Sherlock Holmes And The Ring Drop

There was some excitement on my flight to Houston last night, but it all ended well — thanks to Sherlock Holmes.

I was seated in the aisle seat in row 21.  Next to me was a friendly young woman who was traveling through Houston to catch a flight to Orange County.  As I did some work on the flight I heard a metallic clink, and then the young woman suddenly became frantic.  It turns out that she had been fiddling with a ring on her finger, and the ring dropped off and fell into the area between the seat and the window and plane’s fuselage.

sherlockholmesThat area of the plane promptly went into full search mode.  Led by the young woman and using our cellphone flashlights, we scoured the plane’s floor all the way back to the rear restrooms, looked under the seat cushions, and checked that the ring hadn’t gotten snagged on someone’s carry-on luggage.  Everyone in that section of the plane was cooperative and helpful during the search — which tells you that there are still a lot of nice people out there.  But after 15 minutes of fruitless searching, the ring was nowhere to be found.  The flight attendant said they would do a search after the plane landed and everyone had cleared out, and the young woman could fill out a form so that she would get the ring if it was found.

That was small consolation for the distraught and tearful young woman, however.  She explained that the ring that dropped was her sister’s wedding ring, and the young woman had been tasked with delivering the ring from a Columbus jeweler to her sister.  She was supposed to be the trusted messenger, and she was dreading the prospect of confessing to her sister that the ring was lost.

I wasn’t ready to give up, however.  “I don’t know if you’ve read any Sherlock Holmes,” I told her, “but in one of the original stories he explained that when you’re trying to solve a problem and you eliminate all of the possible outcomes, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the answer.  Since the ring isn’t on the floor of the plane or in the other places we’ve looked, I think it’s got to be somewhere in the slot between your armrest and the outer wall of the plane, — probably near a piece of metal since we heard a metallic sound when the ring dropped.  Let’s try again, just in that area.”

She looked dubious, but the logic of the suggestion seemed to persuade her.  She used her hand to grope around carefully in the nook, and sure enough the ring was there in the depths, next to an orphaned Lego piece.  She was overjoyed, and I was happy that I had helped her find her ring and avoid an unwelcome conversation with her sister.

“You know, you really should read the Sherlock Holmes stories,” I said.  “I will,” she promised.

The Lego piece can be retrieved through an inquiry to United Air Lines.

The Skincare Question

Recently Cosmopolitan interviewed Senator, and Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren.  Among many other questions that were asked, Cosmopolitan posed a question to the Senator from Massachusetts about . . . her “skincare routine.”  The exchange went like this:

Jessica Pels: You knew this was coming. What is your skincare routine?

Elizabeth Warren: Pond’s Moisturizer.

Elizabeth Warren: Every morning, every night. And I never wash my face.

Jessica Pels: Wow.

Elizabeth Warren: Nope, nope.

Jessica Pels: You’re one of those.

Elizabeth Warren: Yeah, I am.

Jessica Pels: That’s a very French thing.

2e9867e5-41c6-42ef-8e91-3ef0f7b23b73.jpg.w1920Weirdly, the Q&A on the Senator’s skincare habits has drawn as much attention as anything else in the interview, with some people expressing mystification at the fact that she evidently never washes her face.  I’m not really qualified to comment on somebody’s skincare routine, although I seem to remember seeing my mother and grandmothers dipping into a little jar of Pond’s cold cream now and then.

Apparently Cosmopolitan asks the skincare question to all of the candidates, male and female, and if you’re interested you can see the answers given so far here.  You’ll be stunned to learn that Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t do much in the skincare area.  (I would have thought he would need to apply a mild form of sandblasting to those leathery jowls, frankly.)  And Joe Biden hasn’t been quizzed on the skincare topic yet, so we don’t know whether, as I suspect, he regularly applies something to that porcelain visage to make sure that it doesn’t crack.

