Monday, October 26, 2020

The Mask War

     It continues to be a social and political point of serious contention that has even led to lethal violence. It doesn’t help that our own government and its agencies have given us conflicting information from the start of the pandemic. Don’t buy masks. Masks don’t help. Masks do help. Masks should be mandated. No, mask wearing decisions should be entrusted to people as a matter of personal preference. (Even though we can’t trust people not to drink and drive, and we can’t trust people not to speed, and we really can’t trust college kids not to drink and throw wild packed parties.) Mask wearing is somehow an affront to American freedom. Mask wearing promotes more infections. (Where the hell did that one come from?) And so the mask war drags on.

     So, we see lots of people wearing them and social distancing as our scientists and virologists and doctors like Fauci strongly recommend. And we see lots of people not wearing them, even in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds such as at some of the frequent political rallies.

     And the death toll keeps climbing.

     Why are we behaving this way? Well, there’s American historical precedent that may help explain the phenomenon. Anyone my age well remembers the widespread controversy over seat belts in the 1980s. None of my first four cars had belts. They also had hard metal dashes with various potentially harmful protuberances, no padded steering wheels, no designed-in crushable impact zones. Not even any turn signal lights on my first two cars. When I was a child seated beside my father as he drove his Chevy, I remember him holding out his strong arm in front of me as a safety barrier when he needed to come to quick stops or another car threatened a collision.

     When seat belts were proposed, there was a furor. Car companies warned they would add a lot of cost to the sale prices and they demanded more time to make the transition. People rejected the belting idea outright. I had friends who seriously claimed you’d be better off being thrown clear in a crash. Some said government had no right to restrict our freedoms by mandating belts. (I also had motorcycling friends who claimed the same thing about helmet laws.)

     Common sense and the best public interest prevailed and seat belts were mandated. Clearly they, along with air bags, have saved many lives.

     Today people accept seat belts as merely a sensible part of driving and base their model selections in part on safety ratings. Nobody considers belts an affront to our freedoms. (Though I did have a friend a few years back who would hold the shoulder belt across his chest to make it look like he was wearing it but refused to hook it up.)

     Here are the unarguable facts: Masks work. We can easily see that from the excellent results in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and other nations where the people have been wearing them routinely. Those nations locked down quickly, the populations cooperated fully with masking and distancing, and they’ve been able to open up months ago in conjunction with rigorous resting and tracing. We’re told by the qualified experts it is within our power to prevent 100,000 more American deaths in the next 100 days if we will only widely adopt the simple, easy measures of masking, distancing, and personal hygiene.

     So please, folks, buckle up and wear a mask to save yourself and our fellow Americans, and implore family and friends to do the same.


Visit for a bio, gallery, and descriptions and reviews of Phil’s suspense novels. There are easy buy links for distracting pandemic reading. Money back if you don’t like the yarns.

Monday, October 19, 2020

DIY for Old Folks   

    For some years, long-time friend Larry Cotton and I have been inventing things and writing articles about how to build them for the DIY magazine Make. We invented a laminar flow yard water fountain, for example. We did a color-coded plywood kit that young kids can assemble without tools to create a chair, a rocker, a chalk board, or a make-believe boat depending on how the parts are assembled. We made a cat scratching post that deposits a treat when used, thus training pets away from clawing the furniture. And we created a tamper-resistant lifesaving box that houses three inflatable throw sticks for immediate public use at swimming areas to prevent drownings. We’ve published two dozen such articles.

    But the magazine is devoted mostly to young and middle-aged makers, and Larry and I are getting on in years. So, I’m thinking of proposing a dozen DIY projects for older generation makers:

How to make a mirror with adaptive wrinkle cancellation.

A 3-D printer for making replacement body parts cheap.

A selfie stick that doubles as a cane.

A clock that not only tells you the time, date, day of the week, and year but also your name.

A blood pressure warning beeper for safely viewing political debates.

A trebuchet that can launch your neighbor’s Pekinese into low orbit.

A halo kit for grandchildren.

How to repair dental plates with automotive body putty.

A pocket periscope that lets you see over the steering wheel.

Adding a nose-hair trimmer to your multi-tool.

Build a quadcopter drone that can fetch up to 20 prescriptions from the nearest Walmart.

A portable harp that you can take with you. (Assuming a celestial destination.)

     Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a nap.

Phil Check out my site for some guaranteed good reading.

Please mask up and distance to save American lives.


