year for the past 20+ (except when they were out of town), my daughter and I have cut a Christmas tree together. We always do it on a Sunday morning. Our son was part of the tradition, but now just borrows the van to bring his own tree home.

Today was, ostensibly, no different. We had read that demand was unusually high this year, but were not prepared for the crowd, nor were we prepared for the fact that only Scotch Pines remained to be cut. All of the firs were gone already. And we were earlier than usual, as my wife insisted on waiting until after Hanukkah when the kids were little (unless the calendar made that impossible). The worker who greeted us told us that many people got their trees before Thanksgiving this year. When I said, “so they’ll be dead before Christmas”, she smiled, shrugged, and nodded. Warm weather and no snow also made it different.

There are those who claim environmental superiority for artificial trees, as though we were causing deforestation by cutting a tree. The place we go is a tree farm. They grow crops like any other farm in the area – just no corn or soybeans. They provide seasonal jobs for local students and longer term jobs for farm hands during the growing season. The trees absorb CO2 from the air and exude O2, just like trees in a forest. Cutting the trees gets people out of their houses and walking outside. I don’t feel bad about cutting down these trees.

The usual year involves a lot of wandering about, discussing the virtues of Canaan, Balsam, and Frasier firs; checking out the Blue Spruce and maybe a glance at the pines, Scotch and White. We pick out some trees and make note of where they are so we can come back to them to make our final choice. None of that this year. We cut the second tree we looked at, though we did take a quick gander at the woefully small remaining firs.

We cut the tree, took it home, and got it up and decorated. That’s all to make one small bicycling-related point. The ornament shown is from Markleeville, California, home of the Death Ride and home of the blog California Alps Cycling. Dang! Isn’t his name Mark? Maybe the town is named for him and I never realized it, even though he moved there only recently. Or maybe that’s why he moved there. Maybe we can get him to address that in a future post. Anyway, I bought the ornament while in town for the Death Ride about 30 years ago.

Paying for the tree was a new experience. Usually we go into a barn that has been turned into a small store. We browse their collection of ornaments and pick up some cashew brittle to eat on the way home – I mean to bring home to the family. Try the chocolate-covered. This year we paid at a window outside. Nearby, Santa Claus sat behind a snow fence. Kids could say hi to him from 6 feet away – no sitting on Santa’s lap this year. I’m hoping Santa will bring me a new president with a peaceful transition of power.

Vitamin D…in November?

It was a tough day of synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight. Hey, you think it’s easy – sure, it’s easy in July, but much harder in the November sun, especially when you’re also running the Krebs cycle and synthesizing ATP as fast as you can.

Check out the stats from today’s ride on my computer readout. If it’s hard to read, net mileage was zero (I ended where I started) gross miles zero (none of the miles were gross – they were all fun). Net climbing zero again – I started and ended 856 feet above sea level. Gross was just enough to reach the top of every hill. Average speed – yup, average. Total miles exactly equaled the distance from my house back to my house. Heart rate was non-zero throughout.

The plan was to ride north, but there was a strong southern breeze so I rode east and south so I could ride home with a tailwind. It actually worked. At each junction I rode whichever way looked best. Hope, Cottage Grove, Deerfield, Stoughton (where even the cheese (kaese) is Norwegian) and various points in between. No maps, no apps. I rode enough so that I drank the last of my water on the last block coming home. The important statistic was 70 degrees (21 Celsius) and sunny – not at all normal for November in Wisconsin, but I’ll take it. The corn is dry and this may be the last week to get it harvested in good weather.

Hope is the word of the day. I woke up to the first full day with a new President-elect. Democracy may survive this. Be on the lookout. The rash of lawsuits contesting election results being filed by the Trump campaign is a misdirection. Watch for a slew of Executive Orders attacking environmental protection, healthcare, worker’s rights, and education in the next 10 weeks. His minions will be working overtime in the shadows to inflict maximum damage. Civil rights will come under attack, except for that second one about “an unregulated militia” – oh wait, that says “well-regulated militia”. One man’s militia is another man’s domestic terrorist group.

AP Photo

This photo accompanied an article quoting a Dallas evangelical pastor calling Trump “the most pro-faith president in American history.” The smirk on Trump’s face says it all – “I’ve really put one over on these dupes.” With his history, one can only assume he is sleeping with his spiritual advisor (the one with her hand on his right arm). I’m surprised no one is kissing the hem of his garment (or would it be the end of his tie?) or his ring.

Her oratorical skills are unmatched.

Primož Roglič of Slovenia entered the penultimate day of La Vuelta a España with a 45 second lead over Richard Carapaz of Ecuador. By the end of the day the lead was down to 24 seconds, the final margin after more than 72 hours of racing.

From NBC TV – Richard Carapaz, Primož Roglič, Hugh Carthy (left to right)
Possibly the last ride of 2020 just for fun. I don’t usually do selfies.

“Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”

And so the Red Queen announced the sentence, “Off with her head!” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I thought this was absurdity or satire, not news, when I read it.

Illustration by John Tenniel

The news is at least as absurd. On Tuesday night, our only president announced his victory in the election before the votes were counted. He tweeted “Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed” – not that anyone was trying to cast ballots after the polls had closed, but they were attempting to count ballots after the polls are closed – that’s sorta the way it works. It appears that he considers counting the votes to be STEALing the election. He announced that his leads were “magically” disappearing as “surprise ballot dumps were counted”; which appears to mean that he didn’t want the absentee ballots to be counted, or maybe there were just certain counties whose ballots he didn’t want counted.

