On DeLillo

Somehow I find myself closing in on completing DeLillo’s oeuvre after finishing a couple of his shorter works lately. I think the longer ones are better, generally, because there’s enough material to make the slightly incomplete nature of his books seem mysterious, like if you took it apart and read the pages in a different order it might reveal something else. His slightly hard-boiled narrative style contributes to this as well. A refusal to address the reader. This was a more common narrative stance in the seventies and eighties, maybe. The minimalism vs maximalism wars.

Unfortunately I bet the works I have yet to read are not going to wind up being faves. But I’m going to keep going. I do not think there is another author whose complete works I’ve read. Well, I guess I may have already depleted the whole of Barthelme.

Surprisingly, I really think Libra is going to wind up very near the top of the pile in my estimation. I got it when it was new in hardback (thanks Dad!) and then proceeded not to read it for, apparently, decades, feeling that it was perhaps going to be too obvious. It is not. And I think he’s better when he’s grappling with the whole of America — providing that sense of great mystery, again, alongside great banality. Underworld also does this.

Still, what a sound. What music. He’s like the Velvet Underground. Inescapable. 📚

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Not a great movie, but I will always watch any biopic about an Insane Genius, especially if there’s an asterisk about the degree of genius. So, yes. Could have been more psychedelic. But marvelous production values. I thought of all the set designers, period experts, and costumers getting a paycheck and was happy for them.

Interesting Takes

A writer who always has interesting takes on things wrote a piece in The Atlantic stating maybe it’s better that Twitter’s dead, maybe people aren’t meant to catch fleeting glimpses of thousands of other consciousnesses a day. To which I thought, but that’s easy for you to say, you’re you, you walk around generating interesting takes in your head all day. You don’t need any company not to get bored. What about the rest of us, who otherwise are trapped with a pretty boring internal monologue.

And then I realized — this is why we’re called followers. This is why social media is the perfect recruitment ground for intellectual rabble.

SMOYER

German-American surname of the day is SMOYER, alteration of SCHMOYER, itself an Americanized form of SCHMEYER, habitational name for someone from Schmeihe. Also sometimes SMYER.

Adorno, from the first chapter of The Authoritarian Personality. These days the quiz would break differently — I wonder if this is a stressful cognitive dissonance for our hapless pandemic-denying fascist.

TURNUPSEED

German-American surname of the day is TURNUPSEED, presumably an alteration of TURNIPSEED, a translation of the Swiss-German name REBSAMEN, originally a metonymic nickname for a turnip grower.

Watching Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, a biography of the engineer of the Zero fighter aircraft. The foregrounding of his flying / dream motif makes me realize his work is, generally, a little Ballardian. Or at least that there’s a stable tangent from him to Ballard.

OVERACKER

German-American surname of the day is OVERACKER, an Americanization of ÜBERACKER, a habitational name meaning something like “across from the field.” ROBERT OVERACKER was the name of the man who attempted to parachute off of a jet ski at the top of Niagara Falls.

Errol Morris documentary about Elsa Dorfman. He has to have seen her as a peer. No interrotron treatment for her. Just an elegiac trawl through the archives. The archives of the last analog time.

Big unanswered question about the metaverse is whether we can watch it on the 3D tvs we bought five years ago

threat detection

It’s been shown that we can roughly evaluate a man’s intelligence with a single glance at his face. This ability must provide an advantage, or we wouldn’t have developed it. It could be related to threat detection, perhaps. I can’t think of another reason.

The same is not true for women’s faces, however. All else being equal, then, perhaps a stupid woman is neither more nor less dangerous than a smart one.

Whereas for men — but which is the greater threat in a man, intelligence or stupidity?

Don DeLillo I keep all my audiobooks as mp3s in the app formerly known as iTunes, a dumb system to be sure. Today I went to search for DeLillo to start a new one, but I searched Apple Music Instead. Turns out there are 5 songs named after him, all by bands I have never heard of.

COVID risk mitigation, Oct 2022

I sent this text detailing my current risk mitigation strategies out to all my in-laws. Having done this much work, I thought I should put it up somewhere on the internet, in hopes that it will find someone who is still actively trying not to catch an omnipresent immune-destroying virus, so here it is.

I think the top line is: buy a nasal spray and use it.

X expressed a little interest in having me share my risk mitigation strategies. This email should satisfy. Maybe you will not be that interested, but I have gotten to the point where I feel like I have done enough reading that it would be selfish not to share, because I think the set of mitigations outlined below can substantially reduce anyone’s chances of contracting COVID.

Talking about why one would want to minimize the number of times one contracts a COVID infection is outside the scope of this email. I’m just outlining the tactics I have put together with a goal of reducing our risk to as close to zero as possible.

