Day 40: Your Place in History

I have one of my favorite tweets pinned to the top of my timeline:

“Right now” is tomorrow’s history. You can either be a spectator, or you can help to shape how things will be.

Even if you are a spectator, you are shaping events. Think about all those people living in Germany in the 1930s: of course they didn’t know that Hitler would start the mass murder of Jews in the 1940s, but it wasn’t much of a surprise either. Early in his career he told a journalist “Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”

It has been commonly assumed that the average German had no idea what was going on while the Holocaust was being carried out, but that notion has been debunked. It was written about in newspapers, usually in terms that de-humanized the victims. But most people alive then couldn’t be bothered to speak out: maybe they secretly agreed with the Nazis that Jews were subhuman and deserved to die; maybe they were afraid that they would face retaliation if they spoke up. Either way, their decision to do nothing enabled the Holocaust to happen.

A common time-travel fantasy is to send someone back in time to kill Hitler before he rose to power; with hindsight I don’t think any of us would hesitate to pull the trigger if we had such an opportunity. It would have been much more difficult for someone back in the 1930s to do so, however: they may not have liked Hitler, but he hadn’t revealed his true monstrosity yet. He hadn’t yet committed the acts that we now associate with his infamy. The more they did nothing, the stronger he got, and the more difficult it became to oppose him.

And so it is with today: we have monsters in power who say horrible things, like calling white supremacist marchers “very fine people”, or that Mexicans coming to the US are “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists”. These monsters take the refugees coming to our border, and rip children from their parents, isolating them in cages. They’ve shown what they want to do. They’ve shown their true nature. And others have shown their support for these ideas by keeping them in office, free from consequences when they abuse their power.

So here you are, in the middle of this history. Given the parallels to the rise of other fascist, authoritarian leaders, and knowing where this can lead, what will you do? Will you sit this out, saying something like “I’m not into politics”?

By the way, “I’m not into politics” is a subtle way of saying “I don’t care what horrible things are happening to others, because they aren’t affecting me”.

Don’t be like that. Don’t be a passive enabler of our history. Instead, speak out against racism. Speak out against hate. Speak out against exploitation of workers. And not only do you need to vote, you need to get at least 5 other people who would otherwise not bothered to vote into the voting booth. We need overwhelming numbers of people working together in order to reverse the current negative trend, and help to make this time a brighter spot when future generations read about our history.

Day 39: How Old Are You?

I heard a great quote the other day:

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

Satchel Paige

I like the sentiment behind it: age is just a number. If you expect to be a certain way because the calendar says you should, well, it will probably be self-fulfilling. Instead, let’s take the saying “Act your age!” and turn it upside-down: “Your age is how you act”.

Of course, this can sometimes lead to trouble. My brain keeps thinking I’m in my 20s, and tries to make my body do things the way I did then. I end up paying a price later on in the form of very sore joints. So even when I act like I’m in my 20s, my body brings me back to reality. The same is true for some other biological realities, such as bearing children, but for the most part, your age doesn’t control what is possible.

So if you were to find out that your birth certificate was a forgery, and your real age is different, what would you guess it to be? I know that for myself and others who I have asked, it’s always younger. So why get hung up on a trick of the calendar? Go ahead and live as fully as you can, and don’t dwell on that number.

Day 38: Comes With the Territory

I was very excited when I discovered the huge crop of Eastern Black Swallowtail eggs a few weeks ago, but at the same time I also knew that that would mean having to deal with several caterpillars that wouldn’t make it all the way to adulthood. There can be many reasons caterpillars die: poison/insecticides, virus/bacterial infection, or just a genetic fault.

A healthy crop of caterpillars!

I took the photo above after changing the food supply and water for one of the enclosures. Those critters strip the rue and parsley pretty quickly, and many of their droppings end up in the glass. I also change the paper towels at the base of the enclosure, as it is also littered with caterpillar poop and pieces of the plants. I count at least 13 caterpillars in that shot; there are probably a few more hidden on the other side.

