Monday, August 24, 2020

Biblical Authority and Caution in Saying More than Scripture

With regard to Biblical authority and interpretation, I have taught learners for years to be very careful not to state more than what the Bible states when preaching or teaching from a Biblical text.

I have usually given persons some version of this statement, with it's play on words about authors, authorship and authority:  

"Never state authoritatively what the authors of Scripture do not write from their authorship!"

I recently had a pastor suggest that two unnamed "angels" in Acts 1:10 are the (so-called) archangels Gabriel and Michael. 

I pointed out to this pastor that in this passage of Scripture the two men are not referenced nor described as "angels" as he stated. They are not named, either.  These men are not even described as descending from heaven, nor appearing mysteriously, only "suddenly."   The fact that these men, too, were only "standing beside" the other apostles, and  them" some other verbs  of "hovering" or "floating" nearby also requires examination and study.   The fact that they were "dressed in white" is noteworthy, though this is not the "dazzling" white of Jesus' clothing in Luke 9 so it may not be the same power/impact.

I cautioned this pastor, as I have cautioned many with innumerable issues of interpretation:  "It may be that these two men *were* angels, and that they *were* Michael and Gabriel. And yet, you should not state this as an authoritative fact as the Bible never states this."  

And, I told him, "If you explore this as a possible preaching point, you should be certain your audience knows that you are going beyond what the authors of Scripture stated as you explore preaching points or teaching issues."

Pastors certainly can and should explore beyond what Scripture says to explore the textures and contours of a Biblical passage.  Jewish Interpretation and Midrash, Rabbinic teaching, and Christian Exposition has done this for centuries.  And yet, each person proclaiming, preaching or teaching *from* Scripture should insure their audience(s) know when they have moved beyond what the Biblical text explicitly states and declares. 

"Never state authoritatively what the authors of Scripture do not write from their authorship!"

Another variant of the same idea:

"Do not speak authoritatively for or from Scripture, where the authors themselves do not write authoritatively." 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Trauma, Tornadoes and SARS-CoV-2

In my early 20s, I distinctly remember a conversation with another Graduate student about one aspect of his childhood.  While we lived in California, he narrated growing up in Oklahoma for a portion of his childhood, and as one of the few facts he cited, he shared the fear he had of the Tornado Sirens that would blast their warning.

Having grown up in Oregon, with no fears of any inevitable cataclysm, I remember thinking how sad it was to grow up afraid.

Ironically, as I would end up teaching in Oklahoma for over 20 years, each of our children would grow up with this same fear - the T.V. New Anchors are famous in Oklahoma - sadly, like local celebrities "We'll keep you informed" - as they tell people to "Take Shelter Now" as tornadoes approach.  It is genuinely scary for children.  I am certain it instills trauma in some.  And, for those who experience a tornado that ruptures homes, it disrupts everything and kills.

For my part, I never told my kids when Tornados were active - - except when they could see the obvious disruption in stark weather out the window.  I prepared the house and readied our items for Tornado precautions (basement, etc), - I stayed alert to the news and tracking, though I did my best to insure our children did not experience every storm event as a trauma/tornado event.  And, most threats of tornados did not produce a tornado, and even when tornados were "on the ground," they only impacted small areas/acreages of impact.  [Of course, where a tornados hits, even a few acres - it causes massive, immediate chaos.]

While I understand that people "need" to live in Oklahoma, and natural tragedies can come in many forms any place on every continent, I wish Trauma could be mitigated or avoided.

The current situation of SARS-CoV-2 seems, to me, to be a wide-scale, across every county and every State in America "tornado" of sorts.  I fear that *across* America the poor posture of "dealing with" SARS-CoV-2 and how it has been presented to children, now being forced back to school, only to be going home soon and/or to be facing rolling quarantines, is causing trauma to millions of children.  Granted, some things must be done to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2.  [ I have been for the successful New Zealand, sensible, calm, scientific, full-lock-down, engaged approach of the populace, myself!]  

I am certain not enough people are considering the long-term, life-long trauma for social factors and relationships and human development that is *right now* impacting children - and will shape them for their entire life's journey.

It makes me sad that adults, leaders, humans with maturity - have chosen to not be more wise, caring, sensible, and compassionate to all children and all living beings. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Overdose, accidents and gun violence.

"More than 140,000 Americans have already died from the coronavirus, meaning that in the span of six and a half months, SARS-CoV-2 has killed more people than the number of Americans who die each year from opioid overdose (46,000), traffic accidents (36,500), and gun violence (40,000) combined." 
"The COVID-19 pandemic isn't subsiding in the U.S., with more than 70,000 new cases per day as of July 15."

While all living things will die in some way, from some cause, at some time - it is unfortunate that we plummet the worlds resources and refuse to hold in check our privileges, while more persons die earlier than is necessary - if only we cared more and acted differently.

Toward eupan ~

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Caring for what we know and don't know - by Wendell Berry

Late Summer Fields (2018)

• • •

To care for what we know requires
care for what we don’t, the world’s lives dark in the soil,
dark in the dark.

Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don’t intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.

Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth’s life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world,
will live and thrive while we live.

And our competence to do no
permanent wrong to the land
is limited by the land’s competence
to suffer our ignorance, our errors,
and — provided the scale
is right — to recover, to be made whole.

