Category Archives: Consumer Issues

Another Day, Another Park

Since a certain group of people continue to prevent the country from escaping the pandemic, we remain in partial shutdown and, if you regard your health seriously, limited to where we can eat and otherwise do “normally.” The road ahead seems long and unpleasant.

Thus, desperate for escape, needy of stimulation and just to get some air, we visited yet another “local” park last weekend. Two actually, though one barely counts, as you will see.

Our destination was Neabsco Regional Park in Woodbridge, VA, billed as “300 acres of natural, recreational, and historic amenities including the Rippon Lodge Historic Site, Rippon Landing, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve, and portions of historic Kings Highway.” https://bit.ly/2VS0oYt We opted for the Boardwalk. You can see an aerial photo of the Boardwalk on the website.

The upside of the Boardwalk is that it’s a … boardwalk. You stay above the muck, mud and other “things” while having a broad view of the natural scene. The downside of the Boardwalk is that it enables bicyclists, strollers and large groups to move easily along and disrupt, in a minor way, your tranquility.

This is part of the Boardwalk that is surprisingly long:

The other outstanding feature of Neabsco is that the bog/swamp area is surprisingly uniform. For an area this large there appears to be relatively little biodiversity.

Nevertheless, the observant observer can see plenty of interesting activity in  and above the bush. In addition to the turtle “hotel”

we saw some beautiful flowers, though, curiously, they mostly were single blossoms poking through the surrounding greenery:

though, as always, there were brilliant exceptions:

But, of course, the real “juice” at a place like this is the wildlife and we had several delightful surprises. At ground level, there was this amazing  heron whose neck contortions in his slow hunt for food were astonishing to see up close:

By the way, the crawfish (we think) in his bill in the last picture escaped at the least moment! The heron took it in stride and resumed his stalking through the bog.

The thing is that in a place like this your attention is naturally drawn downward, but it’s important not to focus too much on what’s right in front of you. My wife’s vision for spotting animals in the wild is remarkable. and she detected these bald eagles quietly hunting and the osprey in a tree  probably a hundred yards away:

Largely sated by these experiences, we departed for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we limited ourselves to what is billed as the Wildlife Drive. Mistake. If you want to see what this Refuge has to offer, you’ll have to do it on foot. The Wildlife Drive looks like a narrow gravel road running among bushes and trees for it’s entire distance. Nothing to see. There are foot trails; check the map carefully to find them. The oddest thing was that these signs appeared throughout the drive:

We still haven’t figured out what you would dig for but it must be a real problem because there were a lot of signs. We were pretty disappointed in this experience, but it did not detract from the cool stuff in Neabsco. And, yes, the featured image at the top of this post, butterfly on flower, was taken there.

The Road Not Taken

Kudos to President Biden for taking the hard but right path to restoring the physical and economic health of the country. Shame on those who continue to harp on the ignorant and irrationally resistant themes of “my rights” at the expense of the health and welfare of others. ENOUGH!

We’re at the fork in the road. Nothing short of a full-on frontal attack on the virus is going to get us out of this mess. The great American poet Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Biden has taken the road that many politicians would eschew – the one that will, and has, inevitably create another furor. Rather than the “safe path,” Biden has shown the courage of a leader by doing the right thing rather than the safe or easy route. You can hide from destiny only so long, as this great story reminds us:

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

The choice we face now, that we must face, is between aggressively striking at the virus with all the tools at our disposal or continuing to beg the irrational and uninformed to do the right thing. The former has a chance to stop the pandemic, to take advantage of the astonishing opportunity that the rapid deployment of vaccines has provided. The latter approach has virtually certain terrible consequences: more illness, more death, more permanently damaged bodies.

The reality is that the vaccines are safe and effective. The reality is that the rapid spread of the Delta variant has again overwhelmed the nation’s medical capabilities. COVID infections that are mainly in unvaccinated individuals are denying needed medical services for people with other medical conditions.

I have read some of the insane rantings of primarily right-wing and libertarian “authorities” who claim to have inside knowledge that the virus was released deliberately by agents of the federal government who are cashing in on the vaccines. These people claim that the vaccines contain various poisons, microchips and who knows what else.

