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OK, it’s not the best angle, but here is a picture of me being baptized:

baptism
My aunt Joan holding me as I was baptized

This is by itself unremarkable (except maybe for those who didn’t know that I was born into a Catholic family), but yesterday I learned something about the priest: Augustine Giella. It turns out that he was one of the priests named in the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. According to this article:

New Jersey court records indicate Giella confessed to fondling one of the girls and taking photos of her unclothed. Giella was facing sexual assault, child endangerment and child pornography charges in Ocean County, New Jersey, when he died in 1993 at about age 72.

giella in court
Augustine Giella in court

I was raised Catholic, until about age 13 when I realized that all that supernatural stuff was so much nonsense. But until then, I was a good Catholic boy, and was actually an altar boy for several years. I remember Giella and a few of the other priests who had been at that church since I was little. This was years before the reality of child abuse and the coverup by the church, but back then we all thought that anyone who wanted to be a priest had to be weird. So no, I don’t have a personal sordid tale of abuse. I’m lucky in that regard. They never did anything to me worse than feeding me the bullshit they fed every other kid. It’s just a very odd feeling to realize that that the monsters I have been reading about now that the cover-up by the Catholic Church is being unraveled are no longer abstract “others”, but that one of them was part of my life, and that perhaps some of my classmates at the time could have also been among his victims.

Handling White Supremacists

This is a thought experiment, not an actual proposal, so hear me out. Let’s take one state (Alabama and Mississippi come to mind as front-runners), and make it white-only. There will be a national relocation service, and within a period of say, two years, all non-white, non-Christian (can’t have Muslims or Jews here!) people will have to relocate to anywhere else in the country they want. Similarly, all white supremacists, including KKK, Nazis, “alt-right”, etc., will have to relocate to this newly-whitened state. For convenience, let’s assume that Alabama is selected, and renamed Alabaster.

Once that is done, it will be illegal to espouse those views outside of the state of Alabaster, but it will be completely legal within. We can follow the Chinese example and create a Great Firewall around Alabaster, so that all social media posts made in this state cannot be seen outside, and posts from non-whites cannot be seen within. Inside Alabaster they will be free to fly Confederate and Nazi flags and erect all the statues to Confederate figures they want. Anyone caught promoting white supremecist messages in the rest of the country will be forced to relocate to Alabaster. And, of course, Fox News will only be able to be seen by residents of Alabaster (and it will be the only news station).

We could also make it more comfortable for these racists by eliminating some of the other things that bug them. Obamacare will not apply to residents of Alabaster, so they can enjoy being excluded for pre-existing conditions and the like. There will also be no federal taxes: income tax, social security, medicare – none. Of course, no federal funds will be given to Alabaster, so they’ll have to maintain their own roads, feed their own poor, care for their own elderly, all out of their own pockets. In other words, Tea Party heaven!

Having set the stage for this thought experiment, I’m wondering what the population of Alabaster would eventually be. In other words, how many people in the current USA would volunteer to move to such a white-only state? And for those who did, I wonder how happy they’d be, now that all of the things that they are currently so angry about have been removed from their lives. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Bag Claim Etiquette

This seems so simple that it should be obvious, but it apparently it’s not, so I guess I have to spell it out. When waiting at a baggage claim carousel, you should stand back a few feet until you see your bag. Not only does it make it easier for everyone to get a view of the bags, but it leaves room for unloading the bags. Don’t crowd the carousel like these people:

One guy has the right idea, but he can’t see the bags that are coming because the others are blocking his view.

On a recent flight I saw my bag coming around , and had to squeeze my way through the people crowding the carousel. When it came, I grabbed it and lifted it off in order to put it on the ground. In the process it struck one of the people crowding the area, and he gave me a dirty look. I gave him one right back. It’s simply rude not to give a fellow traveler enough room to retrieve their luggage, and when you see someone grabbing their bag, it’s up to you to get out of their way.

Trump Is Not The Enemy

Are you numb yet? To all of the outrageous, dishonest, and self-serving things that Donald Trump does? Or does your blood still boil every time his name is mentioned? I find myself in the latter camp, but I’m here to remind you of something very important: Trump Is Not The Enemy.