• Wendell Berry

A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015

Thursday, July 02, 2020

I gave up on Facebook

I gave up on Facebook two years ago.

Even though I used the platform intentionally to be positive and a peacemaker - I realized the platform became a breeding ground for dissension, strife, and attacks.

It seems to me what I experienced on Facebook is becoming more "mainstream" in everyday interactions.

It feels to me that people are more bitter, more condescending, more aggressive and more willing to be caught up in petty dissent and/or outright flagrant arguments - in the grocery store or at the gasoline pump.

It makes me sad.

We can be better.

We can be peaceable.

We really do need each other.

The future of human flourishing - and the flourishing of all living things - depends on our communal care.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

SARS-CoV-2 and Social Care

Globally, SARS-CoV-2 has never slowed down.

In regionally specific areas, where decisive action has been taken by wise human agency, cases have dropped.  And yet, in other areas where poor human decisions and failures of action are a reality, cases of infected persons and COVID-19 have risen.

It is scary.

And, it is foolish.

For any virus in any time in human history, we know as a matter of fact that diminishing contact(s) decreases the spread of the virus.  Period.

While the "novel" (new) coronavirus that is SARS-CoV-2 is presenting new challenges to understand it's unique spread and impact, we have known that limiting contact with the virus decreases the viral spread.  Fact.

  • I am deeply troubled by persons pushing the boundaries (or ignoring all-together) social distancing.
  • I am deeply troubled by persons engaging in active gatherings from beaches to rallies to congregational events.
  • I am deeply troubled by protests to wear masks and/or a failure to graciously wear masks in any public place.

It's impossible for me to discern how persons think about their lives and their "freedoms" or "rights" in any precise way.  It does seem evident far too many persons in the United States of America are not amenable to simple calculations of reasonable discernment.

I've tried to think of analogies to understand the situation.  The "best" one I can come up with is something akin to the "water parks" where kids play - the "splash-pad" variety.  These are the water parks that various have "sprays" or "shooting water" that come on with variable power and random "dumps" from slowly filling bucket perched on high.

  • A person who goes nowhere near the splash-pad is guaranteed not to get wet from the splash-pad.
  • A person near the splash-pad though not on the "concrete" footing itself, may or may not get wet - depending on many variables including wind, sun and temperature and the persons proximity of 5 feet from the pad to 50 feet or 150 feet from the pad.  
  • A person near the splash-pad,  fully contained within a vehicle with the doors and windows closed or perhaps within an outdoor sealed camping tent, may be *nearly* subject to getting wet and yet, would be untouched personally by the moisture.
  • And yet, a person who tries to strategically criss-cross the splash-pad by not getting wet - can not do it.  They may only get minimally wet compared to a person standing under a bucket - and yet, that person *will* get wet.  It is impossible to cross the splash-pad and not get at least minimally wet.
  • And, of course, persons actively playing on the splash-pad will get soaking wet.

We can avoid the impact of SARS-CoV-2 by limiting the frequency
and proximity of all of our social contacts.

We can avoid the impact of SARS-CoV-2 by "suiting up" (masking) for it's 
spread when we are in the presence of any other persons.

Separate from the fact that some people die from COVID-19.  We still have no long-term awareness of how contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus will impact persons in a year, or two or five or ten years.  This is a *new* virus and it's long-term impact on organs and bodies is unknown.

I wish we cared more about our lives and the lives of one another - such that we all acted more cautiously and carefully now.

And, I wish I lived in New Zealand. Not only are the two "islands" of New Zealand gorgeous for geography and topography - and not only are they a diverse group of many persons from various regions -  their social care and public, shared, scientifically informed, and politically shaped response to SARS-CoV-2 is a model of social care.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Shalom - Peace in Our World

It was my delight to be a guest on a podcast & videocast: Caffeinated Inspirations.

In this episode Christina Riley, owner of Studiobeanhead zoom interviews Marty Michelson; Educator, Pastor, Certified Peace and Conflict Resolution, Relational Therapist and Ph.D. of Ancient Jewish History and Literature on the Topic of Shalom (Which is the Hebrew word for Peace). In this episode you will learn about Corrie Ten Boom's story from her experience during WWII and the Nazification of the Dutch people, and see how it can relate to us seeking and finding peace today. This is truly a rare treat to listen to some incredible insight about how we can look back at true stories from ancient history to learn more about peace for today and even for the future.


Monday, June 08, 2020

Thru Hikes, Ultra Runners, Alone, an Interior Castle and Nietzsche

2020 will be remembered by the Pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests brought to the fore by the murder of George Floyd.

I will remember it, too - as the year my 75 day plan to be in Yosemite was terminated by the National Park Closure. 

This brings me considerable and measured grief and true loss.  It's a reminder that "we have to get out" and "live our lives" "when we can" - as life may get in the way of us doing what we hope in any set of potential unknown futures.


In preparation for hiking and biking for the Summer in Yosemite, I geared up with equipment and physical training, and quite a few books on hiking/wilderness adventures.

The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience
by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Of many books I read on hiking and trail planning, this was perhaps my favorite.  I enjoyed the personal anecdotes and the fact that this women beat so many in her pursuit of endurance and speed.  I have no goal to move across land in the same way that she and other "ultra-marathon" persons choose their journey, and yet I enjoy reading about her lived experience.

