Monday, January 25, 2021


Annamaria on Monday

Nukes are back in the news because newly installed President Biden is moving toward a five-year extension of the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia.  UN officials are calling nuclear weapons "obsolete," a word that drew my attention.  I was a baby when my country became the only nation on earth to use them.  I have lived with their threat all my life.

By the time I first learned of their existence, US bombs had been dropped on Japan.  Those attacks were being credited as the reason the US won that war.  The destruction, it was postulated, had convinced the Japanese to surrender, negating any need for an invasion of Japan and thereby saving the lives of a million Allied fighting men.

There was also talk, of course of the dreadful loss of life in Japan, which was countered at the time with reminders of the enormous cruelty of the Japanese toward the populations of countries they conquered, most notably in China. I had desperately missed my daddy while he was away fighting in the Pacific and was so happy that I got him back. My father, I eventually understood, was one of those million who might have died invading Japan.  I harbored ever afterwards a guilty relief that the bomb that destroyed so many had preserved him.

By then the threat of nukes was part of the air one breathed.  All public buildings had designated fall-out shelters.  People were digging them in their own backyards.  School children were put through drills.

A relic of that age still displayed on the stairwell of the building where I live.

I grew up, of course, completely opposed to the very existence of hideous nukes. Come the 60s and 70s, when I became a peacenik, I joined many efforts to do away with them.  The most successful of those, took place on 12 June 1982. Then President Reagan, an avowed military hawk, was in the White House. Many, many people wanted to send him a strong message.  They came from all over the US to join with New Yorkers and staged the, until then, largest peaceful protest ever to gather anywhere.

A million people showed up!  A million in Central Park!  Here is what it looked like where I was:

Ronald Reagan, who professed to be against nukes, then chose a strange way to eliminate their danger.  He shocked the world by what he called a Strategic Defence - the creation of an anti-missile system to shield the USA. Nobody ever thought that would do the trick.  What it did do was calm down the fears in enough people and, by doing so, took a lot of the steam out of the anti-nuke movement.

The current ready bottle

My husband David and I once discussed what we would do if we got word that an ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead was on its way to us.  We knew that New York would be a prime target.  We also understood that, though there would be a considerable warning period, we would never be able to escape our densely populated island home in time.  We decided we would just sit on our stoop and drink champagne.  We, and now I, have kept a chilled bottle on hand ever since.  If it is drunk for some pleasant other reason, I quickly replace it.

When the Cold War ended, an opportunity arose for world powers to deal with the nuke threat.  But there was no political will anywhere to do that deed. The moment was wasted. Johnathan Schell writing in The Nation said it was, "as if people believed that a mortal illness could be dealt with by forgetting about it."

Then, during Bush 1, the first START was negotiated and signed. It does not banish nukes.  But it does control them.

President Obama negotiated and signed START 2.

Trump was too busy doing other things at the end of his term in office to pay attention to the fact that the 10-year span of  START 2 was just about up. President Biden (how I love typing those words together) is looking to rectify the omission.

There is a connection between nukes and other ills of our society.  One surfaced in 1982, pointing to the the link between the money Reagan was spending on nukes and the depth of poverty in Black communities. As in the 80s, people are now raising awareness of the connection between the economics of nukes and societal ills like race and gender inequality.

Influential people in the United States and Europe are saying that the weapons are obsolete because they are so morally reprehensible the countries that have them could never survive the shame of using them.

A nice thought, but we know that heads of state are quite capable of making morally reprehensible or just plain stupid decisions.

Dangers still exist.  No country that has nuclear capability has, thus far, been attacked by a country that does not possess them.  This makes countries that don't have them want them.  Stopping nuclear wannabes from developing them is a chancy game as we are well aware, given the news from Iran and North Korea.  Pakistan and India both have them and also have some awful mutual grievances.

And then is the lively black market in plans for making them and for the materials needed.

Attention needs to be paid.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Fear of Flying

Zoë Sharp

Imagine for a moment that you’re in an airport departure lounge (if your memory stretches back that far). You are waiting to get on a flight. You’re a little nervous, however, because only a week or so ago, an armed group of people attempted to hijack the very same flight.


They wrecked the plane and stole bits of it.


