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Kartik Thoughts

Blessed on Sunday

One million Americans will no longer share this world with their families. Untold millions face the prospect of abject poverty and starvations. Anxious parents scour store shelves in search of formula while others dread the prospects of shrinking savings in the face of raging inflation. The stock market sinks faster than gravity around a neutron star and turmoil in cryptocurrency destroys the finances of the far right and the tech left alike. Political disengagement rages like a wildfire, as political opportunists from all sides sharpen their knives, preparing to feast on the remnants of the American body-politic, destroyed by the political firestorm that has characterized this new millennium. We are older, and sicker. Safe access to food and water is vanishing. Our weather turns enemy while the skies fill with meteors and sun-bursts. Scientists say a black hole of immense incalculable size that sucks matter into its event horizon, defines our galaxy. Each day brings to light new evidence of our social and religious shelters preying on the most vulnerable as they search for succor from a ravenous predatory world around them.

Are these end times?

Isn’t it all dark?

Where is Hope?

Where is God? Have we been forsaken?

Is the only way Down?

On this cloudy Sunday, named for a sun scrabbling for grip behind the pall of clouds that shroud the firmament, I say that I am Blessed.

I say to you that while there is immense sorrow, sadness and cruelty in a dark dark world, the truth is that darkness and light are defined of each other. As are happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty, charity and inhumanity.

We cannot choose the world we live in, the families we are born to, the people we are innately or even the weather. The only choice is whether we accept these as a curse or a blessing.

This Blessed day, as I cruise down an expressway in the car of my dreams, married to the woman of my dreams, listening to music with the wind in my hair, I realize that I can choose to suffer the slings and arrows of cruel fortune or revel in them.

Acutely aware of the evanescence of these material things, I know that all of these things that bring me joy in THIS moment will not be there, but I am blessed to have had THIS moment and I celebrate it. Tomorrow may bring poverty, sadness, loss and loneliness, but today and now will leave me a memory of joy that cannot be diluted or changed by a tragedy that lurks in the future.

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Cars Kartik Thoughts

Buying a car online. And some stock advice: short Vroom.

Our lives have moved online at a pace in excess of any prior change in human history. 5 years ago, the concept of buying a used car sight unseen, using an online broker would have seemed extraordinary. Companies like Carvana and Carmax are working to change that. So, is it worth the hype and will it work? Read on to find out.

I’ve owned a variety of new and pre-owned cars over the years. Mostly purchased in person, I did buy a 1968 Porsche 912 sight unseen completely online from a dealer in Georgia. That it was an old race-car driver and a person who communicated with me through the whole process, made it a breeze. I subsequently traded that car in for a tidy profit after a few years and never regretted that purchase. Every other vehicle my family has owned has been one where we’ve kicked the tires and spent a day being cosseted at a dealership. With no regrets.

Did we always get the best price? Probably not. Did someone profit at my expense? Probably. Was the buying experience something that was worth it to me? Yes.

Which brings me to this review.

As all saplings must grow into trees, our kids are now reaching the age where they need to learn how to drive. None of our present cars, from my wife’s vast SUV (a vehicle so massive that it has it’s own ZIP code), to either of my more sporty rides, served as a suitable vessel for driving lessons. Which would mean that we would have to buy a cheaper vehicle. In this market. Oh joy!

The first thing to do was to figure out what we wanted. We’ve always worried that having a flashy expensive looking car is not what we wanted our kids to grow up into. Something safe. Something robust, reliable and reasonable but yet not necessarily a beater. As it turns out our unanimous choice was the VW Tiguan. Especially the first generation model with AWD. Another secret that I was aware of was that the 2018 and 2019 model years came with a 72 month 72000 mile bumper to bumper warranty (Thanks, Dieselgate).

We did look at some cars with local dealers but between prices and variable reactions of family members finding the right car was difficult. FWIW, searching on online sites, we found a 2018 single owner AWD lease return from OH, with <40,000 miles on VROOM. Assuming that Vroom was similar to Carvana and other online systems, I went ahead. What was better was the car was just at or around the 20,000 mark that we had set to spend on this purchase.

Buying the car on Vroom was not difficult but the website is very clunky. One thing to remember, is there is a non-refundable $249 deposit on any car you start the purchase process for. As we were not financing the car, we completed the payment process through our bank. Again, not totally smooth, but acceptable.

