Where Are the Thin Mints?

Did you miss your annual splurge of Thin Mints this year? Were you not accosted by cute little girls in Girl Scout uniforms as you entered your neighborhood grocery store? You’ve been working from home so no colleague of yours had a sign-up sheet to order cookies from a daughter’s Girl Scout troop?

The Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on the Girl Scouts. Membership in the venerable organization is down. In 2021, Girl Scouts of USA projected reduced sales. Even so, orders from the local councils were overly optimistic. The cookie season finished with 15 million unsold boxes.

For more than a century local Girl Scout troops have funded programs, travel, camps and other activities with their yearly cookie sale. The annual promotion typically sells 200 million boxes, bringing in $800 million.

For safety, there was very little person-to-person selling this year. Local scout councils tried taking orders on-line, drive-thru sales, even partnering with GrubHub.

As if the fear of Covid were not enough, in some areas cookie sales suffered from boycotts of products made with palm oil. News stories had linked palm oil with child labor.

Girl Scouts of USA is working with their two cookie bakers to sell or donate excess cookies to food banks, the military or prisons.

They are hopeful for a better season next year. ”Girl Scout cookie season isn’t just when you get to buy cookies,” said one leader. “It’s interacting with the girls. It’s Americana.”

RIP Medical Debt

The number one driver of bankruptcies in the United States is the country’s dysfunctional health care system. Medical expenses cause 62% of bankruptcies in the U.S., a statistic unfathomable to residents of other first-world countries. Per capita medical cost in the U.S. was $11,172 in 2018. That’s 17.7% of Gross Domestic Product.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26% of Americans aged eighteen through sixty-four have difficulty with medical bills, more than half of whom have medical insurance. (Medicare kicks in at age sixty-five.)

Hospitals and other medical providers typically sell their unpaid bills to collection agencies after ninety to a hundred-eighty days. Collection agencies pay pennies on the dollar for the right to collect the full amount of unpaid bills.
Enter RIP Medical Debt. Founded in 2014 by two veteran debt collectors, RIP buys debt portfolios from collection agencies and wipes out the indebtedness at no cost to the indebted. So far they have erased more than $4.5 billion of medical bills for more than 2.5 million individuals and families.

RIP Medical Debt recently purchased unpaid medical bills for the first time directly from a health care provider. Ballad Heath, a network of hospitals in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina, sold $278 million of unpaid bills to RIP. Terms were not announced, but presumably the deal was more advantageous to RIP Medical Debt than with a collection agency in the middle. More than 80,000 low-income patients will have their outstanding bills, some as old as ten years, wiped out.

RIP Medical Debt is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization and states that contributions to them are tax deductible. You can make a donation on their web site.

Weather and Climate and Space Lasers

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q – Georgia) postulated that Jewish bankers Rothschild, Inc. connived with Pacific Gas & Electric to shoot lasers from space, thus igniting the apocalyptic wildfires to clear space for California’s high-speed rail project. While Rep. Greene’s inanities were garnering headlines, real scientists confirmed that space hurricanes are a real thing.

Scientists had previously warned about the likelihood of space hurricanes, and their potential to wreak havoc on satellites. Now a real space hurricane has been documented. Researchers took satellite images from August 20, 2014 and used 3D imaging to recreate how the hurricane formed and behaved. A 600-mile-wide torrent of plasma had hovered in the Earth’s upper atmosphere over the North Pole. The storm spun counterclockwise for about eight hours, generating spiral-shaped arms, spewing electrons instead of water, before it finally dissipated.

Scientists conjecture that space hurricanes are caused by an “unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.” Researchers studying these phenomena say the resulting storms are not uncommon and should be monitored in real time, not six years after the fact. They foresee increasing interference with satellites, disrupting GPS and other communications.

Meanwhile, here on earth, scientists have been measuring the Gulf Stream, known formally as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), since 2004. The Gulf Stream’s powerful ocean current brings warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, past the east coast of the United States, and on to western Europe, altering the climate along its way. It even affects the weather on the western coast of Africa. The current keeps temperatures in these areas warmer during the winter months and helps to cool and regulate heat during the summer.