He is an enemy, of course, but by focusing on him, we miss the bigger picture. Thought experiment:  imagine that tomorrow morning you wake up to see that Trump has tweeted his resignation. He’s gone. Not only that, but Bob Mueller also announces indictments of Trump Sr., Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump. They’re all going to prison for a long, long time. Would that mean that things will be all right again?

Hardly. The Republican party controls all 3 branches of government, and they have been more than happy to ride along with the Trump populist train in order to achieve their goals. They have confirmed nominees to cabinet posts who are not only unqualified, but who have expressed views that are 180° opposed to the office they occupy. They have tried to take away health care to millions of people, and are currently planning on redistributing even more of the income of the masses to the extremely wealthy. They have wantonly ignored the truth, and instead parroted Fox News talking points. If Trump were to disappear, we’d have President Mike Pence, who would gladly continue, if not accelerate, the decline of our country.

It is not Trump, but the Republican party that is the true enemy. The only way we can progress as a country is to remove them from power.

How do we do that? My suggestion is to tie everything that Trump does to Republicans. If Trump hints about nuking North Korea or killing gay people, don’t place the blame solely on him. Place it on the enablers. Place it on the Republicans. Hold them accountable.

There are several Republicans in Congress who have expressed privately that they feel that Trump is unstable, but instead of acting on that, they just let it continue. Hold them accountable.

There is an overwhelming track record of violating the emoluments clause, and personally profiting from government use of his properties, but the Republicans turn a blind eye to that. Hold them accountable.

If in the weeks to come, evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia surfaces, or any of a number of other  potentially impeachable offenses are revealed, the power to impeach is 100% in the hands of the Republican majority. If they don’t act as swiftly and as thoroughly as they did investigating Hillary Clinton for Benghazi, they are excusing those acts, and thus complicit. Make that the headline, and hold them accountable.

We need to constantly tie our outrage to the Republicans, and not just to Trump, if we ever hope to move this country back to a positive direction. We need to stop focusing on winning the White House, and focus instead on winning state legislatures so that we can undo the gerrymandering that has allowed them to control the House with a minority of votes. We need to be sure to target every single Republican who is up for re-election in 2018, and tie them inextricably to Donald Trump. Trump is going down in flames, and we need to bring all of his enablers down with him.

Lasik post-op

Two days ago I underwent Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness. It went as well as could be expected, and I’m currently seeing 20/20 without glasses or contacts. There is a little bit of hazy ghosting around bright objects, but that’s supposed to go away as my corneas heal.

First, the place where I had it done, LasikPlus, is first-class in every respect. They understand customer experience, and do everything to make the experience, including coughing up around $4K, as pleasant as it can possibly be. And my doctor, Bruce January, M.D., had a positive energy that was so infectious that it inspired confidence. The staff also did a great job explaining just what will happen, including trying to explain what it will feel like. The thing is, that only goes so far. So here are my impressions.

The first step in the process is cutting a flap in your cornea’s surface to expose the main part of the lens. There are two separate machines involved, so they have you lay down on a small (comfortable!) table that pivots between two machines. The first machine is where they place a circular device on the eye to hold it still.

operating room
I’m getting ready for the first part of the procedure to start.

Before this is done, some numbing drops are placed in your eyes, so there is no pain. You are told that you will feel it pressing on your eyeball, and that while there won’t be any pain, it will feel a little weird. That’s an understatement! After the device is on your eye, they move you a few feet to the second machine, which does the actual cutting of the cornea using a femtosecond laser. This is where it gets trippy.

You’re staring up and see several very bright white lights, but of course, you can’t blink. When they have you lined up, the machine presses down hard on the aforementioned circular device, and sure, it feel strange having that much pressure on your eyeball. But is even stranger is that you go blind in that eye! From bright white lights to black in a split second! Then you start seeing all sorts of colored patterns moving around. If you ever pressed against your closed eyes when you were a kid and saw the resulting visual effects, it’s sort of like that, but 100 times more intense. I saw spots of different colors that moved around randomly, leaving a trail of dots behind them. And while the visual show was interesting, the whole eyeball pressure thing was getting more and more uncomfortable. I’m not sure of the elapsed time; it was probably less than 30 seconds. But it felt a lot longer! When it was done, the pressure released, and the white lights reappeared. Now it was time to be wheeled back to the first machine, and repeat for the second eye. This time I had a much better idea as to what to expect, and while it was equally uncomfortable, it seemed to go more quickly.

