Alex Trebek’s Journey Ahead

Alex Trebek

You can always tell when something’s up. It used to be the phone. Now it’s text messages and Facebook posts. Alex Trebek has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is Stage 4. He has only found out within the last week.

Today pancreatic cancer is incurable.

Sometimes it can be cut out surgically, but only a limited number of patients catch their cancer early enough to qualify. That’s what happened with me. Mine was found while looking for something else.

If the cancer is detected at an early stage when surgical removal of the tumor is possible, the 5-year survival rate is 32%. About 10% of people are diagnosed at this stage. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs, the 5-year survival rate is 12%. For the 52% of people who are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 3%. –

At Stage 4, meaning the cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas, they won’t even try surgery. That’s not being cruel. If the cancer has spread the surgery has more danger than value.

In his video Alex says he’s going to fight — exactly what I said. I told my doctors right away I wanted aggressive treatment. In his case it will probably be a combination of chemo and radiation to try and slow the cancer down.

Most patients in his situation also avail themselves of clinical trials, drugs that are being tested but are not yet proven. It’s a crap shoot. Hardly anything thrown against pancreatic cancer has even made a dent. It’s seriously a ‘what do you have to lose’ situation.

For a while Alex will be able to work. Over time the cancer will grow and take the physical space now occupied by vital organs. That’s how it ends. Your liver or other organ is just crowded out of existence.

I remember visiting my friend Kevin in Cheshire the night he died of pancreatic cancer. His condition that night is seared in my memory.

At this point Alex Trebek is just starting to understand the new job that’s been assigned to him. He’s got the right attitude. I wish him good luck and good health.

The Doctor Who Saved My Life

Right there. That’s the difference. That’s the life and death move that spared me. And that technology wasn’t always here to know contemporaneously how well you’d cut.

Someone left a voicemail a few days ago. Voicemail. In 2019 friends don’t leave friends voicemail.

Transcript: Hi, Mr. Fox, my name is Tiffany. I’m calling from Dr. Shaw’s office. I wanted to remind you that you’re due for an annual appointment follow-up appointment. So, please call us back at 949-76x-xxxx. Thank you, bye-bye.

A pre-chemo blood draw to make sure I was strong enough to endure the poisonous drugs they were about to drip into my system

“Helaine,” I called out, “Do I have a Dr. Shaw?”

Anything’s possible. Cancer left me with an army of docs including some who stepped in-and-out for a single procedure. I returned the call.

We were right. No Dr. Shaw. I was really wanted by Dr. Selby, one of the surgeons who performed my Whipple operation. He wants to admire his handiwork which required me to leave the hospital with my belly held together by 16 staples.

This is an emotional moment for me. Lots of people worked hard and were integral in saving my life. It’s different with Dr. Selby and his partner Dr. Staffer. They cut out the thing that was going to kill me.

As they were closing me up a pathologist found they hadn’t gotten a clean margin, meaning a few cancer cells were left. They undid some stitches, went back in to cut some more.

Right there. That’s the difference. That’s the life and death move that spared me. And that technology wasn’t always here to quickly know how well you’d cut.

All my test are clean from a cancer that returns quickly. I likely will survive 10:1 odds against–just a 9% chance. That’s crazy. A lucky early find and skillful surgeons well equipped. No one is luckier than me.

I will hug Dr. Selby when I see him. Last time I whispered in his ear, “You saved my life.” I’m thinking no one tires hearing that… or saying it.

It All About The Rain (and Snow)

During our last drought you couldn’t take a shower to wash off at California beaches, a ridiculously ineffective water saving example of political theater. As it turns out making a gesture isn’t the same as making a difference.

Current Sierra Mountain snowpack readings through 2-7-2019

Tonight’s snowpack in the Sierra Mountains averages a melted two feet of water. In the spring much of that will be harvested in a series of huge reservoirs. Wherever you live you’ll benefit because California grows most of America’s nuts, fruits and veggies with that water.

