Stephen Kahn

Archive for the ‘Good news’ Category

Canada Train Trip and Class System (Part 1 of ?)

In Good news, Humor on January 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

Pete shined the bat signal in the cloudy midday sky. As always, I am confused. About what? Well, at the age of 68, just confused. For example, what should I post about? If I post about my main activity (starting an “atheist church” on Whidbey), I run the risk of irritating my Christian readers). If I post about anything else, I am sure I am irritating/boring all four or five or six of my readers). Well, I was going to write about our train trip across Canada. So I will. I better get an answer from Pete, at least.

As we left Vancouver, we saw wires running on poles alongside the train tracks. I assumed they were power lines. One of the train crew helpfully told us that they were telegraph line wires, from the pre-telephone line days when the train tracks were first laid across Canada. The railroad finds it too expensive to tear them down. If I knew Morse Code, I suppose I could use the lines to send a secret message to . . . whom? The Taliban? Do they know Morse Code to send secret messages the CIA would never spot. Is Morse Code compatible with the Koran?

An interesting thing we discovered as we crossed Canada was that “Via Rail,” the passenger train system crossing Canada is actually three different railroads imperfectly merged into one system. Each section of the railroad has different crews, different cultures, different economies, and different virtues and flaws.

The Western part of Canada has the best economy. The service was the best, at least as far as meals and crew chipperness. My wife and I were traveling “first class,” (something we could not quite grasp or deal with, never having traveled first class on anything before in our lives). Meals were excellent and the crewfolk were cheerful and upbeat. However, every silver lining has a cloud.

The silver lining in Western Canada was that the first class crew assumed that the first class passengers knew the drill. At various points during the trip, we had to switch trains in various train stations. What my wife and I did not understand (not being part of the “landed gentry” or whatever they are called in Canada), is that first class passengers have special semi-hidden “lounges” in the train stations where they first class passengers gather and drink themselves silly. (My wife and I are just naturally silly, without needing that much alcohol to assist the process.) After a while, the lounge crew guide the addled passengers to their first class cars.

My wife and I continually lined ourselves up with the third class (steerage?) passengers and thus finding ourselves at the wrong gate or in the wrong line. The train crew, doing their best imitation of supercilious English butlers would look at our tickets and say, “Oh, no, madam and sir, you are supposed to be at Gate 17.” [instead of Gate 4 or wherever we were standing]. Although I have never been to Europe, as Canada is a combination of English and French people], I presume Canadian train staff have cross-bred to create a kind of impeccable disdain that merges to form a kind of genetically modified SUPER- SUPERCILIOUS monstrosity. So whenever we found ourselves in the incorrect line (every time we made a transfer) the staff would look at us with a polite expression of “I thought everyone in the effete upper class was born knowing what line to stand in as they were being driven to the slaughterhouse. . .”

Founding an atheist church?

In Good news, Humor on July 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I belong to what is supposed to be one of the best Health Maintenance Organizations in the United States, but like the making of sausage and legislation, close examination of medical care can be dispiriting. I have encountered about a dozen doctors, about a dozen nurses, and more medications than I can keep track of in the course of treating my illness. The health care workers have all been kind and considerate, but they do not all agree with each other (though being tactful, they do not criticize each other). The different medications do not all agree with each other. They are less tactful, and seem to argue with each other as they course through my bloodstream and digestive system.

However, despite setbacks and frets, I am making progress. I took off some bandages, took a shower, engaged in some exercise, trimming weeds on the edge of our property.

My irreligious efforts have not gone all that well, either. I set out yesterday to attend an atheist/free thinker/secular humanist/agnostic (etc.) picnic in Seattle yesterday, but the directions were vague (and my comprehension dim) and I never found the other people and missed the picnic. A I get older, it is getting too difficult for me to attend these groups in Seattle any more. My project is to found a non-believer church on Whidbey Island. I am about to head over to Craig and Sharon’s house where they are hosting a picnic for my wife and myself. Perhaps their pastor and parish leader can provide assistance to me in helping start a Whidbey atheist church. Such a project would test their tolerance to the limit, I fear.

Oxymoron Stephen about to head out to a picnic with the friendly neighbors.