From the publisher: "Jennifer Pharr Davis, a record holder of the FKT (fastest known time) on the Appalachian Trail, reveals the secrets and habits behind endurance as she chronicles her incredible accomplishments in the world of endurance hiking, backpacking, and trail running. With a storyteller's ear for fascinating detail and description, Davis takes readers along as she trains and sets her record, analyzing and trail-testing the theories and methodologies espoused by her star-studded roster of mentors. She distills complex rituals and histories into easy-to-understand tips and action items that will help you take perseverance to the next level. The Pursuit of Endurance empowers readers to unlock phenomenal endurance and leverage newfound grit to achieve personal bests in everything from sports and family to the boardroom."

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation Anywhere by Bradford Angier

I don't actually plan to hike in ways that leave me off main arteries of primary trails.  The trails I plan to frequent are, by and large, well maintained and well-traveled.  And, I don't plan to go in for more than a few days at a time, with appropriate equipment for the weather/conditions. Still, the book is some good reminders on basics of gear planning - while also covering more than I needed, given how I plan ot pack/camp/hike - and the specific gear I've purchased to plan for my routine safety.

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John J. Kaag

Not a typical hiking book! ha!  I especially thought of a few brief days I had in Switzerland while reading this book.  Wishing for more time there.  And, wishing for greater time to experience my own self, too.

This book reminded me too, of a particularly great "former student" and good friend, whose could have written this book from his life's story.

A great book I will re-read.  From the Publisher: "Hiking with Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are is a tale of two philosophical journeys—one made by John Kaag as an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later, in radically different circumstances: he is now a husband and father, and his wife and small child are in tow. Kaag sets off for the Swiss peaks above Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote his landmark work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Both of Kaag’s journeys are made in search of the wisdom at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy, yet they deliver him to radically different interpretations and, more crucially, revelations about the human condition.

Just as Kaag’s acclaimed debut, American Philosophy: A Love Story, seamlessly wove together his philosophical discoveries with his search for meaning, Hiking with Nietzsche is a fascinating exploration not only of Nietzsche’s ideals but of how his experience of living relates to us as individuals in the twenty-first century. Bold, intimate, and rich with insight, Hiking with Nietzsche is about defeating complacency, balancing sanity and madness, and coming to grips with the unobtainable. As Kaag hikes, alone or with his family, but always with Nietzsche, he recognizes that even slipping can be instructive. It is in the process of climbing, and through the inevitable missteps, that one has the chance, in Nietzsche’s words, to “become who you are.""

1) “Nietzsche’s point may be that the process of self-discovery requires an undoing of the self-knowledge that you assume you already have. Becoming is the ongoing process of losing and finding yourself.”
2) “Modern life, however, is not entirely amenable to becoming who one is; it is designed to distract and deaden…”

I'm not a good ascetic/monastic/mystic.  Revealed as I read: Interior Castle: The Classic Text With a Spiritual Commentary (Classics With Commentary) by Teresa of Avila.

"Teresa's Interior Castle begins with the vision of the soul as a "castle made of a single diamond ... in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." . . . and I found myself "arguing" with the metaphor with each page.  I'm not good at metaphorical Christianity - and not good with trying to discern living within walls and not in the world, the world where we are called to make a difference today - a transformative difference for the Kingdom to become realized now.

Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts 

Unmoved and unmoving.  Nothing to see here despite the publisher's words: "Candid and funny and, finally, wise, Almost Somewhere is not just the whimsical coming-of-age story of a young woman ill-prepared for a month in the mountains but also the reflection of a distinctly feminine view of nature."  Another Amazon reviewer had a similar response to my own: "From the get-go I had a hard time getting into this book. Believe me I wanted to badly. I have not read any books about thru-hikes on the John Muir Trail and had high hopes for this book. I began skipping through around page 20. That is never a good sign. I also began reading Almost Somewhere coming off the heels of reading 'Lost on the Application Trail' by Kyle Rohrig which was so good it fired me up about doing a thru-hike, whereas Almost Somewhere did not have the same effect. Not enough about the trail. Goes off topic often and get into depressing dialog and personal issues."

Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail by Melanie Radzicki McManus

I don't remember how far I got into this book, nor if I finished it, to be honest. Part of that has to do with the fact that I read many hiking and "through-hiking" books nearly back to back over several weeks and a few of them were comparably bad. Those that were bad, I did not read with careful intention.  Based on what I'll share here from another reviewer, I'm prone to believe I didn't finish this book as I know it did not stand out to me as good/memorable.  Another reviewer from Amazon wrote: "The title of this book may have been “Running” rather than “Hiking,” if McManus didn’t have the physical problems that prevented her from running most of the time. She wants to do the FKT (fastest known time) for a woman on Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. McManus has a support team; her venture is not a backpack, but a day walk/run and she is met at the end of each day and driven to comfortable overnight accommodations. The narrative takes up all sorts of subjects, early history of the trail, first thru hiker on the IAT, fastest hiker on the IAT, hikers she meets on the trail and their profiles, injuries and treatments, the Appalachian Trail & Earl Shaffer’s profile (first AT thru hiker), the Pacific Crest Trail, etc. There is comparatively little about her experience hiking on the the Ice Age Trail. The most memorable events may be the frequent times McManus loses her way. If you want to hike the Ice Age Trail, this volume is likely worthwhile. As a good trail narrative, it falls short."

Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas 

I enjoyed this book - and have distinct memories of audio-reading it while I spent a few days sorting a workshed during the early days of the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 shutdown in March/April 2020.  This review from the publisher on Amazon captures the book well.  "It started as a far-fetched idea—to hike the entire length of the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. But in the months that followed, it grew into something more for Ken Ilgunas. It became an irresistible adventure—an opportunity not only to draw attention to global warming but also to explore his personal limits. So in September 2012, he strapped on his backpack, stuck out his thumb on the interstate just north of Denver, and hitchhiked 1,500 miles to the Alberta tar sands. Once there, he turned around and began his 1,700-mile trek to the XL’s endpoint on the Gulf Coast of Texas, a journey he would complete entirely on foot, walking almost exclusively across private property.

Both a travel memoir and a reflection on climate change, Trespassing Across America is filled with colorful characters, harrowing physical trials, and strange encounters with the weather, terrain, and animals of America’s plains. A tribute to the Great Plains and the people who live there, Ilgunas’s memoir grapples with difficult questions about our place in the world: What is our personal responsibility as stewards of the land? As members of a rapidly warming planet? As mere individuals up against something as powerful as the fossil fuel industry? Ultimately, Trespassing Across America is a call to embrace the belief that a life lived not half wild is a life only half lived."

Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard D. Logan PhD and Tere Duperrault Fassbender

A story of survival I had previously never encountered in any context.  I specifically engaged this audiobook while doing quite a few days of hike and bike training for endurance - so finished the book in two days.  Sad! for what happened to the girl and her family - and yet "great" for her specific survival, in spite of the trauma.  From the publisher: "Terry Jo Duperrault was 11 when her family was murdered at sea aboard a chartered sailboat off the coast of Florida. She jumped overboard just in time to escape. Surviving four days on a cork float in the middle of the ocean, Terry Jo's rescue pictures graced LIFE Magazine soon after she was found. This is the first time Terry Jo, now known as Tere Duperrault Fassbender, has been able to fully tell her story. In September 1988 Oprah Winfrey reunited her with the freighter Captain who saved her, but even then, she was not healed enough to reveal what it took to survive for four days adrift and alone at sea. Co-authored by psychologist and survival expert Richard Logan, readers delve into the details of how a little girl survived the murder of her family; the gradual collapse of the small cork float she used to keep afloat while guarded by a pod of whales; and the aftermath and the reclamation of life. Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean is the ultimate inspirational tale of good."

Walking Thru: A Couple's Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail by Michael Tyler

I wanted to enjoy the book - as the authors, in their 50s, and seeking to break from the mundane of their life are "just like me" at my age/stage in life.  Nevertheless, I found the book to be dull.  Akin to this other Amazon review I'll share:
"This book is a far cry from other trail books on couples like "Mile 445" or "A Long Way From No Where" but it is a nice, short read. You won't find much in the way of romance or drama between the couple.  . . .  I'm not sure the story is worthy of a book but it's still a good insight into what you can expect on the PCT.
Another reviewer captured my sense of this book with: "I have read several books on the PCT Trail and also many on the Appalachian Trail. This one was the least exciting and really did not give one a feel for exactly how a typical day unfolded on such a hike. It sort of glossed over everything and made it sound quite easy, whereas I know it is not."

Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson

Unfazed by this book.  I agree nearly entirely with this review from Amazon: "I wanted to like this book.However, I didn't enjoy it much. I love hiking and reading about other people's hiking experiences, but this book was more about the personal challenge of trying to set a fastest-known time (FKT) record. While her accomplishment is extremely impressive, I didn't relish reading about all the miseries she put herself through, including several very dangerous ones (dehydration was an issue more than once, and she *had* to keep hiking a couple of times on exposed trail through the middle of thunderstorms). I love to read about the views, the experience of hiking, the people met along the way, and this book had very few mention of any of these. Again, her accomplishments are AMAZING and I don't want to make them seem less than they are, but if you are looking for a book about an enjoyable hiking experience, this is not the book you are looking for."

Bliss(ters): How I walked from Mexico to Canada one summer by Gail M. Francis

I did not make it far into this book, and distinctly know that I did not read it entirely.  She seemed unprepared, unaware and clueless.  It seems I'm not alone in my review.  An Amazon reviewer wrote: "Worst book I’ve read on PCT (and I’ve read most, if not all). Very little about the trail, scenery, etc.. Mostly it’s just the author constantly whining.. she try’s to convince you (or herself) how independent and strong she is, while continuously complaining, depending on others and being worried about what everyone else on the trail thinks of her."     From the publisher: "Just before her 40th birthday, Gail Francis quit her perfectly good job and set out to hike one of the great trails of the world. Carrying everything she needed on her back, Francis spent five months walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, she lost her pack scrambling over scree in the desert, struggled to navigate high mountain passes, and wore the soles off her boots trekking across lava fields — all within some of the most pristine wilderness in the nation. Though she set out alone, her story includes an eclectic cast of characters. From the man walking the entire 2,700 miles in a series of twenty-six wedding dresses, to the woman making the journey in the company of her pet mouse, Francis learned to count on her fellow hikers for entertainment as well as a few important life lessons."

