A Rant on Airline Travel

[Ed. Note: I wrote this while on a flight home from Milwaukee five years ago today, back when I returned to consulting for a living. Business consulting means you must travel to clients since they will not come to you. Clients want you to come to them, but generally will not foot the bill for anything other than Economy-Class tickets. “Economy” in this case does not mean only financial economy, it also means economy in space, comfort, and dignity. With cheapness comes pain. I edited it slightly, and added some comments after.]

March 1, 2012

I am writing this on a United 757 winging our way from Denver to Portland, which is where I will get the connector to Bend.

On this trip, we were late out of Bend because of snow, I had to traverse TSA with its full body scan, had to endure a cramped window seat at the back of the plane and a cramped aisle seat on the next flight. I paid $25 to check my bag, which did not make the connection, and even though United swore they would courier me the bag that evening, I had to return to the airport to get my bag… and then no one was there. Luckily, I dialed enough numbers to find a guy in operations who came up to open the baggage office. An actual quote from a United employee at the airport was “we are slow, but friendly.”

I am now sitting in an aisle seat on a full plane, with a friendly, yet large, man on the middle seat. I am large, too, so I am listing to port as I write this, my left shoulder being hit every time someone walks by, including the flight attendants.

My first flight today was overbooked, and the gate agent was annoyed because I showed up “last minute”. I tried to get a seat assigned last night, but was unable to. I tried to get a seat assigned at the ticket counter, but the agent said to go to the gate. But, to the gate agent, it was “last minute”.

I would have been bumped, except one nice soul accepted the $400 bribe, and agreed to take a bus(!) from Milwaukee to O’hare to catch a new plane (a bus because the agent didn’t trust that the flight to ORD would make it on time).

Almost every time I fly United it is a pain in the ass.

But this is not a rant against United. Rather, it is a rant against the demise of American air travel. It used to be that flight time was an ideal time to to get work done – open the laptop or notebook and go head’s-down for some uninterrupted work. Flying was never fully comfortable for me, but it was generally less crowded and less cramped.

It is impossible for me to do anything but sit stoically and endure the flights (although I can at least type this out on my iPhone.) And it is too bad.

There is a better way to do this. Hell, if I could, I’d pull a John Madden and get a custom bus. But, really, I would say that if we abolish the TSA and allow people to get onto a plane without being electronically strip searched and carrying what they want, that would be a great start.

Then, if the airlines stop nickel and dime-ing people that would help. It is cheap and petty that United charges $25 per checked bag and $8 for a snack. United has sucked for a long time, but the cure for them is to provide first class service from employees who give a damn. If they do that then they could charge the premium they seem to think they are entitled to and cut the crap.

What we need is a premium version of Southwest. 

The upshot for me is that flying is now like entering a wormhole with nothing to do but turn off until you get to where you are going. From a business perspective that means I must charge clients for travel, since travel is now an opportunity loss. From a personal perspective it means that flying is awful.


Some thoughts, five years on:

I have probably logged more airline miles than at least 98% of Americans. There was a time in the late ’90s that I flew twice a day between Burbank and San Jose, and I did that for months. Virtually all my travel was business travel, and most of that was when I was with KPMG Consulting. When you do something like this for as long as this, you develop a level of skill that you don’t know you have until you realize other people don’t have it. You learn how to pack quickly and efficiently: to roll your clothes, not to fold them, and toss out the “packing squares.” You learn how and when to get to the airport. You learn that trying to carry everything on the plane is stupid. There is no need to be afraid of claiming baggage, and life is so much better when you have only one carry-on, except on airlines like Alaska, where you can gate-check your bag. You learn to carry snacks and to carry a filtered water-bottle. You also learn to fly in your suit – if your suit is comfortable (which all suits should be), it is better than jeans and cheap running shoes, and everyone treats you like royalty. This is, as Helen Reddy said, “wisdom born of pain.”

But knowing how to do it does not make it fun or easy. I am blessed now in that I don’t have to travel weekly anymore. I am wise enough to know that airlines are not going to change. Unless you pony up for a higher class, your ride will get worse. If there is a choice of driving or flying, I will rent a huge car with Sirius XM and drive. When self-driving cars come along, I will use a car much more often.

We are human, and we can never replace being with each other in person. And we cannot bring Paris to our front door. At least for now, we are stuck with the airlines.

However, traveling for work has become less and less necessary. The capability to do quality work remotely has only gotten better since 2012. Mobile networks are better, mobile phone technology is better, coverage is better. I literally can do my job anywhere there is cell coverage and electricity, which is most of the United States and much of the world. I have worked in parks with chipmunks at my feet, in cafes in London, and, yes, at the beach (Note: if you are at the beach, just enjoy the beach. Just because you can work there doesn’t mean you should). I currently work on the edge of a national forest. Who needs to fly?

Airlines will not get better. The only incentive they have is to pack more and more people into larger and larger planes. Technology will save us from this mess, not the airlines. Thank God for technology that lets me opt out of seat 37E.

Dialysis Blood

My wife’s kidneys failed when she was a teenager, and therefore she was getting hemodialysis for a good part of her life. The kidneys filter the blood to remove excess fluid and a wide variety of toxins. Hemodialysis replicates some of the kidney’s function when a person’s kidneys fail. In hemodialysis, your blood is cycled through an artificial kidney, which means that you have blood taken out, cleaned, and returned back in. Therefore, at any given time during treatment you have about half a liter of blood in tubes, outside of the body.

Access to the blood usually comes in two ways: via a chest catheter, or via needles. The needles are inserted into a surgically prepared fistula, which is a vein looped back into an artery. The blood is taken from the arterial side, cleaned, and returned back via the veinous side. The blood is cycled through over a period of hours, and during a dialysis treatment, quite a lot of fluid is removed from the body, anywhere from one to four liters, sometimes more. A person on dialysis loses anywhere from two to ten pounds during treatment.

A person on dialysis (my wife liked the term “dialyser” instead of “dialysis patient”) has this done anywhere from three to six times per week, for as many as four to eight hours per treatment. Usually, things go well. But, when you do anything at least one hundred fifty times per year, things sometimes happen. And when things happen on dialysis, they usually involve blood.

People don’t like seeing blood. They especially don’t like seeing blood on themselves. Some people faint when they see it, some people get queasy. If they cut a finger, or get a bloody nose, the blood-soaked bandage or rag or towel can freak them out. Blood is not an everyday event for most people.

