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Life in the age of Coronavirus. News addicts like me are dangerously close to overdose. Entities of every stripe are rejiggering their operational models. And each will publish a press release that includes the phrase: …out of an abundance of caution…

To me, the phrase suggests that “we don’t really need to be this cautious, but we are anyway because we deeply care about you, our customers, clients, employees, etc.” They could, of course, truthify the wording to read: …our stakeholders (or, more specifically, shareholders). “An abundance of caution” seems disingenuous to me.

The current reality is proving, though, that we really do need to be this cautious.

About ten years ago, I wrote an essay about a bacterium called MRSA. It was widely appreciated at the time, and seems to be holding its water still today – particularly the recommendations for prevention. MRSA is not coronavirus; think of the main text, below, as the alarmist attention-getting part and the rest as the currently-useful prevention part.

So now, with an abundance of snark, I would like to re-publish                      A Moron’s Guide to MRSA (only slightly edited from the original).

_____

A Moron’s Guide to MRSA

Written by an actual moron: Fred Marx

November 2009

Yesterday I was happy-go-lucky, free as a bird, blissfully ignorant. Today I live in fear of a danger that surrounds me: MRSA. I know about deer ticks, lunatics and politics (a redundancy, I know), but I’ve never heard of MRSA. And to be honest, I wish I hadn’t.

MRSA (pronounced: MER-suh) is an acronym for a long medical name that simple folk like me can’t say. But for those of you who want to try, good luck: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. If you could say that, you probably don’t need to be reading this. Have a nice day. Drive home safely. But if you’re more comfortable with MER-suh, gather ‘round the campfire, ‘cuz I’ve got a story that’ll scare the heebie-jeebies outta ya.

MRSA is a kind of bacteria. As you already know, bacteria are bad. They can live on your skin! Maybe a gazillion bacteria live on your skin, you mangy dog. Didn’t anyone teach you about hygiene? Years ago, I heard the late radio newsguy Paul Harvey do one of his infamous Rest of the Story essays. In this one, he described in horrid detail the features of a black-and-white B-movie monster. The rest of the story is that this monster is actually a microscopic critter living on YOUR EYELASH. And you’ve got them all over you. Right now! Kinda makes you want to scratch all over. But don’t do that. I’ll tell you why.

MRSA – the bacteria monsters that live on your skin – are pretty innocent little creatures until they spot a cut or a deep scratch. Seeing their big chance at stardom, they pounce into your innards and find their way to parts of you that you really care about and begin to grow into really big creatures. I don’t even want to tell you what these things do inside you (mostly because I don’t really want to know, myself). But I’ve been told by smart people that it can be deadly bad. Or maybe your MRSA will be lazy and settle for living in that paper cut, and then grow into a big boil and then all the neighborhood children will look at it and say “ewww.” And they won’t be laughing as they run away.

The creepy part is that you can wash the MRSA bacteria off your skin with soap and hot water, but they come back. They could be on almost everything you touch: bedposts, broomsticks, steering wheels, door knobs, desktops and even (gasp!) food packages. They are on the skin of almost everyone you touch: your spouse and kids, your clients and customers, your brother Tom, and your Auntie Millie (Well, you already knew Millie had problems).

So we’ve established that you can’t avoid MRSA. The bacteria are practically everywhere. And we’ve established that they’re icky but harmless if they just live on your skin even though they’re not paying you rent.

You’re probably asking yourself right now, “Can this story get any grosser?” Yes, it can.  You can get a MRSA infection by using the same baseball bat used by an infected teammate. Or sitting on the locker room bench where the infection has been unwittingly left by a previous sitter. Or by sharing a shaving razor, or a comb. Or a toilet seat.  Ewww.

Or how about this for ghastly? You go to the doctor’s office or hospital to get well. But these places are full of sick people. You could croak just visiting a nursing home.

It should be quite obvious by now that there are only two options available: 1) you can retire to a cave with plenty of food and 500 channels of satellite TV and live the rest of your days in isolation; or, 2) you can adopt the best practices of healthcare professionals the world over who are as obsessed as you are about staying alive.

What are these best practices? Spend as much time as possible in a hot, soapy shower.  When you’ve been reduced to a prune, dry off, eat a meal, watch an episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe (Mondays, Discovery), and return to the hot, soapy shower.  Repeat.