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek

I did not like this book as well as I enjoyed the Pursuit of Endurance by Jennifer Davis, though, this book is the "male" equivalent of the same - and has good insight and interesting narrative.  As I have no desire to either need to thru hike, nor the need to do it fast, the appeal of "the race" and "endurance" by these authors/hikers does not move me. And yet, enjoying to learn from their stories and read their need to push themselves for their ego/identity.  From the publisher: "Scott Jurek is one of the world's best known and most beloved ultrarunners. Renowned for his remarkable endurance and speed, accomplished on a vegan diet, he's finished first in nearly all of ultrarunning's elite events over the course of his career. But after two decades of racing, training, speaking, and touring, Jurek felt an urgent need to discover something new about himself. He embarked on a wholly unique challenge, one that would force him to grow as a person and as an athlete: breaking the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.

North is the story of the 2,189-mile journey that nearly shattered him. When he set out in the spring of 2015, Jurek anticipated punishing terrain, forbidding weather, and inevitable injuries. He would have to run nearly 50 miles a day, every day, for almost seven weeks. He knew he would be pushing himself to the limit, that comfort and rest would be in short supply -- but he couldn't have imagined the physical and emotional toll the trip would exact, nor the rewards it would offer.

With his wife, Jenny, friends, and the kindness of strangers supporting him, Jurek ran, hiked, and stumbled his way north, one white blaze at a time. A stunning narrative of perseverance and personal transformation, North is a portrait of a man stripped bare on the most demanding and transcendent effort of his life. It will inspire runners and non-runners alike to keep striving for their personal best."

Sunday, June 07, 2020

From Peter the Great to the Appalachian Trail and Outdoors

Life is complex.

And I’m desperately behind on too many books . . . perhaps as many as 100 in the queue of the last months, 70-80 read.


I’ll jump in with brief notes here to try to get me caught up.  I wish these reviews said more – and I wish I captured more from the books to share.  I remind myself – the main intention of these book reviews is to simply remember titles/authors and essential “great book” or “not worth it” categories from my life.

Let’s start with a fun, trivial book – that seems aimed at children and yet used words with a depth of vocabulary that simply made it a fun tale.  The Phantom Tollbooth Paperback by Norton Juster.

From the publisher: “With almost 4 million copies sold more than 50 years after its original publication, generations of readers have now journeyed with Milo to the Lands Beyond in this beloved classic. Enriched by Jules Feiffer’s splendid illustrations, the wit, wisdom, and wordplay of Norton Juster’s offbeat fantasy are as beguiling as ever.”

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

The book is summarized in the sub-title, and easily discerned in the opening pages.  And yet, with story after story and narratives from science to sports, Epstein documents how persons with a range of interests and a large capacity for thinking “outside the box” in one domain allows them to be problems solves and connectors for things that otherwise may have never been discovered/understood.  A great book.

For me, this book was a disappointment.  Perhaps that has to do with how it was sold to me.  I learned from the book and enjoyed some of the aspects of trying to understand black slave experience – and of course, the characters in the story and their way of being with others did cause me to think in fresh ways about slavery, white domination, and patterns and hope and even imaginations about freedom.  I do have trouble, personally, with books/characters that wander too imaginatively (dreams/apparitions/ghosts).  I recognize dreams may be more formative for others and may have tangible meaning in their lives.  I’m too rooted in the “now” and what I can touch and feel to wander too deeply into dreams/imagination/deceased ancestors as guides to “get” books or characters whose lives are shaped by these ways to discern the world.

The story follows the life of Hiram Walker, with his savant like memory, as he tries to discern his way to freedom and make his way to freedom.

I’ve had a long history with the Appalachian Trail.  For many years I wanted to hike the AT – or sections of it.  In fact, to this day, I’d still like to hike sections of it.  Somehow, compared with many, I’m not at all motivated by starting at the “start” of some arbitrary race/trail/journey to get to the equally arbitrary “end.”  The Pacific Crest Trail fits this, too.  The mythic boundary of Mexico and Canada are nothing more than national “lines in the sand.”  Someday, though, I’d love to hike many of the gorgeous sections of either of these trails – or others. 

I was scheduled to be in Yosemite for 75 days in the summer of 2020.  Sadly, SARS-CoV-2 squashed that – and I won’t narrate here the pain/dislocation/grief that brings and brought to my life.  Alas.

In preparation for hiking I had planned, I read quite a few trail books.

This was an enjoyable tale.  Nothing profound. It fits precisely the publishers description:

Emma Gatewood told her family she was going on a walk and left her small Ohio hometown with a change of clothes and less than $200. The next anybody heard from her, this genteel, farm-reared, 67-year-old great-grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. And in September 1955, atop Maine's Mount Katahdin, she sang the first verse of "America, the Beautiful" and proclaimed, "I said I'll do it, and I've done it." Grandma Gatewood, as the reporters called her, became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone, as well as the first person - man or woman - to walk it twice and three times. The public attention she brought to the little-known footpath was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction.”

I read several short stories from Barry Lopez in several collected tales.  A few of them were captivating, though none of them was particularly moving.  The topic of his explorations – aboriginal or indigenous persons, and land use, hiking, “the wild” are issues of interest to me.  No single story was individually remarkable. 

