Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed

I want to say "Wow."

I'm not sure I'm there.

Like nearly everybody else in the path of today's solar eclipse, I waited with great expectation. At times, I watched the NASA streaming of the phenomenon on Facebook, which showed spectacular images of totality— even to the point of near mystical inspiration for me — from one location to the next.

Halo sees the sunlight dimming out, then wants something to eat.
 The corona. Bailey's Beads. Sun spots. The diamond ring.

Television was how I was going to view this thing anyway, and I saw it all.

So when the real thing finally made its way to North Carolina around 2:40 p.m., this is what I experienced:

• There was some cloud cover, but even so it still was evident something greater was blotting out the sun. We were never going to reach totality in our area — I think we were close to 95 percent of total — but there was a weird kind of sunlight out there at the peak moment. It wasn't quite dawn. It wasn't quite dusk. It was somehow muted sunlight, if ever there could be such a thing. Or maybe distilled sunlight. Or diluted. Unusual. But it was never dark. My backyard motion-sensor security light never cut on even while I was doing jumping jacks in front of it.

My friends at Mountcastle can't resist...
• The rabbits and squirrels in my yard disappeared, but maybe that's because a lawn service was running its commercial mower at neighboring Mountcastle Insurance during all of this. Or maybe those creatures really were confused. I don't know.

Birds briefly disappeared. Crickets and cicadas sounded off, although it could have been weed whackers. But I'll go with the crickets.

By 3 p.m., the squirrels and rabbits were back. But the mowers were gone. Correlation? You decide.

• I did feel a drop in temperature, but only slightly. It was a humid afternoon to begin with and it was already warm, so the dip in Farenheit was only minimal, I thought. From the high 80s to the mid 80s, I'd guess.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience, if not overwhelmed by it. When I watched it on TV, I marveled at the natural precision it takes for a total eclipse — the moon is in the exact right location, the exact right mile from the earth and the exact right mile from the sun, to make both spheres appear to be the same size in the sky as they merge. Awesome stuff. Enough to make me an astronomer in a different life, if only all that galactic mathematics didn't get in the way.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sun spots

The last time that I can remember a solar eclipse was in 1979, I think. Or maybe it was 1984, I'm not absolutely sure. Eclipses could be seen in North Carolina both years, although only partially. But the path of the eclipse was closer to North Carolina in 1984, so....

Adding to my confusion was a quick check on Wikipedia, which told me 1979 was total and 1984 was annular.

Huh? I never heard of an annular solar eclipse. To me, eclipses were either partial or total. Turns out, an annular eclipse occurs when the moon is farther away from the earth, looks smaller, and therefore doesn't completely cover the sun on their respective journeys across the sky (see here). Or something like that.

Anyway, I'm sure I was excited during one of those years about an eclipse. They're rare celestial events (although not as rare as, say, Halley's Comet, which appears once every 76 years) and who wants to miss that?

Which brings me to tomorrow.

The great temptation, of course, is to steal a quick glimpse of an eclipse without permanently damaging the only set of eyes you'll ever own. Solar eclipse eyewear is out there (if you can find some), but they better be ISO 12312-2 approved, whatever that means.

The trouble for me is that a lot of these glasses look like the 3D viewers you can pick up in a movie theater. Hmm. Maybe not. Other glasses have seemingly transparent lenses that look like they can't filter out moonlight, much less ultraviolet light. Hmm. Maybe not.

And the Internet is filled with Boy Scout projects featuring shoeboxes, scissors and Scotch tape, which might be the safe way to go except I'm too lazy to find the materials I need to make such a viewer.

So I'm going hi-tech. I'm going to watch the eclipse on television. I can sit down. I don't have to crane my neck. I can pet my cat and eat banana chips and sesame sticks. Presumably, I won't damage my eyes.

Even if I can't remember what year I experienced my last eclipse, I do remember where I was. I was  on the way to Denton to do an athlete of the week story for The Dispatch. On the way, I noticed the sky getting eerily darker, so I pulled over to an athletic field in Southmont.