The problem is once you complete the purchase, there is no way to figure out what the next steps are. Although the site says delivery within 14 days, there is very little communication. Whether cash down or financed, it is very disconcerting to have a situation where all you can do is refresh the site and see purchase pending with no real shipping updates. What is worse is that both the online chat and the telephone system is absolutely awful. The presence of a “local hub” in our city did nothing to assuage the situation, as the hapless souls manning the “local hub”, had even less information or updates to the situation.

The car arrived 17 business days after the money was transferred in full to the company. The car did have a temporary registration. Although the cars are reportedly “fully inspected” by Vroom, there is no information as to what was inspected and what is actually the status of things like tires, oil, etc that I would have got from a regular car dealer. Other buyers who had reviewed Vroom had suggest getting a quick mechanic inspection before the 7-day return period. Which I did. And there were some mechanical issues. The car itself was clean from the outside, but the interior was clearly suboptimal. A dealer would never have sold the car in that state. Not even Jalopies-r-us. Also, on that 7-day return period, it is a joke. If you can’t get a hold of customer service to speak to a person on a delivery or status update, a return authorization is likely impossible. For all these reasons I was also glad that I did not go with Vroom Protect, their recommended warranty.

Other people who have dealt with Vroom have reported inordinate delays in receiving title documentation and I am pleased to report that my title documentation got to me well within their specifications.

Mechanically, the car had a front suspension issue. Since I knew beforehand that this car was still on the factory warranty, I managed to get this fixed at no cost to me. The car is perfect for what I wanted it for. I just got back from an ice and snow event that has St. Louis somewhat paralyzed, and it did just fine.

So. The car is exactly what I wanted, at the price I wanted.

Why then, am I being cranky?

I hate to say it, but we’ve been spoiled by the personal touch of being overcharged by dealers as well as the superior service provided by online retailers in other aspects of our lives, including other big-ticket items.

Simply put, Vroom is a Texas based regular used-car dealer who has an online purchase portal. They lack the sophistication or the organization to provide the same slick speed and ease-of-use that an Amazon or an Apple based transaction does. They lack the glam gimmickry of a Car Vending machine and a giant coin. They make car buying dull, drab and dreary. I managed to score the perfect car for what I wanted, but I would think many times over, if I had to go to Vroom again. Maybe even going to ANY online car retailer.

So, is online car buying a thing we should incorporate into our digital lives. Maybe. Just not with Vroom.

Which brings me to my stock tip. (Quick caveat, I have no experience with stocks and shares, but logic dictates that a company with no fundamentals and no USP with multiple competitors with better UIs should not do well). Recent trends have indicated traders pushing stock like Vroom that have taken a deserved beating due to their awful sales experience (see their delisting from the BBB due to multiple complaints). The logic has been that online vehicle purchases will go up and rising waters raise all boats. Sadly, the iceberg has hit the Titanic and I see no future for this enterprise. To sell, the customer has to enjoy the experience. If your experience is a cringe, unless you make disaster movies, your stock price is likely going to be akin to a gold mining experience.And probably need to go really deep.

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Kartik Thoughts

On letting go…

The human condition is predicated on a desire for maintaining individual existence. This means that our minds design a construct for self-preservation, contingent on the concept that we matter. It is essential for a being to believe in that they matter, for otherwise, why bother to try to protect yourself. Why not just get eaten by that really big cat with long saber-like teeth? From these ancient precepts, our minds have refined these primeval reflexes into far more intricate constructs.

While these saber-toothed adversaries are conquered by the vagaries of a brutal world, the only way humans have survived from our forebears as a small scattered wandering tribal population to a teeming, seething mass that occupies a planet (and then some) is by a deeply entrenched belief that: “I” matter. That “my” work matters. That these actions are “mine” and “I” deserve credit. The wise may differ, but wiring the humans this way, has helped power them as the Universe’s tools to fashion the present as it is.

These are the definition of the human condition. The reasons for celebration in success and the basis for sorrow during loss. Emotions that mean nothing to the overall scheme of things but help keep the human mind intact in that being’s journey from inception to conclusion.

Thus, we can’t rid ourselves of these. No more than wishing for two right hands.

So what of the left hands?

The left hand is the unconscious and naturally submissive, yet supportive balancing act that allows the right hand to be creative. As in all things, the dark that defines the light.