That’s not true with dialysis people. Dialysis in a way is like controlled bleeding – you bleed into a tube, and you get it back. So, every single treatment they are seeing their blood in a tube. And when they are done, there’s at least a little blood when they pull their needles. Because the needles have direct access to the bloodstream, they have to hold the bandages against their access points for a good five to ten minutes just to ensure they don’t bleed out. Then they tape up a bandage and it stays there for a few hours.

When anomalies happen, they can be quite dramatic. And by dramatic, I mean lots of blood. They are dramatic, but as dialysers and their support people find out pretty quickly, dramatic doesn’t usually mean dangerous. Not usually.

My wife started home hemodialysis in 2008, and I trained to be her caregiver. As a caregiver, my job was to support her, to help set up the machine, to monitor progress, to help her start and end treatment, and to aid in emergency situations. Jenny was a pro at this. By the time we started dialysis at home, she had already had about fifteen years of hemodialysis experience. I wasn’t such a pro.

Most of the time things went well, but there were a few times when things went hairy. One time I was downstairs when Jenny was running, and my son ran to me screaming “Mommy needs you, she’s bleeding!” When I got to the room, there was a lot of blood, and Jenny had a bloody towel jammed on her arm, and it was soaking through and dripping, and she couldn’t get to new towels to put on top. I was freaked. She was not – she was cussing pissed.

“Get those paper towels. Put them over this. Help me press down. Harder!” And then, she was fine. The bleeding stopped, we swapped out the bloody mess with clean bandages. And there was blood on the carpet, on the chair, on her clothes. I still have the chair, and there are still blood stains on it. Not big ones – but they are there. She lost about a pint of blood all told, which is doable, but when it is spread all over, it’s dramatic!

Jenny put her own needles in. The process is to push a needle into the access point – the fistula – and you know you have it right when blood pops into the attached tube. You then let the tube fill, attach a syringe with saline, get rid of the air, and then push the saline into the tube. Then, do all this again with the second needle. The dialysis lines are later attached to the tubes.

One time Jenny developed an aneurysm, a bubble-like swelling, on the blood vessel in her fistula. As a result, she’d have to push through the aneurysm to get into the actual fistula properly. The aneurysm made it difficult to find the real vein. The result was that the access would gush blood from the aneurysm as she was poking the needle in trying to find the right access. As usual, she was all business. My God she was brave! I admit to being flustered, but for her, she had no choice. It was dialyze or die, and in this case the hospital was not an option. So, blood was pouring out as she stuck herself. My job was to keep the blood from dripping and to quickly put bandages on it when she found the vein. And to swap out bandages during treatment, because the aneurysm didn’t quite fully stop bleeding until after the treatment was done – several hours. This is obviously unsustainable, and yes we did indeed take a trip to her vascular surgeon to get it fixed up.

You go onto dialysis when you lose your kidney function. But really, dialysis is not about kidneys, it is about blood. It is about what the kidneys do, which is to clean the blood. Everything you do in dialysis is about your blood; it’s never about your kidneys. As a result, blood is the key component of daily life in dialysis. People on hemodialysis get used to blood. If they see some blood oozing from an access, they don’t freak out, they just deal with it. If a needle pops out, it’s not good, but, you deal with it. You can’t stand there getting queazy when blood is dripping down because that is what is dangerous: freaking out.

This post was prompted because someone posted a picture of one of their bleeding incidents on Facebook, complete with spilled blood and soaked bandage, and when I saw it, I thought “what a dialysis picture!” On any other forum, there would have been cries for deletion, for violation of rules, etc., but for dialysis people, it was a picture of something that happens all the time.

And then a few days later, someone else posted that someone in their dialysis unit died during treatment because their access was covered with a blanket and no one noticed the venous needle dislodged and that the patient had bled out. That made me extremely sad, and angry, because dialysis is hard enough without having to worry about bleeding out. But that worry is the price of the life dialysis gives.

The functions the kidneys provide are not meant to be exposed. The kidneys are located deep in your body and are not easily accessed. You have two kidneys: in technology terms, it’s a redundant system. You can live on 10% to 15% of your total kidney function. When you lose your kidneys, you are replacing that nice and protected functioning with pulling the blood out of the body and into the room. You are going from a safe situation over to one which has serious risks. It’s no wonder that events will happen, and it’s no wonder that people will get inured to them. People on dialysis are in a similar situation to soldiers at war. Their lives are constantly on the line. For dialysis people, they are in that situation for years, many times for the rest of their lives. The term “dialysis warrior” is used a lot in the dialysis forums, and indeed they are warriors, except the enemy is not an external force, but the failure of their own body.

And as in war, blood plays a big part, to the point where a pint of blood soaking the carpet is not that big a deal in the overall scheme of things. She was alive! And no little blood spill was going to change that.

 

 

Denied!

Recently, the NPR show Planet Money had an episode about Edward Thorp, the man who invented blackjack card counting. Thorp is a mathematician, and he saw blackjack as an interesting problem to analyze as opposed to a way to get rich quick. At the time he discovered card counting, the established idea was that there could not possibly be a “system” that would beat blackjack. The odds are what they are, the payouts are what they are, and the casino has a baked-in winning edge of about 1/2%, meaning they take fifty cents out of every hundred dollars wagered, no matter what.

Blackjack is an easy game. You and the dealer get two cards. You see the dealer’s top card, but not the “hole,” or face-down, card. Cards are valued as their numeric value; face cards count as ten; and an Ace can either be one or eleven, your choice. A Queen and a Nine are nineteen, a Three and a Four are seven, an Ace and a Six can either be seven or seventeen. An Ace and a Ten or face card is special: It’s a blackjack, and it pays you 1 1/2 times your wager.

Your job is to take your cards and get as close as you dare to 21, without going over (called breaking or busting). The way you do that is to ask for cards from the dealer when it’s your turn (called hitting), as many as you want, until you feel satisfied with your hand, or until you break by going over 21. So, if you are dealt a six and a four, making ten, you want to hit to get get closer to 21. If you hit and are dealt an eight, say, you have eighteen, and the odds are at this point that you will break if you hit again, so you elect to stay or stand. All players are playing against the dealer, not each other, and when all the players have played their hands, the dealer plays his. Dealers have no choice in what they do. Different casinos have slightly different rules, but the dealer always follows whatever the rules are. In most casinos, dealers must play until they get to 17 or better, or bust.  If the dealer busts, every player who didn’t bust wins. If the dealer gets between seventeen and twenty-one, each player who has a higher value than the dealer wins. If there is a tie, (called a push) it’s a tie and you keep your bet.