It seems that one can always find someone who claims to have the inside track on awful secrets and conspiracies that are constantly being plotted against the rest of humanity. These sometimes include people with “medical credentials,” but often they are former workers in the pharmaceutical industry who are certain that they have inside information to expose the crimes being perpetrated in the name of … whatever. They readily accept the plausibility of conspiracies involving many thousands of people around the globe, no one willing to spill the beans, all in the name of “follow the money” or some other cliché that substitutes for actual thought.

We see this same theme played out in science fiction movies and what I call “caper movies” in which bad guys pull off, at least temporarily, extraordinary schemes to steal, blow up, capture huge sums of money, power over the world, etc. Movies like Air Force One, Die Hard and so many others. I have struggled through a few episodes of a TV series called Eureka that is loaded with utterly implausible, preposterous concepts and science-like doublespeak and gibberish. Some people apparently take such stories to be true. It’s an easy shift from one phantasmagorical storyline to another. Harry Potter is real, flying broomsticks and all.

Reality is more mundane. Two kinds of sickness pervade the country. One is the COVID-19 virus. We’ve learned a lot about it and about how to prevent its worst manifestations. Vaccines, masks, social distancing – that’s pretty much the essence. Study after study confirms the validity of these measures, if, at least, they are applied broadly and consistently.

But it’s damned inconvenient and mighty annoying. COVID has shuttered many businesses, interfered with our fun and instilled a deep-seated fear in many people that they and their loved ones, including children for whom they are responsible, are being exposed to an invisible, highly transmissible and deadly disease. More than 648,000 dead from a disease that our former president assured us would “soon disappear like magic.” Damned annoying.

The other sickness is the resistance to the solution. We know what to do but for many Americans, the disease isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the government. Many people appear to believe the government unleashed the virus. Why would the government do that? Did the government want to destroy the economy? Weaken our national defenses? Reduce the population? End civilization? Apparently, many believe so.

Logic and reason have little to do with this mindset. It’s analogous to those who argue that the January 6 insurrection was actually the work of the winners of the election who wanted to stop the certification of their win so that the loser, whom they hate, would be installed as the winner. That make sense to you? If so, take two giant steps to the right.

Along comes the new president who starts an unprecedented and initially successful campaign to deliver life-saving and pandemic-ending medicine into tens of millions of citizens without any meaningful adverse consequences and at no cost. And yes, yes, I understand we can’t prove that ten years from now there won’t be some inexplicable adverse outcome for somebody. There is no scientific or medical reason to suspect that could or would happen, but we can’t predict the future with 100% certainty, so ….

But, you know, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. In the meantime, we can return to “normal life.” All we have to do is get vaccinated and comply with a few annoying but otherwise trivial practices a while longer with a few minimal restrictions on our behavior.

But, no, this is apparently asking too much for millions of Americans. They have their “rights” to protect, regardless of the consequences. “Freedom” is their watchword. Don’t tell me what to do even if it’s for my own good. Sounds like a teenager who thinks he knows everything already and is invulnerable. Or the guy with the boat who insists on going out in the hurricane because he can “handle anything.”

Many of these people end up in the ICU, begging for the vaccine, only to be told by doctors, “it’s too late for you. You should have taken the vaccine earlier. It can’t help you now. Nothing can help you now.”

The solution is in our hands, if only our minds will allow us to see it. I despair of it, after engaging yet another person who on first encounter seemed reasonable and thoughtful, but then insisted “we are being lied to” and that the vaccines contain deadly poisons that make them magnetic. She argued with me that the vaccination program was unnecessary because “natural immunity” was superior protection to the vaccines and lasted longer. How she knows this: read on the internet.

I end where I began. History will record that Joe Biden acted justly and rightly in ordering mandatory vaccination programs, with, in most cases, very generous opt-outs for people with true medical conflicts and genuine religious objections (I don’t know what religion that is, but the exemptions are available).

I find some inspiration in these closing words from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

An Uncensored View of Facebook “Censorship”

I have no problem with a social media platform that, having given the multitudes free rein to publish their views for others to see, has finally decided to address the use of the platform for promoting false information about, among other things, public health, politics, public policy issues (guns, for example). The attempt to prevent the use of these generally free platforms to spread disinformation is not subject to “free speech” principles under the First Amendment that only relates to government action. In fact, and in law, attempts to have the government interfere with the content-control policies of private platforms are themselves, in most cases, in conflict with the First Amendment.