Looking back on the last half century, I have led a charmed existence. Born to a family on the ascendant, blessed with educational opportunities that harnessed my potential, and, most importantly, a partner who perfectly complements me, my retrospective only reveals a life beautifully lived. Yet, regret and bitterness creeps into my mind.

Why?

It is these thoughts of ownership. Of posession. Of being in control.

These thoughts and ideas impel us to revel, to rebel, to revolt, to react and to resolve the world into a comprehensible construct that does not challenge the primacy of our existence. Even at the cost of others.

Let go.

Recognize that the colors you see are the results of the brain’s processing of information. Are you seeing reality or just the mind’s interpretation of your sensory perception?

Let go.

For peace lies in knowing that “I” am a rudderless boat in sea of events in the Universe. That not capsizing or making others capsize is the way to go.

Let go.

For events will resolve on their own.

Let go.

For you need the mental strength, both to recover from sorrows at the depths of defeat… … just as much as the energies expended in exultation of victory.

Let go.

For Life goes on.

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Kartik Thoughts

Are you really “free to choose”?

Freedom.

Choice.

Independence.

Even before the Anti-vaxxers cornered the market on “freedom” and “choice”, humans for years have lived in the firm and grounded belief that choices and consequences were controlled events. “Good” choices resulted in “good” consequences and “Evil” choices in “evil” consequences. By extension thus, evil happenstance must be a consequence of a prior “evil” sin or victimhood of another’s “evil” act, to be repaid in a “good” consequence – somewhere in the timeline (past or future).

These concepts of choice and consequence and the freedom that sentients claim to possess are the driving force of our ethics, morals and religions: fundamentals of a human society that always claims to possess a comprehensive knowledge and perception of the universe – from our prehensile cave-dwelling forbears to the scientific technocrats at the bleeding edge of science. For instance, we were sure that the world was flat, until we learned that it was not. And that we were the center of the universe, until we learned that we weren’t. And that up, down, left and right, back and front were durable concepts that define our reality, until Relativity showed the universe to be something else.

So are YOU free?

Can YOU choose?

Are YOUR thoughts and actions truly independent?

Join me in exploring these ideas in this fascinating rabbit-hole.

Let us take the simple act of brushing your teeth (or not brushing them, for that matter). Is it really your choice? For the sake of simplicity we will pursue the avenue of brushing your teeth. Society has created norms (long before YOU were even a concept), that fresher smelling mouths are desirable. Your state of mind this morning, is to try to play along – so you brush. There are so many influences of the Universe at large on each moiety as well as each minute action, footstep, thought, and idea. Resultantly, the action in large part is merely a reflection of the sum total of the Universes forces acting at a certain point. YOU just happen to be person these forces are pulling (or pushing) in a certain direction. YOU would need to be a remarkably strong individual to be able to overcome a whole universe of forces. (Note: If you are that Universally strong individual (because there can only be one, by definition) this blog-post may not apply, and please don’t squish me)

If YOU are not choosing, but merely being pulled in the inevitable direction of the sum total of forces, it implies that all actions must thus be pre-ordained. In this Universe, a zero-sum arising from nothing but the intent to Be. It raises the intriguing possibility that in reality (if such a thing exists), our precepts of good, evil, choice, consequence and, yes, freedom are merely human-made constructs to help our minds account for the inequities of the Universe’s pre-ordained course.

As bleak a picture as this drab Universe-model, I have painted, joy and sorrow still abound. These are absolutes that are contingent on the human condition.

Yes!

We do get to choose.

To be happy.

To be sad.

To be angry.

To be peaceful.

To accept or to reject the preordained nature of the Universe.

Think of the passage of the Universe (and our lives within) like a train journey from creation to extinction. We (all of us) are on this train of existence, created by the Choice-to-Be, on a journey through the map of preordained fate as it unfolds. Like passengers on a train, our control of the journey is minimal, limited in the duration specified and direction of our tickets. Some travel in first-class and yet, others are jostling in standing-room only. Yet, people at both extremes (and every one in between) may choose to be happy, sad, angry or at peace with their station and fates.

Consider it.

Think of situations in life where a given specific event in your own life, seems to be one that brings you happiness in some contexts and deep sorrow at others.

Realize that the choice to be happy or sad, is yours.