I think I recall hearing birds chirp a little more loudly, maybe a few rabbits and squirrels running around wondering what was going on with their circadian rhythms. If I can pull myself out of my recliner, I might step outside to see just how dark it gets at mid-day, to see whether birds seek shelter or if squirrels and rabbits start scratching their heads.

Heck, I might could get another blog out of this.

I guess we'll see...


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To ponder

nat·u·ral law
noun
1.
a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct.


I'm not a lawyer, although I occasionally need one for my random traffic transgressions. And I'm not a historian, although I have a personal library in my house with more than 150 history books bending the shelves. I do enjoy American history. Not a bad diversion, I figure, for a guy who spent 40 years as a sports writer for the local newspaper.

So after the unbelievable events in Charlottesville, VA, last weekend, I put my brain into some free-wheeling silent running. I did that because my brain had reached critical mass and was about to explode.

I mean, c'mon, neo-Nazis in Charlottesville? Torchlight parades snaking through Thomas Jefferson's university? Stiff-armed salutes and chants of "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and soil"?

And then, tragically, a young woman is dead.

Can this really be happening in the United States of America in 2017? When did we make that turn? Who, in 2017, makes a conscious decision to become a Nazi? I thought Naziism died with a bullet in its brain back in 1945. Do they think Eisenhower, the great defeater of Nazis, is a villain?

But 70 years later, here we are.

From where does that kind of hate arise in a nation that, defined by its very creation, supposedly embraces all?

I'm also baffled by how their reliance on Christianity comes into play here. Do some of these golf shirted, loafer wearing misanthropes wear those WWJD bracelets? OK. What would Jesus do? Tell me. I don't understand...

So the thoughts in my head swirled freely.

The ultimate aim of the neo-Nazis and other haters, as I understand it, is to transform the nation into something that is solely Christian and solely white. It echoes Hitler's Aryan philosophy, I guess, but runs counter to the natural law that guided our Founding Fathers, whose astonishing vision constructed this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Wow. There it is. All men are created equal. All men have certain inalienable rights, which I guess is a nod to natural law. And those rights were given to us by a higher power. To all men. Naturally.

A remarkable Constitution came later to protect and guarantee those natural rights.

So who decides to become a neo-Nazi in a nation where men are (supposedly) equal? How is it that torchlight parades and funny salutes are a recruiting tool? How does resentment of others fuel racism, even in a land of opportunity? When is a woman's death her own fault? Who decides to join the wrong side of history?

I don't understand...






Sunday, August 6, 2017

Big Pharma

This could get a little complicated, so please bear with me as I unwind my way through my pharmaceutical experience from a couple days ago.

I'm kinda hoping this is a cathartic moment for me, but we'll see.

It all began with my annual visit to my cardiologist (Even now I can't believe I can say "My cardiologist." Holy moly. That's what old guys say.) I am being treated for atrial fibrillation, a heart condition we discovered that I had about six or seven years ago. It's where one of the atrium's in my heart beats out of sinus rhythm.

I may have had this condition forever, especially since I never suffered from any known symptoms — no fatigue, no palpitations, etc. If doctors didn't tell me I have it, I wouldn't know I have it.

But if left untreated, my chances for a stroke increase five-fold, or something like that. That's because the blood in that particular atrium isn't being pumped efficiently, could pool, clot and move to my brain. Thanks, heart.

Nationwide, this is actually a fairly common condition. Apparently, millions of us have A-fib. I am not alone.

I'm being treated with pills, including daily doses of a beta blocker called Metoprolol and a cholesterol tamer called Lovastatin. I use a 325 mg aspirin as my blood thinner. And that's it. Both drugs together (not the aspirin) cost me a total of about $5 a month. Thanks, Part D.

Here's where we go a little crazy.

Last week, my cardiologist (there I go again) told me that it's time to think about changing my blood thinner, and she suggested either Xarelto or Eliquis. It's not so much because the aspirin isn't working as it is my body is simply getting older. It's not imperative that I switch right now, but she wants me to ditch the aspirin before I'm 70. I'm currently 66.

