The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Long weekend

Both of our Messiah performances went well. We had too few rehearsals and too many new members this year to sing the 11 movements from memory that we have done in the past, which meant that all us veterans sang stuff we'd memorized with our scores open. So like many people in the chorus, I felt better about this year than I have since I started. We got a decent review, too.

Also, we passed a milestone yesterday: 1,000 days since my company closed our Chicago office because of the pandemic, on 16 March 2020. Four days later, the state issued the first stay-at-home order. I didn't go back into the office until June 22nd.

Foggy Hallowe'en

A week after moving, I'm averaging 30 minutes more sleep and my Body Battery score is back to normal levels after two weeks of waking up like a zombie. I might even have all the boxes unpacked by this time next year.

Meanwhile, me shifting a couple tonnes of matter a few hundred meters did not affect the world's spin by any measurable amount:

Finally, the Tribune reviewed a new New York-style pizzeria in East Lakeview that...doesn't sound like it sells the greasy slices I used to get on Lexington after midnight. But I'll try it.

Lunch reading

I'm starting to adapt my habits and patterns to the new place. I haven't figured out where to put everything yet, especially in my kitchen, but I'll live with the first draft for a few weeks before moving things around.

I'm also back at work in my new office loft, which is measurably quieter than the previous location—except when the Metra comes by, but that just takes a couple of seconds.

I actually have the mental space to resume my normal diet of reading. If only I had the time. Nevertheless:

Finally, does anyone want to go to New York with me to see a play about Robert Moses starring Ralph Fiennes? Apparently tickets are only $2,000 a pop...

How the brain manages illness

As I sit at my desk, sniffling and nursing a scratchy throat from all the dust my packing has thrown up, I found a pair of articles quite timely.

From the Washington Post, new research explains how your brain manages illnesses on your body's behalf:

Two recent studies published in Nature report that specific parts of the brain rapidly respond to illness and coordinate how the body counters it. This new understanding may also hold clues about why some people continue to have chronic problems such as long covid months after a bout of infection.

Big or small, warm or coldblooded, vertebrate or invertebrate, animals also contend with life-threatening infections from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens and “have some sort of response that’s very similar to this,” said [said Anoj Ilanges, a biologist at the Janelia Research Campus], who co-wrote one of the studies.

We tend to look like we are not doing much when we are sick — we are, after all, probably in bed and not moving — but the brain is hard at work. The researchers looked for genetic markers of activity in the brain soon after they injected their mice with a pro-inflammatory agent. “Surprisingly, if you look at the brain, there’s high levels of activity across many regions,” Ilanges said.

James Fallows might find that interesting if he weren't really done with his bout of long Covid:

I was annoyed to become infected, mainly because of the time-sink and inconvenience it involved. But in my 12-day run of testing positive (and being isolated) in June, Covid as I experienced it was a nuisance but not a “problem.”

But starting about six weeks ago, I was aware of feeling just … bad. This is the time to bring up another relevant background point, which is that the most robust part of my inevitably aging body has been its cardiovascular system.

To skip ahead in the story, all the complaints I’d had, even the finger-tingling, appeared to fit one of the ever-emerging, still-not-understood patterns of Covid after-effects. I don’t know whether to call this “long Covid,” or whether it has any bearing to Covid at all

After hearing my symptoms, our nurse-practitioner ordered a range of tests, including a blood reading that is not part of the routine lab panel. This was for the level of vitamin B12 in my system.

As it happened, the test showed a low B12 level. And as it also happens, in the ever-expanding realm of what’s known or guessed about Covid effects, one possibility involves B12 absorption.

Like Fallows, I also got Covid in June, and I felt less productive and less active this summer than in previous years. Maybe Covid?

Getting a jab today

No, not the Covid booster. I'm getting the flu shot. You should too:

"It's time to get your flu shot right now," advises Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University.

"People should get them now," agrees Shaun Truelove, an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who's helping lead a new effort to project this year's flu season for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The usual flu season starts in November in the U.S. and peaks in January or February. "In normal years, it makes sense to hold off on the flu shot until late fall, as protection really doesn't last more than a few months and late fall/winter is when the flu wave usually hits here," says Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "So in a normal year, I would probably try to wait until mid-October and get the flu shot then," he says. But this year, he says, "flu cases are already starting to go up, so it makes sense to get it sooner — i.e., now."

The reason experts are particularly concerned about the flu this year is that many people, especially very young children, may have little or no immunity against the respiratory infection because the masking, social distancing and other behaviors aimed at protecting against COVID have blunted flu's spread, too. Also, the CDC notes, young children would do well to get a flu shot soon because they require two shots one month apart, and it takes time to build up immunity.

So if you live in the northern hemisphere, get your flu jab this week!

Wait, Monday is August?

Somehow we got to the end of July, though I could swear March happened 30 seconds ago. If only I were right, these things would be four months in my future:

I will now go out into this gorgeous weather and come back to my office...in August.