Water is a constant concern and battle in California. If you live elsewhere and have somehow heard how thirsty almond trees are, that’s one of those water battles that escaped state lines.

Farmers vs city dwellers. Lettuce versus grass (the fescue kind).

During our last drought you couldn’t take a shower to wash off at California beaches, a ridiculously ineffective water saving example of political theater. As it turns out making a gesture isn’t the same as making a difference.

With 2018-19’s bumper crop in the mountains (and more to come) the pressure will be off for a while. A very good year can fill reservoirs for a much longer run.

Here in the OC rain is more a curiosity than anything. Yes, we stop watering but not for long¹. Same goes for the strawberry fields scattered about the area in two and three acre chunks.

Most of our drinking water comes from elsewhere. We don’t even collect rainwater here. Quite the opposite. We have concrete lined river beds and washes to speed Santa Ana Mountain runoff to the sea.

California’s water year begins in October and follows what are usually six or more nearly rain free months. So far this season we’ve gotten a lot. Five months in we’re already well over an average full year.

The strawberry farmers are probably pleased, but I’m ready for the rainy season to end.

Last 20 years of rain at John Wayne Airport, around 8 miles away.

¹ – Our city, Irvine, being a recently built and well planned city has two water mains. The purple main contains recycled water not good enough for drinking but perfect for plants.

My Dad And I Speak

My dad grew up in a slum. “I was scared of black people,” he said today. “If I saw black people walking in my direction, I’d walk across the street.”

I’d not heard this before. He said it with regret in his voice and concern I could see on his face.

My dad and I speak nearly every day.  Often our conversations turn to his memories.  I initiate.  I want to know how he got where he got. 

Williamsburg is in the borough of Brooklyn (Kings County) in New York City.

So much of his life’s experiences are anachronisms, memories of a time that’s passed.  There was no phone in the house growing up.  They lived above  Fox’s Trimmings, where my grandparents sold everything having to do with cloth, thread, yarn, buttons, snaps, etc.  Peddlers drove horse drawn wagons through the neighborhood selling their wares.

That Williamsburg is desirable today surprises my father.  My dad grew up in a slum later torn down to build a city housing project.

“I was scared of black people,” he said today.  “If I saw black people walking in my direction, I’d walk across the street.”

I’d not heard this before.  He said it with regret in his voice and concern I could see on his face.  We were talking about our divided nation today and pre-World War II America.

“I didn’t know.  We didn’t know.  That’s how I was brought up.”

Even as a kid I remember our family referring to black people by a derogatory Yiddish word.  In retrospect our bigotry kept us from seeing what was real.  We stayed in our own prefab fog.

My dad looks back on those days with regret.  You can’t undo the past.  But you can learn from it.

It was easier to marginalize minorities in the 30s and 40s.  They were invisible in the movies and in print.  Much of America was segregated, openly or defacto.

But how can anyone hold these attitudes today?  That’s what we wondered as we Facetimed.  My father was sheltered from the world outside Brooklyn.  Today it’s impossible not to see how wrong he was.

As we finished tonight I asked if it was OK to write about.  He said, “yYes,” without hesitation. 

Who Was Here Before 1900?

There’s a lot of talk about immigration nowadays.  It was always an accepted part of my life.  The US is very attractive.  People come here.

Growing up I assumed it was the norm.

Seriously, when I went to PS 163Q, EVERYONE I knew was from another country or had parents and/or grandparents who were immigrants.  EVERYONE is capitalized because I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

I remember wondering to myself, “Who was here before 1900?”  They weren’t related to anyone I knew.

Grandpa Sol in his Brooklyn luncheonette.

That’s not to say it was easy back then.  My Grandpa Sol arrived from Poland speaking no English with no money nor any valuable skill.  He didn’t ask if America was good with that before he got on a ship with forged papers.  He was a deserter from the Polish Army.   

