Monthly Archives: October 2020

Happy Midautumn Festival!

This year the mid-autumn festival date falls on October 1, National Day for the People’s Republic.

It’s my hope that celebrations will be doubly welcome this year. I plan to celebrate with a trip to the eye doctor for a check up.

Carolyn Smith

I once again have lost someone significant — Carolyn, a young woman whom I’ve long felt was a second sister to me. My memories of her range from her celebrating my birthday when nobody else did, to playing croquet on every lawn in the neighborhood, and to her wading through my mountains of junk mail in my absence, so I could live in China without creating a fire hazard back home.

These two pictures, taken a few decades ago, show Carolyn with her husband Ric, whom I also consider a brother, and, even now, a young man.

For years, these two snapshots traveled with me around the world, to Europe, and to China, part of a collection that I showed to new friends, so they could see for themselves the spirit of the people who were most dear to me back home. In fact, some people on this mailing list may recognize having seen them.

Carolyn’s life was snatched before her time by a rare and virulent form of cancer. And coming in the midst of a pandemic made it just that much harder to deal with.  Ric says he’s mired in a dark fog now. He had asked those of us who know them to jot down a few memories. Mine can be read by clicking here: Carolyn

Despite the heartbreak of losing her so young, I am reminded of the words of the parable: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  And as the parable stipulates, she is now somewhere “in charge of greater things.”

Health Update

I still spend an inordinate amount of time on my health.  My hips and upper legs continue to reshape themselves, so now I get to learn to balance all over again so I can don my trousers without falling over. How did my body become so misshapened without my noticing it?  A couple weeks ago, while walking, I passed another old happy geezer coming the other way with a body like a warped Gumby. He waved cheerfully. I guess I’m not the only one who struggles with warpiness, but who still needs to keep on smiling.

Speaking of tipping over, I recently came pretty close a couple times, and thought it was vertigo. But it wasn’t. Since I’d returned from China, I’d gained so much weight that my center of gravity had shifted and threw me off kilter. I know this because over the last two or three months I’ve been slowly losing weight, and all of a sudden my balance has returned, I don’t tip over, and it’s so much easier to climb slopes and stairways. And I still have more weight to lose.

The Lockdown

Due to the pandemic, I stay home most of the time. Luckily I have friends who stop by, or send emails, or call on Zoom, including my psychologist who basically acts as a coach (I’m not suddenly bipolar or anything else serious). I’m grateful to all of them.   They keep me relatively sane.

Because I have a large refrigerator / freezer, and I’m not eating so much, I actually only need to leave the house to buy food once every four or five weeks. Meanwhile, I filled the tank of my plug-in hybrid car last winter, and it still reads full, because the electricity that I charge it with suffices for my needs.

My recent photos, then, are all taken at home or on my solo walks through the neighborhood. I thought of taking a self portrait, but I realized that a shot of my refrigerator might offer a deeper character study than my face.  So my new self-portrait is a refrigerator face smothered with meaningful kitchen magnets and notes worth keeping close to hand.

I took the refrigerator picture with my new mobile phone, a Google Pixel 4a. I have to say I really like it. The camera is great and the battery life is outstanding.

Well, it turns out that my artist friend Audine, who works for an ad agency in Tokyo, actually marketed the Pixel 4a in Japan. Small phone world!

Audine has spent her fair share of time stuck at home during the pandemic, though the situation in Japan is not as dire as it is here.  So she drew a comforting essay about it entitled “2020.”  Click on the “2020” picture to see it. It’s an 8 megabyte pdf file.

Covid 19

People outside America often ask about the pandemic here.  Well, nobody on my serene street has caught Covid 19, but  Americans elsewhere are dying from it at a faster rate than American soldiers died in World War II. And people who are not in our shrinking Middle Class find that life is not so serene, but full of anxiety.

Almost all of this could have been avoided. It was a calculated political move by a man put into our country’s highest office by an aggrieved fraction of the white population as an attack  on government itself, since they felt that government had failed them. For over thirty years, they had been egged into that course of action through a sophisticated propaganda effort by Republican party operatives, which also targeted the Democratic party and divided the country.

This current head of state was repeatedly interviewed by  legendary journalist Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame). With the publication of his new book, Rage, Woodward shared some of those recordings on 60 minutes a couple weeks ago. One can hear the program here or here. It shows that this head of state understood perfectly well how Corona virus works, how deadly it is, the need for masks, etc. And yet he deliberately lied to the country about it, and does to this day, proclaiming that it’s not serious, that masks aren’t necessary, etc. mainly to keep us all divided from one another.

In fact, Woodward’s book title, Rage, comes from the head of state himself’s observation that he brings out rage in the people around him.  I was surprised to see how much rage he brought out in the famous cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who has drawn a strip called Doonesbury for fifty years.  Trudeau has always found a light-hearted aspect to even the most depressing situations, like this 1974 strip about Nixon’s “Secret” bombing of Cambodia, or this one about Nixon’s Impeachment trial that same year.   Well, his strip published a couple weeks ago instead exhibited that pure cold rage .

With such a talent to sow rage and division, it’s no wonder that the chief executive is sometimes suspected as being beholden to some of our adversaries.

