22 August 2021

Some comments on my disability of possible interest

I have a disability. (Well, several, perhaps, if you include the sorts of mental and emotional dysfunctions that many people are moderately impaired by; this is a physical disability, and not age-related). Fortunately, it's not extreme nor has it prevented me from living a rewarding and fulfilling life nor caused me to have to make or seek out major accommodations to deal with it. But it does cause me some trouble, and, as it is sometimes a little subtle, it gets mistaken for grumpiness, anti-social attitude, etc., which I more or less just embrace and let people think that of me.

I am deaf in one ear. Have been since a very serious case of mumps at age 4. Left me with complete nerve deafness on the left. Fortunately, my right ear hearing was unaffected and at 68 remains pretty good. I am an amateur pianist and baroque chamber musician, and music is my No. 1 passion among the arts and pastimes. I actually thought for a brief moment early in my adult life I could even make it a profession, but I realized quickly I have nowhere near the talent or physical capacity for that. So it's been a hobby, listening, and, as life progressed, more and more, playing. So my disability has been a real handicap. But that's not where it really affects me a lot. I cope with hearing music two-dimensionally. If you have "normal" hearing you can't really appreciate this: I cannot easily tell where sound is coming from, and it's quite difficult for me to pick out the different layers of sound in a musical texture or auditory environment. A bird call across the valley? To me, I can tell that it is distant. If I move my head I can tell, to within about 90°, what direction it's coming from. But I can't "place it" in space the way people with normal hearing can. When people talk about "stereo" sound or how great a stereo sound system is, I can hear the fidelity, but not the "stereo." I understand intellectually what it means, but I can't hear it. Everything is "mono." I can identify a clarinet solo in an orchestral texture by its timbre, its dynamic, its tone color, its harmonic function, etc., but not, or not easily, by its spatial relationship to other sounds. This is a definite lack, but one I've learned to compensate for to some degree.

About five years ago, after mulling it over for several years, I had a BAHA (bone-anchored hearing assistance) abutment implanted in my skull, and got a BAHA device to use with it. This picks up sound on the deaf side, and transmits it through the bones of the skull, where I can hear it, at about 50% content (not the same as volume, which is adjustable but not without side-effects), in my "good" ear. This does work, and some people love it. Mine sits in a drawer and the abutment is just a hook to catch my hairbrush once in a while. I may eventually even have it removed, since it makes MRIs of the head impossible. Why? Because it doesn't do what I thought it would, and the only real reason I wanted it. In ambient noise situations, like a room full of people talking, or, especially, a room where people are eating, listening to music, and talking (i.e., a restaurant, or, the worst, a bar or nightclub), it does nothing for me. I still can't hear anything of what people are saying to me, unless I look right at them and listen to them with my good ear. And if the music is loud, I have to literally draw in close, face my ear towards them, and pay close attention. When in these situations, especially the loud music situation, I strain to hear what people are saying (I hear the music fine), but I just can't. After a while it becomes exhausting, and I give up. And sit there. I become the deaf old man. I try to guess or infer from the 40% or so of the words I can make out what they are saying, but it's tiring. Others want to stay for the full 2½ hour set, but I'm ready to go after an hour. I actually become quite physically uncomfortable in such settings. So, mostly, I just don't go. Hence the curmudgeon, grump, anti-social impression.

Actually, I do go. Sometimes. Just to be sociable; so as not to deprive friends and my husband of something he loves to do… sometimes it's easier to just go and put up with it. I do enjoy the music enough so that overall I'm often (admittedly, not always), glad I went.

Do I feel sorry for myself? No, not really. As disabilities go, this one is minor, and I'm lucky not to have other physical or health conditions that are much worse. I'm only writing this to make people aware. Other people are not always grumpy or moody or just difficult. Sometimes it's because they can't hear and it makes them uncomfortable. Hearing difficulty is much more common than a lot of people, especially younger adults, realize or take into account. Something to be aware of. 

17 August 2021

Afghanistan in a nutshell

The essential reality of what's happening in Afghanistan is being lost on a lot of people. The Taliban, after being assured by Mike Pompeo... under Trump's administration... that the US would be withdrawing completely, secured negotiated surrender from essentially all military forces in Afghanistan and waited for the US to actually leave. All the supposed efforts to train and finance Afghan government troops... some 300,000, came to nothing, and the actual Afghan people have done virtually nothing to prevent the takeover of their country by the Taliban. So, tragic and terrible it may be, but this is their country, their choice not to fight a civil war, and nothing the US should be involved in for any longer than is necessary to remove our presence and any associated personnel to whom we owe protection (a tricky issue). This should have been done 12 years ago. No, actually, probably should have been done in January 2002, after the failure at Tora Bora.

16 August 2021


Farflung correspondents, 

Although it can hardly be clearer that this juncture in history is an unmitigated tragedy for Afghanistan, and there is much to criticize in the way the pullout was allowed to transpire, in the end, I believe, there was no choice but to bring the 20 year conflict involving the US to an end and pull out. This kind of conflict has no real possibility of "victory." The irreducible truth is that there is substantial support in the country for the Islamist forces of the Taliban, and, again, in the end, who governs Afghanistan simply is not up to us. 
I believe that although the way this has gone will not inure to the benefit of Biden and Democrats in the short run, in the longer term, by which I suspect we mean months not years, most Americans will have all but forgotten Afghanistan. We are ready to turn the page and no longer be involved in an unwinnable conflict on a permanent basis. The citizens of a country, however problematic its cultural traditions and rulers, are responsible for their own governance. We cannot and should not expect to use military force to maintain a regime we consider more favorable to our geopolitical interests or concepts of how societies should be governed. Unless we were to choose the path of literal empire, and take control of every place in the world whose government we don't like (clearly not an option anyway), we just have to live with the multipolar world where not everyone is our friend. 

11 August 2021

Delta Variant, Masks, Vaccines, Mutation ... a virologist speaks

Farflung correspondents,

This episode of Dr. Abdul Al-Sayed's pandemic podcast America Dissected, featuring a conversation with noted virologist Angie Rasmussen, contains the best explanation I've heard of the Delta variant, reasons to go back to mask wearing, the efficacy of the vaccines and why they remain absolutely crucial, and why a completely vaccine resistant strain emerging is actually unlikely. Even if you never listen to podcasts, please make an exception for this one.