I’ve been thinking a lot about events in the news, especially about how indifferent we can become when people who are suffering aren’t just like us.
So, I wrote something and wanted to share it. I haven’t performed any of my own music for any audience other than my kids in almost 20 years, but here goes…
“Image” Ed Cottrell 2020
A little dust and the breath of life And He made us out of clay. He formed us in His image and It will never pass away. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, We must all walk down that way. Yet I talk about all of my “rights,” I have no time for you today.
My brother’s face and my sister’s hand, From them both I turn aside. Like mine but colored differently, If my eyes they have not lied. I think the image that matters most Is the one on your outside. So I won’t take your pleading hand Or put death to all my pride.
Oh, God, Your name I profaned again today! The widow, fatherless, and poor I simply cast away. Have mercy on me, but don’t ask me, Lord, to change. This mirror suits me just fine, but Your image I won’t face.
The news today has more numbers, Stories of the price we’ve paid. The numbers, they don’t move me, and The stories, I can’t relate. Unborn or old, woman, man, or child, Or a different shade than me: I think that I get to decide Who will stand, who bend the knee.
Life’s journey’s full of stepping stones, On each my foot shall stand. I don’t glance down, so I won’t see, Faces crying, “I am a man!” I don’t fit the description, So I’ll just go about my day, Focus on things more comfortable. Yes, it’s easier that way.
Oh, God, Your name I profaned again today! The widow, fatherless, and poor I simply cast away. Have mercy on me, but don’t ask me, Lord, to change. This mirror suits me just fine, but Your image I won’t face.
I have been stopped by the police a number of times in my life. Once, it was because I was actually speeding. Once, I was jaywalking. Once, I made an illegal turn when I was new to town and couldn’t see the “no U-turn” sign in the twilight. Once, it was because somebody didn’t renew the registration or fix a tail light on the car I was driving. A couple of times, to be honest, I did not actually do anything wrong. On one of those occasions, I was legally carrying a concealed firearm on my person at the time and told the officer as much as required by law in that jurisdiction. In not one of those encounters did I ever feel like my life was in danger. I was never asked to step out of the car, never forced onto the hood or to the ground, never put in cuffs, never put into a squad car, never taken to the station. I got a ticket or maybe a warning and went on my way. Obviously, I always made it home safely.
I know and care about far too many people, though, for whom every one of those incidents would have been understandably terrifying. People who drive by the book but have been stopped far more often than I. They were stopped for entering a college campus where some officer thought they didn’t belong or for leaving it, for being in too nice a car, for being in too ugly a car, for dressing too well, for dressing too casually, for driving too slow, for driving too fast, but really, if we’re honest, for “driving while black.” And in many of those incidents, it was far from clear that all would end well. After all, so many such incidents don’t.
There are many good things about the history of the United States of America, things we should celebrate. How this country has treated and thought about people who are not “white,” however, is not one of those good things. That has always been and remains to this day a story of horrific evil, with shockingly few moments of partial redemption.
You say we have made progress? That’s true, but from what starting point? You say we have to “move on” or “give it a rest?” I doubt very much that you would feel the same if you, your parents, or your children regularly felt fear for their lives and freedom based solely on skin color. No, it’s not the 1760s, 1860s, or 1960s. That’s not the point. The point is that injustice still abounds. If you overlook injustice on the grounds that “things used to be worse,” all you’re really saying is that a particular level of injustice is okay by you.
I can’t always speak to current events. Being an attorney (or at least, trying to be an ethical one) means that I have to be very careful what I say, especially about particular cases. But I can say this.
It’s never necessary for four able-bodied men to choke to death a man who is laying on the ground in handcuffs.
It’s never reasonable for anyone, including the police, to deploy deadly force just to respond to an alleged forgery in progress or an alleged instance of public intoxication.
There really are differences in how people are treated by law enforcement and the justice system based on skin color. There just are. There are countless men and women of all races who serve honorably in law enforcement and in our entire legal system. Yet the fact remains that it is much safer for me to encounter law enforcement than it would be if I simply had a different color skin. Why is that?
We all need to speak up.
We all need to care.
Those of us who haven’t been on the receiving end of injustice all need to start listening. You may not agree with literally everything another person says, but if you actually care you will listen.