Using “proxy data” (everything from ships’ logs, to records of ice cores, ocean sediments, and corals collected over time) they can reconstruct the behaviors of the stream back as far as the year 400.

A new study tells us the Gulf Stream is rapidly weakening. It’s now the weakest it’s been in a thousand years.

The reason? Yep, you guessed it: human-caused climate change. Researchers say before the year 2100, melting ice floes will weaken the current and likely will result in rapidly rising sea levels on the U.S. east coast and more intense weather events in Europe, as in increasingly extreme heat waves, and a decrease in summer rainfall.

So here’s another something to worry about. You’re welcome.

Dolly Fights the Pandemic

Dolly Parton is a country-music superstar and living legend. She is also widely regarded as a generous and all-around nice person. She made the news briefly in April last year for her $1 million contribution to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s COVID-19 research work. She also encouraged her fans who could afford it to donate to the Vanderbilt project.

A few months later she learned that some of the donated money went to fund development of the Moderna vaccine. Her name had appeared with other sponsors in a preliminary report on the vaccine. “I just felt so proud to have been part of that little seed money that will hopefully grow into something great and help to heal this world,” she said.

Dolly Parton received her Moderna vaccine a few days ago. She appeared appropriately stylish in a dress open at the shoulder as if designed to make the injection easier.

Writer and humorist Roy Blount Jr (not to be confused with Republican Senator Roy Blunt) once said of the singer/songwriter’s performances, that “Dolly Parton makes me want to stand on my chair and wave my hat.”

Nap Time

In my college days, decades ago, I was a regular napper. Usually in the afternoon, before dinnertime. Or if there was a break after an early-morning class following late-night socializing. My sleep patterns were more irregular and bed time—often after midnight—was generally later than now. The only consistency was sleeping until late on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

It’s good to learn that my erratic sleep habits, well, the afternoon nap anyway, were beneficial to good health. Recent research concludes that a regular afternoon nap helps mental agility, memory and verbal fluency in adults.

  • Studies show that a “power nap” of ten-to-twenty minutes is the most beneficial. This provides restorative sleep without drowsiness after waking.
  • Nap early in the afternoon. A late nap may be counterproductive, affecting your ability to sleep during the night.
  • Try to let go of stressful thoughts. Instead, reflect on why you’re napping.

Keep in mind that all these good things result from an afternoon refresher snooze of twenty minutes or so. Napping for an hour or more will likely leave one groggy for a while after awakening. So set your alarm if you need to.

Coping with sheltering-at-home or quarantine by trying to sleep the day away likely makes things worse and may result in difficulty sleeping at night. Long naps have been linked to increased susceptibilities to diabetes, heart disease and depression in older adults.

As with many things, a little is good; a lot, not so good.

View from/to Alcatraz

The first operating lighthouse on the U.S. West Coast was on Alcatraz Island. Isolated in San Francisco Bay, the storied Alcatraz is better known as the site of the infamous prison. It was a federal maximum-security facility for only twenty-nine years, from 1934 until 1963. For a century before, it had been various iterations of military fortifications and military prisons.

As a federal prison, Alcatraz was designed to hold troublemakers from other federal prisons. It became home to notorious bank robbers and murderers, including Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Rafael Cancel Miranda, who led the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party’s armed attack on the United States Capitol building in 1954, also spent time at Alcatraz.

The panoramic view of the close-by city of San Francisco is said to have intensified the misery of being incarcerated in Alcratraz Prison. “Baghdad by the Bay” sits only a mile-and-a-half away but is an unobtainable swim through cold, swirling currents.During its time as a federal prison, Alcatraz claimed there had been no successful escapes. Thirty-six men tried in fourteen escape attempts. Twenty-three were caught; six were shot and killed; two drowned; five were listed as “missing and presumed drowned.”

In normal current times, Alcatraz is a popular tourist site, managed by the National Park Service. In these COVID lockdown days, one can intuit the reverse of a penitentiary inmate. Sheltering in place in San Francisco, you can see Alcatraz, but you can’t get there.

As this is being written, zillow.com lists twenty homes for sale with views of Alcatraz Island. Asking prices range from $1.225 million (839 sq ft condo) to $25 million (7,000 sq ft house).

(Thanks to Mi Ae Lipe for the inspiration.)