The issues are complex, obviously. To some of us, there are some “opinions” that simply are based on false ideas and platforms do not have to serve as passive instruments for the spreading of such information. Examples abound but certainly include the QAnon conspiracy theory, the claim that the 2020 election was rife with fraud and the claim that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was not actually Trump supporters but was BLM and other left-wing groups pretending to be Trump supporters.

On that latter issue, I cannot fail to note the “reasoning” behind the Trumpers’ argument that the winners of the election, disguised as Trump supporters, tried to stop the certification of the Biden victory and install the person those left-wing groups despise the most as president and dictator. As one Twitter meme notes, to believe that takes a special kind of stupid.  Nevertheless, it appears that many Americans have convinced themselves that the claim is true. Facebook, in my view, has no obligation to allow the propagation of such nonsense by permitting postings containing that claim.

Now, considering what I’m about to tell you, you may chuckle to yourself and think, “well, wise guy, you got hoisted by your own petard,” because Facebook has “censored” one of your posts. Ha ha ha.

It is true that Facebook “unpublished” one of my posts. It was this one: Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers, https://bit.ly/38m76Zb Facebook said the post violated its Community Standards because it was “spam.” Facebook defines “spam” this way:

We don’t allow people to get likes, follows, shares or video views in a way that’s misleading to others.

We define spam as things like:

·      Repeating the same comment

·      Getting fake likes, follows, shares or video views

·      Coordinating likes and shares to mislead others about the popularity of something

At that point in the Facebook process, you are given two choices: Back or Continue. Choose Continue and you get this gem:

You disagreed with the decision

We usually offer the chance to request a review, and follow up if we got decisions wrong

We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm.

This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.

Thank you for understanding.

Here you have one “choice:” Close.

So, Facebook has blocked the post but has no process by which to question that action. But, hey, thanks for understanding.

There are many aspects to this. First, the post was placed on my blog on May 25 and was placed on Facebook manually by me that same day per my usual practice. The notice from Facebook announcing my “violation” arrived August 26. I have no idea when the public’s view of the post was blocked. Facebook doesn’t know, doesn’t care.

Second, there is no plausible way that Facebook’s “system” could rationally conclude that the post in question was a repeat comment (I post each blog post manually on Facebook in two distinct places – my timeline and, if and only if relevant to the purposes of the group, to a private group of which I am a member; I have done this dozens of times and never been challenged by Facebook for duplicate postings).

Third, the post in question was simply placed on Facebook by inserting the link to it. No rational inference could be drawn that doing so was for the purpose of “Getting fake likes, follows, shares or video views,” whatever that means.

Fourth, there is no evidence, because it did not happen, that I tried “coordinating likes and shares to mislead others about the popularity of something.” I would have no idea how to do that even if I wanted to. And I don’t. The item was posted to be read by those interested.

It is a fact, however, that the post about unruly air passengers is the third most-read post since I started the blog. The explanation for that is simple: air travel is a popular subject, many of my followers are in the travel industry and … never mind, it’s just too obvious.

So, what are we left with as the explanation for Facebook’s delayed “decision” to “unpublish” my post is one thing: INCOMPETENCE. The so-called artificial intelligence that manages the Facebook censorship process is simply unable to do its job properly.

Is this better or worse than the purposes attributed to Facebook by many on the political right and the political left who claim every day that Facebook is engaged in some pernicious politically motivated campaign to stifle the views of the [insert ‘right’ or ‘left’ here]? I don’t know.

It’s dangerous, of course, to generalize from a single experience, but the Facebook action to bury my post seems blatantly unreasonable and downright stupid. It would be silly to think that Facebook’s algorithms were written to promote dangerous behavior on airplanes. Not even the most dedicated QAnon believer would …. well, those people might believe it but no one else would.

The action could not be the product of conscious thought by a rational person or “reviewer” as Facebook calls them. The post related to a public policy problem – a growing number of air travelers refusing to comply with flight crew instructions and airline policies regarding, among other things, wearing of masks to combat the spread of COVID. The passengers in question have engaged in various acts of violence that have, among other things, threatened the safety of aircraft in flight. Serious stuff. Some of them are being visited by huge fines for their misconduct. My argument was that the government should crack down even harder on that behavior. I proposed several additional policy actions that could help.

For some inexplicable reason, Facebook rates that as “spam.”

The most disturbing aspect of this, beyond the plain stupidity of it, is that Facebook has essentially said, “we’re too short-handed here to review your objection to our action, so… get lost. Thanks for understanding.” Not a chance.