The casino edge varies based on their rules, but it is usually around 1/2%. Edward Thorp realized that this winning percentage was based on discrete hands, considered only as a single hand dealt from a full deck. What really happens is that in real life, the odds of who wins the hand depend on which cards have already been played from the deck. In other words, how a hand plays out is not the same hand to hand, but changes as the dealer plays multiple hands from the same shuffled deck.

For example, if you are playing blackjack with three players and a dealer in a single-deck game, you may have three or four hands between shuffles. When you play the first hand, all the cards played are now out of the deck. Therefore, these cards are no longer available for the remaining hands, changing the absolute odds of the game. If in the first hand lots of “tens” (10, J, Q, and K) and aces are played, these cards are no longer available for the subsequent hands. This lowers the odds for the player, and increases them for the dealer, because the dealer does better if there are more low cards and less aces available to make blackjack for a player. Card counting is the art of tracking which cards have been dealt, thus telling you what cards are left. By doing that, you can recognize the times when the remaining cards are in your favor, and therefore are more likely to win. To take advantage of this, you place a higher bet: two, three, even ten times more than your base wager. Therefore, when you win, you win more. Casinos quickly realized that they were wrong, that card counting was real, and got to the point where they were banning card counters and mixing up the rules to make card counting virtually ineffective.

My father was a mathematician working in the aerospace industry back when Thorp made these discoveries. Back in the ’60s, the only computers available were in huge companies and the US government. There were no personal computers back then. But, he was working in a lab where he had access to a huge mainframe computer, and so he developed a program that calculated the actual odds of blackjack in different betting scenarios and use cases, and he ran the program during “slack” time on his company’s computer. Overall, he simulated over one billion hands. Using the result he was able to validate Thorp and come up with a “basic game” of blackjack: when to hit, when to stay, etc., and the data was used as a basis of his first blackjack card counting system.

Because, yes, my father was Jerry L. Patterson, notorious in the blackjack community back in the day. I introduced him here last month. He wrote a book called “Blackjack: A Winner’s Handbook” in 1979, soon after casino gambling became legal in New Jersey. He started giving blackjack seminars and started to develop and market other systems for blackjack and other casino games. He did well over the years. Some of his systems seemed to teeter on the mystical, upsetting the pure math blackjack crowd. He was even called the “Witchdoctor of Blackjack” by one prominent hard-core card counting guru. My father is in his eighties now, and retired from the gaming business.

I take after dad in a number of ways, one of which is that I have a good feel for numbers. When I was younger, I decided to try out card counting and some of the other techniques. I quickly found out that it would be difficult to make a serious living as a pro blackjack player, and even if I could, it is a lot of work to get really good at the techniques and stay on top of the casino counter-measures to these techniques. I also know the odds well enough to know that if you screw up even a little, you will lose fast. Casinos only seem friendly; their real job is to suck you dry if they can, and they are good at it.

I visited dad a while back and thought it might be a fun thing for him to review his books and training materials and come up with a retrospective of his best systems in a new book – but alas, the copyrights belong to the publishers. But recently I thought, well maybe I could do it, be a sort of “Patterson plays Patterson” and take two or three of his best systems, learn them, and then see how they do now, now that casino gambling has spread far and wide across this land. He has systems for blackjack, craps, and roulette, and really, the games haven’t changed that much, so theoretically, the techniques should still have value with maybe a few tweaks. It also gives me an excuse to go to Reno and Vegas – with the bonus of being able to write off the trips as research. Then, I could put together a book about the experience. Win or lose, there’s a story here.

Well, I decided to run this idea by dad. “No way!” he cried. “That’s a terrible idea! There’s no way you can make money at it, and the casinos are wise to it now, and anyway it’s hard to learn it, and there are much better things to do with your time!”

I must admit, I was taken aback. He was adamant about it! I reminded him that casinos are not that savvy – remember Phil Ivey cleaning the clock of the Borgata. Remember that there are many more casinos everywhere, with varying levels of maturity. And, I told him, it would be fun!

“No way!”

We discussed this for a full forty-five minutes. He never wavered. I told him “but dad! You already gave me the first chapter! ‘The Book They Didn’t Want Written!  Patterson denies his own son!” It was all falling on deaf ears.

I tried to peel off which were his favorite systems. His legacy is his craps system, but he said “no, they’ll toss you out! They know about it now!” I told him, well, if they toss me out, at least I can’t lose any money.

Oh well, I tried. But, you know, I’m going to do this over the next few months. It is just too juicy not to. I don’t really have to ask him, because, you know… I have his books.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

We See Dead People

When I was a teenager, we had a neighbor next door who lived in the same house since the mid-1930s. She had a sister who was a pack rat, and subscribed to magazines and news papers, and never threw them away. Rather, she put them in the garage. After fifty years of this, the garage was full. Since my neighbor’s sister passed away, my neighbor asked me if I would clean out the garage for her for a sum, and said I could keep whatever I found in the garage.

The house was a nice thirties-style California house, two stories, with stucco and a Spanish tile roof, and three huge avocado trees in the backyard. The garage was detached, and was just big enough for a decent sized DeSoto if it weren’t for the fact that it was fully stuffed with newspapers and magazines. Over the next week, I attacked the garage.

The garage was a time machine. When I opened the garage door, I was confronted with stacks and stacks of relatively recent newspapers. Most of what I found was, at least to me, just a bunch of papers, and so I recycled virtually all them. However, I hit pay dirt when I got to the 1930s and ’40s, which was about 80% into the garage. I found dozens of copies of magazines like GQ, Look, Liberty, Life, and others. I kept a lot of them, and sold a number to used book stores in Hollywood.

The magazines I really prized, and the ones I still have today, were from the ’30s: The first few years of “Look” magazine, and a pile of “Motion Picture” and “Photoplay” mags. These magazines were so beautiful! The colors of the covers were so rich, with pictures of the stars, like Deanna Durbin, Olivia De Havilland, Delores Del Rio, Sonia Henny, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. I fell in love with the glamor that was 1930s Hollywood. All the stars were dressed to the nines. They all drove huge Duesenbergs, Cords, and Lincolns, and smoked Lucky Strikes (with the green pack), or Camels, or Chesterfields. They all smiled, and when they were not smiling, they were fighting over some man. It was a walk into a world that was vivid and alive before me, but which no longer existed.