About this book, one reviewer wrote: “I believe Barry Lopez is one of the best writers in the business today. Whether he's canoeing in the high arctic or talking to rodeo bull riders, his essays are poetry.”  I simply didn’t feel that moved, to be honest.  I was mostly “bored” by the book.  Not sure how/where my disconnect is/was compared to other readers.

The statements of the publisher for the “about” this book should place this book squarely within interests that are dear to me.  And others love Lopez.  I was unmoved. The publisher on this writes: The acclaimed National Book Award winner gives us a collection of spellbinding new essays that, read together, form a jigsaw-puzzle portrait of an extraordinary man. . . . Here is far-flung travel (the beauty of remote Hokkaido Island, the over-explored Gal├ípagos, enigmatic Bonaire); a naturalist's contention (Why does our society inevitably strip political power from people with intimate knowledge of the land small-scale farmers, Native Americans, Eskimos, cowboys?); and pure adventure (a dizzying series of around-the-world journeys with air freight everything from penguins to pianos). And here, too, are seven exquisite memory pieces hauntingly lyrical yet unsentimental recollections that represent Lopez's most personal work to date, and which will be read as classics of the personal essay for years to come. In writing about nature and people from around the world, by exploring the questions of our age, and, above all, by sharing a new openness about himself, Barry Lopez gives us a book that is at once vastly erudite yet intimate: a magically written and provocative work by a major American writer at the top of his form."

From the publisher: “Moving from fable and historical fiction to contemporary realism, this book of stories from Barry Lopez is erotic and wise, full of irresistible characters doing things they shouldn't do for reasons that are mysterious and irreducible.”  

I found the stories unmoving, to be honest.  I guess I “resisted” the characters, ha.

I loved this book.  Due to the need to return the book to the library, I did not have time to read it in its entirety (928 pages! !)  I found myself skimming over numbers of pages and sections – and yet fully engaged in other areas and arenas of Peter’s childhood, youth, early life and development of his reign. 

I lived in Moscow and Kiev in the summers of 1992 and 1993.  Those experiences shaped my life.  The size and scope of the countries/region amazed me then and still do.  I learned so much in this book and I’m sure have so much more to learn – about the culture(s) of persons from the region, practices, treatment of others, marriage alliances, and perhaps as much as anything that I had not known, Peter’s interest in maritime matters.  Loved this book.

From the publisher: “Against the monumental canvas of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and Russia unfolds the magnificent story of Peter the Great, crowned co-tsar at the age of ten. The acclaimed author of Catherine the Great, Robert K. Massie delves deep into the life of this captivating historical figure, chronicling the pivotal events that shaped a boy into a legend—including his “incognito” travels in Europe, his unquenchable curiosity about Western ways, his obsession with the sea and establishment of the stupendous Russian navy, his creation of an unbeatable army, his transformation of Russia, and his relationships with those he loved most: Catherine, the robust yet gentle peasant, his loving mistress, wife, and successor; and Menshikov, the charming, bold, unscrupulous prince who rose to wealth and power through Peter’s friendship. Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, tender and unforgiving, a man of enormous energy and complexity, Peter the Great is brought fully to life.”

Monday, March 30, 2020

The unpredictable yet predictable targets of SARS-CoV-2

I've tried to help myself and others discern SARS-CoV-2.

The best analogy I have come up with is as follows.

Imagine you have a less-than-mentally-stable-gun-carrying person passing through your town and possibly into your neighborhood. Let's call her Martha.

Imagine that Martha might walk down your street in the days that she was passing through your town.  Martha's presence would be unpredictable, she may be in your town for a few days or a few weeks, and she may be on your street 1x or 10x or 20x.  When Martha is present, with no pattern of frequency, with no predictable timeline, Martha shoots bullets in any direction, at random intervals.  And, Martha likes to remain in neighborhoods where people come out.

Let's imagine, for whatever reason, no one could stop Martha - though, for the sake of this imaginary exercise, let's imagine that if you never open your door to Martha, nor approach her, she could not fire at you (her ammunition would not, for example, go through your walls/windows.)  And, let's imagine that if Martha sees no person, she moves on to the next town.

In such an imaginary scenario, you would reasonably and practically never go anywhere in sight of nor in any proximate distance to Martha.  Ever. 

You would counsel everyone you know to stay away from Martha, too.  You would stay home until you had the "all clear" that Martha had left town.  And, if you went out for any reason, and saw Martha, you would steer clear of her on any street.

Martha doesn't intend to be mean or villainous, though, she does injure people.

Not all of her bullets hit live targets. 

Many of her bullets injure people. 

Some of her bullets kill people.

She shoots. She injures.  She kills.

SARS-CoV-2 is kind of like Martha.  It injures.  It kills.  It is unpredictable - while also being predictable. 

The only way to stay safe from SARS-CoV-2 is for you, and everyone you know, to stay away from "Martha"/SARS-CoV-2.

Of course, the problem with SARS-CoV-2 is that we don't know who "has it" and therefore, who, like Martha, is firing random penetrating "shots" at people.

And, of course, the greater problem with SARS-CoV-2 - and it is remarkably greater, is that in my imaginary scenario there is just Martha.  In the reality of SARS-CoV-2, every person that is infected, becomes a "new Martha" "shooting" at random intervals, at random frequency, in random directions, to anyone in their vicinity.

