In Memory Of A Man I Never Met

by Curt Kovener
(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
This column for post Memorial Day weekend is being written from the woodland wilderness. Many of these meanderings are inspired here, but this one for this time seems particularly appropriate.
It seems we rarely have light rains anymore. When it falls, it falls in five-gallon bucketfuls. But the upside is that when the precipitation is over, it is truly peaceful to be listening to the creek babble below the back deck and the various woodland birds engaged in some competitive songfest. The woodland symphony is soothing to the soul.
I was fortunate and privileged to purchase this woodland retreat over two decades ago from the widow of Marvin Meyer, a man I never met but over the years have gotten to know.
Marvin was a building contractor who in the mid-1970s, while I was occupied with college classes, he carved out a lake site, built a home and outbuildings in the forested hills and valleys in the middle of Hoosier National Forest of northwest Jackson County.
Over the years and multiple remodeling projects, I have discovered how Marvin left his mark on the place. I suspect he was an independent and possibly cantankerous sort. Maybe that is why I feel some kindred spirit.
In renovating the bathroom, bedrooms and living room over the years, I have found some peculiarities of different wood and construction technique and would inquire not expecting an answer “What were you doing here, Marvin?”
I suspicion he was a bit of a tightwad as some framing and rafters showed signs of being used lumber recycled into his home. I suspect that much of this abode was built using leftover lumber from his other contractor building projects. But there is nothing wrong with being frugal as it is yet another reason I feel a connection with the builder.
Some years back while cleaning our some shelves left in the basement, I came across a note pad and a flat contractor’s pencil. Both were imprinted “Marvin Meyer – Building Contractor – Freetown, Indiana”. I have put them up for safekeeping and a historical memento of significance probably only to me. It was a gift offered up, I suppose much like the Native American arrowheads and spearpoints I have found at the woodland wilderness.
I’ve often marveled at Marvin’s sense of adventure and courage to clear then construct a half-mile driveway through the woods to build a house in the secluded, hilly acreage. Some of the base material used in the gravel drive was used brick from a building demolition. There’s our kindred reuse, recycle, tightwad attribute again.
While he undoubtedly spent quite a bit of time developing this place of solitude, he didn’t get to enjoy it.
I was told that he was putting the final touches on the home when he ran out of some finish nails. He straddled his motorcycle and made his way toward Seymour.
In a particularly hilly area of State Road 258, as a group of bicyclists pedaled west, a car pulled out to pass the group and right into the path of Marvin’s motorcycle. He was killed instantly.
Recently I did what I had long wanted to do: I sought out and found the woodland retreat’s constructor’s resting place.
The stone says simply: Marvin Meyer 1933-1977. As I stood at his grave, I introduced myself and added “though you probably already know me from some of my earlier conversations.”

Buying Local Means Advertising Too, Even In A Pandemic

by Curt Kovener
Irony: (n) a state of affairs or event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects.
Hypocrisy: (n) the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.
When is it irony and when is it hypocrisy? Those of us in local media want to know.
Take the plunge into internet social media, Facebook in particular, and you’re likely to encounter posts from area small businesses you know urging you to “shop locally.”
But here’s the thing: Facebook isn’t local.
It’s a gigantic corporation reaping billions of dollars in revenue by collecting individuals’ personal data and selling it to marketing companies. And when a local small business uses Facebook to advertise —because it’s “free” — it’s not shopping locally.
In fact, it is actively undermining other local small businesses like the newspaper you are reading. We are not a part of a chain, we are not owned by some out-of-state corporation. We are a vintage smalltown Mom & Pop business. We are local. Unlike other area media, we practice what we preach. You won’t find us on Facebook. You can read some of our weekly news at
Advertising “shop local” on Facebook is akin to flocks of chickens supporting Colonel Sanders or Hobby Lobby encouraging us to “Buy American” (for the uninitiated, Hobby Lobby gets the vast majority of the crafts and trinkets they sell from China…a Communist country to those “Patriotic Americans” reading).
The fundamental fallacy of using social media like Facebook for advertising is the notion that it is “free.”
It is not. It’s just that the transaction doesn’t involve dollars and cents.
It involves data and algorithms and personal information that can be mined and mined and mined. The real costs are hidden, but they are there and they are indeed real.
We would also argue that —an incredibly rich media environment—social media only deliver one tiny piece of the pie.
In the larger context of the internet, cable TV, land-based and satellite radio, and scores of print products, it’s just one sliver.
And, again, it’s not local.
Want to support local businesses? We do too. And we want you to, as well.
But the only way to do that —free of irony or hypocrisy— is to include local media in your support as well. Look through the pages of this newspaper and you will see the local business that truly support a “shop local” philosophy with their advertising dollars. Maybe you don’t have a local business. You can still “shop local” by subscribing.
A small business advertising its services on the mega-corporation Facebook and encouraging you to “shop local”: Is it irony or hypocrisy? You decide.
(Smalltown local newspaperman Jack Ronald contributed to this column)