Now I live in another immigrant infused area (though more educated and affluent).  So many of the traits I saw in my parents and my friends’ parents I see in the parents of this neighborhood.

I don’t want ‘open borders.’  We do need to limit the flow.  I just don’t want to disfavor people because of where they were born or how they choose to worship.  That seems unAmerican–antithetical to the way I was brought up.

It seems to me people come here because they like what they see and they want it too.  That’s my grandpa’s American success story in a nutshell.

Carved By Wind And Water

21st Century problem: No WiFi on the flight back! In 1985 I was smart enough to carry magazines and newspapers on a plane trip.

Helaine and I flew to Chicago this weekend to see my nephew Matt marry Hannah. The wedding was beautiful. The sentiment sweet.

It was a quick trip — LAX-MDW Saturday, MDW-LAX Monday. We were in Chicago under 48 hours and used Lyft where once we would have rented a car.

21st Century problem: No WiFi on the flight back!

In 1985 I was smart enough to carry magazines and newspapers on a plane trip. Today I depend on my laptop or phone to while away the time. I lifted the shade and looked out the window.

Midway is built into a neighborhood. You fly in-and-out over rooftops. It’s a head scratcher in 2018. Short runways. Every square inch occupied. It’s bursting at the seams.

I watched carefully as we headed over Nebraska. You can tell you’re getting close when you begin seeing circular fields, a product of pivot irrigation. Things begin to spread out. There are 23.8 people per square mile in Nebraska (with the majority of that being in the east). In Illinois it’s 230 ppl/mi2 and in New Jersey it’s 1,195 ppl/mi2. Homes are like remote outposts within the intricate pattern of mainly harvested fields.

This is where you begin the see the stark effects of wind and water. The few trees out here grow near rivers and streams. What’s easy to miss from the ground but unmistakable from the air are the large flood plains surrounding many of these lazy rivers.

It’s taken thousands of thousand year floods to make this happen!

We started to see the Rockies not long after we left Nebraska. Many of the higher peaks are already snow covered. From the 31,000 feet ski areas look like scarred mountains. I guess they actually are. Treeless trails down these slopes don’t come naturally.

East of the Rockies is desert. There’s no water to be seen, but where it goes when it’s there is pretty obvious. Deserts often get their sparse rainfall all-at-once. Deeply cut canyons rut the sides of any raised surface.

It’s desolate as we fly over Nevada. Who could live here? And then every once in a while hidden away in the boring nothingness you’ll see a road and a lone home or two.

We left Chicago at 3:10 pm, cruising around 500 mph. Sunset was heading the same direction at twice our speed. Evening shadows moved half as quickly and lasted twice as long.

As is often the case at LAX we landed with another plane off to our left on a parallel runway.

I Couldn’t Watch

What message are we sending home when famous anchors tell you to not do what they’re doing?

I wasn’t feeling well today. Just the run-of-the-mill people get sick sorta thing. I called in sick halfway through my Nebraska workday. I’m starting to feel a little better.

That sent me upstairs to the bedroom where I turned on cable news. I’m a cable news junkie! I couldn’t watch.

I know a little bit about hurricane coverage. Whatever reputation I have in Connecticut established its beachhead with Hurricane Gloria.

I hate seeing people cover hurricanes in the field live, reasonably unprotected. At some point someone’s going to get hurt or killed and it won’t be a surprise. It will bring me no satisfaction.

A case can be reasonably made this is news porn. We can give more information from the studio. What you see in the field is usually anecdotal.

Of course it draws viewers like flies to shit. Same goes for LA’s compelling copter chases (I’m hooked). In that regard it’s tough not to do. AdWeek’s TVNewser even compiled a list of who’s there.

What message are we sending home when famous anchors tell you to not do what they’re doing?

I’ve vented.

Let’s Talk About Florence

The numbers are only reinforced by the satellite imagery which shows a symmetrical pattern. Symmetry means there are no outside forces pushing at Hurricane Florence trying to rip her apart.