The only way to stop Martha from injuring or killing anyone, thereby, is to act, for a reasonable period of time over a few weeks - as if *every* person you meet is Martha - possibly, randomly, shooting you or anyone near her to injure or kill.

If left alone, Martha will go away.

If approached, Martha will maim, injure or kill more people.

More eery than Martha, SARS-CoV-2 multiples and replicates.

If left alone, Martha will go away.

If left alone, SARS-CoV-2 will go away. 

If we could get people to understand that SARS-CoV-2 is an "invisible" and nearly imperceptible "Martha" firing to injure some and kill others, perhaps we could better discern the need to be Safer At Home and to radically social distance - from anyone - as anyone could be "firing" lethal doses of SARS-CoV-2 into your body - injuring or killing you - or those that you love.

Be safe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What lessons will we learn?

While the future is always unknown, it seems particularly true right now with major fractures from SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 to our sense of well being, work, eating, travel, social-distancing - that now, more than ever, we feel disrupted.

My hope  -  my genuine and true and real hope  -  is that human persons will emerge better from this.  Better able to discern our mutuality, our basic human needs, our willingness to help one another. 

I'm optimistic on many days that we can be better.

I'm fearful on some days that we will learn no lessons and only repeat our persistent cycles of desire, greed, rivalry, displacement and "othering" that make us less human, one with another, and which distort our relationship to all of Creation.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sharing from CNN - on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Former CDC director: There's a long war ahead and our Covid-19 response must adapt

(CNN)  Different times call for different measures. When Covid-19 hit China, I was concerned, as were many public health professionals, about what could happen and urged rapid action to understand more and prepare. But few of us anticipated the catastrophic impact the new virus has had in Wuhan, in Italy and may soon have in many other places.

For most people, there is simply no frame of reference for this pandemic. Never in our lifetime has there been an infectious disease threat as devastating to society. Never in our lifetime have we seen a rich country like Italy face the need to ration respirators. And never have we seen the fear that millions of health care workers around the world feel about being infected by the virus -- justified fear we must address.

