Into the Weeds with John Captain

For years, I’ve vowed not to get too deeply into the weeds re Tiffany’s murder. But with thousands of people contacting me about her in one way or another, maybe the time has come to address a few specifics more…specifically. So here we go, into the briar patch. But I still don’t intend to write thousands of words about it. Just quick answers to a few recurring topics raised by her ex-boyfriend John Captain.

  • Mr. Captain was not under a gag order. He was a no-contact order, requiring him to keep away from Tiffany’s mother. When it was issued, the judge explicitly said that he had the right to write about the case. He chose to interpret the order as a gag order, but it was not. (It should be noted that he also complied with it, quite scrupulously.)
  • The order did not prevent him from attending court hearings regarding Tiffany. Again, the judge specifically made that clear. Mr. Captain had the right to attend the trial. He was simply ordered to keep as far as practicable away from Tiffany’s mother. He chose not to attend, but he had the right to be there.
  • Mr. Captain was, however, ordered at some point not to attend court proceedings. That order came from the defense, which apparently wanted to call him as a witness (probably in the hope that his conspiracy theories would sow confusion on the case and allow them to win on probable doubt). He has misinterpreted that order as coming from the prosecution, but the version of it he once posted online showed clearly (at least to people with legal training) that it came from the defense.
  • Mr. Captain was not a “witness to a murder” as he so often claims. He was a witness “in” a murder case, which is not the same thing.
  • There are claims that Tiffany was writing a book at the time of her death and that this book was highly valuable. To the best of my knowledge, there was no book. She often talked about wanting to write one but does not appear to have written anything. Even if she had, first books by unpublished authors are generally not worth anything. She might well have had the talent to write a book (she was good at a great many things), but it takes time to learn the craft.
  • Mr. Captain keeps asking if I took victims’ compensation money. He insinuates that this would be tantamount to making money off Tiffany’s death, which is silly. Victims’ compensation money is to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses for such things as travel to the trial. You don’t make money off reimbursements for expenses you would not normally have incurred. Anyway, my only expenses were a handful of light-rail tickets and maybe one or two parking garage fees. I don’t think I was close enough to Tiffany to qualify for compensation, and the amounts were too trivial to ask for, even if I did, so, “no.”

So, six weeds, under 600 words. Though the trouble with weeds is that for each one you whack, you get six more.

Lessons from Patience

For most of my life, horses have played little if any role, so my first experiences with my friend Vera’s 12-year-old gelding, Patience, were a bit intimidating. Patience, you see, was half-Percheron, and he was big. He’d also once been a wild mustang—something that raised thoughts of bucking broncos and undomesticated beasts with a penchant for kicking through walls.

Actually, he was quite gentle—a relief, since he weighed in at a lean 1,300 pounds. Vera acquired him through the federal government’s adopt-a-horse program, training him herself and choosing his name because, she declared, “that horse is going to teach me patience.” 

It was a lesson that came to include me one Fourth of July weekend when the three of us—Vera, Patience, and myself—attempted a 50-mile packing trip.

Like all really good camping disasters, it started out with a fine idea. Vera loves to hike, but isn’t so keen about carrying a backpack, especially since we’re both photographers and have been known to march off into the wilderness with multiple lenses, tripods, and camera bodies, plus enough film to keep Kodak in business for a month.

The plan was for Patience to carry the weight while we walked unencumbered. At first, I had dreams of 20-mile days, but as the trip took shape, it settled into something more reasonable in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, a wonderland of lava flows and cinder cones beneath a trio of 10,000-foot volcanoes.

But rigging a packsaddle, I discovered, is more complex than loading a backpack. For starters, I never plan on trying to ram my backpack into anything, so I don’t have to be overly cautious about padding fragile equipment. A horse has no such scruples. We had to think about the fact that half ton of muscle might attempt to squeeze the panniers between trees that aren’t quite far enough apart.

Then, there was the issue of lashing it all down, using a knot called a “One-Person (Two is Better) Diamond Hitch,” based on a drawing that looked more like a bowl of spaghetti than anything I would intentionally do with a rope.