Facebook’s financial statements for 2020 show more than $85 billion in Gross Revenue, an increase of 22 percent over 2019; Income from Operations up 36%; Operating Margin of 38%; Net Income up 58% and Provision for Income Taxes -58%. That’s right. Taxes down 58% with income up 58%.

If it chose to do so, Facebook can afford to hire more reviewers so that it’s “decisions” to block content are not merely arbitrary and capricious, yet it chooses to say, “so sorry, we’re short-handed so drop dead.” This strategy may work in the short term – it is in fact working now – but I question whether it’s viable in the long-term. On the other hand, this approach to business has worked for many giant companies in the past for extended periods. See Climate Change. Until, usually, competition did them in or forced major changes in how they do business. See American Automobile Companies. Time will tell about Facebook.

Meanwhile, yes, I am posting this post on Facebook. We’ll see what happens.

Farm Markets

Back in my motorcycle riding days especially (Harley Dyna Wide Glide), we grew fond of visits to local farm markets, mainly in the nearby Virginia countryside. Sadly, farm markets that stock the production of local farmers or their own home-grown items are disappearing at a frightening pace. The process began before the pandemic struck and likely has accelerated since then.

The worst case of which we are aware is the closing of Westmoreland Berry Farm to public visits. It’s far away – a good 3.5 hour drive – but was a wonderland of fresh fruits, vegetables and had a kitchen that served both authentic chili dogs and fantastic sundaes laden with fresh fruits and syrups. Westmoreland had a goat tower and more, but, alas, it is no more.

But there are thriving survivors. We set out last weekend to visit a few.

We chose this place near Berryville, VA as our main destination.

That choice was heavily influenced by the continued presence on Route 7 Westbound of the Hill High Orchard market, a past source of fantastic pie and passable coffee on motorcycle and car trips alike.

We had not visited Hill High for some years and were concerned, needlessly it turned out, that it would be drastically diminished. The reality was the opposite: it now includes outdoor seating, an art gallery and shop and more. The parking areas were almost full. The pies are still there in abundance, by the slice and whole, and the coffee has much improved.

Inside, High Hill features what must be one of the largest collections of canned beverages for sale anywhere:

We will return to Hill High for pie and coffee again soon.

[First, an aside from the past. On a years-ago motorcycle ride with a friend in back, we stopped at Hill High. The “system” then was that you ordered your pie, got your coffee from an urn and, on the honor system, paid on your way out. On this trip, I thought my companion had paid and she thought I had. We ate pie inside and drank our coffees. Then we drove away and were many miles toward home when we realized what had happened.

Some weeks later, I rode alone back the 50+ miles to Hill High to settle up my debt. I explained what had happened to the young man staffing the cash register. His response: “Aw, that’s ok, don’t worry about it. It happens all the time.”

That news made me more determined than ever to square the debt, so I insisted he take the money. You can’t keep a business going without getting paid. Thankfully, High High is still there and apparently prospering.]

The next stop was Macintosh itself. It also was full of surprises. I will just let the photos tells the story – most of it.

 

The flowers are there to be picked by visitors, but we chose to take only photos with us. The pick-your-own fruit seemed like a major hit with visitors who set out with wagons and boxes for the well-marked rows of various fruits in season.

Now for the fun part. Look at this photo closely. Do you see it?

OK, it’s not easy. Can you see it now?

Still no?

Well, here’s “it.”

You saw it, right?

We think it’s probably an American Goldfinch. The bird hung around for a long time, fearlessly taking nectar from the flowers in front of us and was eventually joined by a friend who escaped my lens. It was a delight to watch such a beautiful creature going about its business in its natural habitat.

We departed with full stomachs and bags of fruit and condiments.

Final stop: Nalls Farm Market that sits just off Route 7 Eastbound, also claiming a Berryville address. Nalls is a smaller operation and being already well stocked, we didn’t stay long.

If you’re out that way looking for firewood, however, Nalls has plenty:

All in all, good food, memories refreshed and a beautiful bird to watch among spectacular flowers. A fine days’ pleasure. Highly recommended.

Final Note:

When we arrived back in DC, we decided to buy a car. We settled on a Ford Titanium Escape Hybrid. We had driven an Escape in our prior time in the area, with good results on maintenance, and, despite the added cost, we went for the Hybrid version.