Last antibiotic infusion

In Good news, Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

In about 15 minutes I am supposed to receive my last antibiotic infusion. I guess that means I am cured.

In my health care team my Polish-Japanese (but American born) personal physician has turned over my care for the moment to my Indonesian physician, who has authorized the stopping of my antibiotic, but is juggling my medications, though so far nothing has fallen to the floor.

Tell me why you stopped reading this post

In Bad news, Good news, Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Getting back to the cults I belong to, I will briefly and redundantly review the ones I have described.

Transition Whidbey. Worthwhile points: realize that we are running out of fossil fuels and that economics based on never ending growth cannot continue. Silly points: Failing to realize that humans are dangerous, wicked creatures; failing to acknowledge we need to shoot people before they shoot us; and thinking that positive thinking avoids conflict and tough decisions.

Trinity Lutheran Church. Worthwhile points: treating each other kindly and supportively; outgrowing nastiness and cruelty of earlier versions of Christianity. Silly points: Believing in unreal and imaginary concepts such as God, Satan, Heaven, and Hell and life after death.

Another cult I belong to is the Red Cross. As with other cults to which I belong, I am completely unsuited to this cult. Worthwhile points: The Red Cross acknowledges that bad stuff happens in this mundane life, and tries to prevent such events (where possible) and prepare for recovery and aid. The bad stuff occurs because of natural disasters – storms, earthquakes, floods, land and snow slides, forest fires, epidemics, and a multitude of other such events, as well as from human caused disasters, whether wars, genocides, land and snow slides, epidemics, forest fires, and so on.

As unsuited as I am for the Red Cross, I am even less suited to be a First Responder, a person who rushes to the scene of an disaster and provides immediate medical attention or SWAT team firepower. For example, if trying to perform CPR I would forget the exact steps and be squeamish about breaking the victim’s rib cage.

Transition Whidbey talks about future events that may not be occur or may be forestalled. We may not really run out of fossil fuel, or may at least discover some substitute that does just as well – solar energy, tidal power, bicycles. Religious believers talk about events that can’t not be proved or disproved – Heaven, Hell, etc.

The Red Cross forecasts events that occur often enough – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – that they seem likely to occur again – and also forecasts events rare enough – that many people consider them unlikely, and prefer not to spend time thinking about them, much less energy and money preparing for them. For example, the most likely disasters where my wife and I live are probably a major earthquake and/or a tsunami. My wife and I have prepared in ways large and small. Small: we have placed a sturdy rubber band around the knobs of our main kitchen cabinet. In the event of a moderate to strong earthquake, the band will (we hope) prevent the doors from flying open and all our china dish ware flying to the floor. It’s a little inconvenient because we have to remember to put the band back on each time we open the cabinet doors to remove or return a dish. Large: We have installed (at some expense) a large water tank outside our house. If power is out for days, our well pump will not work, so we may need to have enough water to live on for weeks. Also, we have purchased a large (cranky) generator so we can run the well for short periods of time, run our refrigerator-freezer, for short periods of time. If no earthquake occurs, this will all be wasted time and effort. On the other hand, if a major earthquake occurs, we will be glad, though we will then be faced with the issue of whether to share with (or leach off) our sparse neighbors, mostly (like us) living on acreage in the woods.

Some of the possible disaster events are unlikely indeed, but not impossible. For example, consider volcanoes. Having lived in Portland, OR at the time Mt. St. Helens erupted, and having quite a bit of volcanic ash land on our roof and our street (and having driven through a serious and almost blinding ash cloud on a trip between Portland and Seattle), I don’t consider volcanic eruptions impossible. However, scientists talk about supervolcanoes that have occurred in the past. Some have occurred in fairly recent times, one of the most famous being Krakatoa, in Indonesia. Just as the Richter Scale measures earthquakes, the Volcano Explosive Index (VEI) scale measures volcanic eruptions. Krakatoa was probably a VEI6, killing somewhere between 30,000 to 120,000 people. Geological records indicate that some volcanic eruptions have hit VEI8. In modern times, a VEI8 eruption would quite likely destroy humanity.