Rather than quarreling with the Universe’s preordained decisions, choose happiness and joy. For it is infectious and will spread, until one day, a pandemic of infectious happiness will cover the Universe from infinite edge to edge. Embracing the joy of the best moments of the past, present and future will generate the happy memories to tide the times when the Universal Plan inflicts the worst.

Choose Happy.

Choose Joy.

Choose Peace.

And if others choose otherwise, judge them not. We only exist to choose our own Feelings. Not those of others.

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Kartik Thoughts

Two’s …. … the Universe

In the Beginning, there was Balance and there was Nothing.

Zero.

There was no up or down. No truth or untruth. No sin or good deed. No joy or sorrow. No beauty or ugliness. No day or night. No black or white. No God or Devil.

From the singular Nothing came Two. A Positive and a Negative. Balance continued as Nothing gave rise to Something. As each dyad multiplied to bring forth Existence, Balance continued, as it does to this day. As these positives and negatives intermingled, like a fractal pattern, the universe grew and formed. As they clashed, came forth light, forces of electromagnetism, of gravity, of strong and weak forces, space and mass. As the great expansion began, the dimension of time came into being as well.

This Universe is at heart a Zero. Nothing. It really both exists, and yet, doesn’t exist. For each positive out there, a corresponding confounding canceling negative ensures the zero sum.

Not just in physics, but in life.

For each good and benevolent act, a malevolent evil springs forth. For each act of charity, an act of meanness. For each give, a take. Because that is where Balance is. And Balance is the underlying principle that underlies this Non-existent – Existence.

If all acts are evil and good, why act? If it is all a Zero-Sum, why bother?

Because Purpose forced the creation of this Existence. To force the creation of the primordial Dyad from Nothing. Purpose expands the universe, all the while adhering to Balance.

Each individual out there has Purpose. Following that Purpose is nature. Lion eating seemingly innocent Deer eating seemingly innocent Grass seemingly eating Soil enriched by Lion (in life and death). Following your Purpose, whether benevolent or malevolent, is Nature.

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Kartik Thoughts

How “Science” is killing innovation

As a frontline healthcare worker and proud COVE trial participant, I was unblinded today. To my relief, I was both declared immunized and not a hypochondriac (as some “kind” friends had wondered – helpfully adding that I might have gotten the placebo). It felt like a tremendous weight was off my shoulders, in this dark, heavy time of death and disease. As I gave thanks to the trialists, the NIAID, the companies that made the vaccine and the Federal Operation Warpspeed that made this medical miracle my wonderful reality, I began the search for where the vaccine came from.

The story reveals a cautionary tale as to how we nearly did not get these amazingly effective tools. As with all things, the reality is that scientific discovery is predicated on funding. Owing to the prestige (and supposed independence/flexibility) of it, most scientists prefer to stay in academic environs. Funding comes for a variety of peer-reviewed sources, University endowments, national and international societies, and, most significantly the NIH (and some other agencies) a.k.a Big Science. Although notionally impartial and encouraging of innovation, the experience and story of Katalin Kariko (and God know how many others) tells differently.

A rash of stories in the media highlight how an immigrant, previously academic scientist, who was the focal point of the discovery that made this vaccine possible, was rejected time and again by Big Science in her pursuit of this exact discovery. As a nearly former scientist, this tale is one that I have seen time and again. Big Science is predicated on who you know, and how your work conforms to dogma of “established” science. People that are “unknown” or have novel (heretic) ideas are seldom tolerated and never funded. It is both a wonder, and a blessing, that Dr. Kariko managed to carry her work to fruition despite this consistently adverse environment.

Time and again, mediocre science, bereft of novelty, harvests rich rewards from Big Science, whereas true innovation is felt to be “too risky” to support. This runs contrary to the spirit of scientific inquiry. Institutionalized religion draws power from dogma and hierarchy, and Big Science is no different. Any challenge to either is met with being ignored, excommunicated, exiled and (if possible) death. In other words, Big Science is the new Inquisition. Cloaked in the respectability of academic titles and degrees, these are the same dogmatic and mediocre thinkers who are in science for the prestige and not the passion of discovery, to whom novelty and breaking the mold are anathema, and woe betide any who speak to challenge them.

As someone currently carrying funding from Big Science, is this ingratitude? Bitterness, at the small share of my spoils? Jealousy at those who are better endowed than I?

Maybe.

Is it all this bad? Is there no good in the system?