It’s Like A Brushfire

by Curt Kovener

Back in the day…better make that WAY back in the day when I was a first responder on the volunteer fire department, we would get called out to put of grass fires, field fires and woods fires. And there were times that, using what was tantamount to a mudflap on a shovel handle to smother flames, when turning around the fire that we thought was out was flaming again and racing across the ground. Residual embers rekindled the fire.
An infectious diseases expert at Baylor College of Medicine said that the same can be said for COVID-19, and we need to do everything that we can to prevent a rekindling of the disease.
“We don’t know what it will look like after this initial wave,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, professor of infectious diseases at Baylor. “We don’t know whether one or more subsequent waves will occur and cause additional or annual epidemics. We don’t yet know what the pattern will be.”
The goal of flattening the curve by quarantining and social distancing is to decrease the rate at which people are infected so that the healthcare system can manage the number of cases. However, flattening the curve doesn’t necessarily mean that we can decrease the total number of people who are ultimately infected.
After flattening the curve, those of us who are at risk for getting COVID-19 will still have the same risk of getting the disease. Flattening the curve will not impact the disease severity.
So it’s important to not get in a hurry about opening up the economy. Social distancing measures need to stay in place even after South Central Indiana hits its Coronavirus peak, predicted for sometime in May, in order to keep the curve flat.
And it may take several attempts at keeping the curve flat. One advantage of flattening the curve multiple times is that it will give the medical experts time to development a treatment and a vaccine to prevent Coronavirus.
Atmar said he hopes for a vaccine or treatment by the time a second or third wave occurs, but currently there are no proven effective treatments. Please read that again…a second or third wave and currently no effective treatments!
The more we learn about the virus as time goes on, the measures that we need to take to prevent and treat it will be better refined. If ‘normal’ activities resume too quickly, there is a danger that the virus could begin spreading again, he said. “Just like a brush fire.”
“Social distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene are the only measures available to protect us from infection until we have a vaccine,” Atmar said. “The key is that it’s not going to be business as usual once we get past the hump.”
An analogy most southern Hoosiers will understand: this disease is not like a windstorm or snowstorm that once it is over we can all go out, clear the tree limbs or shovel the sidewalk and get back to normal life. It is like a brush fire that could reignite again and burn us.

No Foolin’ (Or Maybe Not)