I have a box set of movies that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The first few movies were from the years 1929 through 1937: “Broadway Melody,” “Grand Hotel,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,”and “The Life of Emile Zola.” “Broadway Melody” was the first sound picture to win Best Picture. It won the Oscar eighty-seven years ago.

These four movies are worth watching. It is interesting to see how movies changed during the “Golden Age,” but more importantly, at a time when Hollywood was cranking out movies by the trainload, these were the best of their time, and are really well made, and entertaining.

As I watched these movies, I realized that everyone in them or involved in making them is dead now. Every actor, every extra, all the sound men, all the camera men, the screen writers, the directors, the producers, the caterers, everyone. And yet, here they are, alive, on the screen. You see and hear the actors. You hear the words of the writers, you see the direction of the directors, and the cinematography of the cameramen. They live on, even though they are no longer here in the flesh.

A few years ago I realized that technology has given us a gift that I don’t think people really understand. And that is: we are the first people who can see and hear what generations past really looked like and sounded like. Photography first started in 1839, and sound recording started in 1877, so we have records of people going back to the nineteenth century – all of whom are now dead. But movies with sound came into being in 1927, less than one hundred years ago. While photographs and sound recordings are great, movies bring people to life. It fascinates me that we can see people on the screen, and they are alive! And yet they are no longer with us.

We as human beings naturally put our generation and our era as the pinnacle of times. We know so much. We are dealing with problems no one ever heard of before. The ’70s, the ’60s, the ’30s – oh, it was so much simpler then! So much more innocent! They never had to deal with the problems we have now. How did they ever live without ATM machines or mobile phones? But I don’t believe there ever were innocent times. Humans are brutal and we tend to focus on the good and gloss over the bad when we cast our memories back to those “simpler times.”

When you you look at motion pictures from decades ago – ideally the best ones, but even the worst ones, you are forced to recon with the fact that these people really were alive. They breathed and they lived and they married, and mourned, and lived in fear, and triumph – and you know that these people, these generations now dead, had the same fears and aspirations, and desires, and faults that we have now. We have the benefit of hindsight – we know what happened after these movies were made, and we know what happened to the actors and the players in them, thanks to IMDB and Wikipedia. At the time, we didn’t know how the depression would end. Considering that other countries resorted to fascism and communism to attempt to solve their economic challenges, and given where Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s head was at, we could have easily become a socialist state. No one knew at the time. We do know that they partied and enjoyed their good times when they had them. It seems every generation thinks the old folks were stodgy and that they are the first generation to have fun and stay out all night. But we know that’s not true. We know because we read, but we really know because of the movies. The song “Lullaby of Broadway” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1936 – and it was about people who stayed up all night partying on Broadway:

When a Broadway baby says “Good night,”
It’s early in the morning.
Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight until the dawn.

If you clicked on the link above and saw the Busby Berkeley clip of all those dancers tapping in the movie, you have know know that virtually all of them are no longer with us. But they were alive! And every single one of them had their dreams and aspirations of making it in Hollywood, and every single one of them was flesh and blood. Whatever life they ended up having after this clip, it is over now.

Then we look at something like this, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and marvel at how beautiful and poetic it is, and how alive Fred and Ginger are, and how even then people were desperate, had money problems, were discouraged, were suicidal, and:

There may be teardrops to shed
So while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance.

We are human beings and yet we are so quick to forget that there have been human beings for thousands of years before our generation, and that every generation in every country, and on every continent, in every era, in every station of life, lived and loved and bled and hurt and died. And we have documented it now. The previous generations are no longer figments of  history books or snippets of novels about rich people, or books of quotations. We can see them, alive, on the screen, even though they are long dead.

I find it reassuring. I don’t feel alone in my experiences. While whatever we are dealing with now is real and urgent to us, it is comforting to know that other people faced similar and even worse situations and lived – at least in the aggregate. It is reassuring and sometimes frustrating to know that history has echoes. You can look at the fight Humankind has had with ignorance, want, and evil, and be discouraged that we still have to fight ignorance, want, and evil. And yet, while we have had horrific experiences as a species, we are still here, and we have won the major battles, albeit with casualties. We have dodged nuclear war, so far, when the odds were against us. We have become more tolerant over our existence even though there are still deep pockets of intolerance. We are winning the fight to transcend primitive tribalism, even though there are those that are grasping onto it with both hands. We are incrementally better. But we were also pretty damn good back in the day, as well. And now we have the proof we didn’t have before.

Beautiful Disaster

The first snow in Central Oregon was December 5th. I live in Sisters, near Bend, and we are in the high desert. The dry, cold air makes for nice powdery snow. The snow was beautiful! I was prepared: I bought a new set of snow tires for my four-wheel-drive F150. The truck even with regular tires is good in snow, but the snow tires make it stick to the ground almost like driving on bare pavement. And I put the snow blower on the tractor.

The snow first started west of town – about five or six miles toward the McKenzie Pass. It was threatening in Sisters all day, and you could see that the mountains were being hammered, but in the town itself, it was cloudy, but no snow.

Finally, toward the evening, it came, and when it came, it came down in big, fluffy, flakes. It was beautiful, and just the thing for the Christmas season.

It kept coming! We had a lull the next week, and then, we got hit on the 15th. A good foot of snow, or more, and it was cold, and the snow stayed. And it was beautiful!

I love it when it snows. The snow is quiet, and yet there is so much going on. The snow absorbs whatever ambient sound there is so it makes the world quieter than usual. It covers up all sins. All the things that are undone around the ranch, and anything that is out of place, is covered with a nice blanket, making it look like everything is perfect and orderly.

The usual cycle is to have a nice snowfall in December, and another in January or February, with the snow melting in between. This year, we had several snowfalls from December 5th through the second week of January – and it stayed cold. Each snowfall layered itself on the last one. By mid January, we had five feet of snow fall on Sisters – and virtually none of it melted. This five feet compressed down to about three feet on the ground, and on the roofs.

We had a storm early in January that dumped another 18 inches on top of what we already had. This was the final straw. Up until this point, the snow was still a wonder, at least to me. I love snow, so having it around was fun. It was still manageable. We could still navigate around the paths, and I could still park easily in front and back. But the last storm dumped so much snow on what was already there, that we were smothered.