I recently saw this video by two of my favorite journalists, Nicholas Kristof and Johnny Harris, made before Woodward’s book came out, which details much about how our country bungled our response to the corona virus.

You know, back in February, when I (like most people) realized how deadly the virus was going to be, I thought that it might at least serve as a common enemy to finally draw the country back together. How could dead bodies piling up in hospitals be political?  However, I was wrong.  A propaganda effort aimed against reality itself would not be so easily deflected.  Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned in previous updates, the hollowing out and destruction of our government continues apace from the inside.

A small band of Post Office supporters in front of the Castro Valley post office

Take the Post Office, for example. For decades, as long as I can remember, a letter from here to Portland, Oregon, has taken about three days to arrive.  As the insider attack began this summer, that delivery time lengthened to about eight days. Then, the bureaucracy (what the anti-government people call the “deep state”) began to push back, including in court, and now it’s almost back to normal.  But we need a new head of state lest it be attacked again, and lest so many other governmental departments be hollowed out further.

I do believe that the next couple months will be the most consequential for my country since the sixties.  Here’s hoping that we come through them okay.

Wild Fires

Hummingbird mural at Castro Valley High School

I’ve also been asked about wildfires in Castro Valley.  We had an August heat wave with unusual dry thunderstorms. That night I lay in bed watching the lightning bolt flashes, timing the thunder, and calculating the distance to the storm. Some came within a couple kilometers. It was fun, actually.  However, some of those bolts kindled fires all over the state. So even before the normal beginning of “fire season,” we’d already suffered the first- through the fourth- largest fires in our history.

Thankfully, no fires burned through Castro Valley, but incoming smoke from other locations was pretty thick. In fact, one day, we had almost no sunlight. What little there was had a red cast, and seemed to come from no direction in particular.  Street lights stayed on and cars drove with lights on for the whole day.

Actually, until recent years, we didn’t have enough serious fires to constitute a “season.” The cause for this change is global warming, of course, just like for the increased fires in Australia, Brazil, and Europe.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned propaganda machine has long politicized global warming, too.  I guess one of the advantages of running against reality is that it seems like the entire rest of the world is in on some gigantic conspiracy, because that’s apparently what its adherents think. But again, the propagandist’s goal is not to convince, but to sow division.

Race Riots

I’ve also been asked about “race riots” in America. For the most part, there simply aren’t any. Yes, criminals did loot for a couple days after the murder of George Floyd, but the groups of people who, even today, continue to show up at protests day after day, are overwhelmingly peaceful.  And the only non-peaceful groups are usually white supremacist gangs, who sometimes pose as protesters. I guess those are race riots?

My sister and mother live in Portland, Oregon, supposedly a center of “riots” and “anarchy,” but the only conflict I ever hear about from them is my mother describing a stiff wind that stirs the branches of a tall birch growing across the street. Oh, and a fox apparently killed a chicken, also from across the street.

As my sister explained to me, any non-peaceful human activity was confined to the area around a single building downtown, a minuscule patch of geography. And even that was dying down until the commander in chief sent in federal troops wearing no identification badges, who stole protestors off the street and in general created mayhem, though again only in that tiny area. But I never thought I’d live to see the day of secret police in America. Apparently the point was to get film of “rioters” for propaganda purposes, since the feds disappeared once they’d recorded what they needed.

Again, the point to these attacks is not to win or lose the argument, but to spread what we used to call F.U.D. — Fear, uncertainty and doubt — and to drive wedges between our fellow citizens.  It has not much directly to do with protests or putting down protests.

Caste – I’m still reading

In my last update I mentioned a book I’d read by Rutger Bregman called “Humankind,” in which Bregman advances his thesis that human beings are fundamentally decent people, in contrast to the widely held view that people, unrestrained by law and government devolve into the rule of the jungle.  i wrote a review of it and posted it here.

Well, this time I read another outstanding book called “Caste, the origin of our discontents,” by well-known journalist Isabel Wilkerson. Again, I wrote a review of it and posted it here.  In fact, I waited until the review was done before starting this update, because I had thought a lot about the topic, too much to fit into a note like this one.

I was thrilled to read the Caste book because it gave me a new tool to process my own thinking about race and culture. Basically she claims that American society has an implicit caste system. It’s not precisely the same as India’s, but they have a lot in common.  I think this caste idea explains a lot more about our society than, say, “racism.” I invite everybody to take a look at my review, or read the book and then see what you think. Or here is a brief introduction on the Oprah Winfrey show.


This has been a rather sober update, except for the photos. However, I still did find some mood-lightening videos. One is an absolutely brilliant squirrel obstacle course.

I also found a pair of brothers, John and Hank Green, who have been posting to YouTube since 2007.  Here’s an introduction to their joint vlog called “Vlogbrothers.” This is Hank’s most recent Vlogbrothers vid, and this is John’s.

Hank also does science-oriented vlogs, such as Sci Show and PBS Eons. Here’s his Sci Show about synanthropic animals   and here’s his PBS Eons show, about Dimetrodon

John’s more into history and literature.  Here’s the first episode of his “Crash Course in US History,” and the first episode of his Crash Course in World History.

And I still follow Lindsay Ellis. Here she is with Hank Green discussing Authenticity on YouTube.  And here she is with John Green discussing the literary concept of “Death of the Author.”