by Curt Kovener

The Times has been in print for 40 years and we can easily count on one hand the number of times the Times was published on April Fools Day.
There’s no question that April Fools’ Day is one of the most widely recognized non-religious holidays in the Western world. Children prank parents, coworkers prank coworkers, and national news outlets still prank their readers.
How did April Fools’ Day begin, and how did it become an international phenomenon? The totally-legit, not-pulling-your-leg answer to the origin of April Fools’ Day is: Nobody really knows.
April Fools’ Day is apparently an ancient enough tradition that the earliest recorded mentions, like the following excerpt from a 1708 letter to Britain’s Apollo magazine, ask the same question we do: “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?”
One likely predecessor to the origin of April Fools day is the Roman tradition of Hilaria (the cheerful ones), a spring festival which included games, processions, and masquerades, during which disguised commoners could imitate nobility to devious ends.
It’s hard to say whether this ancient revelry’s similarities to modern April Fools’ Day are legit or coincidence, as the first recorded mentions of the holiday didn’t appear until several hundred years later. The first mention of April Fools’ Day in Britain comes in 1686 when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fooles holy day.”
Some of the greatest pranks of somewhat modern time were:
On April 1, 1835 the New York Sun prints a hoax that astronomers have discovered life on the moon and the US was gripped in fear of moon men.
On April 1, 1957 a BBC news show depicts the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest with farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from trees. The network was deluged with callers asking where they can buy a spaghetti tree.
April 1, 1978 the residents of Sydney Australia gawk at an iceberg floating in Sydney Harbor. Prankster Dick Smith claimed he towed it from Antarctia and the Australian Navy offers to help moor it. Eventually everyone realizes that it is just a barge Smith covered in white plastic and firefighting foam.
April 1, 1980: The BBC (again, those rascals) broadcast that the four clock faces of the iconic Big Ben will be switched to digital and its clock hands will be given away to the first eight callers. Many listeners were shocked and angry and called Members of Parliment to protest. But thousands of others called to get their free clock hand from Big Ben.
On April 1, 1997, a widely circulated email claimed the chemical compound DHMO is colorless, odorless and kills thousands of people each year by accidental inhalation. The email called for its ban from production claiming that it is now found in lakes, streams and rivers and is a major component of acid rain. Tens of thousands of internet believers became panic stricken until DHMO was revealed to be water.
Though it didn’t occur on April 1 and was not intended as a joke, on Oct. 30, 1938, the day before Halloween, an Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of ‘War of the Worlds’ was so real that it convinced millions of listeners that the earth was under attack by aliens from another planet.
No foolin’!

Are We Now Paying For Those ‘Cut Government Spending’ Candidates We Elected?

by Curt Kovener

Did you vote for candidates who wanted to cut government spending? Put government on a business basis? Eliminate government regulations? Get government off the backs of business and out of our private lives?

So now how does it feel to travel 100 or more years back in public health history? Maybe now we realize (and way too late) that government funding of inspections, regulation and oversight as it applies to public health is a wise investment in “We, the People.”

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic takes us back. It transports us to a time when there were no available antibiotics, virtually no vaccinations and limited medical-care interventions compared to what exist today.

The leaders we elected to the White House, the Statehouse and the Courthouse weren’t paying attention until the wolf was at our door or perhaps; the Huns were at the gate.

So now, this public health approach of a century ago is also all we can employ to contain the coronavirus, a virus without a specific antiviral medication to treat it or a vaccination to prevent it.

COVID-19 is 10 times more lethal than influenza and is now on every continent except Antarctica. Compared with the MERS and SARS coronaviruses, this coronavirus will probably be much more difficult to control.

Despite the new inconveniences of our now everyday life of social distancing, public health officials expect that we have not seen the worst of this pandemic and many more cases and deaths will follow. Although, so far, relatively few cases have been identified in Indiana, it is anticipated that intensification will occur as a result of person-to-person contact that may have happened before we all sequestered ourselves.

A long incubation period of up to 14 or more days, spread of infection from asymptomatic infected individuals and a high mortality rate make this virus especially worrisome.

Possible effective antiviral medications are being explored but will take a year or more to develop.

This current health threat should be a reminder of the value of our elected leaders supporting public health on the federal, state and local levels. The very success of public health— the absence of diseases that once routinely killed healthy people— has rendered public health interventions invisible and taken for granted by the public and government. These interventions involve advancements in sanitation, housing, food protection, nutrition, clean water, pure food and drug legislation, antibiotics and vaccination.

Historically, we have woefully underfunded federal, state and local health departments. The Trump administration earlier in his term reduced Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding. Indiana ranks 49th in public health funding with the Indiana State Department of Health spread thin and most county health departments, including Scott and Jackson Counties, lacking adequate infrastructure and personnel.