And then, if you really care, you will do something.
We have a weird desire to justify and validate information we hear. This is especially true if the information comes from someone we trust or feel like we should trust. We try to find ways to believe even absurd information if it comes from any kind of authority.
One of the wildest examples I’ve encountered involved a newspaper overseas. The paper reported that a young woman was attacked by a male intruder and died. The paper, however, didn’t attribute her death to the attacker. Instead, the paper claimed that the fright of the attack caused this previously-healthy, young lady to develop a spontaneous cancer of the blood, which immediately overwhelmed her system and proved fatal in a matter of seconds. So, you see, it wasn’t the upstanding young attacker—who insisted he did nothing wrong and was playing some sort of joke—or the victim’s physical injuries that killed her. It was the victim’s fault for having a bad reaction to being attacked.
This is patently insane, not to mention incredibly misogynistic. But in the many times I’ve told this story, about 40% of people who hear it try to find some way to argue that the newspaper account must have been basically accurate. They invent new cancers off the tops of their heads, argue that the attacker is presumed innocent until proven guilty (which isn’t even true of the legal system where this happened, by the way), or, in the very worst cases, argue that the newspaper must be right somehow: it must be the victim’s fault that she died. This is both stupid and evil, yet people keep arguing it to me.
We want so desperately to believe that those with power or a platform are good, honest, and acting with the public’s best interests at heart. Sometimes, they are! But sometimes, they aren’t. Each of us has to learn to see the difference.
A number of folks have asked me why COVID-19 is not like the flu, “just another flu,” or like the common cold. I’m going to try to answer those questions here. Please read #12 if you read nothing else! If you are a doctor, epidemiologist, public health professional, etc., please let me know if I should tweak anything.
Why Covid-19 Is Not the Flu
COVID-19 is not the flu or the common cold for the same basic reason measles isn’t the common cold: they’re caused by completely different viruses.
The virus is a “novel” coronavirus. That means we’ve never seen it before. We are still learning about it, and (#3 below) our bodies aren’t ready to fight it off.
Because it’s a new virus, no one has built up any immunity to it, so everyone can get sick. With common strains of the flu or the common cold, some percentage of the population is immune either because of previous exposure or, in the case of the flu, because of vaccines. So, those viruses can’t spread as quickly as a new virus.
We have vaccines for many strains of the flu, and we have anti-flu drugs (for example, Tamiflu). Because COVID-19 is caused by a never-seen-before virus, there is no vaccine, and there are no drugs known to fight the virus directly. A vaccine is at least a year, possibly 18 months, away. In the meantime, the virus can keep infecting and killing new people. It’s true that flu vaccines aren’t 100% effective because different strains of flu go around every year. But flu vaccines work infinitely better than 0% of the time, which is where we are with COVID-19 right now.
COVID-19 is much more contagious than the flu, so it spreads much faster. On average, a person who gets the flu will give it to roughly 1.3 other people. On average, a person who gets the virus that causes COVID-19 will give it to roughly 2.2 to 2.5 other people. A single person (“Patient 31”) in South Korea may have infected dozens people, leading to hundreds or maybe even thousands of new cases by going about life as usual—attending church and eating at a hotel buffet—before her diagnosis.
A new virus that is causing an epidemic or pandemic doesn’t grow linearly; it grows exponentially until it runs out of opportunities to spread. That is, if you hear that there were X new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, you shouldn’t expect X new cases today; you should expect many more at this stage of things. The number will go up every day until the virus starts running out of opportunities to infect people, either because too many people are already sick or because we get really serious and cut down the transmission rate.
You may have heard that coronaviruses cause the common cold. That’s only partially true; some coronaviruses that infect humans cause the common cold. Others cause extremely serious, very deadly diseases like SARS and MERS. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can kill people, not just cause a cold.
COVID-19 is much deadlier than a common cold or common strains of the flu. Seasonal flu kills only about 0.1% of patients (1 in 1,000). So far, COVID-19 has killed 4% of people known to be infected (1 in 25). But this number doesn’t tell the whole story. Some of the people who are currently infected will get better, but some will die. It can take a long time—2 to 8 weeks—for patients to die from COVID-19, and 2 to 6 weeks for people to recover. Globally, for people whose outcome (recovery or death) is known, 7% have died (1 in 15). As we learn more about how many people have been infected and as more people are treated, experts think these numbers may go either down or up.