This may seem hard to believe, but it’s not our first time with this experience. Macintosh Farms is about 70 miles from our apartment. With added miles for driving through Berryville and the stop at Nalls Farm Market, I estimate we drove about 150 miles total roundtrip.

Our hybrid vehicle includes a “total energy onboard” icon that tells you how far you can expect to drive on the combination of gas and electricity stored on the car. Since braking, among other things, transfers energy back to the battery, you can experience, as we did this time (not making this up), a trip on which you have more miles of driving left on the tank after the trip than you did before you left. Truth. It is also not uncommon for us to get 50+ and even 60+ miles per gallon overall on some drives. Buy a hybrid. Save the world.

 

 

 

WAPO Undermines Public Health Confidence – Again

I understand that the Washington Post and other so-called mainstream media think they have some obligation to report both (or many) sides to news matters of public interest. A lot is happening all the time so there is the difficult problem of triage – what do you choose to report and how much coverage do you give the chosen subjects?

In the latest problematic example, I am mystified as to the thinking behind the choice to devote 1,930 words to an item with the click-bait headline, “Biden team tries to get ahead of the virus — and maybe the science — with decision on booster shots.” https://wapo.st/2UChWHg The byline for this piece shows four names, all senior writers for WAPO with some degree of specialization in health policy.

To make the point of why this type of “journalism,” if that’s what it is, is so concerning, I am going to analyze the piece in some detail. Bear with me if you can.

The opening lines state the subject matter and point of view of the article:

President Biden vowed to “follow the science” in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but some scientists say his decision to recommend widespread coronavirus vaccine booster shots relies on incomplete data and will put pressure on regulators yet to approve the plan.

You understand right off that the message is that the President has not lived up to his word, that “some scientists” think he’s made a major public health mistake in the fight against COVID-19 and is mixing politics with health science to get inappropriate approval from government health experts.

To support that thesis, WAPO quotes Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University that the data thus far do not support the need for a COVID booster shot. I checked out Prof. Racanciello. He is a major figure in virus science. He sided with Dr. Fauci in his fight with Moron Sen. Rand Paul about whether Chinese researchers were doing “gain of function” research with bats that led to COVID-19. He is not, therefore, one of those random “doctors” who are dredged up by right-wing media to contradict whatever the CDC and other important health authorities have said.

Prof. Racaniello has tweeted his position on the sustaining power of COVID vaccines thus:

Science tells us that most Americans do not need a COVID-19 vaccine booster 1. With time, vaccine-induced antibodies wane but the same happens with all vaccines and infections. 2. It is not correct to conclude that COVID vaccine efficiency is waning. What is going down is protection against infection. Most human vaccines do not prevent infection. Results of studies have shown that despite waning antibody levels, most fully vaccinated people are protected against severe disease, hospitalization, and death. What we need to do is get everyone fully vaccinated!

The delta variant is NOT in itself causing cases to surge in the US. That is being driven by unvaccinated people, failure to mask, and a return to physical interactions. ANY SARS-CoV-2 variant would behave in the same way.

Those messages were met with considerable hostility by many Twitterfolk – this is a sensitive subject in which nuances of language can have huge emotional effects.

Returning then to WAPO, the article noted that,

While Biden acknowledged the plan was “pending approval” from the Food and Drug Administration and experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the president mostly portrayed it as a done deal, saying that tens of millions of booster shots would become available the week of Sept. 20.

Thus, while the President expressly acknowledged that health policymakers’ approval was needed, WAPO’s writers assert that the President is dissembling. But then the article notes that he was not dissembling:

The president’s top science and medical advisers — including senior CDC and FDA officials — concluded last weekend that widespread booster shots were necessary, drawing on an array of data from the United States and Israel that suggested immunity from a two-dose regimen of coronavirus vaccine declined over time and that greater protection might be needed against the highly contagious delta variant.

Based on the rest of the article and on many other sources, the “dispute,” if there is one, is about whether to announce the booster program ahead of the surging infection numbers or wait until “more data” is available. Biden’s approach is supported by multiple health experts, including

  • Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes for Health, and
  • Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers

But, WAPO goes on, “a number of outside experts faulted Biden’s timing and said the White House was acting prematurely based on the latest vaccination data.”

For instance, the administration focused on multiple research studies showing that vaccine effectiveness against mild to moderate illness wanes over time, while boosters ramp up antibodies tenfold or more. Most, although not all, of the recent data shows the vaccines continue to provide robust protection against severe disease….