A lot of speculation focuses on Yellowstone, where VEI8 eruptions probably occurred before humanity was around to wipe out other species, such as dodo birds. If a VEI8 occurred, we (people living on Whidbey Island) would probably not have much time to worry about anything, but it’s quite possible that a VEI6 or VEI7 might occur, and then all our preparations for disaster might prove useful, or might simply prolong our agony.

But not to worry, there are lots of other natural and unnatural disasters to fret about, such as Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). During the cold war, both the United States and USSR considered using EMP pulses as weapons, as they might destroy the infrastructure of an enemy, particularly communications, power generation and transmission, and the like. Although the cold war has subsided a bit (though not dangers of various kinds of warfare), nature still likes to yank human beings around. So our old friend SOL (the sun at the center of the solar system) creates its own EMPs, by occasionally sending us star signals (solar flares.) We may be due for some jolly ones next year. Probably the largest documented solar “storm” in human history was in 1859. While there was no Internet at that time, humans did have some “modern” devices, such as telegraphs, and they were hit hard.

“Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe.”

One of the projects the Red Cross works on is encouraging people to be prepared for disasters. Mostly disasters likely to occur in our geographic region. My brother lives near Joplin, MO, so he should be prepared for a tornado. My brother’s situation is complicated as 1) he was a weatherman when he was in the Navy and 2) he is crazy (either schizophrenia or bipolar, depending on which of his psychiatrists you talk to). The last time there was a frightening storm in his area, he was looking out the door with interest describing the weather cells while his wife (who related the story to me) was urging him to get downstairs into the storm cellar. Also, a lot of people in these area don’t have storm cellars, though after a tornado hits, quite a few people who were not hit, rush to buy one. I think they may also be called “barn doors” as a nickname, as in “Closing the barn door after the horse has been blown away by the tornado.”

Here in Puget Sound, we are not likely to have a tornado. However, a few weeks ago I was a bit surprised to read in the local newspaper that a “twister” hit a nearby town, knocking down several trees (though injuring no one). Near the end of the story, a person who had observed the storm said that he had lived in the Midwest, observed tornadoes, and would have to describe our storm as a “tornado.” (I am guessing that the newspaper decided not to use the word “tornado” in the headline or lead paragraphs of the story.

Problems with trying to alert people to prepare for possible disasters include objections such as 1) “Prepping” (apparently “preppers” is now a term preferred to “survivalists”) is expensive; 2) Prepping is difficult; 3) thinking about disasters is frightening; 4) leading to “I don’t want to think about something so scary.”

If this blog post was so frightening (or boring) that you stopped reading about ten or twenty paragraphs ago, please leave a comment about why you stopped reading.

Back to exercising

In Good news, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

After my weekend visit to the emergency room at Whidbey General Hospital, my wife and I called our HMO in Everett. They advised me to visit as soon as possible. Although my wife’s nursing care has been impeccable, our constant contact had begin to wear thin. Also she had been asked to provide an extra day of coverage at her senior center volunteer work. She asked me if I felt strong enough to drive myself to my doctor’s office. Although I had not driven our vehicle or left home on my own for a month, I decided to take a chance on transporting myself. I also felt some relief at traveling on my own for a bit. I dropped my wife off at the senior center and cautiously headed for the ferry.

When I got to the medical clinic, my doctor greeted me with his usual optimistic cheer. I discussed my visit to the emergency room, and the on-call EM doctor’s revelation that I seem to have a heart murmur. My doctor listened carefully with his stethoscope, and indicated that 1) heart murmurs are not uncommon; 2) often do not indicate anything very serious; and 3) my murmur is so slight it is barely possible to hear.

He indicated 1) I am probably not having a heart problem; 2) I am probably not having gall bladder problems (the other most likely cause of my symptoms; 3) I was probably having a digestive upset (most likely a result of all the antibiotics I am taking). He also indicated that the most recent bacterial strain detected in my devil’s brew of infections is one often involved with animals and dirt. As I have not been walking barefoot in our chicken run, I am not sure of any direct connection, though as I let the chickens out of the coop this morning, I looked at them severely, and suggested they might think better of drinking from puddles (as they were enthusiastically doing).

My doctor also indicated that I should resume exercising, which I am about to do.