Indiana and most states will need significant federal assistance and leadership. The Trump administration has provided a delayed and less-than-adequate federal response with President Trump busy politicizing what should be a bipartisan effort. We can only hope that Vice President Mike Pence, the former Hoosier Governor not highly enlightened nor historically proactive in public health matters but now in charge of the federal government’s coronavirus response, will leave the decision making to federal public health experts.

Now that citizens are showing infection, businesses closed, and the stock market has plummeted to the levels since before Trump was elected by vowing to Make America Great Again, the federal government (which is already trillions in debt) is busy throwing money at a problem that could have been decreased with adequate pre- emptive funding for research and tests.

What we are experiencing and how we now must live is why funding public health is so important.

And what about those anti- vaccine advocates among us? Will they refuse a COVID-19 immunization when available for them and their children and then continue spreading the disease among the rest of us?

(Dr. Richard Feldman, an Indianapolis family physician and a former Indiana State Health commissioner, contributed to this column.)

When COVID-19 Comes To Our Community

by Curt Kovener

We like to scare each other. Whether from the pulpit or the politician, conjuring up the boogieman is what they often do to encourage us to follow their way.
Currently we have some pretty bad stuff heading to us and the pulpiteers and especially the politicos are doing their best to be reassuring about the COVID-19 form of Coronavirus when they really don’t know much about it.
This is a new virus for which no treatment or vaccine to prevent exists. It has been likened to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions. (There’s some more that that boogieman we like to forecast.) But, remember, a hundred years ago there were none of the vaccines and treatments we now take for granted today.
When it comes to disease, my thinking is that we should ignore the pontificating preachers and pandering politicians and pay attention to the people in the medical field who know the science.
As of this writing on Friday the 13th (hmm…didn’t mean to scare you with that) no Coronavirus cases have been reported in Jackson and Scott County or anywhere else in southern Indiana. But it is in Central Indiana and northern Kentucky, so it is only a matter of time until it visits our community.
What should you do to prepare? First, DON’T go buy cases of toilet paper. This virus doesn’t cause diarrhea. It is a respiratory virus.
If you have a fever, cough and shortness of breath, first call your medical provider and let them know of your symptoms. Then follow their instructions. Do not go to the hospital ER or doctor unannounced and spread your disease within your community.
And remember what our mothers told us when we were grubby little kids: “Wash your hands!” And with soap and water and for 20 seconds. Sing ‘Happy Birthday” to yourself (even though it might not be) two times and that should be sufficient.
Carry a hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse for those times in-between hand washing. And after you open a door or handle money (there is a reason it is called filthy lucre).
If you can push a door open, use your elbow or shoulder. To pull a door open use your little finger and look for dirt and wear patterns on the handle and pull it where everyone else is not. Then use sanitizer.
Staying away from crowds helps to prevent the spread of the disease. But if you did go to church or went out to eat, maybe showing some self-restraint and self-quarantining would be for the better good of our community. But after that weekend crowd gathering experience, if you start coughing, feeling feverish and have some trouble breathing, please refer to the instructions above in paragraph 7.
While we are told by medical professional not to touch our mouth, nose or eyes, when I think of that guidance, one of those facial parts itches or tickles.
Here in the wilderness, Becky and I can easily self-quarantine. Though, when you live in the forest with molds, pollens and dust there are constant allergies. And sometimes we make ourselves paranoid with a runny nose or a dry cough.
Since we both work, we do have to leave our quarantine occasionally. So if we meet, please do not be offended if I keep my distance from you or don’t shake your hand opting for a fist or elbow bump. And take no umbrage if during or immediately after our conversation I bring out the hand sanitizer. I’m not calling you a leper or unclean, I am just following the scientific medical community’s recommendations.
Just like the worries over Y2K in 1999, polio, measles, H1N1 flu virus, SARS, MERSA, and Ebola scares, it’ll all be OK.
Remember the universal truth: This, too, shall pass.
But in the meantime, wash your hands, use sanitizer, and avoid crowds. Stay healthy.