Many prominent figures in the scientific and medical communities said that’s the key measure of vaccine success. The vaccines’ main purpose is not to prevent infection, so much as to keep people from getting severely ill or dying, they note, and recent concerns about breakthrough coronavirus infections have been overblown….

It may be that WAPO and the White House may be talking about two different things. As a matter of national emergency planning, the President is concerned about waiting until the resurgent virus (Delta Variant and possibly others) is even more widespread before beginning to boost resistance. The “dissenters” are making technical points about what the data shows right now about the continued strength of the vaccine.

“The metric that matters is the protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death among people vaccinated,” said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He said the booster decision was premature and potentially misleading. “It tends to portray that we’ve lost confidence in the ability of this vaccine to prevent severe infection. And I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.

Given that case counts are surging in multiple states, vaccinations are lagging, and health resources are being overrun yet again in multiple states, why is this “conflict” being written about as if the President were being dishonest or has, like his predecessor, attempted to politicize national health policy?

WAPO cites efforts by Dr. Fauci and others to reassure health policy staff but then “some experts said the White House was backtracking on its pledge to allow regulators to shape coronavirus policy,” citing Biden/Harris’s criticism of Trump for “publicly pressuring regulators to approve the first coronavirus vaccines.”

Does WAPO really believe that disagreement over whether it’s timely to talk about a booster program is the same as Trump’s declaration that the virus is “their new hoax” or whether hydroxychloroquine is a real treatment for COVID?

WAPO keeps doing the dance, first stating why the White House wants to get ahead of the virus, then citing more people who think it should wait for more data and trying to equate the push for a booster program to the “pressure the Trump administration exerted on scientific agencies, like a threat to fire then-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn if he didn’t move quickly to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.”

I can just imagine the reaction if a booster program becomes critical – “why didn’t the White House plan ahead and get on top of this instead of waiting until the catastrophe was obvious?”

WAPO continues both-sidesing this for many paragraphs, almost as if the authors were told they had to produce a certain volume of words. Granted, both sides are covered, but is this just a question of two honest differences of opinion when the political machinations of the prior administration are repeatedly injected into the discussion? Is WAPO really unaware of the differences between the Trump administration’s denial of the existence of a pandemic, and all that followed, versus the Biden administration’s effort to plan ahead and prepare for worst-case scenarios which are already present in places like Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana?

I have argued before that the main-stream press needs to be more cognizant of the effects of the words they use and how those words can be misused by people whose goal is not to protect the public but to score political points. WAPO seems intent upon feeding the misinformation media rather than focusing on critical issues of what is truth and what is not.

Mason Neck “State” Park

One of our former regular go-to outdoor places is Mason Neck State Park [https://bit.ly/3m3qFh8] which is technically in Lorton, VA, but for us is just a drive out Route 1 (Richmond Highway) and Gunston Road – total distance from our place is about an hour’s drive (40 minutes, in theory, for high risk drivers using I-395). “State” is in quotes because the Park is also the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which means my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass is accepted for entry.

We returned there a couple of weekends ago. We chose to walk the one-mile Bayview Trail this time and had a remarkable experience, spying a number of forest creatures and some interesting trees as well. We encountered one of the rangers near the end of our walk and had an interesting discussion with her about the natural inhabitants of the park.

Here is a sample from our short walk.

A final word about the tree with carved initials. PLEASE don’t desecrate the forest this  way. You could kill a tree by exposing its inner systems to disease and insect attacks. If you see someone doing this to a tree, anywhere, take their picture if you can and report them to the appropriate authorities. Let’s keep our natural places as natural as possible so that everyone can enjoy them.

 

A Walk in the Park

 

Having barely survived the restraints of the pandemic in New York City before returning to Washington, we crave the outdoors, subject, of course, to the constraints of the insufferable heat and humidity. Fortunately, the area writ large has much to offer. One of our favorites has been Huntley Meadows in Alexandria. We returned there a couple of times in recent weeks, following an earlier visit when the plants were still dormant and it was cold, very cold. If you go in winter, wear warm clothes.

The recent trips were a cornucopia of delights, some of which are revealed by these photos, a small sample. The lead-in from the parking lot is a nice flat stroll on a fine-gravel path winding through tall trees and swamp-like undergrowth, in which you may see an occasional bird, but the goods lie ahead — when you enter the boardwalk.

