29 May 2023

COVID Brain Fog

 I have a helluva time with words. I used to get to “amazing” or “genius” in The NY Times Spelling Bee first thing in the morning. Now I look at it and I can’t see words and I just string plausible sequences of letters together. 

I worked my way through several hours of Pimsleur’s Greek lessons some years ago. I am repeating them, because it’s not reading, but I routinely fall asleep. Is the effort or the boredom? 

But I am fine with numbers. I can remember a two-factor authentication code with no problem. I fly through the Times “digits” game and I can do a 9x9 expert Kenken without hints about half the time. 

Writing? Even just a email, or a blog post like this: Very, very hard. Reading with sustained attention, impossible. I am hoping the fancy new glasses change that.

28 May 2023

Covid Diary

I have been wanting to write about what it’s like with long COVID, but I don’t have much energy to be on the computer. I don’t really know where to start so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

In January, I was in great shape. I was living in Germany without a car, so grocery shopping, weekend sightseeing, and all my day-to-day activities were done by bike, by train, and/or on foot. 

In February, after returning from Germany, I went to an academic conference that I traveled to by bike, train, and bike, with luggage. I was one of few people at the conference who masked, and the day after I got home, the symptoms began. I was sicker than I’ve ever been, despite numerous bouts of walking pneumonia and bronchitis that exacerbated my underlying asthma.

I recovered from the acute infection after about three weeks, and the weird symptoms began. My vision is wonky, I get short of breath on climbing a flight of stairs or unloading the dishwasher, my feet often feel like they are on fire. My brain is deeply foggy. Working at the computer wears me out, whether it’s writing email, watching videos, or trying to have a zoom call. Reading? Sewing? My vision goes even wonkier.

The GP said take this new medication. The insurance company said “no.” 

The pulmonologist said “rest.” For six months to a year. 

The occupational therapist sent me to a fancy eye doctor who prescribed fancy expensive glasses that I am hoping to pick up soon. Maybe they will help with the fatigue, with writing and reading.

The physical therapist sent me to a cardiologist who prescribed a bunch of tests and said, get some exercise. The insurance company said, in a recorded message, “no” to I think one of the tests. Maybe more. Like I said, brain fog. I didn’t know the message was going to be recorded and I didn’t write anything down and it was not repeated and I hung up and wondered what just hit me.

I am still waiting to see the neurologist. I was “lucky” to get an appointment in the middle of June, after my GP referred me in March.

And that’s it for today. I am worn out. Maybe more another day.

21 April 2023

Climate Action Resources: A List

Environmental action and Jews

The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest 
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Ten Plagues of Climate Change 
Zavit, Science and Environment in Israel 
Adamah: People, Planet, Purpose 
Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action
Yale Climate Connections: Judaism and Climate Change

Carbon footprint 

Quick and easy carbon footprint calculator

More complicated carbon footprint calculator

Center for Sustainable Systems Carbon footprint factsheet, University of Michigan
Climate Feedback

General Environmental News

Green America

Mother Earth News

Earth Talk

Treehugger: Sustainability for All

Environmental Health News

Political Action

Climate Action Center 
Union of Concerned Scientists 
Citizens Climate Lobby 
Extinction Rebellion 
Climate Action Network 
Environmental Defense Fund
Climate Action
Pay Up Climate Polluters
Climate Action Tracker 

Environmental Justice

Climate Justice Alliance


Environmental Health News


Science and Solutions

Project Drawdown

Project Regeneration

Introduction to Climate Science, University of Oregon
Science Daily Environment News 

Our World in Data 

Global Carbon Atlas 

Surging Seas 

Productive Conversations

Katharine Hayhoe, TED Talk, “The Most Important Thing We Can Do About Climate Change” 

Katharine Hayhoe, Frequently Asked Questions 

Yale Climate Communication project 

United Nations Climate Action

United Nations Communicating on Climate Change

George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication

Christianity Today: Changing the Conversation on Climate Change

Native plants

National Wildlife Foundation Native Plant Finder

New Jersey Fish & Wildlife, Backyard Habitats 

New Jersey Native Plants and Pollinators 

Sickles Market, Little Silver

Brock Farms, Freehold

Rare Find Nursery, Jackson

Izel Native Plants 

Go Native Trees 

New Jersey Yards: Landscaping for a Healthy Environment

Better Banking

Banking on Chaos: banks that fund fossil fuels 

And some that don't 

11 March 2022

War Wounds the Grandchildren

I read the headline and scrolled past the photo in the news this morning, of a Ukrainian family killed by a Russian mortar, because I knew it would hit me too hard, but then I started reading the article and started sobbing anyway.

The traumas of war last for generations. The Syrians, the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Ukrainians, and the Russian soldiers will live with this for the rest of their lives, and pass it on to children and grandchildren. 

I know this because my mother was born in East Prussia in 1939. Her father was a soldier who served throughout World War II (yes, on the German side) and was killed in March 1945. She and her family fled East Prussian for what became West Germany in late 1944, spending time in a refugee camp, traveling by horse-drawn carriage (because the army had appropriated all the motor vehicles), at night, when they were less likely to be bombed or shot. 

The stories have been spilling out of the various siblings and cousins recently. One lives in Australia now, two in the US, others in Frankfurt and Munich, but in their minds they are back in early childhood, recalling the bombings and gunfire and fear. 