Water! And let’s hear it for specialists.

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

My wife called the man who had dug our well. He gave her the name of a man who specializes in well-electrical interfaces. My wife called him. This morning, reasonably early, he arrived with his daughter. After a little tinkering, he fixed the electrical connection to our well. After some sputtering (the ozone filter having a bit of a fit), water came from our tap. The End of Civilization crisis of the day is over.

The cost of the repair came to several hundred dollars, which we can ill afford, but as everything is relative, we can afford it much better than the several thousand dollars replacing the well pump would have cost, so we abstained from whining.

As we chatted with the well-electrical system specialist (who had traveled down from Oak Harbor), he cheerfully told us about his problems. Near the end of last year, his house had partially burned down. The process of rebuilding his house had turned into a nightmare. As the contractors on South Whidbey are often rather lackadaisical, I expressed surprise he had encountered similar problems in Oak Harbor – he related tales of contractors who seldom finished tasks or did them poorly, blamed him for their problems, and so on. He said, the contractors he had used had come from Seattle. I guess the moral is that things are bad all over.

I thanked him enthusiastically for his prompt arrival and successful work on fixing our problem. We paid his fee cheerfully. Civilization bounces back for another day.

The gentle, tolerant evangelicals

In Good news, Humor, Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I think my recent serious, but not deadly, illness, distracted me from writing about the religious cult to which I belong, Transition Lutheran Church. I participate in a peripheral way with the “wood ministry” crew that cuts, splits, and hauls wood, and sells it to people (at a very reduced cost) for heating purposes.

In the past, I communicated with conservative evangelical Christians (mostly on the Internet, but in a few cases in person). Most of the ones I encountered professed (and perhaps really did believe) that God exists, that Jesus is his son, and that with the Holy Ghost they make up some kind of magical “Trinity.” I regarded this as absurd and offensive. These conservative evangelicals were full of intolerance and hostility (while prating constantly about love), and full of condemnation of Communists (reasonable enough) and of Muslims (not so reasonable), atheists, abortion doctors, homosexuals, “liberals,” and lots of other people who don’t agree with them. After several years of participating in their discussions, I was eventually “banned.” from participation. Though I was guilty of a few intemperate remarks, mostly – as I said in a comment – “evangelical Christians like to dish it out, but they don’t much like to be on the receiving end of dishing.”

However, all humans – individually and in groups – change and evolve. When I began to participate with Trinity Lutheran, it took me a while to realize that they were indeed Christian zealots, as much obsessed with “converting me” as the evangelicals I encountered before. However, the Trinity group with much more tolerant and open-minded than the zealots at worldmagblog (a division of World Magazine, the group I had encountered before.

At Trinity, the obsession with bringing people into the flock is much purer, more ecumenical, gentler, and inclusive than the obsessions I encountered before. “You are a Jew? You are a Muslim? You are a Hindu? You are a [whatever your faith] – well, that’s fine. We all worship some aspect of the same God” seems to be the current doctrine.”

However, I am a stone cold, fanatical atheist. Most of the people who participate in the wood splitters are at least 90% of the way to religious belief, so it only takes a gentle push to push to get them that last 10%. But as I said not too long ago, at most I am .01% of the way to religious belief.

Even so, my friend and neighbor Craig (much like the sweet Karen O), takes that as a sign for optimism. He told me, one day (after I irritated my wife by telling Craig and Sharon I am an atheist), “That’s OK. We have atheists in our congregation. In fact, Pastor Jim has a special sermon he delivers at the funerals of atheists.”

Craig even took it amicably when I sardonically responded, “I suppose I appreciate the thought, but after I die, I will not be paying much attention to any sermons delivered on my behalf.”

Big Mama, a sturdy hen, survives a chicken hawk attack

In Good news on February 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm

My wife was away at her volunteer work at the Senior Center. I was in the kitchen puttering on the computer. Suddenly, I heard a loud commotion from the chicken yard. Looking out the window, I saw feathers flying. I ran out the door and down the steps toward the chicken yard. As I neared, I caught a glimpse of a bird flying out of the chicken yard. Not a chicken; probably a chicken hawk.