Our first attempt, done at Vera’s stable while various onlookers unhelpfully kibitzed, took an hour. The resulting shape was at best a diamond in the rough, and the whole process was an exercise in such conversations as: “We need to take up some slack,” “No, not that rope, the other one!” “Who’s ‘left’ side? Yours, mine, or his?” 

The horse lived up to his name. We didn’t.

Re-tying the One-Person (Two Is Better) Diamond Hitch at the trailhead was a repeat of the first experience, compounded by a fearsome cloud of mosquitoes that seemed immune to bug repellent, even when we practically drowned them in it. Their favorite landing spot was Patience’s belly, where he couldn’t reach them with his tail. They carpeted it so densely that like airplanes circling a major airport they had to wait their turns to find open landing spots. Patience was stoical. Vera and I did a little dance, and again yanked on the wrong pieces of rope.

Above treeline, mosquitoes were no problem but we began to run into snow. Vera and I could walk over the top of it, but Patience randomly plunged through. On one occasion, we watched with our hearts in our throats as he sank belly deep into a snowfield we knew was underlain by jagged, volcanic rocks.

We’d planned to camp by a creek where we hoped to find forage for Patience. But we ran out of daylight in a lava field, two miles shy of our goal.

We spent the night practically in the middle of the trail, surrounded by sharp, angular rocks, without a sprig of vegetation except a scattering of weather-beaten pines. It was cold and breezy, and the air was damp with the threat of rain. 

Vera and I could huddle out of the wind in the lee of a big rock. Patience couldn’t. Vera and I could light a stove and cook dinner. Patience had nothing to eat but a limited supply of grain. Vera and I could pitch a tent and stretch out in our sleeping bags in semi-comfort. Patience spent the night tethered in the middle of the trail.

Vera suffered on behalf of her horse. I suffered on behalf of Vera. Every time Patience moved, Vera woke up, wondering if anything was amiss. It was a long night.

The next morning, it was time to reassess. We decided there was no choice but to hike out and try again some other month, when the snow would be long gone.

“Well,” said Vera, a few hours later, as we drove out of the mountains in a pouring rain, “that was a learning experience.”

I thought of diamond hitches and horseshoes, mosquitoes and snowfields. Patience, I thought. Patience.

Heat Myths and Warnings

It’s summer, and the news is full of dire warnings about heat. Mostly justified, but some based on myths debunked all the way back in the 1940s.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s going to be hot here in Portland. As I’m writing, my app upped its prediction for day after tomorrow from 113° to 115°.

Most people have never experienced 115°. I have. Actually, it was 125°.

Here are a couple things I learned in the school of hard knocks—things you probably won’t read about in the news.

  • These temperatures will kill electronics. Even turned off, in the shade. Believe the owner’s manual when it gives a maximum operating temperature and maximum storage temperature. These are real.
  • At 110 °and higher, a breeze isn’t your friend. The hot air imparts more heat to your skin than it removes by facilitating evaporation. It’s a weird experience, but also very real.
  • Believe it or not, the coolest, most comfortable clothing is long sleeves and long pants, loose (the looser the better), and light-colored. The desert-dwelling Bedouin have a mantra: dress to keep the heat out. Why do we think we know better than people who have lived in these conditions for untold generations?

A bigger issue is hydration

Pretty much everything you read says that keeping well hydrated is your defense against heat. This is wrong. It’s based on a mistaken belief that dehydration causes heatstroke.

Heat causes heat stroke. Heat also causes dehydration, so the two sometimes go in tandem. But dehydration in and of itself does not cause heatstroke, unless you are so dehydrated that you run out of fluids to sweat out.

If you want hundreds of pages of details on this, check out Waterlogged by South African exercise physiologist Tim Noakes, known to runners for his encyclopedic tome, The Lore of Running. It’s a fun read, but a shorter answer comes from research done during World War II by E. O. Adolph, an exercise physiologist who marched volunteers around the desert near Yuma, Arizona, trying to help the Army prepare for the North Africa campaign.