And I have to acknowledge up front that the number one best risk reducing factor is not having school-age children in the house. However there are a few tips below that can help protect kids in school as well.

Please feel free to reply-all if you have anything to add or comment on. All of my strategies are subject to change and I welcome new information and opinions.

Staying outside

You know dining outside is safer and all that. You may not know how much safer. It’s been calculated to generally reduce risk by about seventeen times. Which is a lot, but it is definitely non-zero. So, other mitigations should be layered on.

Vaccines

If you are on the mRNA train, you may have heard that there is benefit to mixing Pfizer and Moderna over the course of your boosters.

There is also evidence that the new vaccine Novavax provides protection that is more durable against new variants than mRNA vaccines, because it does not target the most rapidly mutating portion of the virus. As you know, the new bivalent boosters target variants that are now only the direct or indirect ancestors of the many, many new strains that are currently circulating. It is possible that we are entering a phase of the pandemic where no single variant dominates, which might put mRNA boosters at a disadvantage.

In the US you are not eligible for Novavax if you have already had a vaccination with anything else. This rule may change in 2023. Novavax as a mix-and-match booster is safe and is being used in other countries. The evidence for Novavax superiority is interesting enough that I’m trying to work around the regulations to get it. Have not succeeded yet.

Regardless, the current vaccines should not be considered one’s primary defense, if the goal is not to contract COVID at all.

Masks

N95 or better. No ear loops, no KN94. These are the models Y and I rely on. The most important factor is fit: if a mask doesn’t fit your face perfectly, it is not performing as rated.

  • Flomask. Expensive up front. Then you just replace the filter in a chassis made of plastic and elastomeric material. The standard “caucasian adult” model fits Y’s face well. YMMV. I find replacing the filters a little fidgety. There are two levels of filter available — the higher level is n99, although it is not certified yet. Full testing results are available though and it looks legit. There is a kid’s version.
  • Gerson 3230. Very breathable and non-muffling for the amount of protection it provides. Beats the N95 spec but doesn’t get to N99 level. This one fits me very securely. This video is actually worth watching.
  • Wellbefore N99. The material of this mask is slightly more rigid and dense than a typical n95. When worn properly, it will eventually collect a little moisture on the inside. On my face the fit feels slightly leaky at times. YMMV. If we were talking about Ebola, though, I would choose this mask and then tape it to my face in the area where it seems a little loose.

Again, bear in mind that efficiency measurements only seem to measure the filter material, not the fit. If you get the fit wrong, it is no longer an N95. I don’t go so far as to actually do a real fit test, but I do feel around the perimeter of the mask as I inhale and exhale.

I should also mention the 3M Aura. I have not tested this one but it gets a lot of good press.

I have not gone the full elastomeric route yet, and doubt it will become necessary for me.

Obvious, but needs to be said: if you take the mask off at all to drink or eat indoors, even for a moment, you have to add other strategies to mitigate the breach.

Eye protection

There was a study that showed that people who wore eyeglasses had a small lessening of risk of contracting COVID. And goggles are now a standing reco for health care providers at the hospital I go to.

I wear Stoggles in public. They are available plain or with a prescription, and they look semi normal. Many people don’t notice they are goggles until I point it out. Which I do to underline that I have a freakish commitment to not getting COVID.

Nasal sprays

For outdoor events, I rely on a nasal spray to take the risk to near-zero. For indoor events, mask plus spray.

Carrageenan based

Forms a barrier on the mucus membranes. It’s just a seaweed derivative and is used in food. More commonly used in Germany as a defense against the common cold. Reduces chance of catching COVID by 80% — so more effective than a surgical mask alone. More effective when applied pre-exposure but has been shown to have some benefit when applied afterwards as well.

Nitric oxide based

Not just a barrier, but a virucidal, for application pre- and post-exposure. A study shows that it reduces time to negative COVID test result throughout an infection by greater than 50%, so it is knocking down the virus where it first takes hold. IIRC overall its prevention rate is a little higher than the carrageenan spray. I think of it as an “oh shit, turns out that person i just had lunch with was positive” prophylaxis.

Disadvantages are it’s a little more irritating when applied, it’s more expensive, and the brand we got ships from Israel and that can take a while.

Hypochlorous acid

This is also virucidal. You make it at home from a fairly weak solution of water, kosher salt, and white vinegar. You need a device like this to run a current through the water to transform it into HCIO, then you need some litmus paper to measure the dilution. This is a fairly powerful but low-toxicity disinfectant.

The disadvantage to making it at home is it is not stable and returns to being salt water over about two weeks. But it’s such a versatile cleaner it’s worth making. For example, we found it very effective at removing dead-animal stink from one of our dogs. I think it would probably work on skunk spray.