No, really. Here’s what you should do to avoid becoming a hermit, becoming a shower-Dirty Jobs zombie, or becoming the victim of a horrible MRSA infection:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY AND OFTEN. This is the single most effective way to avoid getting or giving your MRSA monsters a chance at havoc. Use hot water, antibacterial soap, and don’t stop washing until you’ve completed two verses of “Happy Birthday To You.”
  • If soap and water are not immediately available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel (I prefer the apple-scented variety), and scrub, scrub, scrub.
  • If you’re in the presence of someone known to have a MRSA infection, avoid direct contact. MRSA is highly contagious, remember?
  • If you have a diagnosed MRSA infection on your skin, cover it with a bandage. (Duh! Who wants to get creeped out looking at your pus-filled blisters?)

That seems like a lot. But of course, there’s more. MRSA can live on non-metallic damp or wet surfaces for up to forty-eight hours. And what might those surfaces be? Well, how about the kitchen counter for starters? Maybe the bathroom has a few damp surfaces? The baby’s toys or Jack’s jock strap or Missy’s tutu. The office is generally safe…until people arrive and start touching things.

The point is that where you have control, clean every touchable surface with a disinfectant. Where you don’t have control, see first bullet above.

MRSA is no joke. It can be debilitating to its victims, dangerous to others, and potentially deadly to anyone whose immune system is already compromised by another illness or who is taking antibiotics to treat an illness. You can live life in fear of MRSA, or you can respect it, and take the steps necessary to prevent it.

by Fred Marx

Before I retired, there wasn’t time enough to add something to my life, even if that something was important and I ached to do it. When I retired and moved to Colorado, my activity level did not change as expected and I could not squeeze  anything new into life.

Well, it must be something important — whatever it is — because I received the ultimate notification just recently: ‘You have heart disease and it could kill you. But it won’t, this time. You’ll live a long and healthy life and you’ll get an inarguable second chance to do this thing for once and for all.’

‘Voice-Of-God’ notifications are rare, I think. Too often you and I have seen them used to give legitimacy to a project wanting to be done by the receiver. I don’t know how God uses his voice. So let’s just say that if such a thing were to happen to me, I’d vet it six ways from Sunday and still come out on the doubting side.

My special project is writing a book.

Let the doubting begin.

Who cares!? Everyone I know wants to write a book. I don’t even know yet what the darn thing is about. Yet I cannot stop thinking about it. I must sound like the boy who cried “fire” in a crowded theater so often that no one believed him when one actually occurred. Can’t blame anyone for not believing. Still, the book burns in me.

A confluence of factors brought me here. First, I’ve been telling doctors for decades that there is something wrong with my heart. No one listened until early this year. My new doc heard something I said, ran a test, connected the dots and announced: “Heart Disease.” This was later confirmed by CT scans which impressively showed calcium blockages in three of the major arteries servicing my heart.

Things began to happen fast. A long trip to a major medical center; laparoscopic surgery to determine the adequacy of stents (nope. Gotta be vein grafts; three of them). Two days later, I was on the schedule and on the table. My sternum was zipped open and the surgeon bypassed my clogged arteries with replacements from other parts of my own body. Let the recovery begin.

Of course, any confluence has at least two parts. My ‘part 2’ actually began when I was just 2½ years old; the first time I realized what life on this planet meant to me. I was a gifted communicator. Through the years, I wrote, spoke, broadcast, produced, interviewed, researched, contextualized all manner of material for the good of my fellow man. It was all well accepted by my peers and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when I’d be able to do it all over again.

Except for that elusive book.

Maybe it’s the enormity of the task. Research, drafts, editors, congruity. Maybe it’s the success rate of books on the shelf. How many books are written only to be ignored at the library or bookstore? So much work. Failure cannot be an option. Success cannot be guaranteed.

Am I even a good writer? Yes. I believe so. Absolutely. But then I am not the reader of my own material, am I? You be the judge. Sunlight Blog and ElderBlog are readily available for inspection. Countless additional materials rest in my own files and in the files of companies for which they were created.

The need to write remains so loudly pronounced that all the if’s are swept off the table. You don’t write because you want to; you write because you have to.

And that brings us back to this moment in time. It’s not a deciding moment; I rather think that the decision has been made for me already. If it’s a book that’s useful to others, I’m good with that. If it’s fiction, well, I’ve always written reality; fiction could be fun and interesting to me.

Whatever it is, it’s time for me to get on with the physical healing of my body. I hear that book tours are murder.

-23ºF. That’s the kind of temp that earns Minnesota its reputation. Factor in the wind chill, and it’s -60º. That’s the kind of temp that earns Antarctica its reputation. Yet, here I am … at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a Christmas Tree that won’t come down until March, and a wind chill of -60. I’ve heard so many adjectives, I don’t know which apply: crazy cold, dangerous cold, historic cold, this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold.

Now, I’m pretty smart and I know a lot of things. I won’t bother you with the trifles you’ve been getting from  the media about cold weather consequences. What I know is that when things get this cold, things break. Take my car, fr’instance.