This virus can sicken and kill people at almost any age, but it is especially significant for people who are older or have serious health issues. While the flu typically kills about 1% of people over 80 years old, COVID-19 kills about 15% of people that age. Put differently, there’s about a 1 in 7 chance that an 80-something-year-old person with COVID-19 will die, even with the best medical care. Many younger people have died, too; the reality that it hits older people hardest doesn’t mean it doesn’t kill younger people.
COVID-19 causes much more serious illness than common flu strains, even in many people who survive. You may have heard that 80% of people experience a “mild” illness with COVID-19. That appears to be true, but that means that 20% of people experience serious illness, and some of those people die, even with great medical care. This includes people who are young and healthy.
Because so many people get very sick, COVID-19 can overwhelm our entire health care system. Many of those 20% of people who experience serious illness need hospitalization, and many of those will need to be on a ventilator in intensive care. The United States has only about 60,000 ventilators, far too few to cope with the demand in the worst-case scenarios. The result is that doctors could be forced to decide who gets care and lives and who doesn’t get care and dies. In other words, some people will die not just because they’re sick but because the healthcare system is swamped and cannot care for everyone. This happened in China, it is happening now in Italy, and the United States is on a trajectory like Italy’s, if not worse.
If we let COVID-19 keep spreading without major changes to daily life, it will overwhelm the entire healthcare system (see #11). This means that countless thousands or even millions of people will die because they are not be able to get treatment. And the longer we wait to act, the more likely this becomes, and the higher the numbers go. That is why everything is shut down: it’s literally a matter of life and death.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to share/repost it or to ask questions in the comments.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
If you’d like to know more or see where I got the information above, these links may be helpful:
Please note that all information above is as of March 17, 2020, based on the links above and current, publicly-reported counts of infections, deaths, and recoveries. Things are moving very quickly, so some of these numbers may become inaccurate over time. That’s part of why we need to take this so seriously: the situation changes so fast that we all need to keep educating ourselves.
Edited 2 hours after I posted it because the global death rate for known outcomes jumped from 7% to 9%. Things are happening fast.
Note: This was originally posted on Facebook, but Facebook decided 9 hours later that it was spam, without telling me why they made that decision. They gave me no options to improve it and restore it. So, I’m posting it here.
As you may know if you have followed this blog for a while or have followed me on social media, I have spent several years as a volunteer moderator on Stack Overflow (elected November 2015) and a related site, Ebooks Stack Exchange (appointed moderator pro tempore January 2014).
If you are not a programmer, you have likely never heard of Stack Overflow. If you are a programmer, you likely visit it regularly, if not multiple times per day. It is a major site; Alexa.com ranks it #42 in “global internet engagement,” and it has literally millions of registered users. Every day, it attracts thousands of questions and answers about programming, not to mention untold numbers of comments on those questions and answers, along with thousands of user flags addressing on-site problems. Moderating such a large, busy site is both a significant commitment and a tremendous honor.
For a variety of reasons, the majority of which I cannot discuss publicly, I resigned both of those positions yesterday, October 1, 2019. I wrote a post on meta.stackoverflow.com explaining my decision.
This post is purely informational, as I get a lot of traffic on this site from users of Stack Overflow and Ebooks Stack Exchange. Please understand that I cannot and will not provide more information here or on social media than I have provided in the post linked above. Thank you.
When I was a child, I had the blessing of living a short drive away from one set of grandparents. This meant that I got to see them regularly, many times most months, which was wonderful.
One of the highlights when I would visit them was my grandfather’s grandfather clock. I loved to listen to its ticking, its chimes every quarter hour, and the mysterious whirrings and clickings it made each time it was about to chime. For a little boy with an interest in all things mechanical, simply being around that clock was pure delight.
The best thing about that clock was, well, not really about the clock at all. See, every week, the clock needed to be wound. It was technically an “eight day” clock, meaning it gave you a one-day cushion should you be tardy in winding it. But, nonetheless, it must be wound, or eventually it would stop. And so the best thing about that clock was when my grandfather would turn the key to open the door to its front and let me help him wind it.