The way I use it as an anti-COVID measure is diluted to about 5-10 ppm in a neti pot. I dilute it with water that has been boiled and cooled, with a little kosher salt added to reduce irritation.

OTC nasal irrigation

Note that nasal irrigation of any kind, like an over the counter saline spray, is potentially beneficial, so even if you don’t make HCIO, it can be worthwhile.

Mouthwash

Certain active ingredients in mouthwash have been tested to be virucidal against COVID. I have focused on cetylpyridinium chloride, which is in certain lines of Crest mouthwash, among others. So this is an end of day thing if I’ve been in public. I view it as an important adjunct to a nasal spray.

Ventilation

Air quality is important, as the White House acknowledges once in a while. If you can control airflow and filtration, it’s well worth doing. Ideally ventilated spaces can approach outside levels of risk reduction.

I have a mid-range Levoit air purifier in my office at work and run it whenever I am there. After it’s been running for a minute, I then take my mask off, unless I’m meeting with someone, in which case the mask and the Levoit both stay on.

I do not ask anyone to wear a mask at this point.

Fomites

I don’t worry about contracting COVID from surfaces. The risk seems very low. But soap and water don’t hurt.

On Enthusiasm

Just finished a fairly literary book by someone highly influenced by William Gibson. I am generally ambivalent to his trend-spotter’s enthusiasm for the weird future, but to get it in an emulated form is worse, it’s like enthusiasm about enthusiasm. It helps me realize I am very suspicious of enthusiasm generally. And I particularly don’t think it’s a great impulse to start from in a work of art.

Livid misanthropy and world-darkening pessimism just feels more true than a gee-whiz attitude about how weird and portentous the signs are becoming, and what kinds of cool ramifications that might have.

In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché. 📚I used to eschew political poetry, probably because I was pretentious or callow, but now I am ready for Forché, anyway. Perhaps it is the elegiac tone, and the scrupulous distance.

Design Fiction

Currently reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. 📚 I have read a few of Robinson’s other books and found them wanting, but here I realize I may have been approaching them incorrectly. They don’t work by the usual rules of literature, or here even really by the rules of genre fiction. This book is a design fiction about the potential ways in which we will or will not respond to the climate crisis. As such it is free to move from character to character, place to place, and even from year to year within the 21st century. The first chapter is a somewhat notorious set piece involving a heat wave in India which exceeds the survivable wet bulb temperature. So, it seems Robinson is going to give it to us straight. But no, here’s what’s mystifying: in the first half of the book there are plenty of notes of scientific skepticism about carbon capture, cap and trade, and other mitigation strategies, including refreezing glacial runoff, which is noted might only reduce sea level rise by a centimeter or so, if boundless resources were put behind it. But then later in the book CO2 levels begin to drop dramatically, and quite quickly, without good explanation. It’s not that the book is too optimistic — it simply avoids realities of which Robinson has already signalled he is well aware.

On Brahmins

Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty 📚 Much of the bulk of this long book is statistical details to back up his forward-thinking outline of a sustainable way forward, centering on the idea that wealth belongs, foremost, to the community, and to the community it must return. But the concept that is likely to stay with me the longest is that of the tripartite society, divided between the nobles, who are often aligned with or controlling the military, the brahmin, who are the religious or intellectual elite, and the commoners, which include the petit bourgeois. The notion of the brahmins setting up a smaller set of castles to one side of real power is… highly salient for this American.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. 📚 Meanders for a long while, but my interest picked up most of the way through, when it is revealed that the first person narrator has been withholding central information from the reader. Which seems a little unfair.

McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh. 📚This one inhabits a drunken, psychotic delirium, where her earlier “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” was a portrait of drugged, schizoid delirium. Quite a trip.

The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier. 📚One hundred short-short ghost stories — but these are Brockmeier ghost stories, so akin to Saramago or Millhauser. Good short-shorts like these have a form a little like a sonnet, with a turn near the end that complicates.

Ordesa, by Manuel Vilas

An “autobiographical novel” about a middle-aged Spanish man contemplating the state of his own life, and the lives of his deceased parents and other elders. Vilas’s style — reading in translation — is straightforward and concise, which somehow feels a bit odd in an elegy. We get ruminations that… aren’t very ruminative. Late in the book comes a brief aside that seems to acknowledge this bluntness:

If that old woman were speaking English, we’d get to enjoy a scene of American realism, full of steely poetry, but in Spain, and in Spanish, and in a Zaragozan accent no less, we end up without steely poetry, without transcendence, without epic, without anything at all. We are left merely with the exoticism of the inferior bloodlines.

📚

📷 Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati. April 2021.