You must pay attention to the near and the far to catch some of the remarkable sights.

More on the beaver in a moment. The turtles that inhabit Huntley Meadows can grow to surprising size but are hard to spot among the dense vegetation that surrounds the boardwalk. So too are the frogs whose relentless chorus you may hear, especially near evening:

The entire acreage of Huntley Meadows is covered with Swamp Roses that resemble hibiscus:

There are, however, many other beautiful flowers, sometimes hidden among the more prominent species:

The biggest treat for us are the foraging birds, who grow to shocking sizes, and the beaver on the special occasions when they fearlessly go about their business:

We’ve never had a boring visit to Huntley Meadows. Highly recommended. Best to go early or late because the parking lot can get crowded. And please leave a dollar or two in the box provided. Keep the beauty going.

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

This past Saturday we visited Kenilworth  Park & Aquatic Gardens in the Anacostia section of the District of Columbia. We arrived before noon and were shocked to find the place packed with people. There were some parking spots left, however, so it all worked out.

The Park is a National Park Service facility on the banks of the Anacostia River. It’s primary function is a large collection of ponds containing waterlilies and lotuses. We were fortunate to spot a young beaver — actually, my wife has a remarkable eye for spotting wildlife in obscure places but I took the photo looking into deep shadows that she assured me contained a critter. I did spot the two bumblebees … uh, making… bee whoopee in the flower shot below.

The other photos are a good sample of what can be seen at Kenilworth — of course, the real thing is always better. Visit the place — it’s a treat.

[To view as a slide show, click the first image]

 

Return to New York City—Jazz and More

That reads like the title of a novel, but it was just us finally getting back to the Great City for a visit, the first since moving to Washington on December 1, 2020. We stayed in the Loew’s Regency on Park Avenue, a nicely updated hotel with a surprisingly large room and, except for the bathroom, well designed.

We had planned this trip for some time and near the departure date learned that Birdland, one of New York’s legendary jazz clubs, would be re-opening for live performances just before our arrival. So, of course, we booked ourselves in there for Saturday night to see a group we had not known before – the Emmet Cohen Trio. The owner of the club opened the music part of the evening with a special welcome back to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, everyone excited to hear live jazz again. Then Cohen led the band in an opening medley of well-known jazz standards. Everyone was moved by the first piece—the classic Lullaby of Birdland made famous by George Shearing back in the day. An emotional and perfect way to start the evening.

Emmet Cohen proved an adept pianist in the jazz genre, moving easily among classical forms and more contemporary vibes. He and his musical mates, Russell Hall on bass (details about him here: http://www.russellhallbass.com/bio)  and Kyle Poole on drums (details about him here: http://www.kylepooledrums.com/about-1)  were perfectly matched and clearly had a great time entertaining the crowd.

The food at Birdland was decent and the service excellent, especially considering they had just reopened two nights before. Interesting to us that there were so many young people in the audience. Here are photos of the line waiting to get in for the second show:

When we emerged after the show, we saw this:

a moving reminder of the scene just out of our apartment window during our three-year sojourn in the big city.

Sadly, we have lost the Jazz Standard to the pandemic, but the Village Vanguard and Smoke will hopefully reopen soon, and jazz will once again resound through the streets of New York.

On Sunday we lunched with a New York friend at Tavern on the Green, another great nostalgic return. That night, we dined at The Leopard at Des Artistes on West 67th. Our guest was my wife’s ballet instructor, Finis Jhung, New York City’s renowned ballet master. He danced with Joffrey Ballet, had his own company at one point and has trained some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers and Broadway stars. A very interesting person with whom to chat.

On Monday my New Jersey-resident daughter and family, my two grandsons in tow, joined us for lunch at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center, which is just up the avenue from our old apartment. After lunch, we walked to Josie Robertson Plaza, the center element of the Center with its Revson Fountain running again. The Plaza has been completely covered in AstroTurf, with seats and other features (food stall, reading area) and is perfect for lounging around on a lazy day, which is just what we encountered:

Finally, when in NYC, one should always look up. In addition to surprising art and architectural features, there is the sheer magnitude and daring of buildings like these:

If you don’t look up from time to time, you miss it.

Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers

Back in July 2020, when the pandemic was still raging around the country, the Association of Flight Attendants called on the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate masks be worn by passengers on commercial flights. https://bit.ly/3yGZqgm The AFA called the FAA’s failure to act “absurd,” and it was. One can easily imagine that the FAA was, like many other federal agencies, intimidated by Donald Trump and his overt resistance to admitting the seriousness of the pandemic which (despite his assurances it was under control and would soon disappear “like magic”) has been responsible for the deaths of what is approaching 600,000 Americans.

Frankly, madam/sir/whomever, I really don’t give a damn about your “rights” and your claim to “freedom” to put others at risk. Air travel has proved to be relatively COVID-risk- free, and the widespread implementation of vaccinations is making it more so.

Nevertheless, many remain vulnerable and while the federal mandate is now at long last in place, enforcement remains a problem. The union president noted that while airline crews were doing better in protecting themselves with masks, some customers continue to resist. Threatened bans on future travel were insufficient deterrents. Flight attendants were subjected to verbal abuse and even physical attacks, for which, apparently, the airline employees are left to their personal legal remedies.

Most recently, it was reported that a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was attacked by a passenger and lost two teeth, among other injuries. https://bit.ly/3hYwbjb  Once again the president of the local flight attendants union sent a letter to the airline’s CEO calling for more aggressive action, since this was “just one of many occurrences.” The letter said,

Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as the attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined.

Part of the issue is, as the union noted, “Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment….” Airline reluctance to engage passengers aggressively may be particularly affected now that the pandemic appears to be receding and national policy is opening the door to increase travel. Pent-up demand for travel is very strong, so a near-term major increase in both travel and incidents may be in the offing. Airlines are likely concerned about any action that will be seen as off-putting by some passengers.

If so, that’s no excuse for inaction. The union letter noted there were 477 incidents on Southwest Airlines alone in the five week period ended May 15. The total incident count nationally must therefore have been in the thousands.  This is not just a Southwest Airlines problem. According to USAToday,

The FAA has taken notice of a spike in passengers behaving badly, adopting a zero-tolerance policy in January and extending it in Marchso it’s in place throughout the pandemic.

Since Jan. 1, the agency said it had received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

The agency has proposed hundreds of thousands of fines, including $258,250 so far in May.

That’s all well and good, but likely more must be done to stop the escalating attacks on flight attendants working to keep everyone safe in flight.

The union letter asked for three steps:

  • Better inform passengers that misbehaving could land them on Southwest’s restricted travelers list and result in potential fines, criminal charges and possible imprisonment:  “The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest Airlines.”
  • Be consistent in policies: “No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a noncompliance incident. We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us. Period. Full stop.”
  • Demand the U.S. government increase the number of federal air marshals on flights and request that they “get involved and take action” when crew members are threatened.

Those steps are all good, but I believe more is required. A number of possibilities come to mind.

  1. Give each boarding adult passenger a card that states unequivocally the mask and other pandemic-related rules, that these rules are requirements of federal law and/or airline policy and not subject to discussion or debate and will be enforced strictly throughout the flight. Failure to comply will result in arrest at the next stop.
  2. Anyone physically attacking a flight attendant will be sued on behalf of the attendant by the employing airline. Not may but will. For serious actual and punitive damages. Count on it.
  3. Any person physically attacking a flight attendant will be, not may be, will be banned for life from flying on that airline.
  4. The federal government should add a new policy that if a passenger is found guilty and/or liable for assaulting a flight attendant or other crew, other airlines will be notified of the identity of that passenger, so they can take whatever action they want to take in the circumstances. Such passengers are clearly unsafe for those around them, so safety considerations warrant such disclosures.

In short, adults will be expected to act like adults. If you can’t comply, don’t fly. If you do fly and you don’t comply, you will, not may, face severe consequences, guaranteed.

This will seem harsh to some and downright un-American to others. Too bad. It is intolerable and unconscionable that flight attendants should be subjected to the reported abuses by inconsiderate and violent jerks who think the laws and regulations should not apply to them. There is no doubt that flying commercially involves a degree of regimentation. This is done for the safety and comfort of everyone involved, not just the few who think they are above the law. This is not new.

If the union and my reforms are implemented, it seems most likely that violent incidents in air travel will decline swiftly and significantly. With any luck, in the slightly distant future, the masking rules may be relaxed. Until then, it’s time for the airlines and the government to act decisively to restore consumer confidence in air travel and to protect the people who are in place to protect the rest of us.