Together, we would pull on the chains, and I would hear the whirring and clicking of gears suddenly intensify as we raised each weight up to its full height, there to begin another week. For a very little boy, those weights seemed so heavy, and yet I was able to help my grandfather, strong as he was. He even made me feel as though he needed me to help him do it. The whole experience was heavenly, and I am certain we wound that clock many times when it did not, in fact, need to be wound.
Cancer took my grandfather from us far too soon, and it has been more than thirty years now since I have hugged him or heard his voice. I remember him as strong but gentle, wise yet humble, intelligent but happy to lose a game of checkers to a four-year-old, a man who deeply loved Jesus and his family. He was also a war hero, having served his country honorably during World War II, though I was too little to appreciate that fully while he was still here. All in all, he was a wonderful man, and I love and miss him terribly.
A few years ago, after my grandmother had also left this world, that clock came to me. It had not run in years, and careless movers had broken the pane of glass in the door. Though I tried many times, I could not make it run for more than a few minutes without stopping. So, it stood silently in our home, waiting for us to find the money, the time, and the help necessary to make it chime the hours once more.
Today, thanks to the skillful efforts from a clock repairman who is a true master of his craft, that clock began to run and chime again. I am writing this post as I listen to it ticking and, a few times now, chiming in the background. It is heavenly.
With each second that passes I am reminded of my grandfather and the wonderful legacy he left behind. He made it a point to provide financial security for my grandmother, but his legacy is so much more than that. It is a legacy of faith, humility, hard work, diligence, and love. It is a legacy that still warms the heart of this little boy, even as I look forward to winding my grandfather’s clock with my grandfather’s great-granddaughters and, one day, maybe even with my own grandchildren. Until then, I’ll let the clock count the seconds, reminding me of the brevity of life and the beauty of sharing it with those we love.
In memory of R.H. Cottrell, Jr., one of the finest men I’ll ever know.
A tremendous amount has happened over the past year, and I have not kept up on here. I’m going to try to provide a quick recap, as well as a vision for the future of this site.
First, the biggest news of the last year, which I haven’t mentioned previously on here: my wife and I were blessed to welcome our second child, a daughter! She is an incredible blessing but has kept us extremely busy. And although she’s very healthy, she had a number of health scares early on that kept us hopping.
Last year (2018) involved a lot of other craziness, far too much to capture or even summarize in one blog post. Most of that will have to wait for some later time; many of the events in question deserve their own post or entire series of posts.
This year (2019) has not been less crazy. Among other adventures, I haven’t had a voice for most of the last two weeks due to a fun thing called a vocal process granuloma, essentially an ulcer on my vocal cords. This is probably a result of acid reflux that I didn’t know I had. I wrote a long, public post about this on Facebook. My voice rebounded significantly over the last 48 hours, to the point that it was basically normal this morning, but it has faded out again to nearly nothing.
Meanwhile, a lot has changed on here and continues to change. I intend to resume posting regularly. I haven’t been posting regularly for a variety of reasons, one of which is cleaning up the site. Over the 22 years I have been running a personal website, 20 of them on this domain and 20 of them blogging, I had accumulated a lot of, well, junk. There were (and still are) a lot of blog posts and other items on here that are horribly dated, reference broken links, and so on. I have begun the process of cleaning those up. I have simply deleted a lot of posts that are thoroughly obsolete or misleading due to changed links, missing context, or other reasons. I plan to finish that cleanup in the near future, but in the interest of transparency am mentioning it here.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the site, and get ready for much more, better, fresher content!
Like so many people today, I’m reflecting on the events of that awful day 17 years ago when so many innocent people died, and so many more felt the world had turned upside down. Every American who was old enough to remember that day will probably be processing their reactions to those events for the rest of their lives.
I have very rarely said anything public about 9/11. I have several reasons for this. The biggest reason is that my own experience of that day was very unusual.
Far from Home
I don’t have the same kind of “where were you when” story that most Americans have, for the simple reason that I wasn’t here. I had left the United States five days earlier, and I was in Germany for a week-long training conference. When I first got word that something had happened, I was playing a pick-up game of basketball at a private conference center in a very small village in the German countryside, largely cut off from the world.