But when I clean out the enclosure, I often find several caterpillars on the floor of it, unresponsive. I remove them to a separate container, in case they are infected. A couple of days ago, I gathered 6 such sad critters from the two enclosures.

I puts bits of food in front of them to see if they start munching, a sign that they are still healthy. In the photo above, both #1 and #4 eventually “woke up” and began eating, so I returned them to the enclosure with their siblings.

#2 didn’t look very good at all. In the 15 minutes between when I placed them on the paper towel and when I took the photo, it had oozed a blackish liquid. It did twitch for a little while, but was soon dead.

#3 just looked deformed. I don’t know if it had some disease or a genetic fault, but it didn’t last long after this.

I had some hope for #5 and #6, as they are in the “J” shape that that swallowtail caterpillars form themselves before shedding their skin to become a pupa. They were smaller than pre-pupas typically are, but these little guys have surprised me before. I’ve had a few that laid on the bottom of the enclosure like this, and after a couple of days I’d look in on them and they had become chrysalises! They eventually emerged as perfectly normal adult butterflies, so I was hoping that that would be the case for these two. They were both wriggling from time to time, similar to the motion they make when getting ready to molt into a chrysalis.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. #5 turned dark and stopped moving in a few hours. #6 remained twitchy for 2 days before finally dying.

It’s always hard to see these tiny creatures hatch from eggs, and slowly grow bigger and bigger, only to die suddenly for no apparent reason. But it’s part of nature, and it helps to keep in mind that by keeping them away from predators and keeping them well-stocked with food, a much greater percentage do make it maturity. All you can do is your best to help them along.

Day 37: The Limits of Dentistry

I don’t much feel like writing at the moment, as I’ve just returned from the dentist, and had a new hole drilled into my upper jaw in preparation for getting an implant to replace a tooth. The numbing agents are wearing off, and my face is starting to throb.

I don’t keep records, but back in college I had several cavities, and being broke, went to the cheapest dentist I could find (cue the rant about American health insurance). Fast-forward to my 30s, and my new dentist told me that all of those fillings were failing, and some had new decay under them. They needed to be replaced, but one in particular would require removing so much material that a new filling wouldn’t be feasible; I would need to get a gold crown. They were really expensive, as insurance only pays a tiny fraction of what they cost (cue another rant). But, they said, gold crowns are permanent! So I got the crown.

Move on to my 50s. When reviewing my x-rays, the dentist said that there was new decay under the crown. “How was that possible?”, I asked, “I thought that crowns were permanent”. Turns out that “permanent” is a relative term, meaning “about 20 years”.

The decay had spread into the tooth’s roots, so I had to also get a root canal before they could replace the crown. Now that should be that!

Jump ahead to a couple of years ago, and my x-rays showed some smoky area in the jawbone where the tooth was located. An infection! Once again, my question was “How was this possible?”. Apparently the root canal didn’t get every single bit of bacteria, and they had now spread into the bone. The only way to treat it was to extract the tooth, surgically remove the infection, let the bone regrow, and then drill into it for the base of an implant to replace the extracted tooth.

So I started down that road. Each step requires months of healing in between. Finally I had the base inserted in my upper jaw for several months, and the x-rays showed it to be solid, so we proceeded with the next step: removing the inner threaded section that will hold the replacement tooth. This is pretty routine, but when the dentist began unscrewing it, I nearly jumped through the ceiling! Oh man, I hadn’t felt intense pain like that before!

Needless to say, that was not normal. It turns out that in a very small percentage of cases, the soft tissue grows faster than the bone, and infiltrates the implant base. This soft tissue is chock full of nerve endings, and when it got caught in the threads it hurt like hell! The only thing to do at that point is remove the entire implant material (after injecting me with lots of anaesthetic!), and start the whole process again.

So that’s where I am today: after several months of bone regeneration, they drilled into it and inserted a new implant base. Now I just need to wait several more months to see if this one is good.