Monday, October 12, 2020

Elon Musk’s failures

     Elon Reeve Musk, a citizen not only of his birth nation, South Africa, but also of Canada and America, has taken Space X to literally great heights as its founder, CEO, CTO, and chief designer. The company was first to land a booster for reuse, the first to land one at sea, the first to capture an expensive nose fairing for reuse, and the first to strap three rockets together to create the biggest and most powerful space torch since the moonshots. In 2018, Naomi and I watched the first spectacular Falcon Heavy launch from the Cape Canaveral VIP area and enjoyed a great catered lunch, narration by Bill Nye the Science Guy, a champagne toast, and free ball caps.

     On a much lesser NASA budget than Boeing got, Space X was the first to take back ISS astronaut transport from the Russians, with the first two Dragon commuters dressed as stylishly as Star Trek characters. His Teslas are selling like Big Macs and keep increasing their range, recently all the way to a Mars flyby piloted by Starman. (Let’s see Mercedes beat that.) His Boring Company is anything but. His largely sun-powered factories are revolutionary. His huge starship is mind-warping in its potential to make humankind a multi-planet species. His philanthropy is generous. His philosophy is extraordinarily visionary.

     But, like other geniuses such as Einstein and Edison and Ford and Howard Johnson, you only know about his astonishing string of successes. You never hear about his failures.

    When he was four years old, for example, his mother caught him repeatedly firing one of her lipsticks (her favorite shade) out of the toaster. She had to have the living room ceiling repainted.

    When he was ten, he attempted to launch the family cat into the next county with a truck inner tube tied between two clothesline poles. The fire department used a ladder truck to get the animal down off the Presbyterian Church, and his father attached his allowance to pay the cat whisperer’s fee.

   When he was fourteen, he wired up two dozen motorcycle batteries in series and fried his sister Tosca’s three-speed Schwinn trying to break the bicycle World Land Speed Record.

    At eighteen, he designed a reusable Roman candle (a precursor to his everyman’s flame thrower) that set fire to the college quadrangle.

    At twenty, he dug a rollerblade tunnel from his fraternity cross-campus to a sorority for committing an ill-fated panty raid.

    At twenty-five, he strapped speakers to a flock of Canadian geese so they could spread free classic outlaw western music to several countries while migrating. The incessant honking did not harmonize well with Willie and Waylon, however.

    But his successes have far outnumbered his failures* of course, and his stratospheric net worth of a hundred billion or so attests to that.

    Like many other admirers around this weary planet, and at a time when we all sorely need exemplary people we can look up to, eccentric, exceptional Elon has become my personal hero.


* (okay, mostly fictional)

    Since the first diagnosed U.S. Covid case on 20 January, we’ve had an average of one death every two minutes. We have the power to save 100,000 Americans in just the next hundred days if we, as a caring and compassionate people, will only mask up and distance in public. Densely populated Japan has done it. Australia has done it. New Zealand has done it. In those nations the per capita death toll is only a tiny fraction of ours.

   If we’ll come together, we can beat this lethal common enemy like they have.


Monday, October 5, 2020

 Let’s Defy the Enemy Instead

   For months, many Americans from the top down have been defying the best advice from scientists and virologists and doctors who’ve been exhorting us all to avoid gathering, to mask up, and to social distance.

   As a result, our record remains by far the worst in the world among developed comparatively wealthy countries for disastrously mismanaging the pandemic. Even in the face of more than 210,000 American deaths to date and increasing infection numbers, way too many of us are still flouting mandates and defying the maskers and distancers, sometimes even violently. In so doing we’re perpetuating the pandemic and extending and deepening the damage to our entire economy.

   It's not like we have any reason to doubt that the recommended measures work, because we can see that they certainly have worked quite well in other countries. In Japan, for example, with its densely packed population, and in New Zealand they jumped on the virus fast with strict lockdowns, and they’ve had near total cooperation from their people to mask up and distance. As a result, their per capita infections and deaths are only a tiny fraction of ours, and they can now open up cautiously in conjunction with rigorous testing and tracing.

   We’re being told by the qualified experts, including the CDC and widely respected Dr. Fauci, that if 95 percent of us simply wear masks in public and keep our distance we can save 100,000 American lives over the next 100 days alone. It’s not a political thing or a severe imposition to restrict our cherished freedoms. It’s merely well-proven common sense and common courtesy if we care about each other at all. Masking and distancing are the best weapons we have.

   So, instead of defying those who are trying to save us, let’s defy the evil common Covid enemy that’s trying to destroy us. In the words of the prominent newsman Chris Wallace, the unfortunate moderator of the recent debate that was anything but presidential:

                                             JUST WEAR THE DAMN MASK

   Please pass that simple lifesaving message on to everybody you know.