What we're learning about the novel coronavirus

    We learn more about this virus by the day, often by the hour and most of the news is bad. Here are five things we've learned in the past week:
    • The virus is much more infectious than influenza or the SARS virus, which it closely resembles. This week, new data showed that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can live on contaminated surfaces as the SARS virus can, so it may spread, sometimes explosively, from doorknobs, elevator buttons and contaminated surfaces in hospitals and elsewhere. But we also learned that, unlike SARS, patients become highly infectious before they become seriously ill, explaining at least in part why Covid-19 acts like a super-SARS, far more infectious than its vanquished cousin.
    • It's not just older people with underlying conditions who become very ill and can die. Younger adults, previously healthy people and some children develop viral pneumonia. Although prior reports suggested that 80% of people got only mild disease, it now appears that about half of these people, despite not needing hospital admission, have moderately severe pneumonia, which can take weeks or longer to recover from.
    • Explosive spread will almost certainly overwhelm health care capacity in New York City and elsewhere, and lead to the inability to save patients who could otherwise have been saved. Today's severe cases are in people infected 10 to 14 days ago who got sick five to six days ago and have steadily progressed to severe illness. That means cases will continue to skyrocket for weeks after spread stops. Not only won't there be enough ventilators, there won't be enough supplies for the ventilators, hospital beds to support patients -- or health care workers to help patients.
    • Health care workers are in peril. Thousands were infected in China, more than 3,000 have been infected in Italy, protective equipment is in short supply in the United States, and as health care becomes overwhelmed, it becomes harder to provide care safely.
    • It's going to get a lot worse. Not only is the global economy in free-fall but supply chains for essentials, including medicines, are disrupted. Even China, which has successfully tamped down spread, is only now reopening its economy -- which produces components of many medicines people rely on -- and very slowly.
    This is a war. And in war, strategy is important. The leading concept, now remarkably widely understood, is flattening the curve. This is an important tactic to protect patients and health care workers from a surge that can overwhelm our hospitals, increase death rates and put health care workers' lives at risk. But it is not a strategy. A month ago today, my organization, which focuses on preventing epidemics, published a concept of operations showing the shading of containment into mitigation, and the need to pause contact tracing when it became impractical and scale up social distancing interventions (see link for details.)
    Today, learning from another month of experience from around the world, particularly China and South Korea, we recognize a third phase of the response: suppression of episodic outbreaks. In this new third phase, extensive testing and alert clinical systems can identify cases and clusters promptly, intervene extensively and suppress spread before widespread societal harms occur.
    The revised approach also recognizes that this is going to be a long war, and that we need to address the extensive risks to societal continuity, including health care for people with ongoing medical needs such as hypertension and diabetes, and the vulnerability of the supply chain for medicines and supplies.
    China has outlined an analogous approach, based in part on their experience with cases re-imported from other parts of the world. In China, Hubei province faced a peak that overwhelmed health care services, but other provinces were able to avoid this through aggressive containment (the purple curve below). China remains largely locked down, with only gradual reopening, and is urgently expanding health care capacity, preparing for possible clusters or larger outbreaks in the future.
    There are five priorities essential for successful implementation of the third phase of this strategy.
    Extensive testing and contact tracing. China has tested millions of people and traced more than 685,000 contacts. Contact tracing requires skilled public health professionals -- and sophisticated data management. Testing is required in multiple venues:
    • Health care facilities. Every patient with fever or cough and every patient requiring mechanical ventilation or with signs or symptoms of pneumonia.
    • Contact tracing. An army of skilled public health workers, potentially empowered by new data streams such as cell phone location trails, are needed to identify exposed people, who must be isolated for 14 days after exposure. How widely a circle of contacts to track, and how and how often to test contacts will depend on emerging information about who spreads the infection and when in the course of their illness.
    • Drive-through. Quick, safe, convenient drive-through testing facilities, as pioneered by South Korea, reduce the burden on health care facilities, reduce the risk to health care workers and others who patients may come into contact with, and identify infections among contacts and others.
    • Surveillance. We need tracking systems, including the Influenza-Like Illness system, to find spread and monitor trends. Syndromic surveillance systems will need to be tuned to detect possible clusters, and signals investigated immediately.
    Prepare for health care to surge safely. Every community in the country needs to ramp up the ability to safely care for large number of patients with minimal risk to health care staff. This means not only flexing up the number of beds and availability of oxygen and ventilators, but every aspect of health care including staffing, equipment, supplies and overall management.
    Preserve health and routine health care functions. We need to increase the resilience of both our people and our health care facilities, as rapidly as possible.
    • Increase personal health resilience. Underlying conditions greatly increase the risk of severe illness. This isn't just bad for patients who get infected, it will take up scarce health care facilities. There has never been a better time to quit smoking, get your blood pressure under control, make sure that if you have diabetes it's well controlled, and -- yes -- get regular physical activity. (Being active outside for at least 15 minutes a day also helps with vitamin D levels. Of all of the various proposed measures to increase your resistance to infection, regular physical activity and adequate vitamin D levels probably have the most scientific evidence to support them -- and can be done safely.)
    • Massively scale up telemedicine. We need to reduce the number of people attending health care facilities while at the same time preserving and improving health. The Administration issued flexible and constructive guidelines for Medicaid, but much more is needed. Patients -- especially those who are uninsured or who don't have a regular source of care -- need to be able to refill prescriptions, get medical advice and find a clinician readily.
    • Fix supply chain weaknesses. This is crucial for masks and other personal protective equipment, ventilators and supplies for ventilators, and laboratory materials. This is a good time to look at a core list of medications and ensure that the safest and most effective ones are available. For example, in another area where my group works globally, we've discovered that instead of 30 or 50 medications for high blood pressure, three would do for nearly all patients. Let's make sure we have life-saving medicines and worry less about which companies are making them.
    Learn intensively. If there is one key lesson from past epidemics, it's that getting real-time data is essential for a great epidemic response.
    • Most urgently, we must learn how best to protect health care workers from infection.
    • We need to know who is most at risk for spreading the infection, and at what point in their illness -- so that we can target contact tracing most effectively. This will help determine how wide a circle of contacts to track, and how and how often to test.
    • Who is at the highest risk for severe illness and death.
    • What works to reduce infection? What public health advice is being followed, and what is the impact? Some countries require that all patients, even those with mild illness, are isolated in facilities. (This could be done, for example, in college dormitories). Is this necessary and effective? Should it be extended to close contacts to prevent them from spreading the infection? The answer to these questions will depend in part on answers to other questions, such as how often people who never have symptoms, or people who are just beginning to get sick, spread infection.
    • Are there rapid point-of-care tests and how accurate and timely are blood tests for coronavirus infection?
    • Is immunity protective? Even if antibodies are reliably produced, this doesn't necessarily mean that recovered patients are immune from a future infection.
    For these questions, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments, as well as public health agencies around the world, are crucial. They are the intelligence officers needed to guide our strategy and tactics, and they need to be both at the table when decisions are made and at the podium when policies are explained.
    And these are just the epidemiological questions. We also urgently need to know whether treatments work. The preliminary report on the value of chloroquine and azithromycin needs to be rigorously addressed. The disappointing finding that two anti-viral medications didn't improve survival in severely ill patients is a sobering reminder that until there are rigorous studies, we won't know how best to treat patients. Even if we can't dramatically improve outcomes, a treatment that reduces the need for intubation could save many lives.
    A safe and effective vaccine is of greatest importance. The world must do everything possible to develop a vaccine, while also recognizing that this may or may not be possible.
    Adapt to a new normal. The Covid-19 pandemic will change our world forever. Until it is controlled, we will all need to change how we wash our hands, cover our coughs, greet others and how close we come to others. We will rethink the need for meetings and conferences. We will need broadband for all as a public utility like mail or water. We will need to support the vulnerable, even if only because their illness can risk our health.
      Our strategy to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 will necessarily evolve as we learn more about the virus and the effectiveness of different interventions.

      In a fourth phase, a vaccine, if one can be found, or global elimination efforts, if they can succeed, would either end the pandemic or, if not, force us to adapt to the continuing threat for the indefinite future. We face weeks and months of fear and tragedy. Leaders at every level must be frank that this is frightening, unprecedented and irrevocably changes how we provide care and prepare for the future. But it is also a time to recognize that we are all in this together -- not only all in the United States, but all of us globally. Spread anywhere in the world increases risk everywhere. We have a common enemy, and, working together with a common strategy, we can build a new normal that minimizes risk, maximizes collaboration and commits to shared progress.