I’ve never really understood election results watching as a spectator sport. It seems like watching a sporting event in which all you can see is the scoreboard. The excitement, such as it is, is to watch the numbers change, not to watch the athletes at work. Co-workers stayed up late, or woke up in the middle of the night due to anxiety, turning on the TV to see what was happening.

As this is being written, the score is either 248-214 or 253-214, depending on which scoreboard you’re looking at. (One of them just changed – during proofreading – to 264-214; the other is still at 248-214.) It appears to be the ninth inning, the 4th quarter, or the third period if you’re a hockey fan. The trouble with this sport is that after the game is over the score could still change. Points could be transferred from one to the other because the final score isn’t really final for over a month, even though we all want to wake up to a final score on Wednesday morning, or stay up to see it Tuesday night. We could go into overtime, only to have the Supreme Court suddenly declare Game Over. The way it looks right now, if each wins all of the states in which he is considered to be leading, it is a Biden victory 270-268. The trouble with that is that Biden’s leads are slim and Trump’s leads (particularly in PA, the biggest prize remaining) are larger. Not to mention that there will certainly be demands for a recount, especially if Mr. Trump loses – he is already demanding recounts and hasn’t lost yet.

I see three possible scenarios: 1) Trump wins and we have 4 more years of this madness; 2) Trump loses and has almost 12 weeks in which to metaphorically torch everything on his way out (or, for another metaphor, the Trump administration is like a rock band that has already been paid and trashes the hotel suite on the last night); or 3) the Supreme Court hands him the election in a replay of 2000. I’m not really sure which is worst.

My fantasy is that he loses and refuses to abdicate. Biden is sworn in and the Secret Service forcefully evicts the former president on January 21. Maybe the sheriff could toss his belongings to the curb. Maybe we could see a perp walk to a waiting squad car, hands cuffed behind his back. The charges? Criminal trespass, impersonating the President. (18 U.S. Code § 912)

Then the indictments begin. The RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act seems ideally suited for this. Then we have tax evasion (like Al Capone), fraud charges for the funds he diverted from his charitable organization, the Emoluments Clause, and various state charges. Who gets to extradite him first? Or can we pronounce the “sentence first – verdict later”?

As spectator sports go, I gotta admit I’m enjoying the NBC Extended Highlights of La Vuelta a España much more than this presidential race. They don’t go online until late afternoon but they’re worth waiting for.

Drowning in air

Last week I wrote about my experience of working in the COVID-19 unit. My experience is nothing compared to the experience of my patients.

One described the disease to me in simple terms – “It’s like drowning in air.”

I shopped at Costco today. Only one person in the store was unmasked but an appalling number wore their masks fashionably below the nose. Come on folks! I know you can breathe more easily with your nose free. Why do you think you’re supposed to cover your nose? (Hint: it’s not for your benefit.)

I stayed with another patient while she ate orange slices. (The anonymous pronouns for today are she and hers). Even through an N95 mask and face shield I could smell that orange. She savored each thin slice as though it would be her last. I wanted an orange so badly. She followed the orange with coffee and aspirated (choked on) the coffee. A minute (that seemed like hours) of coughing ensued. She cleared her lungs but it took minutes before she was breathing freely again, with acceptable oxygen saturation. By the way, those orange slices were her last. Three days later, she was dead.

The emergency field hospital in Milwaukee is now taking patients. It was not long ago that Wisconsin crossed the threshold of 1000 new patients per day and we thought that was outrageous. The daily new case average has now passed 4000. PS: It’s not just because we test more. For those with the IQ of the president (or those to whom he speaks) nobody gets the disease from testing. Testing is not a pain in the ass. It is how we identify the Typhoid Marys of our time – the people who are not sick but spread the disease.

Our new COVID-19 ICU opened today. It has been under construction for a couple of years, slated to open as an expansion to the neuro unit. As I reported last week, I expected that plan to be changed at the last minute, despite assurances even then that the plan remained in place to open next month as a neuro unit. Yesterday it was announced that it would be a COVID-19 unit and today it was announced that it would open as an ICU this afternoon. The first patients have been admitted. The old ICU is full.

The university’s new star quarterback, who had a breakout game last weekend and was named Big 10 Player of the Week, is now sidelined for 3 weeks after testing positive. Will people now take this seriously? I mean, come on, it has now affected football. While football is not worshiped quite as seriously here as in Texas, this could make a difference (though sadly, probably only if he gets really sick – otherwise it will be seen as overkill as well as sacrilege).

We lost another great musician this month. Jerry Jeff Walker is dead at 78. I haven’t worn cowboy boots since I was about ten, but when I first heard this song I wanted to hitchhike to Austin to buy a pair. If there is an afterlife, Jerry Jeff is still wearing his Charlie Dunn boots.

We also lost Spencer Davis this month – for those too young to remember, he’s the bandleader who brought us a teenage Steve (then Stevie) Winwood.

Winwood on piano and vocals, his brother Muff on bass, Spencer Davis on guitar, Pete York on drums.

September saw the death of Toots Hibbert, leader of Toots and the Maytals. While they had an album out four years earlier, they were introduced to the US in Jimmy Cliff’s 1972 film “The Harder They Come.” Toots died from COVID-19.

Also lost to us in September was Diana Rigg, The Avengers’ Emma Peel (no, not the Marvel comic book, but the British TV show). As Emma Peel, she was witty, tough, and drove a Lotus Elan. What was not to like? Later she was the host of PBS’ “Mystery”, with this intro drawn by Edward Gorey.

Sorry for all this death in one entry. I started a post about Toots and Diana in September. I realized others had more to say about them (and more eloquently) than I, so it sat in my “drafts” folder. Losing two more icons of my youth was more than I could take.