Five people died in the course of the exercise.


(Many of them claimed the pilot had invited them on board.)


But today you are somewhat reassured to notice that the airport has installed another set of metal detectors before the jet-bridge leading to the aircraft.


Your flight is called. The passengers begin to line up in front of the metal detectors. Some of the passengers are sitting on the left side of the plane and some on the right side of the plane. At the moment, there are slightly more passengers on the left side than on the right side.


Some of the passengers are not happy about being asked to comply with this new level of security, saying they were not consulted about the decision to install the devices.


“You’re taking valuable resources completely away from where it needs to be, and you guys did it without any consultation,” one of them yells, going on to call the metal detectors “bullshit.”


Another passenger shouts at the security staff manning the detectors to “get back” and “don’t touch me.”


Yet another passenger refuses to go through the detectors and skirts around instead. “You can’t stop me,” he sneers. Ten other passengers follow suit and bypass the metal detectors.


The next passenger obligingly passes through the detector, but when it goes off he refuses to be searched. “Nah,” he says, “I’m not going to do that.”


The next passenger in line also sets off the detector and he does agree to be searched. When a (presumably legal) concealed handgun is found in his jacket pocket, he asks a colleague to hold the gun while he gets on the plane.


(The colleague refuses on the grounds that he doesn’t have a firearms licence.)


The next passenger is a woman who has been telling everyone that she has a loaded handgun as she is small in stature and that crime is “skyrocketing.” She dismisses the installation of the metal detectors as “a stunt” and refuses to allow her bag to be searched.


A further passenger claims the detectors are impeding the ability of passengers to board the plane and that they have been “strictly designed” for this purpose. “We now have to go through intense security measures, on top of the security we already go through. These new provisions include searches and being wanded like criminals,” adds another female passenger.


A number of passengers who had been aboard the hijacked flight claim they saw other passengers giving reconnaissance tours to the hijackers, the day before the incident took place. They have signed a letter to the airline to this effect. These alleged tour-guide passengers are being allowed to board the plane today without restriction or investigation.


A BAME passenger who was on the hijacked flight was concerned that other passengers with racist tendencies would particularly point out her location to the hijackers. Strangely, all the emergency call buttons in the row in which she was sitting had been disabled prior to the hijack, so she was unable to call for help.


Another female passenger who was on the hijacked flight tells a TV reporter that she is nervous about boarding a flight where her fellow passengers are armed. The TV reporter suggests that the armed passengers might simply be trying to keep everyone on board safe. “I don’t really care what they say their intentions are,” she replies. “I care what the impact of their actions are and the impact is to put 435 (passengers) in danger … it is absolutely outrageous that we even have to have this conversation.” 


What about you? Will you get on that flight?


This week’s Word of the Week is grawlix, meaning to replace a swearword with a string of typographical symbols, such as @$&%£*!, especially used in comic strips. The invention of the word was credited to the late cartoonist, Mort Walker.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Free World (finally) Exhales



For those of you who wonder just how dramatically US leadership over the past four years has differed from that of other world democracies, these two photos sum it up nicely. One shows Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis seeking to mobilize his nation’s support for the pandemic vaccine via a public display of him taking his shot, while the other shows EX-President Trump taking his.


 But enough about the past. Here’s how many of the world’s newspapers and magazines reacted to THE NEW U.S. PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT. 




And in conclusion, here is late-night US television host Jimmy Kimmel’s contribution to the moment.  


Friday, January 22, 2021

All in all, a good week it was!

Louisa Jordan

I think the week that has just passed was supposed to contain the most depressing day of the year; the Monday that starts the third week in January. All the festivities are over, the weather is terrible, it’s a five week month, nobody has any money. Add into that the pandemic and the reports of it running wild once again, the soaring death rate. We had patients being too scared to come in for treatment; we were cancelling patients that we considered too vulnerable to be outdoors. Our lockdown has been extended to Mid-February and for this lockdown, we are not supposed to be out our house except for work, food, exercise or acting in a caring capacity.

Yet, everybody is feeling rather chipper.

It seems we have all turned a corner.