The first indication that something was wrong was when somebody ran by on an elevated walkway, yelling urgently. I couldn’t quite make out the first sentence; I think it was, “There’s a fire in New York.” The next is seared into my memory: “The World Trade Center is in the street.” And just like that, the runner was gone.
It took a couple of minutes for those of us on the court to decide what to make of this. We didn’t even fully agree on what we had heard, much less what it meant. Several of us thought it meant that there had been some sort of market crash or economic disruption; others thought it meant the WTC’s occupants had evacuated because of a literal fire. After a few moments, we decided to call the game and go looking for more information.
The Hunt for Information
It took a while to find any. First, we had to find other people. But when we did, no one actually knew anything. We had only one landline for almost 200 people to use, and the few cell phones people had stopped working almost immediately due to network congestion. So, the first fragments of information we got were just fragments. We heard all kinds of wild rumors: both towers had collapsed; neither had collapsed; the Capitol was gone; the President was dead; the President was alive but in hiding; and on and on. We even heard really outlandish things about bombers, nuclear weapons, and more. The only source of information was phone calls limited to 30 seconds at first and later relaxed to two minutes. Facts and rumors given in soundbite form over the phone (with a terrible connection and multi-second delay due to distances) were repeated, misunderstood, and repeated again. In a group of people who were all far from home, not all native speakers of English, and with only one staticky phone line for information, it was impossible to fact-check faster than rumors could come in.
After a couple of hours, we started to catch up. A friendly, local couple down the road happened to have CNN via satellite and had started recording the feed when it became clear that a big plane, not a Cessna or something, had crashed. They started sending over videotapes and summary updates every hour or two.
By the time we were able to see anything on a TV screen, we were roughly three hours behind real-time. This meant that we mostly heard about developments—real and fictional—long before we saw them. During a national tragedy that so many Americans watched live, huddled together in living rooms, classrooms, conference rooms, break rooms, and sandwich shops, we watched on a delay, thousands of miles from American soil. We grieved together, of course, but we did so with almost no contact with family or friends at home, at least for those first few days.
That conference marked the start of a year-long trip. With the exception of a couple of people whose families were directly impacted, none of us were heading home to family or friends for many months to come. And with the exception of a half-dozen or so people, I had never met any of the people around me until a couple of days earlier.
My little team was in France a few days later, where we spent much of the following year. My French at that point was rudimentary, but it didn’t take much to figure out the news headlines. At first, they wept over “La Catastrophe.” Then they screamed of “Les Attaques!” Then, when it became obvious that America would react with force, they coldly updated us on “Les Accidents.” I had hundreds of conversations about these things with French, German, Spanish, Italian, Algerian, and Moroccan nationals, among others, before I had my first chance to speak in person to anyone I knew at home about them. I felt I had heard the collective thoughts and feelings of the entire world, but only a hint of the sentiments in my own country.
The next year was brutal and surreal for many reasons. We tried to keep up with news from home via the Internet and phone calls home, but we were surprisingly isolated. Many events at home that year just passed us by. I remember waiting for my flight home nearly a year later and picking up a copy of USA Today (not something I regularly read) in hopes of filling in gaps in my knowledge of non-terrorism, non-war events at home. Two of the top stories asked who would be the American Idol and who would be kicked off the island. I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. Many other stories left me just as befuddled about everything from politics to sports.
For those of us who were abroad that year, 9/11 was a horrifying short-circuit, making it even harder to stay connected with “ordinary” life in the United States. While we wish as much as anyone that the 9/11 attacks had never happened, we also felt—and will always feel—isolated and cut off by that day. Our answers to the “where were you” question will always sound alien, strange, even weird. To some people I have met, those answers even sound un-American or somehow hostile.
I have mostly kept these things to myself because most people have had a hard time relating to them. In the first few years after 9/11, people tended to react in one of two ways to anything I might say: (1) silence, followed by a quick change in subject, or (2) anger, as if by being abroad during a national tragedy I had somehow chosen to cut myself off from my country.