I actually find it encouraging that we are seriously talking about being 70. 

Anyway, neither of us knew how much the new thinner would cost (I elected Eliquis) with insurance, so she made out a prescription. Go to the pharmacy in a couple days, she said, and see how much it costs.

But a day or two later I got a notice in the mail that my Eliquis request was denied because "...your Medicare Advantage plan does not cover outpatient prescription drugs."

Whaa??? Something wasn't right. To make a long story short, I flew back to my cardiologist's (ahem) office and talked to the nice woman behind the glass window named Angie, who had now morphed into my HR go-to person. She looked a little confused, too. "We took care of this yesterday," she said. "There was no denial. I don't know why they mailed you this."

Angie promptly got on the phone. She immediately talked with an office colleague. A few minutes later, she told me to go to the pharmacy.

So I did. I told them I had a prescription for Eliquis and could they tell me how much it costs?

The nice pharmacist got on the computer, banged out a few keystrokes. "It's expensive," he said. "It looks like it's about $300."

"Gulp," I replied. "With insurance?"

"Yes."

"Per month?"

"Yes."

I didn't need anymore yesses. I went home and called my cardiologist (never mind). I told Angie what the pharmacist said. She told me she'd get back to me.

In the meantime, I got on the laptop and typed in "Cost of Eliquis."

Holy smokes. Even with coupons, even at Wal*Mart, it's still in the high $300s. Some vendors were $400. It's about the same for Xarelto. My insurance actually was the low-ball price. The whole experience is enough to put me into heart failure.

Even more discouraging, neither drug has a generic. Not yet, anyway.

And I know I'm not alone. Other people have similar cost-of-drug stories, no doubt worse than mine. It was just culture shock for me to suddenly go from $5 to $305. That'll take a bite out of my Social Security. Thanks, Martin Shkreli.

Later in the day, I got a phone call from Angie.

"For the time being," said Angie, "the doctor said to keep you on aspirin."

For the time being, that's cathartic enough.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Gettysburg reunion

The plan was to get the five original Civil War Institute roommates back together again.

The last time all five of us were together was 22 years ago. That was back in 1995, so long ago that it seems like a different lifetime.

We didn't know then that it would be the last time all five of us would get together for another week of rather intense Civil War studies on the campus of Gettysburg College. But Jay was starting a young family and it was evident even then that he couldn't drop everything to go away for a week.

From left, Paul, Jay, Rich, myself and Chris storm the Gettysburg battlefield.
 Well, he could have. But to his credit, he didn't. That tuition money helped raise and educate a couple of kids instead. Chris and myself still came up each summer from Lexington in early July to attend the CWI, while Paul, from Chicago, and Rich, from New Jersey, would converge with us. We always asked to be the same roommates year after year.

Over the years, Paul from Chicago became Paul from Arkansas, while Rich from New Jersey became Rich from Pennsylvania, but the friendships never diminished. Several years ago, when the Davidson County Civil War Round Table took an extended weekend to Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Paul met up with us. Last year, Jay and Rich made it to Gettysburg with us while Paul stayed home.

But this year was different. This year, the five roommates finally got their calendars to sync. We blocked off four days last week, made our plans, and finally assembled in the hotel by Thursday afternoon. Amazingly, everybody looked pretty much themselves, even though ages ran the gamut from late 50s to mid 70s. If nothing else, we are well preserved.

The highlight of our weekend was Friday morning, when we hired out Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide Charlie Fennel. We've known Charlie for years. We actually met him when he gave a tour for the CWI all those 20 or 30 years ago, and have almost always made arrangements for him to give us personal tours ever since.

Consequently, we end up studying portions of the battlefield not as well known to the general public. This year, we followed Anderson's Division, wondering why Posey and Mahone didn't provide support for Wright's near breakthrough on the second day. That's all I'm going to say about that. Take your own tour to form an answer.

Anyway, we were on the field for more than three hours before the tour ended. Then, in the afternoon, as a heavy rain fell, we took in the movie "Dunkirk." We can never get enough history.