Not least because the vaccine being rolled out. All over 80’s in Scotland will be vaccinated (first jab) by the end of next week. They are being done at their GP surgery, relatively lower numbers so no issue with distancing, a nice appointment system worked well.  They got the Oxford Zeneca, renamed the Zeneca because, it’s rumoured, the Scottish government did not want the English title on the vaccine.  The vaccine is being given out by the Westminster government, but that’s not on the literature. (So it’s rumoured.) 

Meanwhile the Pfizer was available at the Louisa Jordan, the exhibition centre which was turned into a huge overspill hospital for Covid patients. It has never been used for that (thank goodness).

As a big venue it has the resources to store at minus seventy. So it took a few clicks in a form to enrol as the second wave (after care homes and care home workers, dentists, pharmacists, doctors, dentists, nurses etc.) and the other health care workers in close contact with patients were due in.  Even then, we waited until we heard that they were injecting health care reception staff and we decided that all the genuine front liners had been done. Once we registered, we were in that day , a hour wait in a queue that snaked along slowly, a few questions, a jab, a  wait for ten minutes to  make sure  all was OK and home we went.

The relief for me, was heart felt.  I thought, we have got through this alive. We have known of so many who have lost their lives.  We have still to follow our guidance, still social distance, gloved up, visors, PP3 masks but the fear has gone.

In three weeks the 80 year olds can all come back in for treatment, with a degree of protection. We will be contacted on 5th April with an appointment for the second jab. While that doesn’t make medical sense, it does in the sense of population. The first jab is 60 plus protection probably higher, and even if the disease is contracted, it will be mild. So with most of the population  vaccinated, covid will cease to stress out the NHS the way it has been doing, and our health care system can get on with the cancer treatments and hip replacements.

 Working at full capacity, the Louisa Jordon will be doing 5000 jabs a day. I hope the teaching profession gets their call up soon; they seem to be being forgotten in all this.

The Louisa Jordan is at the main exhibition centre in Glasgow, converted in a matter of weeks to a hospital. Row upon row of white cubicles,   all numbered and lettered, almost like stalls on a race course.

 It was up and ready for operation on 19th April 2020 and has never been used. There are still reports of hospitals being overwhelmed so I’m not sure why it has not been used but there you go.

But here’s a quote “The hospital hasn’t been used to treat coronavirus (COVID-19) patients due to the continued suppression of the virus. However, thanks to a successful pilot, 315 patients have received orthopaedic and plastic surgery outpatient consultations since the start of July.”

 While walking through the deadly quiet hall of the exhibition centre, we did see signs that something had been going on. In particular a drawing on a whiteboard of a knee cap and the cruciate   ligaments. I noticed it because it was wrong.

So who was Louisa Jordan? I confess that I had no idea until I googled her.   She was a nurse, born in Maryhill Road (where Taggart was set actually) from Irish parents in July 1878. She was one of ten children, seven of them surviving to adulthood. She began her nursing career in Quarrier's Homes, a Bridge of Weir sanatorium   about five miles from where I live now.

Louisa was working as a nurse in Buckhaven when the First World War started and she immediately enlisted with the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service in December 1914. She joined a unit bound for Serbia, leaving Southampton in mid-December of that year. She was then deployed to treat the war wounded at the Scottish Woman’s hospital near Kragujevac. There was a typhus epidemic in early 1915 and Louisa volunteered to work on the infective ward. The disease claimed her own life just a few weeks later. She was buried in Serbia.

 There was also something in America this week, and that lifted the spirits of the whole planet.  Normally, only those very interested in politics would watch the Inauguration but this one was televised on a lot of channels and most people took a look at it in the course of the day, mostly to make sure that the old president had actually gone.

Amongst many things I was struck by how nice it was to hear a softly spoken president.

Oh, and in writing life something rather fabulous happened, more on that in another blog. That means I didn’t really understand it but when the paperwork comes through you are guaranteed a blog.

Caro Ramsay

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021



Although less of a fanatic than I used to be, I'm still an audiophile. Back in the day, I loved comparing loudspeakers and discussing obscure concepts like stereo separation and imaging. One of the parameters I used to geek over when studying specifications of an audio device was the signal-to-noise ratio, or S/N. The higher the value, the better, i.e. the signal is the music you want to hear and noise is any extraneous noise generated intrinsically by the system itself.