My little car has twice as many miles on it than it was originally designed for. Yet it keeps on going. Going so well that I’ve actually come to trust it; a trust hard-earned — we’ve done tens of thousands of miles on unpaved, dusty, gravel-y roads together. The car gets regular service, and I get chiropractic adjustments. The car has often taken me through dangerous weather, sometimes with precious cargo (wife). Just the other day, we drove for 24 hours through extreme cold from the middle of Montana to the Twin Cities. As its reward, I got the car’s tires rotated.

Then it happened: the power steering went out. All of a sudden, I was driving my mother’s red and white ’59 Nash Metropolitan again. A simple left turn was a smack-down wrestling match. This would not do, of course, as I had ceased wrestling so many decades ago. So I drove my little car (not the Metropolitan which was so much littler) straight to the shop. That was Friday.

This morning came the call. I was thinking cracked pulley; stretched belt; a couple hundred bucs; back to Montana tomorrow.

Wrong.

Oh, the pulley was cracked alright, and the belt was stretched. But the actual official professional diagnosis was “Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly.” The guy needn’t have said another word after Timing. I was already sorting through my vast storehouse of knowledge and had arrived at the critical datapoint: this was going to be expensive. And, of course, I was absolutely

Correct.

$741.82 parts & labor. And they won’t fix it till tomorrow because of all the other cars that broke due to the weather.

Now let me pause for a moment to say that I’ve been blessed with a car that got us here safely before it broke. And I’ll say further that I am blessed with $741.82 to pay for the repairs. Even further than that, the world won’t stop spinning on its axis if I don’t travel back to Montana until Wednesday.

Being a naturally curious person, though, I Googled the parts and found them available for as little as $212.00 plus shipping. And herein lies the problem.

I am also blessed with supreme intelligence and a newly-discovered ability to do things with my hands (like building furniture, loft beds and such). Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself. And so I set about preparation for the job. I’d need

  • a rental propane space heater for the garage (frostbite, hypothermia. Hello?)     $37 for one week plus $25 for gas
  • a rental hoist with which to pull the entire engine out of its cavity     $150/wk
  • a rental set of tools (mine are in Montana)     $200/wk
  • a rental pickup truck to haul the above to my garage     $39 twice (here and return)

It was to be another fun project in which I would learn and accomplish a new thing. It all seemed reasonable and doable, too, until I streamed a YouTube video on how to replace the Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly for my car. It was doable alright, if you knew what you were doing – which I don’t. And this easy-to-do four-hour project could easily take me four days taking into account the redo’s to fix my mistakes. And, I realized, there were yet further costs: $0.97 for the bandaids, and an extra $150 for Sunday’s offering plate to cover the colorful language eminating from behind my garage door.

Since this post is a well-disguised lesson in calculus, I must correct my original formula: ‘Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself’ is incomplete. The complete formula is: Intelligence + ability + experience + tools = I can do this myself. (If using this formula in your college thesis, please attribute to Fred Marx.) Put another way, Intelligence + $741.82 = let-the-pros-do-it-right-the-first-time.

So here I am, at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a lovely Christmas Tree that won’t come down till March, and a wind chill of -60. Maybe it’s crazy cold or dangerous cold or historic cold or this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold. But I don’t really care. I’m safe, warm, loved and blessed. Life just don’t get much better than this.

And I’m ever-so-slightly smug in the knowledge that the application of the second expression of my formula is actually the right one. It pays to be supremely intelligent.

My heart swells at the sight of our flag, but it sinks with news like this — a just-released Pew Poll reveals that almost half of us don’t know that the Supreme Court approved the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) six days ago.

How can that be? Network or cable news, online sites or blogs…the number one topic for months has been the ACA and the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling both before and after the fact.

This is why politico’s can lie to us and get away with it (death panels?). They know we’re barely paying attention. And if we vote at all, it will be with impressions derived from “issue ads” funded by anonymous deep-pocketed special interests.

All of the bunting is well and good. But after we celebrate our country’s birth, we must re-commit to its growth — a work-in-progress, and one that requires the engagement of all of its people.

Of course, I’m preaching to the choir.

A cold rain fell, and the flags snapped smartly in the breeze. I was parked at the town square where I could get a consistent cell signal. It was a good day, I figured, for catching up with friends.

As I gabbed, a well-choreographed event unfolded around me. The city’s two police vehicles blocked off the street; lights flashing. Then, from around the corner appeared the U.S. and state flags followed by their holders and twenty or so assorted marchers; most of them very young. The fire truck brought up the rear. No band. No sirens.