Seriously, though — do we need to ask political candidates these kinds of intrusive, personal questions?  I’m sure some would argue that it humanizes them, and I suppose the barrier was forever broken when some unduly curious person asked Bill Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs.  I, for one, don’t need to know about that, or skincare routines, or shaving techniques, or preferred deodorants.  I think we’d all be better off if we left a little respectful distance between ourselves and the everyday personal routines of the people seeking higher office.  Ask them about their positions, look into their backgrounds and public activities, and explore their voting records all you want — but can’t we leave a respectful zone of privacy in the skincare and personal hygiene areas?

When A Dental Appointment Goes Bad

Sometimes you read a news story that involves a routine, daily experience that somehow went bad, and you have to be thankful that it didn’t involve you.

dental_chair_umsodFew things are more routine than a trip to the dentist.  You go, sit in the chair, open your mouth, have people mess around with your teeth, and try to think of happier things that are far away until they are done.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s a part of everyday life to be endured in the interests of better overall health.

But what if your routine dental appointment went horribly wrong?  That’s what a lawsuit alleges happened as a dentist in Nevada worked on a five-year-old girl’s mouth. According to the lawsuit documents, the girl was put under anesthesia and the dentist began using a motorized tool to smooth her teeth.  The lawsuit claims that the tool allegedly emitted a spark that caused a “throat pack” in the girl’s mouth to catch fire for a second or two, causing the poor girl to suffer burns to her palate, tongue, mouth, and lips and require hospitalization.

I’ve always thought the only risks at the dentist’s office are a stern lecture from the dental hygienist about flossing and the possibility that the dentist might strike a nerve while drilling.  The possibility of experiencing a mouth fire never entered my mind.  Now that thought is there, and it will make it harder to go to that mental happy place the next time I sit in the dentist’s chair.  I’ll never look at a trip to the dentist in quite the same way again.

Countering The Cabal

One of the admirable things about modern science is its inherent skepticism.  Scientists are supposed to be constantly challenging accepted ideas, developing hypotheses, and designing experiments to try to disprove the hypotheses — all in the name of gathering data, advancing our knowledge and developing new ways to analyze or address problems.  Whether it is physics, or biology, or the treatment of disease, the “scientific method” has reliably produced enormous gains in our understanding and huge advances in numerous fields.

investigacic3b3n-cientc3adfica-pac38ds-vasco-1024x683-1But what if scientists stopped behaving as skeptical scientists?  What if, instead, scientists came to believe so deeply in a particular theory that they became zealous advocates for that theory — almost as if they were adherents to a religious belief, rather dispassionate, objective scientists?

That’s the sad story that this article tells about research into Alzheimer’s disease, which affects nearly 6 million Americans and one in 10 people 65 and older.  Unlike other areas of medical research where great strides have been made — think of the rapid developments in the treatment for HIV and AIDS, for example — research into Alzheimer’s disease has not produced much progress.  Some of that may be attributable to the fact that the human brain is complicated, but many observers now are saying the absence of significant gains is attributable, at least in part, to what they call “the cabal”:  a group of influential researchers and related individuals who believed so fervently in a particular theory about Alzheimer’s that they thwarted research into other approaches to the disease.

The particular theory is that a substance called beta-amyloid accumulates in the brain, creating neuron-killing clumps that cause Alzheimer’s.  It quickly became so accepted in the Alzheimer’s world that scientists, venture capitalists, scientific journals, and research funding entities wouldn’t support or publish work on alternative theories — even if that’s what the scientific method teaches.  One observer quoted in the article linked above said:  “Things shifted from a scientific inquiry into an almost religious belief system, where people stopped being skeptical or even questioning.”  That’s a pretty chilling indictment, because it’s directly contrary to what is actually supposed to happen.

Notwithstanding the impact of the claimed “cabal,” some alternatives hypotheses that appear to be promising have been developed, and some small trials of potential treatments have occurred.  Still, it’s clear that not much progress has been made in treating dementia over the past few decades, and many people now believe that the near-universal acceptance of the beta-amyloid theory is at least partly to blame.  It’s a disturbing, cautionary tale about the bad things that can happen when scientists stop acting like scientists.