Today is the inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration, and last night it struck me that Joe Biden is starting off with a high S/N, and the way he's doing that is by decreasing the denominator--the N.  As he stood with Jill Biden at one side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with Kamala Harris and the Second Gentleman-to-be on the other, I heard something we've become unaccustomed to for a while: silence.  

                            Harrises and Bidens at Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool (Getty Images)

For one surprise moment, I thought, "Isn't he going to say anything?" It was then that the silence swept over me and the reply came right back: "He doesn't need to." This stunning image with four hundred glowing lamps to represent the 400,000 we have lost to the pandemic, was all we needed. It spoke volumes, and Biden was there to say, "Someone has heard you now. We acknowledge you, and we say we are sorry."

Perhaps without our realizing it, we have had so much clamor and cacophony in our heads, we've forgotten what a quiet mind is. The 2020 we endured was a clash of so many factors that came together in a crescendo of strife, fury, tragedy and lots and lots of noise. 

Silence and quiet are related but not identical. Silence is the absence of sound. Quiet is a state of mind regardless of presence or absence of sound. Now, let's get back to reacquainting ourselves with either, or both. One of my favorites: rain.

Monday, January 18, 2021

My Covid Vaccination: A Cliffhanger

Annamaria on Monday

My country's response to the COVID pandemic has been abysmal, as the whole world knows.  My state, of New York, has been much more sure-footed, especially considering the lack of consistent Federal advice and support.  There has been here a soupçon of political infighting, but life in New York without that would be like cooking pasta without salting the water.  When it comes to fighting COVID, what would have helped enormously would have been a health service organized on a national level, a convenience the USA has until now mightily opposed.

To say the US system is fractionated would to be like describing space as dotted here and there with a few heavenly bodies. Given this, I was not expecting the rollout of the vaccine to be well-organized or easy to navigate on a national scale.  And with difficulties nation-wide, I figured New York would do no better than just okay.  But I did expect okay.  It may turn out to be not so bad, especially in comparison to the rest of the nation. The jury will be out on that for some time, I think.  While we wait for the verdict, here is what's happened with me so far.

I received the message above at 11:30AM on 11 January and clicked the link immediately.  It brought me to a webpage that listed several locations for Mount Sinai's vaccine centers.  I chose the nearest one to me, in Union Square, and my first available choice of day and time they told me was 18 January at 9:30 AM.  I agreed to that.  I then was taken to a new site: Zocdoc, where I had to answer a survey about my experiences with COVID and anaphylactic shock.  And once I was cleared to make an appointment, I then confirmed my time and place choices. Click!

What?? I immediately got a reply thanking me for my request for an appointment at Kings Highway in Brooklyn??

No. No. No. What happened to Union Square?

One hundred percent aware of the number inhabitants in my city many, many of whom were in competition with me at that moment, with great determination I found a way to cancel the Brooklyn appointment and started over.  When I insisted on Union Square, it told me I had to call a given number. When I dialed it, I got a voice that said I was not qualified to call that number.

When I tried to get back to Square One, I had a little trouble finding it. I guess because it is nowhere near Union Square. In the meanwhile, I received an email from Anna at ZocDoc saying she was sorry that my appointment was cancelled.

I took it that she (it?) was talking, in the passive voice, about the appointment I myself had cancelled.  I went on. I chose a location not too far from me, and I made another appointment.

E' Voila!


But that was not the end of it. Anna from Zocdo, sent me that vague email again (two days after the first one), about how she was sorry that my appointment had been cancelled.  Still, my knee-jerk determination told me, "Her apology is vague.  It does not specify 20 January at 9:45."

Challenges to my self-confidence usually ramp up my determination.  Until I knew for sure that I was screwed again, I decided that I would go to the appointment on the 20th armed with printouts of the confirmation - not only from Zocdoc but also from Mount Sinai. 

I was both encouraged and discouraged when Mount Sinai then said something strange, but specific.  It was canceling my appointment at the Kings Highway location for 18 January.  This was not a good sign about the reliability of the system in general, but it helped my optimism along quite nicely.

