Ashes, ashes: the prequel

Uncle Sam and flag NYstate - web

When something happens on a large scale that is preventable, and that harms the health of numerous people, that is a public health crisis.   Drinking water that infects a city with cholera; a popular pharmaceutical, but it includes a compound that causes cancer or birth defects; a common insulation and fireproofing material, made from a mineral found in nature, but it causes grave pulmonary diseases.

Before this worldwide catastrophe, we in the US have been living in an overlapping array of public health crises for years now. Free-range gun violence, soaring suicide rates, and widespread opioid addiction are just three examples. Continue reading

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This way

Whatever happens on Monday, keep this in mind. This is only the start. Everything we’ve done up to now is only the start. Continue reading

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14 things about the boil order


  1. The boil order came through at 10 PM.
  2. All the stores close at 10 PM.
  3. Except for the ones that close at 8 PM.
  4. So forget about buying jugs of water.
  5. The “equipment malfunction“ that caused the problem took place “late in the afternoon.” C noticed the problem around 6 PM, when she was taking a shower and there was a sudden weird drop in water pressure. She came out of the bathroom and said, “I bet they’re going to issue a boil order,” so without even thinking about it much I put her only three pots on the stove’s three working burners and filled them with water and boiled the water.
  6. I am not sure in what format the boil order was issued and in what language. Many residents of this area have only modest English skills and at home they speak an array of languages. There are a lot of big families and a lot of elderly people. A lot of people need to know, but I am not sure who actually knows.
  7. However I am taking a holiday from brushing my teeth.
  8. During a boil order, you should wash your hands using soap and either bottled or boiled water.  You should boil all water used for preparing foods, drinking, and washing. You should immerse your dishes and glasses in bleach water. You should minimize time in the shower, especially if you have any sort of wound, and you should not take a bath, and you should not bathe your children.
  9. Once this is over we will have to flush the pipes.
  10. A lot of people here fled a place where something evil was coming for them.
  11. The streets tonight are full of swaying crowds of drunks, because it is Paczki Day.
  12. I’m not worried about them. They are suburbanites having their wild urban holiday. It’s not like they are drinking water.
  13. Earlier this evening I went into a pharmacy three blocks from here. The pharmacists were pleasant young men who possibly were from Yemen, and the shop was surprisingly busy, with a number of older Middle Eastern men, and an older Polish couple, all picking up their prescriptions.
  14. I am thinking about those older people tonight, and their children, and their children’s children. Did they turn in for the night before the boil order was issued? Will they hear about it in the morning? Who will tell them?

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A little shadow



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In case you think any minds are about to change


I have just finished re-reading Hiroshima, the 1946 book by John Hersey telling the story of six survivors of the first atomic bomb attack. The book begins a few moments before the bomb explodes and ends a few weeks later.

Hiroshima, which originally appeared in its entirety in the August 31, 1946 of The New Yorker, is still regarded as one of the greatest pieces of journalism. With neutral calm, it shows us a world in which everything has been destroyed in an instant, and the way those who still are alive act, and what they see, in the immediate aftermath.

Every time I’ve read Hiroshima, I’ve been struck anew by the overwhelming enormity of the event. Of the 245,000 residents of Hiroshima, 100,00 died instantly or in the next few hours. Much of the city was leveled; in the rest, buildings collapsed; fires and tornadoes raged. The first day, Hersey wrote, some survivors in search of food are not even sure where they are, at first, because everything has suddenly changed, from busy city in the morning ”to a mere pattern of residue in the afternoon.” In that new world, Hersey wrote, “thousands of people had nobody to help them.”

The shadow cast by Hiroshima still stretches before us. If anything, it is heavier today. In an interview he gave in the last years of his life, Hersey said that one of his goals was to suggest “a sense of a long and terrible future – which has since indeed come to pass.”

I re-read Hiroshima every few years, if only as a reminder. But this time, a new thing struck me. In the ruins, no one cursed their own leaders. No one blamed the Imperial War College or the Prime Minister. No one wondered if the Emperor had perhaps led them down the wrong path. People trapped in blazing ruins, people whose flesh had slid off, who were grotesquely burned, whose eyes had melted, whose loved ones were all dead, whose wounds were infected and weeping, people who had lost everything: even with their dying breaths, they told themselves they were lucky to be Japanese, and they eagerly dedicated themselves to the leaders who had brought them to this place in time. Girls trapped helpless under burning wreckage begin singing the national anthem, and that is how they die. Survivors lie on a riverbank, helpless, thirsty, in enormous agony, and they don’t even moan or cry out, and that is how they die. A father and son, pinned in their burning house, make up their minds to consecrate themselves to the Emperor – by dying in that place, they are dying for him. Banzai, they shout alone in the burning building. All these people, in what they believe are their very last, terrible moments, pledge themselves anew. They pledge themselves to the thing that killed them.






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The pants in the family


When I was still in college, I worked on a little local paper in Michigan.  It was the sort of publication that has evaporated from the American scene – a weekly, countywide, cheerful and plain, serving a mostly rural audience and a few suburban outliers here and there. The nearby college and capitol city were so alien to this world that in all the time I worked there, I believe they were never mentioned even once. Continue reading

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Day or night

montroseharbornightmoon Continue reading

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Election day is here


This afternoon, we voted. The person in front of me said he was voting for the first time. There were people like us who had voted in every election throughout their long adult lives. There were moms and dads with their young, fascinated kids. There were women, many women – African American, Latinx, white, Asian, young, medium, old – walking in solo, one by one. Continue reading

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A true thing


All the ugliness that is showing its lazy, vicious face these days is real. But it plays out against a reality that can be summed up in one sentence: we are living in a world where the President – the Commander in Chief, the single most powerful individual on the planet – is African American. Continue reading

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The road


We are just back from a magnificent eight-day road trip across the Plains, in our new used car. Road trips, and driving through new-to-us places, are one of our best and most favorite things.

Total mileage: 2,465 exactly. Total days: 8. Features of itinerary from Chicago: Galena IL; Grinnell IA; Omaha NE; Grand Island NE (via NE 92); the Nebraska Sandhills via NE 2; Alliance NE; Scottsbluff and Gering NE; Cheyenne WY; Laramie WY; then home, with a little side trip to Riverside IA, future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Continue reading

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