My Friends And Family Resolution

I’ve thought a bit about what my New Year’s resolution for 2020 should be, and I’ve decided it really is pretty simple:  my resolution is to try to make it to the end of 2020 without irretrievably alienating any of my friends or family.

This may sound like an easy resolution to keep, but I don’t think it is — not really.  In fact, I think 2020 is going to be one of the toughest years, ever, to get through while keeping your coterie of friends, family, and colleagues intact.  That’s because, in this already absurdly super-heated political environment, we’re moving into a year where there will be a presidential campaign, a presidential election, and, apparently, an impeachment trial — all percolating at the same time.  Many of my friends and family members, of all political stripes, feel very passionately about each of those events in isolation.  When you put them all together you’ve got what is probably the most combustible combination of political events in American history.

One year that might be comparable is 1864, when a presidential election took place in the midst of a Civil War, when even the Union, alone, was bitterly divided.  But even 1864 might not really be a good comparator, because in those days the candidates and the country as a whole didn’t need to run a gauntlet of caucuses, primaries, debates, and 24-hour news coverage.  Unfortunately, we’ll be subjected to all of those things.

Our current circumstances have produced the kind of fervent environment where one ill-chosen word or ill-advised joke could damage feelings beyond repair, end a friendship that has endured for decades, or cause family members to vow never to talk to each other or interact again.  I don’t want that to happen.  I like and respect all of my family members and friends, and I’d like to end 2020 without experiencing any regrets that some stupid blog post, social media comment, or argument after a few adult beverages wrecked things.  So this year will be a year of walking on eggshells, with all things dealing with the presidential election off-limits for me.  Call me a wimp if you want.

This is my own, self-imposed pledge.  I’m not going to shush my friends or try to keep them from expressing their strongly held views in strongly phrased ways.  But as for me, I value my friends and family more than I value my need to engage in political debates.

 

Merry Market

If people seem merrier than normal this holiday season, here’s one potential reason for that:  the stock market.

846-06112288For all of its other issues, 2019 has been a banner year for the stock markets.  One recent estimate calculates that, worldwide, stock markets have gained more than $15 trillion in value this year, and the United States has led the way, with the major U.S. stock indexes all achieving double-digit gains.

That’s good news — very good news — for most Americans.  Although the stock market once was the province of the wealthy, the advent of 401(k) plans, mutual funds, and other investment devices have broadened the base of stock market investors.  According to one recent survey, more than half of all Americans own stock, either directly or through an ownership interest in a mutual fund, and that number is growing.  The increase in the number of investors obviously has helped to fuel the run-up in the markets — according to the law of supply and demand, increased demand means higher prices — but it also means that more Americans are enjoying the fruits of the strong market performance.  Whether it is retirees who are thrilled to watch their nest egg grow, or working people who are seeing their 401(k) investments making an earlier retirement a possibility, many people are now touched by the stock market — and when the markets go up, they’ve got a smile on their faces.

And it’s pretty clear, too, that a stock market surge runs in parallel with strong economic performance.  There’s a chicken-and-egg element to what causes what, but clearly growing stock portfolios make investors more optimistic and willing to spend — and their spending, in turn, helps to fuel job growth, better corporate performance, and better stock performance.  That may be part of the reason retail sales this year were very strong, with analysts estimating that Saturday’s sales set an all-time, single-day record.

Of course, markets go up, and markets go down, and a downturn is inevitable.  For now, though, many Americans are very much enjoying the stock market roller coaster ride.

Bigger Than A . . .

We’ve had our gift exchange, and a Russell has taken the cake — or more aptly, the bread — in the nostalgic present category. He found this vintage aluminum bread box that will fit perfectly on the counter of our kitchen in Maine, which has a decidedly retro look.

Bread boxes were once a staple of American homes — so much so that, if you were playing the Twenty Questions guessing game, one of the initial questions inevitably was, “is it bigger than a bread box?” In those days American kitchens often had more shine and chrome than American cars. But bread boxes vanished from American kitchens around 1980 or so. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one.

If you’ve never seen a bread box and wondered how big it was, now you know.