As it turned out, we had such a great time that we decided to make this an annual thing. We decided that we can do just as good a job as the CWI in studying the field, just as long as we have Charlie with us. So we're already making plans for next summer.

Next summer can't get here fast enough.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Moonlighting

Earlier this week we celebrated the 48th anniversary of a human being setting foot on the moon.

I thought that was at once both peculiar and amazing. I mean, a 48th anniversary isn't exactly a milestone commemoration, like, say, a 50th would be. Wait two more years and see what I mean.

On the other hand, it was the first moon landing. Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong. Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.



Why not celebrate?

I was 18 years old at the time. This is what I think I remember: It was late at night, approaching 11 p.m. Pennsylvania time. I'd been curious about space travel ever since Sputnik scared the beejeezus out of us, so I wasn't going to miss this moment. It was going to be on TV. I'd invested too much time following the Mercury, Gemini and now the Apollo programs. I'd watched all those Wonderful World of Disney's concerning the future.

Telstar, Teflon, Tang and AstroTurf were byproducts of space research. We were so moving forward as a species. Star Trek was real.

We were gathered around the TV, a grainy black-and-white picture that was positively amazing. We were watching live pictures from the moon. Hey, I was still getting used to watching live baseball broadcasts from San Francisco. Are you kidding me?

When Armstrong purposefully came down Eagle's steps I was praying that he wouldn't accidentally rip his space suit on something sharp and go spinning crazily off into space like a burst balloon. That was an actual concern of mine, as if the project scientists had never considered this possibility. OSHA was still two years away, for crying out loud. Anything could have happened.

But Armstrong successfully took his giant leap for mankind (I held my breath) and I was thrilled. I think I stayed up for another hour or so before going to bed, content with American exceptionalism.

Now, 48 years later, I can't believe this all happened 48 years ago. Two months later the Beatles were singing "Here Comes the Sun." Go figure.

The moon is about to come into play again. We're all getting primed for a potentially spectacular solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 90 percent of it to be total right here in North Carolina (if it doesn't rain).

The moon. Again. I feel like I'm being followed:



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Up and running

I don't know why it took us so long to get this thing done.

I think basically it's because, as a board of directors, we're probably dinosaurs. At least one of us still uses a flip phone. Another one of us doesn't have a personal email account (meaning he's the only person on the planet who's never been hacked). One or two of us might not use debit cards. Yikes.

But here we are, the board members for the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame (I am the board's secretary) — and we just walked into the 21st century.

We finally created a Web site. Or, more precisely, Deb Watson of Business Marketplace in Sapona, created and maintains the site for us. Here it is: (see here)

It's finally up and running. And it's easy to find. Isn't it great? Thanks, Deb.

As a board, we came to the conclusion that a Web site was necessary because we physically don't have a place to display 15 years of information about our inductees. No wall to hang pictures. No place to store documents or biographies. The only thing we had prior to the site was a plaque full of names hanging in a dusty corner of the Old Davidson County Court House. It wasn't sufficient.

In essence, we didn't have a hall for our Hall.

The Web site takes care of all of that. Right there on the home page is a list of all the inductees, grouped by the year in which they were inducted. All you have to do is click (I find it amusing that "click" is such an ancient word for such a modern function) on an inductee's highlighted name and, Presto!, that person's biography is right there for you to read, complete with pictures.

It's a cyber Hall of Fame. It's a virtual hall that extends from here to infinity. For eternity.

Another great feature on the home page is a link to an inductee nomination form that anybody can fill out and submit. This means if the average citizen has a name he wants the board to consider for induction, all he has to do is fill out the form and "click." Instructions are included. Easy.

We actually considered taking this step years ago and had an exploratory meeting or two with potential site developers, but noting came of it until Watson entered the picture. Then we somehow moved with warp speed.

It's no doubt that other halls of fame are cyber connected. But I wonder. Maybe it's only us. Maybe we're the trend setters now.

Dinosaurs indeed.