Monthly Archives: April 2020

Happy Backyard Easter!

Tomorrow is Easter. Happy Easter!

And what’s new?

Well, it’s quiet and peaceful on my street while we’re all sheltered in place. Most people work from home or are without jobs at home. There’s little traffic. For a few days, I occasionally saw neighbors out walking dogs and children past my windows, but lately I’ve seen less of that.  Some older kids occasionally gather in a circle by a basketball hoop. But instead of basketball, they play “catch,” maintaining social distancing, even though they actually all live in the same house.

My father, mother, sister and brother-in-law are all okay so far, sheltered inside various houses in two other states. I keep in touch with them by phone.

HummingbirdI’m lucky to have a back yard. The flowers bloom on schedule, the squirrels and the birds flit about as usual. And the hummingbirds have returned.  But since that’s the only place I go out, all of the pictures this time are mini-scenes of the back yard. It’s normal life for them, just not for humans.

I am more thankful than ever to live in California. The Bay Area ordered everybody “sheltered in place” on March 16, earlier than any other part of America.  Details are here or if not, they are  available here. At the time, we and New York City had about the same number of cases. But New York waited six more days before closing. Now, three weeks later,   New York has ten times our number of cases. Time is of the essence when pandemics begin.

I’m completely isolated at home. Actually, it’s not much different for me now than the previous few lonely years. These years have not been literally solitary confinement, but it sure felt that way, sometimes. Physical pains still flare up, but at this point, if I have to live with pains and restricted travel the rest of my life, then so be it. There’s too much left to be done to just mope. And I’ve already traveled many times more than most people ever do, though I still feel the old wanderlust.

I’m thankful for all who have reached out to me these last three years, some in America and some in China, a few in other places. You are like a balm that’s kept me from feeling abandoned all the time. I had never considered what a blow it would be to lose my community here while I was in China, and then to lose my China community when I returned, and not be in a good position to build another one.

So I’m thankful for all those who’ve emailed me over the years, and who’ve visited, some even from China! I’m thankful for my neighbor who went  grocery shopping for me, and for one of my former students in Shanghai who sent me face masks, and another in Tianjin who also offered. These favors help far more than just the goods involved.

Meanwhile, I keep thinking about Isaac Newton, who spent a couple years (1665-1667) of his youth “sheltering in place” quietly on a farm, far from a plague in London. He came out of it with calculus, universal gravitation, and several studies of the components of light.

Well, maybe I can’t do anything as important as that, but I can at least accomplish something smaller, So I’ve devoted days and weeks to editing my teaching journal from China into a book that might interest other teachers of English as a Second Language, or those training to teach.  And I greatly appreciate those who have read parts of it and have given me feedback on it, such as Eileen, Bill, Nicole, and especially Karen.  If anybody else can do this, let me know!

My  Sunday school class now meets virtually on Sunday mornings through “Zoom.”  It’s wonderful to see the same old group again gathered around a virtual table, including one former class member who now lives in Maryland!!! If anybody else wants to join in, we meet from 10:15 a.m. Pacific Time until sometime past 11:30.

As implied above, this country’s chief executive was painfully slow to act in the present emergency, and still is. His relentless attacks on government itself meant that he’d long ago disbanded the groups in government that were supposed to fight pandemics. No wonder he moved even slower than New York did, complaining that he’s “not a shipping clerk” when in this case, that is part of his job, because he’s in the best position to do it. People on blogs as well as ordinary news sources complained about his   inaction for months.

It’s troubling that this country can’t act as a model for others, as it so often has in years past. For good examples, probably the best are Taiwan and New Zealand.  Keys to their success include careful testing and tracking, and bountiful supplies of Face Masks and other safety equipment.  Meanwhile, months late, we’re still struggling to get those things, mainly thanks to the neglect of the Chief Executive and his enablers.

Instead of cooperating, he sets states and communities against each other, just like a “reality” TV show. Well, chaos and divisiveness are his most-developed skills, along with self-promotion, insults,  vindictiveness, lying and deflecting responsibility.  No wonder he leans heavily on his own non-elected, and non-confirmed children for policies. Kind of like a mafia.

Indeed when I was little, back in the fifties, I often stressed over the possibility of the mob seizing the presidency. Well, now I sort-of get to see it. And his neglect is going to get a lot of my fellow countrymen killed from corona virus. Maybe even me, my parents, my sister or my brother-in-law, since we’re all in one of the “at risk” groups. Well, many have died already, including two famous musicians — jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, and country/folk star John Prine.