I took the snow blower out seven times over the course of several weeks, each time clearing from six to eighteen inches of snow. The last few times I could only clear enough to provide access to the horses and the barns. Everywhere else we had at least two and a half to three feet of snow. As I write this, the snow is still there.

We started to get worried about the snow load around the new year. We already a few feet on the roofs, and the last storm took the snow load over the top of some of the buildings’ design limits. Two of our neighbors lost their RV sheds – they just collapsed under the weight. Some of our neighbors had snow and melting ice damage their interior drywall. We had one of the rafters split in a lean-to shed. In Bend, there were a number of collapsed roofs: a school gymnasium, a grocery store, a manufacturing plant. There were damaged roofs galore: the main FedEx facility, grocery stores, and lots of residences.

And, all through this, the snow was beautiful! The snow collected the trees like a National Geographic nature movie. The mountains wore a mantle of white, and when it was clear, the alpenglow in the mornings when the sun hit the mountains was breathtaking. Clear, and beautiful, and cold, and clean, and bracing. It is wonderful. But it just became too much. The amount of snow was no joke, and as beautiful as it was, it was dangerous and destructive.

My house is pretty rugged, but I was not willing to put it to the test. My friend, my son, and  I climbed up and started to shovel the snow off the roof. Oh my! I am out of shape! We had an impressive amount up there. You take the shovel and carve off a piece, and fling it off the edge of the roof. Over and over. For hours. We moved an easy ten tons of snow off the roof of the house.

Finally, last week, it warmed up enough for the snow to start to loosen up. The trees are made for this. The big ponderosas and junipers shed their snow like starlets shedding their mink coats. You could hear “whooshes” every minute or two from various parts of the property as a branch freed itself of its load. By the end of the day, all the trees were bare.

We could see signs of relief. The tons of snow on one of the buildings started to slide – just a wee bit, with the snow and ice hanging over the bottom of the roof like a frozen ocean wave, and a foot or two of the roof clear at the peak.

The next morning, the snow came off our barn. I heard the “whump!” from the house but didn’t know what it was until I went back there. The three feet of snow on the roof became a fifty foot long ridge of snow over seven feet high. This was quickly joined by another pile from the stalls across the way.

In three days, the snow was was finally loosing its grip on the structures. The snow came down in sections – never all at once. I would be outside and hear another “crash!” as a section of snow fell. Since I cleared the roof, I could hear the “thuds” of snow hitting the roof from the trees above. It’s like the the whole world said “Okay! We’re done with this.”

But, no, not quite yet. We are not done. The snow that is here has not yet melted. One morning I went into the kitchen and noticed that the range top was wet. I didn’t know what happened – I thought someone spilled something. But, no, it was snow melt coming into the kitchen from the exhaust vent. Once more onto the roof! We cleared the ice dams.

Six feet of snow is a heck of a lot of water. And sure enough, as it melts, it floods. More so in Bend, where is warmer generally than in Sisters, but here too. The roads have been pretty mucky. And then it freezes at night. We’ve had people skating on the streets. And some cars were skating without wanting to. A friend of mine had a perfectly good minivan skate into his truck. Thankfully, no injuries.

We were in the midst of all this over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. I thought of how we are dealing with this slow-motion freak of nature. There is a lot of damage, but it’s not as fast and furious as hurricanes, tornados, or earthquakes. We did not make the news. We had a few days where it was minus ten and twenty, but national news picked up the midwest disasters and cold snaps over us. I had disaster envy!

Some of my friends said “I did not sign up for this!” Some seemed to be seriously considering moving back to the warmer climes from which they came. I thought of the refugee Californians and Arizonans who recently moved up here. They were having a hell of a time! I wondered how many would remain.

This snowfall is a record event. Central Oregon had seen nothing like this since 1972. Everyone is afraid this may be the “new normal” but it unlikely to happen again for a while.

Martin Luther King’s day reminded me of the Northridge Quake, which hit the Los Angeles area on MLK day in 1994. That was a disaster. Over sixty people lost their lives. Major freeway overpasses were felled. Who knows how many structures damaged or destroyed. I was there, and I will never forget driving to work the next morning. I lived near Pasadena and worked in Simi Valley, which meant I had to cross the Valley to get to work. I left the house at around five to avoid traffic. As I drove down the 210 freeway entering the San Fernando Valley, I saw something that stunned me: the entire valley was without power and was pitch black, with the darkness dotted here and there with the light from fires. As I descended into the Valley, I thought that the last time anyone would have seen the Valley so dark was maybe one hundred or more years before. I knew I would never see this again.

As I drove across the Valley floor, there was flooding from broken water mains, and there was one spot where the street was on fire from a broken gas main. I felt I was driving through armageddon. Some of my friends and co-workers had PTSD from the shake. One friend would jump sky-high if someone stepped too hard on the floor or moved a piece of furniture too roughly. He lived in the Valley and his whole apartment shook apart around him.

I thought of this on MLK weekend. I thought, there is not a place on this planet that is immune from being humbled by Nature. And I thought: I’ll take the snow.

 

 

Cautiously Optimistic

What a day. I woke up once again wondering how the hell Donald Trump could have been elected to the presidency. It still seems unreal to me that enough people in enough places voted for this guy, enough to edge out a flawed, but much more qualified candidate. Unlike some of the liberal persuasion, I don’t call into question the legitimacy of his election. I have faith in our country and its traditions. I know the vote was fair, even if actors inside and outside the country were trying to influence the outcome.

Once again, I had to confirm to myself: yes, indeed, Donald J. Trump was elected. And today, the added twist: he is to be inaugurated. Oh, Jesus.

A couple of hours later, I witnessed Trump getting sworn in. I am old enough to know now when a moment is a moment for the ages, and the transition of the presidency from Barrack Obama to Donald Trump is one of those moments. The ceremony and the pageantry is a wonderful thing, and I am repeating what every news agency today has said over and over: the peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of our democracy. And today was an example of how remarkable that is.

I was eager to hear Trump’s speech. I hoped that he would deliver something Trumpy, but inspiring. I hoped that he would broaden his reach and embrace America in full. I hoped he would show some humility. I hoped that the realization that he is now actually the president would inspire some presidential words.

The first three paragraphs found me thinking, “hey! maybe…” But then, oh my! His launch into America as Dystopia made me wonder when he would blurt out “May the odds be ever in your favor!” It was bleak, and frankly, he was not talking about an America I know. He was not talking about a world I know. Once again I realized that I was expecting too much of Trump. How could I be so foolish? Trump doesn’t change.