He made several important findings, but the most important for this discussion is that his volunteers could be as much as 7-10 percent dehydrated (the equivalent to a 150-pound person losing up to 7 liters of water), and not suffer anything worse than becoming grumpy, thirsty, tired, and eventually refusing to budge. Given water and a rest, they were perfectly ready to go again the next day.

So, stay hydrated to avoid becoming grumpy, thirsty, tired, and otherwise miserable. But don’t count on it to stave off heatstroke. (Though, drinking a quart of cold water can lower your core temperature by a full degree, simply from the heat it absorbs as it warms up.)

Finally, be aware of the risk of hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition created by low sodium in your bloods. Most reports about it involve people who take “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate” too seriously and drink too much. But it can happen even if you don’t excessively hydrate, because the fluids you drink (even sports drinks like Gatorade) contain less sodium than you are sweating off. The result is that you can actually dehydrate but flush enough sodium out of your body to become hyponatremic.  

This is not myth. I’ve seen it happen to an elite athlete in a hot-weather marathon. Luckily, my marathoner had salt tablets in her kit. Two of those and she perked up with amazing rapidity.

Runners and the media always talk about electrolytes. But in the short run, the one that really matters is sodium. A big hit from the salt shaker can do the trick. I’ve even been known to put a couple of salt packets from a place like McDonald’s in a plastic bag in my pocket, so I have them if needed.

Finally, be aware of the symptoms of heat stress. Many are subtle, but one of the most important is that if you feel chilled on a hot day, it’s a sign of impending heatstroke. Stop what you’re doing and get out of the heat ASAP.

Uncovering COVID-19’s Most Risky Activities

I don’t have time to digest this in detail today, but this is important. It’s condensed from a press release from Nature (slightly edited to condense it):

“Reopening places such as restaurants, fitness centers, cafes, and hotels carries the highest risk for transmitting SARS-CoV-2, according to a modelling study based on data from the United States published in Nature. Reducing occupancy in these venues may result in a large reduction in predicted infections, the model suggests.

“Jure Leskovec and colleagues use[d] US mobile phone data (collected between 1 March and 2 May 2020) to map the movements of millions of people from different local neighbourhoods. They combine[d] these data with a model of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, which allow[ed] them to identify potential high-risk venues and at-risk populations.

“The level of detail of the mobility data allowed the researchers to model the number of infections occurring, by the hour, at nearly 553,000 distinct locations grouped into 20 categories — termed ‘points of interest’ — that people tended to visit regularly. Their model predicts that a small number of these locations, such as full-service restaurants, account for a large majority of infections. For example, in the Chicago metropolitan area, 10% of the points of interest accounted for 85% of the predicted infections at points of interest.”

That’s a bit technical, but it says what we all need to realize: certain activities are higher risk, and high-risk activities account for the vast majority of the virus’s spread.

Today, this also would, most likely, include Thanksgiving festivities.

We have a vaccine on the cusp of becoming available. Patience will save lives. Be patient. Hold the course. The end may be in sight.

One caveat re the study: it’s data are from the first wave of the pandemic, in March and April. Some of the “points of interest” may subsequently have learned how to reduce the risk. But the main idea still applies: the vast majority of the spread comes from a small fraction of sources.

This finding is particularly interesting: “[C]apping the occupancy of a venue at 20% of its maximum capacity is predicted to reduce new infections by over 80%, but would only reduce the overall number of visits by 42%.”

50 Years Ago on a Beach in Oregon…

Today’s big news was the apparent success of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. That was fun and exciting. But, this week is also the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s most famous news story.

What’s that, you say? The passage of the nation’s first bottle bill? The beach bill? Any of the other things that put Oregon on the map in the 1970s?

Nope. And beware, this one might cause you to you laugh hard enough to make you blubber.

It’s the story of a good idea that went a bit off the rails. Enjoy.

BTW, the newscaster is still on the air.


The Race I Never Dreamed I’d Run

Ten years ago, I had knee surgery.

I will never forget what the doctor told me when I woke up. “It’s worse than we thought.” He then added that the drugs from the surgery would mean that I wouldn’t remember those words, but he was wrong. Running as I knew it ended that day.