They reached the square and, without formal ceremony, placed a wreath there. And as quickly as it began, it was over.

There is nothing about Sidney Montana that won’t improve just as soon as I adjust to living here. Little things like today’s parade might help. When you think about it, our war heroes have been as honored here as they have been in any larger city. And after all, isn’t that what Memorial Day is all about?

An amazing thing happened today. A Canadian-made robot arm secured a space capsule and then attached it to The International Space Station which is comprised of operational units shared by cosmonauts and astronauts, and is managed by NASA. What was interesting was not the tricky ballet high above, however; it was the collaboration of cultures that made it work down below.

You’ve seen Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There’s the huge room with wall-sized screens displaying video and data. There’s the well-anchored rows of science positions, each with a specific responsibility, each with access to real-time information to aid in critical decision-making.

And you’ve seen the engineers in their white shirts and slender ties. Today, women were notably in charge. The big room operated at a pace and with a proficiency we’ve come to expect. Theirs was the job of consummating the outer space marriage.

Meanwhile, at SpaceX in Hawthorne California, another control operation was flying the same mission. It seemed, at first glance, to be a primitive copy of the JSC. But quickly you noticed many more differences.

The well-ordered rows of scientists were sitting at long tables with collapsible legs…the kind you find in a hotel ballroom. Each operator peered into two or three flat-panel computer screens just like yours. There were no buzz-cuts as in Houston. The dress code here was: whatever. Jeans and sneakers. Hoodies, t-shirts, a Batman sweatshirt.

To this group went the job of designing, building and launching the first-ever privately-funded, reusable cargo-bearing spacecraft.

When the capture was confirmed, there were handshakes and hugs in Houston. When the capture was confirmed, there were chest-bumps and hugs in Hawthorne.

Epic accomplishment though it may be, the real takeaway is that disparate cultures with a common goal can work together to produce a great thing. This applies to every area of endeavor: the assembly of a car; the building of a sandcastle; the running of a country.

Mike Daisey is a monologist. He’ll stand before an audience for ninety minutes and tell stories. Upon leaving the theater, you’ll likely feel that you received the value of your ticket and then some. He engages you; speaks to issues you care about; informs you; motivates you. Many of his works can be seen on YouTube.

His most recent work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, tells of Daisey’s experiences in China as he collected anecdotes from factory workers who make Apple products. He paints pictures of Gestapo-like guards, slavish conditions, horrendous injuries, sardine can-like living quarters, suicides, underage labor…all in the name of the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

This stage presentation was so compelling that it attracted the attention of Public Radio International’s This American Life who asked Daisey for a 40-minute version of the story for presentation on that NPR show in January.

I heard it. And then I listened to the rebroadcast a day later. And then I listened to the podcast. This was activist storytelling at its very best.

When the show’s host and producer Ira Glass Tweeted last Friday about a problem with the Daisey show, I was curious, but thought initially that some journalistic technicality had been discovered and TAL needed to do a ‘mea culpa’ in order to maintain its integrity. TAL would never air such a thing without rigorous vetting: standard operating procedure (and an audience expectation) for the show.

The problem is that Daisey lied his way through the vetting process, and TAL did not fact-check his assertions adequately. It then aired a show on NPR that was packed with fabrications.

To its credit, This American Life devoted its entire hour, this weekend, to an illumination of the problem. The program included an extensive interview with Daisey, asking the tough questions in the way I would’ve asked them: ‘Did you lie about…?’  Most telling were the long periods of silence during which Daisey considered the way in which he’d spin his answer. Glass was an excellent surrogate in this situation: he confronted Daisey boldly; he told Daisey that he felt lied to.

It should never have come to this.

No NPR listener expects journalistic integrity when Garrison Keillor launches into his tales of Lake Wobegon. The place doesn’t exist in reality, and we understand that the characters so lovingly portrayed are composites of people we might very well know if they weren’t fictitious.

Such is not the case with This American Life. As Glass, himself, explains, listeners should expect his show to adhere to the same journalistic standards as any other NPR program: complete truth – verified.

I fault Mike Daisey for lying to TAL. I do not fault him for this debacle. He is an artist who pretended to be a journalist in order to gather material for his performances. He then stitched disparately-gathered information together to suit his purposes. 

The real fault belongs to This American Life. Ira Glass manned up and accepted responsibility for airing the program. You could hear him thinking that no one would ever believe him again. You could hear him feeling like he’d failed a sacred trust.

He did.

Now we listeners have to wrestle with forgiveness. Do we discard our relationship with a program we’ve loved for seventeen years, or do we figure that its producers have been sufficiently – and publicly – punished? I’m leaning toward the latter, though I will admit that it will likely be a while before my anger subsides.


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