Children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors know this story well. 

So much fear. 

Fear passed to me as a child by my mother's stories. Fear passed another generation to my son, who as a first-year college student is worried for his friends doing ROTC, and even that he might get called to fight. Fear passed through my mother's stories, and also undoubtedly from me directly, though I couldn't tell you exactly how. 

And the wounds of the war going on in Ukraine right now will be carried into the future by the children. 

A million children are among those who have fled the country. They may return, they may have to make lives elsewhere. 

Either way, they will be scarred, and so will their children, and their children's children.

07 November 2021

Improve NJ Transit, Practically for Free

I sent a letter to NJ Governor Phil Murphy. Go here if you want to send one too.

03 November 2021

Chocolate, Coffee, and Sustainability

Chocolate and coffee are harmful to humans and to the environment in several ways.

Industrial-scale farmers clear forests to plant the trees and shrubs that are the source of coffee and cacao beans. The resulting habitat loss contributes to species extinction, and the loss of trees means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Roasting the beans, manufacturing chocolate bars, and shipping the end products also releases a lot of CO2.

There's a good run-down of the evils of chocolate here, and of coffee, here.

According to Our World in Data, carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of chocolate and coffee are comparable to those of cheese and shrimp: not as bad as beef and lamb, but many times higher than the carbon footprints of lentils and soy beans.

Go here for a larger version of the chart.

So if you're paying attention to the ecological impacts of your diet, coffee and chocolate are up there, pound for pound. 

As you can see from the chart above, net emissions of tree nuts are about three-tenths of a kilogram of CO2 per kilo of nuts, because the trees themselves take up CO2 as they grow. (On the other hand, they need a lot of water, and farmers in drought-prone places like California probably shouldn't be growing them.) Apples net 0.4 kg of CO2 per kilo, peas 0.9, tomatoes 1.4, and cane sugar 3 kg of CO2 per kilogram consumed. 

But there's a big difference in the quantities consumed. On average, Americans consume nearly 10 pounds of coffee per year and more than 11 pounds of chocolate

That compares to a total of well over 200 pounds per person of meat: in 2020, we averaged almost 100 pounds of chicken, almost 60 pounds of beef, and just over 50 pounds of pork. On top of that, we ate around 16 pounds of fish.

If you're wondering, we ate, on average, 145 pounds of vegetables in 2020. And we consume, on average, just over 150 pounds of sugar every year. 

So the carbon footprint of our sugar turns out to be higher, in the aggregate, than the impact of our coffee and chocolate, which in turn is far lower than the total average carbon footprint of the meat we collectively eat.

In terms of individual choices, it's is environmentally sound to limit consumption of coffee and chocolate, and certainly to seek out shade-grown and fair trade varieties. 

But you'll have a bigger impact if you trade in your gas guzzler for an electric car, put solar panels on the roof of your house, fly as little as possible, and vote for lawmakers who will fund public transportation and renewable energy.

26 October 2021

Yet Another Reason to Lay off Shopping

Americans have been shopping to an unprecendented extent, and that's backing up ports and supply chains over and above anything else going on. 

But hang on, which Americans? The wealthiest 20 percent, of course. People whose income barely covered the basics before the Covid disruptions are also the hardest hit by losing income as a result of illness, job loss, and let's face it, deaths in their families.

A ship bigger than the Empire State Building docked in New York City a few months ago

For my part, I've been buying more books than usual, and they're arriving more slowly than they used to. I can live with that. 

I made the commitment in September of 2019 to stop buying new clothing, and with exceptions like socks, shoes and underwear, I've been doing a fairly decent job of sticking with it. I really should start counting non-thrifted purchases to keep myself honest. I buy most of my clothing from thrift stores, including the online giant ThredUP.

Recently, I mail-ordered a few items, and they took weeks longer to arrive than I expected based on pre-Covid norms. 

But the Atlantic points out that all these back-ups are also putting pressure on the hardest-hit Americans, maybe a quarter or half of us scraping by on not much more than minimum wage, lacking in health insurance, often food insecure.

It's those families, and their kids, that are missing out on school lunches and having trouble getting their hands on needed medications. 

And whose stuff gets shipped faster depends on who can pay more for shipping. It becomes a self-fulfilling loop. Amanda Mull writes:

Over time, it's [shopping has] become an expression of personal identity, a form of entertainment, and a way in which some believe they can effectively participate in politics—people rush to buy from or boycott companies on the basis of their public stances on social issues, and brands have begun to run extensive get-out-the-vote campaigns among their customers.

Reading that article this morning made me think about how many things I buy, and how many of them I don't, in fact, need. Need in the sense of basics: food, shelter, enough clothing to keep warm and comfortable (but not necessarily look extra sharp at work).

Meanwhile, we are learning that recycling isn't the solution. Water bottles can be pretty readily recycled, but there are dozens of different kinds of plastic, and 90 percent of it ends up in the trash. Plastic can't actually be recycled; it can only be "downcycled" into increasingly less reusable materials.

Fast fashion -- cheap clothing that's only worn a few times, is "destroying the planet," according to the not very environmentally forward-thinking New York Times

Amanda Mull's article in the Atlantic made me stop and think again, and re-commit myself to buying less stuff. Just ... everywhere. All the time. Probably even books.

How about you?