Seven years later, I had a hip replacement. Arthritis is the family bane. But this time, I wasn’t even thinking about running. Not only had I gained dozens of pounds, but the hip was so bad that the surgeon took one look at the X-ray and said, “That’s a bad hip. Let me check my schedule to see if we can move up your surgery.”

She did, for which I was grateful. I’d reached the point where the 150 meters from the nearest parking spot to the track where I was then coaching had become the longest walk I could manage without a break, and I took it for granted that there would be a time or two each day when the pain would be enough to make me nauseous.

But this is not that kind of story.

Because earlier this month, I rediscovered racing.

Read the rest on Podium Runner…

Masks: the Golden Rule is not a sign of weakness.

I’ve said this before (in fact, I’m using the same photo as last time), but it’s worth repeating. The latest run of the University of Washington’s coronavirus model shows 363,000 deaths by the end of December, with the death rate hitting 2,900 a day by then–a horrible projection for what might happen in January.

But if we can raise the rate of mask-wearing, especially indoors, that number of deaths falls by 86,000. Given that more than 200,000 people have already died, that means the number of new deaths is cut in half. Simply by biting the bullet and wearing masks. (Note, I may not have these figures exactly correct; this was breaking news on TV a few minutes ago, and I didn’t have time to grab a pen. But I’m close enough.)

Mask wearing is not a sign of weakness. It’s not even something you do for yourself. It protects you some, but it works best if the people around you are also doing it.

Mask wearing is something you do primarily for others.

If they reciprocate, THAT protects you. But even if they don’t, it sends a signal of strength. “I care.” Why is that so controversial?

It’s the Golden Rule in action.

It’s that simple.

My 2016 Book…and the London Marathon

Back in 2016, I coauthored a short book (more a novella than a novel) with Phil Maffetone about a hypothetical “Million Dollar Marathon,” in which runners competed on a one-mile track, with the giant prize to anyone who could break 2 hours.

It’s fiction—I thought of it as near-future science fiction, since that is part of what I write—focused on a Tibetan refugee whose background gives him all the tools needed to make this quest possible.

Now, this weekend, the London Marathon—thanks to COVID-19—will be conducted under a protocol amazingly similar to that in our book. The best in the world, male and female will duel on ~20 laps of a 1.34-mile loop.  Not a track, but not all that different from Phil’s and my setup.

Continue reading My 2016 Book…and the London Marathon

Quick high-veggie hot dish

With all the political news raging this week, I figured it was time to do something different. Here’s a quick recipe of my mother’s, adapted to my tastes. It makes a very good potluck dish (it always gets raves), a side dish for dinner, or a great lunch. (I used it on my diet.)

Basic ingredients:

  • 1 can corn (or fresh corn, but that takes longer)
  • mushrooms (1 small can or fresh; fresh is better)
  • half a large onion
  • 1 ounce mozzarella cheese
  • Small sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange)
  • Jalapeño
  • Roasted cashews
  • Salt (if desired)
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder (minimal)
  • Parsley flakes
  • Paprika
  • Cumin

Drain canned veggies and put them plus chopped fresh veggies in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add spices to taste. Place sliced cheese and cashews on top. Heat on high until cheese melts and everything else is sufficiently hot. (If preferred, you can give the chopped onion a head start, but I generally find that unnecessary.)

Serves 4 as side dish; or one as lunch. (Total calories about 450, depending on how many cashews you use.) For heartier version, use more cheese.

Super-spreaders, COVID-19, and the rural/urban divide

Nobody wants to be in a state with a lot of COVID-19 cases. Nobody except perhaps an epidemiologist trying to study how the disease spreads.

In a paper in today’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from Emory University (in Atlanta) and the Georgia Department of Public Health, took advantage of the fact that their state ranks 6th in the U.S. in per capita cases to hone in on just how the disease spreads.

They looked at data from the five counties in the state with the most cases, looking for, among other things, superspreader events.

Continue reading Super-spreaders, COVID-19, and the rural/urban divide