As I got down to the chicken run I saw feathers everywhere. I looked inside the coop. I saw a hen cowering under a nesting box. I saw two hens dashing toward the ferns. One was missing feathers and I caught a glimpse of a bare patch on her back. They hid themselves in the ferns, their favorite hiding spot.

I called my wife. She asked me to catch the hen and inspect her for injury. I returned to the chicken run. To lure the hens out where I could see them, I scattered some oats (their favorite “chicken candy”). Two hens came out and started pecking the oats. I could not find the injured hen; she was hiding so well, it took me an hour to finally locate her. Eventually, she came out from wherever she had been concealed. I realized the hen who had been attacked was Big Mama. Although my wife will not admit to playing favorites, Big Mama is her most beloved hen. Big Mama has a big patch of bare skin where the hawk had attacked her, but I saw no blood. She pecked vigorously at the oats. She pecked one of the other hens to show her she was still the chief pecker in the order. I felt reassured.

Our neighbor Sharon had given my daughter a memoir written by her uncle. He had been a miner in Alaska. After failing to find gold, he and a companion crossed 500 hundred miles to the coast in the middle of winter! Eventually, the found platinum and made their fortune. Sharon said, “They were very sturdy in those days.” Big Mama is a very sturdy chicken.

Our chicken yard is very tightly enclosed by fence, wire, and netting, but apparently the smallest variety of hawks might be able to squeeze through the netting. The predator might have been a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk. The male is smaller than the female in both species, so it might have been a bad boy who attacked Big Mama. The attack was on Tuesday morning. We kept the chickens locked in their coop Tuesday night, but we let them out to take their chances Wednesday and Thursday. Today, Friday, we will attach some mylar streamers to their overhead netting. It is supposed to confuse and drive away birds of prey without harming them. Even if I were well-enough armed and a good enough shot to kill a hawk sneaking into our chicken yard, birds of prey are considered endangered and are protected by federal law. Even if I were defending Big Mama, I might find myself dragged off by FBI agents if I killed a hawk in her defense. Either the mylar streamers do the job, or she will have to enroll in hen self-defense classes.

Addictions (part 2)

In Good news, Humor on December 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Merry Christmas.

An acquaintance of mine and his wife were raised as evangelical Christians, in one of the Dakotas, if I recall what he old me correctly. He tells me that they are no longer religious believers, and that they sometimes laugh at some of my jokes about cults and believers. (Example: Transition Whidbey is not exactly a “cult” in that it has a leader and a lot of followers [like the semi-cult which my wife and I defeated in a law suit decades ago]; Transition Whidbey – and I presume the other “Transition Towns” – consist of quite a few people who wish to be cult leaders and very few followers for each.)

It is interesting and perhaps a bit eccentric to me that even though these two acquaintances say they are no longer evangelicals, they continue to act like evangelicals in many respects, but with some twists. In other words, “You can take the boy and girl out of the evangelical country, but you can’t take the evangelical out of the boy and girl.”

Some typical evangelical beliefs/traits/characteristics: 1) Have lots of children. 2) Raise your children to believe in God. 3) Home school your children, so they are not too subjected to secular society and hostility to religious belief and other “state/irreligious” controls and influences.

My semi-ex-evangelical acquaintances: 1) Have six children and Mrs. Acquaintance is about to give birth to child #7. 2) They take their children to a (conservative) church most Sundays. [Twists: They move restlessly from church to church, because in part because the churches remind them too much of the churches they attended as children. Also, the churches tend to be not too tolerant of the children attending service with their parents – and acting like children. Thus the churches want to “segregate” the children into “Sunday school” – which my acquaintances dislike.] 3) The acquaintances are home schooling their children. [Side comment – one of my brothers – as secular as I am – mostly home schooled his children.] 4) Not exactly a proto evangelical trait, but the acquaintances are planning to have a home delivery of the next child. [Another side comment – my brother’s wife worked for a number of years as a midwife, then became a nurse and a nurse supervisor, and then went back to being a midwife.]

