Jackie attended the annual Illinois Master Naturalist’s conference last week, and came away with any number of interesting tidbits, but one in particular stuck with me: Forest bathing is like ergonomics.

Both Jackie and I have had our understanding of ergonomics informed by Katy Bowman, who points out:

Modern ergonomics is not the scientific pursuit of what is best for the human body, but the scientific pursuit of how the human body can be positioned (in one position, for eight or more hours at a time) for the purpose of returning to work the next day, and then the next and the next and the next.

Don’t Just Sit There by Katy Bowman; excerpt.

What Jackie learned at her conference was that the Japanese concept of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) has roots in the same idea. When Japanese salarymen started dying from overwork, a lack of exposure to nature was put forward as a partial explanation.

If the problem is a lack of exposure to nature, then immersing yourself in nature is an obvious solution. But, of course, actually immersing yourself in nature would take too much time out of the workday. Hence the research into forest bathing is all about finding the minimum effective dose. There is little or no research into figuring out the optimum time for humans to spend in nature.

Keep that in mind when you read yet another article about how just looking at a forest scene for 20 minutes reduces salivary cortisol 13.4%, or walking in the woods for just 40 minutes improves mood and boosts feelings of health and robustness.

I’m not so much interested in the answer to the question, “What’s the least number of minutes I can spend in nature and not die early from overwork?”

I’m more interested in questions like:

  • If I go for a walk in the prairie, is that as good as going for a walk in the woods? Do I get added benefits if I divide my time between them?
  • Is doing my workout under a tree in a nicely mowed lawn as good as doing it in the woods?
  • Is running past a cornfield or soybean field nearly as good as running down a forest path? How about running past a row of osage orange trees? A suburban lawn? Between two suburban lawns on the other sides of 6-foot privacy fences?
  • If I can’t get to an actual natural area, how should I choose among possibilities like a park, an arboretum, a formal garden, a managed forest, or an unmanaged thicket? How do various water features (lake, stream, creek, natural pond, detention pond, drainage ditch, etc.) affect the benefits?
  • Is just sitting on a concrete patio outdoors better than sitting indoors?

I have my own tentative answers to many of these questions, but very little data.

On one of my top-two issues when it comes to means-testing benefits, @interfluidity gets it just right:

“Requiring demonstration of inadequate means up-front, rather than on the back-end, creates at best a delay between when a shock is experienced and when it can be ameliorated. “Delay” can mean your kid skips meals, you start rationing your insulin, or your family is evicted from its home. It’s a big deal.”

Lawless acts in violation of international norms will end up harming our country. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-08-16/the-u-s-brings-state-sponsored-piracy-into-the-21st-century

“the concept has altered little in 440 years — we still have one of the world’s preeminent naval powers passing its own laws allowing it to seize treasure from its enemies in the ocean.”

The Innocent Pleasure of Trespassing: a delightful essay by Nick Slater.

“Trespassing is an act of resistance against this slow strangulation of our living spaces. Human beings should be free to wander where they please—indeed, for much of our history, this has been taken for granted. Nomadic and semi-nomadic civilizations like the Plains Indians or the Turkic tribes of the Eurasian steppe weren’t the only ones to prize freedom of movement; those who insist such a concept is incompatible with the property-loving values of Western civilization may be interested to know that ‘the right to roam’ has been ingrained in the cultures of many Northern and Central European countries for centuries.”

This article makes a good point:

“Ultimately, we the public will decide when the economy reopens, not the government.”

If people decide not to fly, not to stay in hotels, not to eat at restaurants, and to wait and see how things work out before making major purchases, it doesn’t matter if the “stay-at-home” orders are lifted or not.

Source: It’s Ugly Out There | Tim Duy’s Fed Watch

I have written my congressman:

Dear Congressman Davis:

I am writing to urge you to support the United States Postal Service—both in general, and on an emergency basis.

The internet, email, and courier services all have their place, but the U.S. mail remains a critical service. It is used by many businesses and many individuals. Services only available from the post office (such as dated postmarks, and the presumption that something mailed has been delivered) are embedded into laws and common practices beyond counting.

