Friday, January 19, 2018

On "Ignorance is Bliss"

I suppose that at its core Bliss is the feeling of being completely and overwhelmingly protected. Being a baby in one’s mother’s arms comes to mind. Ten days ago (a week ago Tuesday) I had a massive nosebleed that sent us to the Emergency Room. Naturally. Such things always happen at 2 in the morning. My ignorance of nosebleeds had amounted to bliss before this event. Afterwards, I learned that nosebleeds are almost never fatal. This makes sense when you think about it. No large artery reaches the incredibly complicated tissue fields of the nose designed to pick up hundreds of different faint odors. But there are arteries, nonetheless, very fine ones. Three ER and four Ear-Nose-Throat doctor visits later, I also learned that if the cause of an ordinary nosebleed cannot be found, the cause must lie with those fine arteries in the upper nose. They come from all sides and then meet centrally to coordinate their collective work. Surgeons have discovered ways to introduce the tiniest wires into those arteries. At their tips are tiny cameras and other more active devices; the surgeons can see what’s going on—and do all that needs doing. But this admirable solution is only necessary if more straight-forward cauterization of the nose tissue, carried out through the vast great canyon we think of as the nostril, cannot be used.

Circumstances so conspired that it took eight days before the actual trouble became clear last Wednesday. Then about five minutes later, electrical cauterization had already fixed me. I was on my feet and walking, without a plastic waste-can under my chin, back into the snowy world in company of Monique—she who had spent two nights and several days guarding me while the otolaryngologist probed for the proper answer.

Under these conditions, I’m very much inclined to ignorance is bliss on many, many of the things that make up this octogenarian body.

Then today I have an e-mail from my oldest friend, Phil. He tells me that, after much thought, he had decided to forgo a scheduled “spinal fusion” in his neck. All I know is that pain had been involved, and what with the pain gone, why do anything at all? Right! Right! Do I want to know more? No! No! What if I had another nosebleed? And while spending torturous minutes pressing a bloody towel to my nose other thoughts, about spinal fusion (in full detail) would rise into my mind? That might cause a fatality nosebleeds are not supposed to cause…

Sunday, January 7, 2018


In the wake of at least two days of national dispute concerning President Trump’s mental health and fitness to serve in office—capped by Mr. Trump’s announcement that he is very smart, very stable, indeed a genius—all that’s left for this nation to restore proper order and sanity from border-to-border and sea-to-shining-sea is to organize a formal IQ test for the president, administered by some appropriate agency, e.g., the Department of Homeland Security or possibly the EPA. Based on Presidential Tweets, Mr. Trump’s ability to score at least 98 percent on that IQ test is so certain that actually taking the test would seem to be redundant. Therefore American Mensa, an element in Mensa International, should declare President Trump a member.

Trump as a member of Mensa, however, produces some awkward problems. The name of this organization is taken from the Latin for “table”; more to the point, that table is supposed to be round, symbolizing the meeting of equals. And that’s a problem, isn’t it? Mr. Trump may not wish to subordinate himself in such a way to the world’s aristocracy of intellect.

The solution, I suggest, is a renaming exercise. Mr. Trump, having been invited to join, will no doubt immediately tweet saying: “I’m Mensa. Didn’t I tell you?” The first part of that tweet, ignoring apostrophes and case, could be rendered as IMMENSA—or making Intellect Great Again. Mr. Trump could then get to work on having IMMENSA’s symbol changed to a gigantic cone—of which he would be the tiniest but highest atom at the very top.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Seven Sisters and Two Brothers

Once upon a time there were seven sisters and two brothers. Their mother was Detroit, their father was Edison. The first sister was born in 1915, the last in 1921. The two brothers, who were twins, saw birth in 1951; they are still alive. The sisters all died in a major explosion on August 10, 1996. That would make the oldest sister 82 that year. The event is known as the detonation. That sounds ominous, but in fact it was highly controlled.

So how do I know—first, that both the sisters and the still living brothers were or are not human and, second, that they were smokestacks of two great side-by-side power plants on the eastern edge of the City of Detroit? Two reasons.

When we first moved to the Detroit metro in 1989, Brigitte and I both worked downtown in the Penobscot building. We commuted on Jefferson Avenue along the shores of what is known as Detroit River—the water-way that connects Lake Saint Clair and Lake Erie. On the way home we could see the sisters and the brothers distantly to our right. The second reason is that we got a lovely pair of coasters for Christmas this year. One is titled Seven Sisters Two Brothers; the other Penobscot Building. Thus we have memorials of the two great views that first symbolized Detroit for us.