Reactions in the last few years have mellowed, and now I mostly get the kind of look you might get if you said something completely unintelligible to someone you had just met: an uneasy stare, an unsuccessful attempt to form words, another second of silence, and a sudden shift in conversation.
Why Am I Writing This?
So, why am I speaking about this now? Why does it matter what I have to say? To be honest, a big part of it is just to let it out, to say the things I have mostly kept to myself for 17 years. But another reason is this: I hope it might be helpful to someone. Maybe someone out there is still struggling with their own feelings about that day and feels they can’t share because they don’t have a “story” that sounds “good enough” or “American enough.”
If that’s you, you’re not alone. Please reach out to me or someone else to talk about it.
I also hope this encourages at least a few people to be more empathetic. American life is full of anger, especially around politics, right now. But one of the lessons of 9/11 is that we are all human, and we all hurt, even though all of our stories are different, and sometimes we really can come together in a meaningful way that transcends our tribal squabbles.
If you’d like to talk for any reason, shoot me a note. If anything in this offended you or seems self-centered somehow, please accept my sincere apologies; that is not my intent at all.
Never forget those who died that awful day. And go hug someone you love.
EDIT 9/14/2018: Even though the storm’s winds weakened, the water – surge and rainfall – was always the primary threat. It still still is a very serious threat and will be for several days after landfall. Please continue to take this storm very seriously.
NC & SC FOLKS: Please read and share this! It’s not the same old yada-yada. Please prepare now for Florence and know where you are going if you have to evacuate in a hurry. This is going to be like nothing NC & SC have seen in recorded history. Seriously.
Yes, I know y’all know a hurricane is coming, and yes, I know y’all have lived through other hurricanes. So have I. I grew up there, too. I get it.
This is different. Florence is going to be huge and powerful (at least Saffir-Simpson category 3, meaning sustained winds well over 100 mph, with much higher gusts). The rainfall is the real threat, though, and Florence is perfectly set up to be like Harvey: swoop in, bring a lot of tropical moisture, stall near the coast, and drown everything. Even the rainfall forecasts are eerily similar to what we were seeing in Houston as Harvey got close.
Y’all are looking at 10+ inches of rain in 7 days over the entire eastern half of NC, and 20+ inches in places.That will flood pretty much everything, everywhere, just like it did with Harvey here in Houston.
Please take this seriously. Have supplies (water, food, medicine, batteries, gasoline, etc.) on hand; you know the drill. But just as importantly: have an ESCAPE ROUTE. Know where you will go if you have to evacuate, and know that BEFORE the rain starts falling. Know where the 100- and 500-year floodplains are near you. Know where the creeks and rivers are.
Don’t forget to get valuables off the floor and as high as possible. Pull together important papers. Assume you’re going to have to leave everything behind on literally a minute’s notice. I know a lot of people who lived in places that “never flood,” outside the 500-year floodplains, who had to abandon their homes in a matter of minutes during Harvey as the waters came in. This is not a hypothetical scenario; it really can happen to you.
Again, I know y’all know this, but I love y’all, so I’m saying it anyway. You can’t overprepare for something on this magnitude. Please stay safe and check in regularly.
Everyone: please be safe on the road. Whatever you need to read or look at on a phone can wait. It’s not worth dying for.
A few things I’ve seen in the last 24 hours:
A young man riding a bike and reading a piece of paper, with no hands on the handlebars. He was so focused on the paper that he wasn’t looking at the road at all, ran a stop sign, and turned directly into oncoming traffic, where he nearly got hit by a car. He never looked up, even when the car swerved around him, but just kept riding down the wrong side of the road.
A guy driving a car, using both hands to hold a book instead of the wheel, and looking down at the book in his lap, all while driving at full speed down one of the busiest streets in Houston during rush hour.
Multiple people running stop signs in my neighborhood at full speed, while all around children were walking to and from school.
A lady driving down one of those same neighborhood streets, holding her phone directly in front of her face… with small children in the back seat.
A story about a young lady who tried to “go live” on a streaming video service while driving. It cost her life and the lives of everyone else in her car.
Please drive when you’re driving. Read, text, tweet, “go live,” or play games later. Whatever else is going on in your life, it’s not so important that you need to jeopardize your life or the lives of your children and neighbors.