I saw a pro-Trump friend of mine today. He’s a good guy, and he was happy his man is now sworn in and ready to go. He asked me how I felt about the inauguration. I replied “I am cautiously optimistic.”

I love the term “cautiously optimistic.” It is similar to “trust, but verify.” To me it means, I expect things will go well, but I am not blind to the obstacles. I know it will require vigilance and perhaps an intervention to help circumstances along, but in the end, things will be okay. And that is how I feel about the Trump presidency.

When Trump won the election, it felt as if my heart sank into my gut. There was a moment in the evening where it became clear that he would pull it off. That was a bleak moment for me, because in my heart I believed he was completely inadequate to the task.

The day after the election I thought, well, let’s give the guy a chance because no one wins if he fails. I thought that his winning might change things. I thought he might move from running his campaign to getting ready for the White House. I thought he would cool his rhetoric a bit and try to broaden his scope. Once again, how foolish of me! He and his followers are some of the poorest winners I ever saw. During the transition period, Trump just stayed Trump, thin skin and everything. He confirmed my opinion of him.

As much as I would like to think he will eventually “grow” into the job, which seems ludicrous to me since the man is seventy years old, and as much as it would be great if he decided to put away the twitter and become “presidential,” I know he is not going to do it. He is consistent in his opinions, and he is consistent in his attitude, and he doesn’t seem to learn anything.

Why then am I cautiously optimistic?

Because, I believe in America. I believe the checks and balances of the three branches of government will prevail in the end. Even though Trump seems to have a stacked deck in that he has a Republican Congress and has the next Supreme Court justice nominee in the queue, he does not have carte blanche. Every member of congress and Justice of the Supreme Court is a patriot, not to mention the members of his own branch, and there is only so far that Trump can go. Trump can propose a lot of things, but he can’t do it alone. Contrary to what Trump says, he does not have a mandate. He did not win the popular vote, and he squeaked by in the Electoral College.

I have friends who liken the “rise of Trump” to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy. It is important to note that despite Trump’s rhetoric in his Inauguration Speech today, American is not in dire straits, as Germany and Italy were. American in 2017 is not 1930’s Germany.

Germany and Italy, and indeed the rest of Europe, do not have the tradition of liberty that we have in America. The closest thing we have to a national religion is the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, most notably the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is sacred to us. The secret of the First Amendment is that while some of us might want to shut other  people up, each of us demands and expects to get our First Amendment rights. We do not have the libel laws England has, and we can argue politics and curse the president or mayor all day long without the fear of being locked up. This recognition of our own right to free speech and of the other rights of the constitution are so ingrained in us, it is akin to being in our DNA; they are so much a part of us that we are unconscious of how important they are, or that others in other countries do not have these rights. But they are there, and there is no breaking them.

Yes, it is chilling when Trump talks of “loosening” our libel laws – but he runs up against the congress and the Constitution if he actually tries to do it. It is impossible that the American people will ever accept a law that says that it is libel to criticize a public official. The whole point of the First Amendment is to allow that type of speech to exist.

The machinery of legislation is big and slow. Trump has made lots of promises but he has to “sell” congress and the American People in order to get laws passed. He can’t sign laws that congress doesn’t send to him. His authority to issue executive orders can cause damage, and that is a weak link, but the big things require the legislature and the courts.

I believe after watching this person in action for the last year and a half that he is inadequate for the job. If I am right, it means he will fail and fail big. I think it is inevitable that he will make some seriously policy and legal errors because of his inadequacy. I believe that Congress will do its duty when the time comes and impeach Trump should he need to be impeached. I believe the machinery of government will work to spit out Trump should he really turn toxic.

I also believe that the Press will do its job and tell the truth about what is going on, good and bad. The press’s role will be huge in this presidency. Trump has been extremely hard on the press, but that kind of thing inspires the press. Trump will be covered extremely carefully over the next few weeks and months.

I believe America has the civic immune system to spit out a demagogue like Trump. The Union is bigger than one man. As a result, I am cautiously optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD and Me

It is important to know that my wife was a dialysis patient, and that she was never really healthy in all the years we were together. When we first got together, I used to count the number of days she was not in the hospital. She lived as long as she did because of her resilience, courage, faith, and toughness. Our life together was not about her health issues, but her health was a major factor in our life together.

She dialyzed at home, overnight. She did this in her chair, catching as much sleep as she could. Dialysis is a loud process: the pump of the machine, the pump of the Pureflow dialysis fluid machine, alarms of varying degrees of urgency. I slept in the other room, unconsciously on alert, unconsciously analyzing each alarm as it rang. If it alarmed once or twice, I knew Jenny had it. If it persisted, or if the alarm kept recurring, I sprang up to see what was happening.

You never know what you’re going to see. Many times I would see Jenny at wit’s end cursing  the machine, cursing dialysis, cursing the fact that she was having to do this, all while trying to fix whatever alarm was ringing. We had a big manual with a chapter called “Troubleshooting” and unless we knew right off what was happening, we’d drag it out, open it up to find the alarm, and attempt the remedies. Some alarms, like air in  the bloodline, give you only a couple of tries to fix, and then you’re done: the machine stops, and you lose your blood, meaning you pull the needles and any blood in the lines goes into the trash. That only happened once or twice when we were home, and it is a major loss. You lose your blood, and you have to get set up for another run, which takes about twenty to thirty minutes. Sometimes Jenny would leave her needles in and hook up with the new cartridge. You don’t have a lot of options here, because when you start a run, you pump in a dose of Heparin, which is a blood thinner. It’s dangerous to screw around with that, so best to start again.

Sometimes Jenny would sleep through some pretty alarming alarms, such as a kinked blood line, which causes the pump to stop, which allows the blood in the lines to clot if you leave it too long. I’d do what I can to clear the alarm and make sure she was okay. She did not sleep well, so I was glad to see her sleeping; not so glad to see her sleeping through alarms.

Jenny was on the transplant list. When she was active on the list, she was first up – meaning all available kidneys would be crossed with her if there was a possibility of matching. The last few months she was off the list due to some health issues she needed to address. But we did receive a couple calls for transplant in 2014, only to have them withdrawn because the donor did not match. Due to her antibody count, she was nearly impossible to match. The transplant doctors would tell us there’s a slim chance, but still a chance, but then when their guard was down, one or two voiced to me, at least, that it was impossible.