An image of the coaster and a 1952 photograph of the plant are below:

The coaster on the left comes from GT Home Detroit, accessible at The one on the right was taken by one Dave Wasserman from Virginia and is shown in the Detroit Memories Newsletter at this site. I’ve chosen that last image because it still shows smoke coming from the sisters. The plants were all converted eventually to burn natural gas.

The remaining Brothers represent a capacity of 240 megawatts. To make sense of that, Detroit Edison’s total summer capacity is 11,000 MW, of which Brothers is 2.2 percent. And Detroit Edison itself supplies 37 percent of Michigan’s total electric power; that Michigan total is 29,831 MW.

Now couple of more notes. The Sisters generated power from 1915-1921 until approximately 1986. Then they just stood there, idled, until they were brought down by a controlled demolition in about five seconds or so, the smokestacks, as shown in the coaster above, falling to the left, the leftmost leading the way. Vast brown clouds took their place temporarily. The Brothers operated on coal from 1951 to 1987. Then they were converted to natural gas.

A final touching sort of point. Those fallen Sisters left a deep hollow in the souls of power engineers. How do I know that? I know that because I discovered this morning that there still is a power plant called Seven Sisters. It is located Manitoba, Canada, on the Winnipeg river. It doesn’t burn anything. It’s a big dam powering turbines. The plant has an odd name for a hydropower facility with only six turbines. But you go with your heart—and never mind the count…

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reading out the Window

Not a typo. To be sure, my first act on rising is looking out the window. But then the world I want to see is really merely Weather. I already know my drive, backyard, pear tree, and the rest—or the trusty Honda and the houses across the way.

So Window here means World generically, and early on I’m reading it because the world window is made of paper: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Detroit News (all depending on the day). A screen would be another kind of Window, but I wake first and the TV makes a noise that might wake Brigitte. That would be. Sad. So paper it must be at first, and for me by preference. I get more from paper and with fewer distractions.

Given the built-in bias in every form of medium, Windows is the real word here. Reading out the Windows, plural. WSJ? Stocks. NYT? All the news that’s fit to print. Well, not quite. The Detroit News? Sports. It takes some effort to figure out what sport deserves half the front page—unless you recognize the code words, e.g. Simpson blankets Bohannan. Is blankets a name, noun, or verb?

My own reading is very selective these days, and the time spent on the W (be that Window, Windows, Weather, or World) less and less. That’s because as you retire (in every sense of that word), you notice that you no longer recognize the names, be that Simpson, GreenSky, Nvidia, or MoneyGram. Much effort must be expended even recognizing what, say, Nvidia does. And when you do, you’re  no longer interested.

I note here that W is not quite the last letter of the alphabet, but close. Thus the World is not quite all there is to read about. There remains something that transcends the W. XYZ. So after reading out the Windows for a brief spell, I fold the papers for Recycling and turn to XYZ. In practice that means tidying up or, on a day like today, dressing warmly to shovel some snow. Doing that I see a big green truck pulling up. The letters GFL are on its side. Even our trash hauler is going in for abbreviations! But what does that mean? Remove the goggles; peer more closely. Ah. Green for Life. But all out there is white and blowing…

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sober Second

The second day of this or any other new year illustrates Nature’s “No comment” take on the human adulation of symbolic transitions. Yesterday was brilliantly sunny. To be sure by evening the sky had clouded up so that the much heralded Supermoon on New Year’s eve was hidden. Today, on the second, everything is very cold and properly grey again. From my upstairs typing spot, where the view is of my roof, the active of my three chimneys is shown producing the fog of smoke. Snow’s everywhere, showing its dirt; this is old snow, folks. New stuff is supposed to come, but as yet the three flakes I’ve seen were just a half-hearted test run.

Every year we joke about “last year,” meaning five minutes ago—as Times Square is made the stage for not very funny jokes by Media folk. And the bedroom, when you reach it, at 0:05 am, might just as well be 2014, 2015 or any other year in recent memory. Nature is wiser than we are. Time must have a stop, to be sure. But there is no time in Nature. What Nature shows is cold-eyed endurance, especially this time of year.

The third will be even more normal, no doubt; and 2018 will therefore really be here: a change in our accounting. Even years are what? Luckier? More trying? Look out the window. Neither luck nor doom are visible.

Concerning supermoons, by the way, this site has two posts; the first, here, explains what they are; the second, here, corrects an error made in the first.