On an emergency basis, the post office needs financial support similar to any business hard-hit by the pandemic.

On a longer-term basis, the post office needs relief from the onerous pension pre-funding rules imposed in 2006. (Or, if those rules are really a good idea, perhaps they should be extended to all businesses, and all local, state, and federal pensions.)

I remind you that the establishment of post offices is one of Congress’s enumerated powers, and urge you to work within Congress to ensure that the post office is preserved. Please let me know about the efforts you’re making.

Yours sincerely,

Philip M. Brewer

I wrote the letter, printed it out on paper, signed it, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it, and dropped it in the outgoing mail. (I used t-rex stamps, which are really too good for Congressmen Davis, but I was trying to make a point.)

It’s a little hard for me to settle on a start date for my personal social distancing. The formal stay-at-home order from the governor didn’t go into effect until March 21st, but the last thing I did that was really inconstant with proper distancing was on March 12th when I attended an aikido class (you really can’t remain distant and practice aikido). So, I’m calling it a month-ish of distancing.

I think of myself as semi-retired (because I am still writing and was still teaching my taiji class), but as a practical matter, I’m really actually retired. I’ve been drawing my pension for something like 5 years now, and Jackie has started drawing her social security.

So our financial circumstances as far as income goes are pretty much just as they were. (It may be that I won’t get paid for the last session of teaching taiji, since I only taught two of the planned eight weeks, but the actual dollar amount in question is pretty small.)

I assume my stock investments got crushed in the early reaction to the pandemic and have since recovered some, but to be honest I’ve not paid much attention. I had lightened up on stocks a couple of times in the past couple of years, and am pretty comfortable with my asset allocation. (I actually checked with Wise Bread to see if they wanted me to pitch them an article on “Investing in Plague Time,” but they said they’d completely shut down commissioning articles due to how the pandemic was hitting their income. I’ll recast the article as a blog post and put it up here pretty soon.)

As far as spending goes, we’re spending quite a bit less. We’re still trying to support local businesses—we’ve been buying groceries during geezer hour at Schnucks, and we restocked our liquor cabinet at Friar Tuck’s, taking advantage of their curb-side pickup scheme—but I’ve stuck to my new policy of only buying prepared food or drinks from businesses that provide paid sick time to everyone who might come into contact with my food, and so far I haven’t heard of any local restaurants or bars that do that. (If you know of any, let me know!) The upshot is that 100% of the food we’ve eaten this month has been prepared by Jackie or by me, which means it’s been both delicious and healthy.

I don’t have many pictures of the great dishes that Jackie has cooked—most recently khema made with grass-fed beef and served with chapatis—and it seems that I failed to get a picture of the lingcod seasoned after the fashion of Kerala roadside chicken (garlic, ginger, fennel, garam masala, turmeric) that I fried in coconut oil in my big cast iron skillet. However, here’s a few recent dishes:

Besides all the great food, we’re also enjoying (perhaps a little too much) our daily cocktail hour—often on-line with my brother and our mom. The folks I meet for coffee on Tuesday morning have been keeping things going by doing that on-line as well.

I’ve been very pleased with my success at maintaining my workout regimen, despite the closure of the fitness room. I’ve been making use of my kettlebell and my jump rope. I’ve been getting my runs in. I’ve been using my new gymnastic rings:

I do my workouts outdoors to the greatest extent possible—runs around the neighborhood, setting the rings up in Winfield Village’s basketball court, jumping rope and swinging the kettlebell in our little patio. Our neighbors all seem to be pretty good about respecting proper distancing practices, so it’s working okay so far.

While I’m on the subject of exercise, I wanted to mention in passing this hilarious tweet:

Just to say that, although getting ripped is perhaps not in the cards, I’m having a great time making the attempt.

Finally, I’m meaning to get back to getting some writing done, and to that end I spent all morning tidying up my desk:

At this moment (a couple of hours later), it is still just about that tidy, and I’ve used it to write this blog post. This afternoon I’ll use it to write a letter to my congressman and senators, urging them to support the post office. And then, I’ll see if I can’t get to work on some fiction.