When Jenny was in the hospital, again, I was on alert. I didn’t sit waiting for a phone call – I didn’t want a phone call. Phone calls from hospitals are bad news. If a phone call did come, it could be the nurse calling saying that Jenny wanted me to remember to bring her slippers, but sometimes, it was worse. One time I got a call from Jenny where she was crying and frightened:

“Oh, Marko – I don’t know what’s happening! I feel like I’m going crazy, I need you.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Turns out, it was an adverse reaction to Phenergan, which was used to keep her from getting nauseated after getting morphine. Oh my God she was pissed off that they didn’t tell her what it was and what it was for.

Looking back, I realize now how hyper alert we both were. And, apparently, I still am.

Yesterday morning, my phone rang at 4:52am. It was an unfamiliar ring, and it was on Skype, which I never use, but which I have turned on anyway. I get lots of requests to be connected by many dubious people, and none from people I know. But, no one has ever just dialed until yesterday early morning. Half-awake, and wondering what the hell was going on and who the hell would be calling me at 4:52am, I looked at the name: “adwoa amankwaah.” I rejected the call. Immediately, it called back. I rejected it again. Another three immediate call backs, and I rejected each call.

What flashed through my head during this process was: who is calling me? Why are they calling so insistently? Why at 4:52am? Then:

Oh my God, Jenny – Oh my God Transplant. And I knew neither one was possible, and yet I still felt it.

I thought it may be work-related, but then seeing the name I knew it wasn’t.

That feeling of dread, of urgency, and of fear lingered, and I felt that surely someone somewhere must be dying or hurt, someone I need to help, but can’t. Even though I knew it wasn’t true. It slammed me right back into it. I wasn’t glad to realize it wasn’t true, you know, like when you wake up from a nightmare and realize, “Hey! Martians really aren’t invading!” No, I wasn’t glad. I was sad, because it reminded me of the last time it was true.

Casino Royale Pain

I am the son of gambling professional Jerry L. Patterson. For thirty years, my father took money from casinos, wrote books on gaming, had a casino gaming news letter, and held clinics on gaming techniques and systems for Black Jack, Craps, and Roulette. He predates the MIT kids who won all that money playing Black Jack, and his technique was better.

Dad was a mathematician. He was not the typical gambler. He never bet the house on a single throw of the dice, and he never got caught up in addictive gambling behavior. He knew math too well to go chasing bad bets. He knew the odds of every game cold.

On every single casino game, the odds are in the casino’s favor. Every single game. How much the game favors the house depends on the game. For example, if you play Black Jack, the house’s edge is about 0.5%, meaning for every $100 you wager, and if you play the game correctly, the house will take fifty cents. Over time, your pockets are empty. Craps is better than that if you know how to play. Keno is awful – they take twenty-five cents from every dollar, and Roulette is pretty bad as well – you lose a nickel on every dollar. But, every game sucks you dry over time.

Unless you know what you are doing, and you have a system. Mathematics makes assumptions. When calculating the odds of casino games, the assumptions are that the game is random – the cards are shuffled to be random every hand, the dice are thrown randomly each time, and they are balanced properly, and the ball on the roulette wheel is spun in a random manner. Given all this assumed randomness, the odds pan out that the house gets the advantage, and thus the money. It’s these odds and assumptions that pay for all those lights and cheap buffets and complemented rooms in Vegas.

What dad did was discover systems that took advantage of the arbitrage between pure mathematical odds and reality. Math says the cards are randomly shuffled. In reality, they are not. Math says that the roulette ball is spun randomly. In reality, it is not. Math says that the dice randomly fall on the felt. You can play the game so that the dice don’t fall randomly on the felt. Since the games have a narrow house edge, all it takes is a little nudge to get the odds to be in your favor. Card counting in black jack will do that by letting you know if there are lots of tens, or few tens, in the remaining cards. The more tens there are remaining, the better your odds are, so bet big! When the cards are in your favor, the odds are in your favor, and you take advantage of that by increasing your bet.

Dad’s systems give you the advantage over the house by noting (or creating) these anomalies. The casinos consider it cheating. They consider anything cheating that removes their edge. Thankfully, the law does not agree – usually. Which brings me to Phil Ivey.

Last month professional gambler Phil Ivey was ordered by a federal judge to pay back to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey ten million dollars he had won in a casino game called Baccarat. Why? Because the judge found that Ivey had breached his contract with the casino. What was the contract? The New Jersey Casino Control Act, which disallows the use of marked cards at casinos.

Since gaming is part of my life, my ears perked when I heard about this. How could that be?

Ivey discovered that the cards the casino used had a flaw: The card patterns on the edges were not consistent.Thus, if you can get the casino to flip them around, you can find the card in the deck again. Or cards of a certain value. The result is that after a period of play, all the good cards are flipped, and you can see whether the next card to be played is good or bad. Ivey set the game up with the casino so that only one set of cards would be used for days in a private gaming session, only an automatic card shuffler is used, and the dealer would flip any card around that Phil asked to be flipped.

The casino agreed to all these requests. And being a pro, Ivey took them to the cleaners to the tune of ten million dollars.

Edge sorting is what this technique is called. It can only happen if the casino allows it to happen. They use cards with inconsistent patterns. They agree to the demands of the gambler – same cards, flip requested cards around, don’t mess up the order.

But, according to the Federal Judge, asking the casino to do this, then the casino doing it, and then the gamer using the information, is the same as marked cards. And even wilder, he is demanding that all winnings be returned to the casino. Ridiculous.

It is exactly the same as if Ivey had asked the dealer to bend the card in half and place it back in the deck, and the casino complying. Casinos are not dumb. They know the systems, the games that are played. So Borgata should have known what Ivey was up to.

Ivey is planning to appeal. I hope he wins, because if this stands, every time a casino suspects you of using an advantage, like card counting, they can not just ban you, but get the money back. That is just wrong. So, go Phil Ivey!

There is no Spoon

My son wanted to watch a movie with lots of guns. Oh, where to start? A friend of mine suggested “Saving Private Ryan,” especially the beginning, which to my mind is one of the best battle scenes ever made. But I couldn’t find the DVD. I did, however, find “The Matrix,” with the wonderful line: “Guns. Lots of guns.” My son never saw the movie, so we put it on.