This was the view on the monitor as I was about to have the flap cut into my cornea

Now it was time to get up and walk to the machine that actually reshaped the lenses. It was odd – I could sort of see where I was going, but felt quite a bit disoriented after the previous procedure. The operating room assistant guided me over, and I laid down for part two.

This time there was no discomfort; nothing pressing on the eye, just a small device to keep you from blinking. They told you to just keep focused on the green dot in the middle, while the red lights around it danced and blinked. After a few seconds of blinking it sounded like someone turned on a vacuum cleaner, and the red lights got more intense. The green dot turned into a green patch as the laser etched the lens. Then there’s the smell – you’ve smelled burning hair, right? Well, it’s pretty close to that. I don’t know why I was surprised, since I knew that the whole point of this procedure was to have a laser burn away parts of your lens to re-shape it, but smelling it brought home the reality of what was going on.

The whole process lasted only a few seconds. The smell went away, the vacuum sound stopped, and the green light returned to a dot. Then I saw what looked like a small brush going across my eye. This was the surgeon replacing the corneal flap over my eye. My wife was watching this on the monitors and said it looked like the doctor was smoothing wallpaper. Oh, I didn’t mention that the whole procedure area is viewable from the waiting area, including monitors that show what the doctor is seeing. Just one more thing that showed that they put a lot of thought into the whole experience. The photos here were all taken by my wife Linda while I was undergoing the procedure.

The view on the monitor during the second half of the procedure

Repeat with the other eye, and done! When I got up, I could see clearly enough, although everything had a fuzziness to it. Off to the side room where they give your eyes a quick once-over, repeat the instructions to you for applying the various drops, and we’re done!

post-surgery goggles
Wearing the protective goggles over my very bloodshot eyes 10 minutes after the procedure

I put on the sunglasses they give you, and got in the car for the ride home. Even with sunglasses and my eyes closed, it was uncomfortably bright outside. I kept my eyes closed for the whole ride home, only opening when we arrived. By now the numbing drops were beginning to wear off, and my eyes were watering like crazy. They were also beginning to burn a bit, and soon reminded me of the time I was cutting jalapeño peppers and absent-mindedly rubbed my eyes! Every so often my eyes would get uncomfortable and I’d open them a bit, only to have tears come gushing down my cheeks! It was clear that my eyes were not very happy! I did end up going through a lot of tissues that day!

They advise you to keep your eyes closed for several hours, and recommend that you take a nap. They give you some Tylenol PM to help you sleep, but that didn’t do anything at all for me. I have some over-the-counter sleep aid pills that I use when flying overseas, so I took a couple of those, and slept for the next 5 hours. When I awoke, my eyes felt better, although still a bit scratchy. I kept the drops up, and tried to keep my eyes closed as much as possible.

The next morning I awoke to much clearer vision. Bright areas had a soft halo around them, but that’s to be expected as the cornea heals. I kept up with the drops, as my eyes would start to feel a bit scratchy if I went too long without them. I had my day-after exam, and all was fine.

eye bruising
Some bruising is visible the day after surgery

So 24 hours after having my eyes zapped by lasers I was able to return to working, which requires staring at a screen. The trick is to limit it to 20 minutes at a time, after which I put in more eyedrops and get up to walk around and let my eyes focus on other things for a few minutes. And yes, this post was written in small chunks to give my eyes some rest.

Some post-Lasik thoughts:

As is common with people my age, I need reading glasses. Before the surgery, when I was wearing my contacts and needed to see something up close, the readers were necessary. However, when I removed my contacts I could see perfectly well up close. This was handy when I would awake in the morning and want to set an alarm on my phone for, say, 5 minutes of snoozing. Since the surgery I can’t read my phone when I pick it up in the morning! Guess I’ll have to keep a pair of readers on my nightstand.

Somewhat related to this, when I rolled over to say good morning to my wife, I couldn’t see her very clearly, either. This was far more troubling to me. I guess I had taken it for granted that I would always be able to see her when we woke up. This will take some getting used to. I’m hoping that as my eyes heal, this will not be as severe. I’m not sure the convenience of not having to wear contacts is worth losing this.