Covid recovery, graphed

I've written often enough about wearing a fitness tracker, and I've been pretty happy with my Garmin Venu. The device has a feature called "body battery" which uses heart-rate variability and other measures to estimate how much energy you have. I've actually found it a reliable measure, in that when I check in on how I feel and then compare that to my body battery score, it seems right.

For instance, I would say this chart is a pretty decent proxy of how I've felt for the past week:

My symptoms hit Thursday night, were worst on Friday (I took a rapid test when I woke up Friday), but by this afternoon almost non-existent. In fact, I feel better today than I have in a while, 

I've found the body battery metric useful in other ways, too, mainly in timing activities and socializing. That Scotch right before bed, even if it's the only drink I have all day? There's a cost. I've also learned that as much as I enjoy traveling, being in a moving vehicle is draining.

I've got a stressful week coming up, followed by a couple of very-low-stress weeks. I'm interested to see how I manage my energy levels with this metric.

Main battle concluded; mop-up skirmishes continue

A little more than four days after I first noticed Covid-19 symptoms, my body appears to have won the war, with my immune system putting down a few rear-guard actions in my lungs and sinuses quite handily. If I wake up tomorrow without residual coughing or sneezing, I'll be able to partially resume normal life, albeit masked. Good thing Cassie has a few weeks worth of food on hand.

In sum, I should be perfectly healthy to deal with the two crises sure to blow up next week: the final Supreme Court rulings of the term (including Dobbs), and three days in Austin, Texas, where the temperature will hit 39°C every day I'm there.

On Dobbs specifically, and Justice Alito (R) in general, former Jimmy Carter aide Simon Lazarus has some advice for the Democratic Party:

Alito’s intended audience is not elite thinkers or legal scholars but rather lay populations who do not closely follow high-profile legal kerfuffles. Polls indicate that majorities of this huge cohort favor legal abortion, but many do not consider it a top personal or political priority. Alito’s aim is to persuade such people that, whatever the real-world consequences, he is ruling in accord with what he and his colleagues on the right believe—legitimately—the law requires. And on those fronts his simplistic argument could work. In fact, there should be little doubt that it will prove effective—tempering criticism, inducing resigned acquiescence—unless liberals counter with messaging that is trenchant, credible, strategically targeted, and repeated at every opportunity.

Alito has unfurled a legal framework fit for legitimizing campaigns against not only abortion but any right not specified in the Constitution’s text. Liberals must discredit that framework with force and haste. They can no longer rely solely on their preferred tactic of parading the array of real-world horribles that will naturally follow in the wake of decisions that decimate the rights Americans have enjoyed for decades. They must meet their right-wing adversaries on their preferred terrain and successfully mass-market a liberal legal alternative.

In truth, his pitch is antithetical to how the Constitution has been understood from the founding era on.

So where to start? The top-line message point is simple: Fundamental, unenumerated rights—abortion, contraception, LGBTQ liberty, marriage equality, and others—are in fact in the Constitution.

Lazarus' answer? Start with the Ninth Amendment and work out from there.

History shows that the Right usually swings into power when life becomes unsettled, only to hurt so many people that the Left returns to power a few years later. The Right also tend to have better organization and focus, since they don't care as much about policy as they do about power and wealth; but they always, always over-reach and ultimately lose more than they win.

Future generations will look back on ours and shake their heads at Alito and Thomas just as we wonder how the 1830s and 1840s produced such horrible people as John C Calhoun and Jefferson Davis. But we're about to spend a decade or so with the Right finally getting what they've worked to achieve for 40 years. I hope we get through it without a war.

It's like a mild cold that can kill your neighbors

On day 3 of my symptomatic Covid-19 experience, I feel about the same as I did yesterday, but more annoyed. It's exactly the kind of day when I would meet friends at a beer garden or outdoor restaurant and not sit inside reading. But I don't want to expose people who can't get vaccinated to possible illness (people who can get vaccinated and choose not to, however...), and after a 3 km walk with Cassie half an hour ago, I really can't do much more than sit and read for a while.

My friends who have gotten this strain in the last six weeks or so report that my experience sounds about right, and I should be through symptoms by Tuesday. And looking ahead at my summer plans, which include a trip to Austin at the end of this month and a trip to the UK at the end of July, plus two opera performances and many afternoons sitting at beer gardens, it turns out this was simply the best weekend for me to miss. Lucky me!

Cassie, on the other hand, seems bored. And she would very much like that squirrel to get just a bit closer:

Day 2 of isolation

Even though I feel like I have a moderate cold (stuffy, sneezy, and an occasional cough), I recognize that Covid-19 poses a real danger to people who haven't gotten vaccinations or who have other comorbidities. So I'm staying home today except to walk Cassie. It's 18°C and perfectly sunny, so Cassie might get a lot of walks.

Meanwhile, I have a couple of things to occupy my time:

Finally, today is the 210th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.