Final comment by me. My wife and I were products of moderately large families (five children in each). We stopped with one child. Our child “mated” with another woman. My daughter and her partner have one child. Also, from an ideological point of view, I consider the world to be overpopulated, and I think there is much to be said for people limiting the number of children they have to one or two. However, the world is also becoming more tolerant. Thus, I will never say anything critical or judgmental to my acquaintances about their engaging in Mrs. Acquaintance’s addiction to having children.

The worst disease in the world and the sure-fire cure for it…

In Good news, Humor on December 18, 2011 at 4:42 am

A few years ago, after years of somewhat inexplicable good health, I suddenly came down with a severe symptom in what I thought was only a “cold” – not being able to swallow as I tried to sip a glass of water. The advice nurse at my HMO told me to call an ambulance. I was taken to the island’s hospital and examined by an otolaryngologist on call to the hospital, who told me that I seemed to have a lung infection only seen in young children. He also said (more tactfully, but the meaning was clear) that depending where it was situated in my lung, I might survive or it would probably kill me. Before he sent me to the Intensive Care Unit, he said that it seemed to be in the “right spot” [for my survival]. The medical staff plied me with a variety of treatments and medications [which I interpreted as “the kitchen sink”]. All I remember of this medical witch’s brew was antibiotics and steroids. After a few days, I recovered enough to be released. At the follow-up session with the otolaryngologist, he asked me what I had suffered from. I was astonished – HE was the doctor. He explained that none of the tests administered to me had revealed the cause of my illness. As a person who has suffered from an excess of mirthiness for most of my life, I concluded that the leading cause of death is not heart disease or cancer (and similar afflictions) but the UNKNOWN AILMENT. My efforts to get a foundation going to raise money to combat this dreadful disease (with perhaps the entire ONION WEB SITE as the poster children) went nowhere.

Recently, one of my feet suddenly experienced a dreadful rash. I work out and shower at the local gym. Although I diligently try to protect my feet with thongs, I thought perhaps a particularly nasty case of the fungal disease known as “athlete’s foot” had infected my feet. I used an anti-fungal over the counter medication. As the condition did not improve, and as my doctor was in Afghanistan treating American soldiers and Taliban prisoners with equal mercy and skill (having been called up in his reserve unit), I visited a Physicians Assistant (a pleasant and seemingly competent East_Indian assistant doctor from Canada). She told me to use a stronger anti-fungal over the counter medication.

After a few weeks, my condition did not improve. I went to visit my doctor (back from Afghanistan) but first arranged (at some inconvenience in location) to visit my wife’s dermatologist. The dermatologist told me, “I am glad you came in. If this was a fungal disease, it would have responded by now.” She told me that she did not know what I had (the anti-fungal ointment preventing proper testing and diagnosis); she described it as eczema (which Wikipedia tells me is another way of describing “We don’t know what the “f” you have”) and she prescribed steroids. She said the steroids should alleviate the condition in a few weeks.

When I saw my personal doctor a couple of weeks later, he looked at my feet, listened to what the dermatologist had told me, and said, “Hmmm…”

I asked my doc about Afghanistan. I had been a little worried about my personal doctor being taken out by Taliban snipers or terrorists. He told me that his sleeping quarters had been right next to prison camp where the Taliban prisoners had been kept. He had felt fairly safe there, as he did not think the terrorists who had been firing occasional rockets at the camp did not want to aim them where their comrades were being kept. He also said, “One of my [American medical] comrades is a devout Jew who always wears his yarmulke. I was concerned how the prisoners would react to him, but they thought he was fine. They admire anyone who is very devout.” [When not killing each other, religious nutters stick together. Only makes sense.]

As I was asking impertinent questions, I asked about his ethnic background. My doctor has what is known as the epicanthic fold so I always assumed he is Asian. However, he told me that he is “half-Japanese (mother) and half-Polish (father).” As some of my ancestors were Polish Jews, there is a very slight (perhaps one in a billion or so) chance that we are related.

In any case, the dose of steroids HAVE cleared up my foot. Therefore, I conclude that the most prevalent disease in the world is the unknown ailment, and the sure cure for it is steroids. Perhaps I will just take steroids from now on (along with my daily baby aspirin and my daily four fish oil capsules) and perhaps live longer than Ray Kurzweill, another smart-ass Jew. Singularity or not.