I have seen the movie a number of times. It is one of those movies where if it happens to come up in cable or I see it flit by on Netflix, I just get sucked back into it. I love it. The opening scene with Trinity taking everyone out – priceless. And of course its contributions to the popular culture: the blue and red pill, the kid saying “there is no spoon.” These are certainly is part of my vocabulary now.

1999. Wow – it is hard to believe it came out that long ago. I consider it a timeless movie – to me it really holds up. I didn’t see anything in the movie that screamed “oh, come on – we’re so much better now.” Star Wars is a great movie, but I don’t feel like it is any newer than 1977. It was a groundbreaking movie, and it had amazing and totally new effects, but I still see it firmly planted in the mid-seventies. The Matrix, though – it just seems newer than the nineties.

The premise, of course, is that the world the people live in is not real – it is the “matrix” – an illusion created in the minds of all humans, generated by artificially intelligent machines. In reality, humans are kept in vast tiers of pods. They are used as batteries for the machines – which of course makes no sense at all, but hey, you gotta have a story. Humans live, therefore, in a dreamlike state that is reality to them. Keanu Reeves plays “Neo,” the kid with mystic powers allowing him to see through the Matrix, and eventually, to bend it to his will.

I don’t know about you, but I do feel we are living in an illusory universe. A couple of years ago I ran into the theory that it not just possible, but probable, even inescapable, that reality is not real, and that we really are living in a computer simulation. This idea hasn’t just been hiding out on the fringe, either – even the New Yorker wrote about it last June. Regardless of whether we are in a computer simulation, or not, I have always been a fan of the multiverse – the idea that there are an infinite number of universes that exist besides our own. Why not? If you imagine our universe, all the stars, planets, galaxies, and the space in and around them, as fitting in a basketball, it is easy to imagine a whole roomful of basketballs, each one containing its own universe. If you go to the outer limits of our universe, what’s on the other side?

Even disregarding the idea of multiple universes, let’s look at this universe. If you look at the screen you are reading this on, it looks solid. It is solid glass or plastic. If you drop it it breaks, and you can cut yourself with a shard from it. Except, it’s not solid. It is mostly space. All things are mostly space. Everything breaks down to little spinning balls called atoms, which have a cloud of elections around their cores, and even these atoms are mostly space. There is space between atoms, too. It is a miracle anything seems solid, really.

And then look at light. We see an astonishingly small band of the electromagnetic spectrum. All those frequencies are there, we just don’t see them or perceive them – except perhaps as sunburn from UV. But even within the small band we do see, we don’t see all the colors available. The mantis shrimp can see far more colors than we do, in roughly the same range.

The Matrix speaks to this. It touches on the nagging thought that our world, perhaps, is not what it seems to be. That there is more to all this. That indeed we could be just part of an experiment from some extra-universal teenagers. It speaks to the thought that if we just take the red pill, all will be revealed.

I don’t consider this attitude crazy at all. I think it is healthy to be curious about this, to be curious about anything. I find it fascinating to read what people think about reality, and fascinating to think about what could really be going on.

One thing I am pretty sure of though is that we are not going to find a definitive answer. How could you verify the computer simulation theory? Find some half-buried Statue of Liberty on the beach with the logo “Intel Inside?” on its backside? Dig into some cave somewhere and find a wall with the comment “//to be implemented” on it? No, it’s all speculation. Fun to think about, though.

And by the way, my son loved the movie.

 

The Big Chill

We have had mountains of snow this year in Central Oregon, and we are on track to get at least another foot of snow over the next couple of days. We have had snow on the ground since December 6th. But I don’t want to write about snow. Writing about the weather is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

I will write, however, about how it is affecting us here in our community. As I said, it started snowing on December 6th, but the big dump came a week later. And then came the cold – temperatures in the ‘teens dropping to sub zero. Sisters, Oregon is on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, and is a “destination” town for all kinds of outdoor activities, including camping. Central Oregon rents have been increasing the last few years, and therefore we have a contingent of homeless folks who make camp out in the National Forest or in their vehicles around town. In summer, it is actually doable. Since there is a lot of camping of all kinds, Sisters has amenities to support backpackers and campers. The National Forest allows “dispersed camping” which means you can trek out into the forest, find a spot away from people, and set up camp. So, some people opt out of apartments and elect to follow the primitive lifestyle. And then winter comes, and their campsites are buried in snow, and there’s no plowing out there.

On December 17th, Sisters was shocked by the death of a man who was found in his car across the street from McDonalds. He lived in his car, and he was known around town, at least in passing. He worked at McDonalds, and he spent time in the library on the computers. My son knew him from the library, but not well. The night of December 17, he slept in his car with the car running, and he died. The preliminary cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. The temperature that night went down to -5, and that was the first really cold night of the season. It was cold, the gentleman went into his car, turned it on, turned on the heat, and then was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes as he slept.

The truth came a day or two later: He did not die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He died of hypothermia. He froze to death. That shocked me and a number of other people in the community. His death was tragic in any circumstance, but with carbon monoxide, it was an accident that could be avoided – open the window, whatever. It was just bad luck.

But when a man freezes to death – that is different. He didn’t die because he was unlucky. He died because he was homeless. Despite having his car running, the cold still killed him. The cold was too much. The cold was greater than he and his circumstances, and it overcame what a prudent man might try to do to stay alive. And that was shocking.

He had family. How do you call his parent? How do you tell a father that his son froze to death in a car across from a McDonalds?

His death sent home the point that subzero temperatures are no joke, and that there are a number of people in our community who are at risk. It also sent home the reality that despite the fact that the economy is getting better, there are still a lot of people who are out there just on the edge of disaster.

 

I’m trying to think of some message that we can glean from this tragedy, some words of wisdom to impart that will wrap things up neatly, but I can’t. It really affected me that this man passed away, and that he did so in such a manner. It’s sad, and it shouldn’t have happened. Yes, accidents happen all the time, but the death of this man hit close to home, and it just shows that we have work to do, that we can’t just say to people “sink or swim.” These people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and yet they are still in trouble. They have jobs, they have cars, and yet, they succumb. I guess the thing to do is to be kind. To assume goodness. Most people are good. And help when you can.

On January 1st, members of the community set up the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter in one of our local churches to provide a warm place to stay to anyone who asks on nights where the temperatures go below freezing. This is a great thing, and it makes me proud that we chose Sisters as our home. This is a great example of the things we can do to help.