But this moment of divisiveness has been building for quite a while.

Thirty-five years ago I was driving up to the Sierra, leaving behind my usual radio stations.  Out in the countryside I came across an AM station from Sacramento, broadcasting commentary by a local angry guy, who unloaded about some perceived injustice. But then I recognized the situation that he was talking about. I had personal memories of it.  And I knew that everything he was shouting was a lie. Well, there was a bit of truth as bait for the listeners who were unfamiliar with the situation. But this was no simple mistaken opinion. It could only be a conscious intention to mislead and confuse.

Well, he was just some local nutjob, which is why I no longer remember the details of the story.  But I did want to remember his name, just in case. It was “Rush Limbaugh.” Little did I imagine that this was an opening salvo in a nation-wide assault on truth and trust meant to divide our country and  eventually, with Russian help, squeeze our present Chief Executive into office.

This Sunday is Easter, which celebrates truth and trust — a man brought before the Roman authorities 2000 years ago, who said, “My kingdom is not of this world, . . [though] . . I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  And the Roman said, “What is truth?” In other words, “Does truth have value?  Is truth a king?”  And then he proceeded to execute the man.

Beyond hope, this king, this truth, prevailed and still exists. That’s what Easter Celebrates — that truth can lead us to the one who can save us. And I feel that in the present moment, truth-hating “Romans” are surely back in charge, and not just in my own country.  Only the truth can  prevail. Open the windows and let in the light so everyone can see it. This is why the Russians’ and our own “Romans'” main attacks were not aimed to convince, but to confuse. “FUD” – fear, uncertainty and doubt.

It’s a matter of truth, and a matter of trust. Can we discover the one and establish the other, in order to hear the voice that will lead us out of this mess? That’s my hope, anyway.  The promise of Easter.

Meanwhile, I sit at home in peace, knowing that a tidal wave of disease is about to hit and not seeing it my neighborhood, but only in the news. I do mourn for those who, unlike me, have to go out to work or otherwise stay out with the public.  They deserve at least combat pay.

And by the way, thanks to the quick actions in California, we now have the fewest deaths per capita of any state except for Oregon, where my mother, sister, and brother-in-law live.  In fact the United States as a whole is actually doing fairly well on a per capita basis, probably in large part thanks to California’s and Oregon’s relative success.  And California is now going its own way to procure medical supplies.  Somebody finally had to take responsibility.

I hope that despite the efforts of those trying to divide peoples, we can forge  bonds of truth and trust, because we’re going to need them to deal with the massively worse crisis that’s coming next — global warming. Looking around, I don’t see the pandemic (yet) and the climate on my street seems pretty normal. But it’s on its way.

Anyway, such are my thoughts from the shelter.  On a more positive note, I’m still watching YouTube videos.  And one of my favorite YouTubers, bassist Adam Neely (he of the famous “lick”) just reached a million subscribers. He gave one of his typically introspective presentations, reviewing his YouTube career.  Those who are not fans of self-congratulatory videos, or who might want an explanation of “the lick” can see Adam explain it here at 5:14  and here is an extensive collection.

My favorite cultural commentator, Lindsay Ellis, has been wrestling with the mere existence of “Cats,” the movie. She emerged this week with a longer than usual analysis of that “train wreck.” For those not into hour-long analyses, I can also recommend one of my shorter favorites of hers, about paid product placement and fair use.

Last time I mentioned Cory Henry’s famous keyboards solo on Lingus (here). If you listen to it again, note the contributions of drummer Larnell Lewis. He lays down a bedrock for Cory to construct his solo. Well, it turns out that two more takes of Cory Henry’s Lingus solo from those same sessions are available here and again here. The three taken together constitute a marvelous illustration of how jazz improvisation works.

Jeffrey VanWingen is a doctor with really popular (viral?) videos on how to handle packages coming into the home. Probably most people have seen them by now, but just in case, here’s one of them, and here’s another.

And finally, from my friend Bill, a radio globe, to explore radio stations from almost every country on earth. It’s amazing that the whole sonic earth can be explored so conveniently from our shelters.

I hope that none of us succumbs to the virus in the coming months, and I hope that many of you can let me know how you’re doing in those far-flung corners of the world.