Then in preparation for writing this blog, I was collecting screen shots, and  that pursuit took me back to my page on the Mount Sinai site.  A general notice said that, due to distribution problems with vaccine doses, all appointments were canceled for January 15 through January 19. OY!

But, it still looks as if the 20th is okay.  

I went back to the Zocdoc site and found this gorgeous congratulations on my successful appointment, an encouragement that wasn't there yesterday:

I am well aware that the arc of this story follows, almost slavishly, the paradigm for a thriller.  The question is will the tale reach its denouement on Wednesday or will the protagonist have more dragons to slay in her quest for immunization.  

Time will tell....

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Remembering the Great Gyonin-zaka Fire

 --Susan, every other Sunday

Hello again from Tokyo! This week, I'd like to share a hidden historical gem that's close to home (for me at least): Daienji, a Tendai Buddhist temple not far from my home in Tokyo's Meguro Ward.

The main gate at Daienji

I visited the temple last weekend, as part of a walking pilgrimage to visit the shichifukujin, or "Seven Gods of Good Fortune"--a New Year tradition in Japan. The Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage near my home in Meguro is the oldest one in Tokyo, and unusual in that each of the lucky gods is enshrined in a Buddhist Temple, rather than a Shinto shrine. 

Daienji, which sits about a five minute walk from Meguro station on a steep hill called Gyonin-Zaka, is the fourth of six temples on the pilgrimage (the previous temple, Myoenji, enshrines two of the gods of god fortune). The temple was founded in 1624 as a center of Tendai teaching and worship. The principal image is that of Dainichi Nyorai, the central deity of esoteric Buddhism.

An obelisk outside the temple gate

A secondary shrine within the temple grounds enshrines the deity Daikoku--the patron of wealth, farmers, and the kitchen. This is where people pray on the seven lucky gods pilgrimage, although most visitors pay respects to Dainichi Nyorai also.


One of the few purification fountains still running---but please don't use it at the moment.

The dragon-headed purification fountain pictured above sits just to the left of the main gate, at the temple entrance. Most of Japan's purification fountains currently are not in operation (many are dry for the first time in memory), and even those still running, like this one, have signs nearby asking people to forego the customary ritual cleansing of hands and mouths, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Main worship hall (hondo) of Daienji

The main temple yard contains not only the hondo (worship hall) but also the secondary shrine dedicated to the god of good fortune. To the right of the worship hall, you can see a seated Buddha partially covered in gold leaf. The statue represents Yakushi Nyorai, the god of healing, and for 500 yen (about $5 USD) you can purchase sheets of gold leaf to place on the Buddha's body. Apparently, if you lay the gold on the place that hurts, the Buddha will take your pain away. I wasn't hurting last weekend, so I can't tell you whether or not this works, but I'll keep it in mind the next time my ankle acts up.

The Seven Lucky Gods

Statues on the temple grounds represent the seven gods of good fortune.

Shaka Nyorai and the Arhats (also a surprisingly good band name)

In 1772, a massive fire swept through Edo (now Tokyo), destroying much of the city. The fire, now known as the Great Gyonin-Zaka Fire, is believed to have begun on the grounds of Daienji (although the precise cause is unknown). After the fire, the statues in the next few pictures were constructed and placed on the temple grounds as a memorial to the people who perished in the fire. 

The large seated figure above is Shaka Nyorai, the historical Buddha (Prince Siddhartha, Gautama Buddha). The small statues in the background are 491 arhats, or disciples of the Buddha, each of which has a different face, position, and expression.

More of the Arhats

Collections of 500 arhats can be seen across Japan; they represent various disciples of the Buddha and have been installed on mountainsides, and at various Buddhist temples. These were created as an act of worship, over a period of years. The oldest arhats bear inscriptions stating they were created in 1763, but most of the figures were made and installed after 1781. The Buddhas in the foreground were added after the temple was rebuilt in 1848.

As a native Californian transplanted to and living in Japan, it's a humbling experience to visit a local temple--just a 40-minute walk from my apartment--and to realize that it has stood here longer than the country of my birth (to say nothing of my native state) has even existed. 

It's also a good reminder that history isn't only something we read about in books. It lives, and breathes, down every street and in every paving stone. Sometimes you have to look for it, but the search is well worthwhile when it unearths a hidden treasure like Daienji.