Or maybe, I’m just an honest taxpayer with a unique view of how billions of tax dollars of an unwitting public are divided up by Big Science acolytes.

Like many good acts of religious orders, there is tremendous good that is done by Big Science. However, over time, our rate of discovery is slowing. As we grow more content and established, our output has increased but the effects of this increased output have not.

As a publicly funded enterprise, Big Science has to be accountable to the people that pay for this. By chanting scientific hymns beyond the understanding of a lay-person and a few light-shows in test tubes, a dazzled public stands by while Big Science divides the spoils. As a scientist with a commitment to study, science and discovery and not, a blind loyalty to the Big Science establishment, and as a responsible citizen I need to speak up.

As of today, over 300,000 people are dead from this virus. That this vaccine may save untold more and was almost a non-entity is a painful reminder of how essential is our need for major reform. If you can, share this widely, talk about it, send it to the media, the Congress, the Senate and your leaders. Tell them that Big Science may not be the panacea they think it is. We need to salute heroes like Dr. Kariko. And we need to be able to use our tax dollars to support the untold others that Big Science rejects in their unholy desire to enforce conformity and dogma.

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Kartik Thoughts

Thoughts on a Sunday…

It is 6AM on a relatively bright and crisp Thanksgiving weekend. Alpana checks her patient list as she heads to work to see a host of patients, some with COVID19 and others with the usual ailments that fill our plates at work. We talk about how the pandemic has affected us and its impact on society in general. The CNN headline on Japanese suicide rates, the resignation of a local health official over threats to her family and the increase in local spread among the community feature, as we look to the winter ahead with trepidation.

A bright spot in our thoughts, is the possibility that a vaccine might be a savior. But will it be too little, too late? Only time will tell. As more of our colleagues test positive, we look to our own safety. As more and more public officials, on both sides of the political spectrum, show support for preventative and safety measures, we look at the increasing fatigue that we (as much as everyone else) are experiencing in this new reality.

But wait, masks, distancing, washing hands? Restrictions? What restrictions?

As a proceduralist, these aren’t restrictions, these are my every day activities. As they would be for welders, mechanics, sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists… you name it. And every occupation has its own.

When do these rules of behaviors become a restrictive burden?

I think the answer is in us.

They are “restrictive” as much as we want them to be.

We are “restricted” to breathe air, want for food, desire shelter and companionship.

We are “restricted” to need to care for family and friends.

We are “restricted” to the boundaries of our locale, city, state, country, planet, solar system and galaxy.

Most of all, we are “restricted” to the confines of this body, the most precious gift endowed us by our Creator.

In the face of these restrictions, what of the mere mask, the “6-foot rule” and the hand-washing? When seen from this overarchingly “restricted” life, these seem like just a fraction. But are they “just an increment” or “the last straw”?

Again, the answer lies in us. Despite the profusion of death and disease all around, many, including friends and family, move to the latter. Their attitude, one of defiance in the face of logic, as they abandon all pretense. Social media, the bane and savior of our isolated world, relays videos and pictures of indoor get-togethers, as families and friends gather in close embrace, singing and sharing.

How will this end?

Who knows?

Maybe the naysayers are right. Maybe this is all fake. Or #fake. Maybe this is just physicians trying to whip up panic to demonstrate their power.

Smart people discuss the ethics of caring for individuals that don’t isolate or take precautions. They even suggest that only “good” people deserve to be treated.

My take on this is as follows:

I am a physician who provides a service to those who need it. No part of this involves my judging their behavior or character. What’s more meaningful is that I am PAID to deliver said service. Just like, smoking, sloth, gluttony and pollution that keep our clinics humming, the pandemic is just another, newer, source of activity.

I plan to keep doing what I do for each patient.

Be the best physician I can be.

Dispense the right advice – for THEM to make the best decision.

Do what I can to help them, and let them do what they wish to do. The day that I am paid to police their activity and make their decisions for them, that is the day I leave medicine.

That said, as an individual I can judge and decide who I want to be friends with. That includes family members that I want to relate to and those that I don’t. Like any individual, I retain the freedom to be as arbitrary as I please in doing so.

So.

If you don’t want to wash hands, if you want to make a point of posting pictures and videos of indoor maskless groups, holding hands and in close proximity and if you think you are “tired” of this pandemic and all the “restrictions”, I am happy to be your physician, just not your friend.