I follow a lot of meteorologists on Twitter. Florence has been all they can talk about, even with other storms in the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of the discussions on Florence have been about how she’s evaded forecasts and recently intensified rapidly. Fine for meteorologists. How about everyone else?

Here’s where we stand midday Monday:

LOCATION…25.0N 60.0W

That’s a statistically powerful storm. The numbers are only reinforced by the satellite imagery which shows a symmetrical pattern. Symmetry means there are no outside forces pushing at Hurricane Florence trying to rip her apart.

Buoys near the hurricane are reporting water temperatures around 84°. The ocean between Florence and the coast gets progressively warmer. Warm water is a hurricane’s gasoline.

Except for some wind shear near landfall the signs point toward Florence gaining strength. That’s reflected in the official forecast which peaks Florence at 150 mph.

The Hurricane Center put out bullet points with their last technical discussion. Wind is their third worry.

Key Messages:

1. A life-threatening storm surge is likely along portions of the
coastlines of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, and
a Storm Surge Watch will likely be issued for some of these areas by
Tuesday morning. All interests from South Carolina into the
mid-Atlantic region should ensure they have their hurricane plan in
place and follow any advice given by local officials.

2. Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged
and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over
the Carolinas and Mid Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is
expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.

3. Damaging hurricane-force winds are likely along portions of the
coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina, and a Hurricane Watch
will likely be issued by Tuesday morning. Damaging winds could also
spread well inland into portions of the Carolinas and Virginia.

4. Large swells affecting Bermuda and portions of the U.S. East
Coast will continue this week, resulting in life-threatening surf
and rip currents.

It’s difficult to believe anyone will willingly ride out this storm on the barrier islands. The damage will likely be major, but loss of life will hopefully be zero.

Flooding is a different story. As Florence approaches the coast it will slow down. That means areas under rain will experience a long lasting deluge and areas near the coast will experience an extended time of storm surge flooding.

In the end, even with major damage near landfall, the biggest potential for grief from Florence might be inland flooding.

Hurricane Florence should arrive late Thursday or early Friday. Over those next few days she will have fits and starts as eyewall replacement cycles take place. Don’t fixate over static short term numbers. Don’t get your hopes up if Florence weakens. This is a major hurricane on the way to the East Coast.

We probably haven’t seen the last forecast correction either. Stand by.

The Funny Thing About Death

No one ever told me I was going to die. We weren’t stupid. It was pancreatic cancer. We knew right away my chances were poor.

A few years ago I was put in the unenviable position of considering my own mortality. I’m reminded today as John McCain ends his fight against brain cancer.

No one ever told me I was going to die. We weren’t stupid. It was pancreatic cancer. We knew right away my chances were poor.

Even finding out I was eligible for the Whipple, something in retrospect I didn’t quite understand, was only likely to be a short life extension, not a fix.

You want to know how serious it was? I prepared a list of my passwords for Helaine.

This post’s title promises funny. Not ha ha funny. This is strange funny.

Death didn’t scare me. Not at all. That’s the funny thing. I’m still surprised to say that because before cancer it definitely did.

I was scared of the treatments and pain I’d have to go through. Those were planned. It was easy to lose a night’s sleep worrying about what they’d do to me the next morning.

Death sneaks up on you… or so I hoped.

As it turns out my doctor’s were fabulously successful. Every indication is I’m the patient they should put on their CV. They were skillful. I was lucky.

My fears of pain weren’t misplaced. I tolerated it better than feared. We put up with a lot of shit when we have to.

It never came to the point where the pain wasn’t worth it. That’s where John McCain is today. That is sad.

Part of the reason death didn’t scare me was my life was in order. I was in a good place. My family and friends knew where I stood with them. My hope is the same is true for Senator McCain and that he doesn’t fear death.

Guns And Teachers And Friendly Fire

The ‘friendly fire’ piece of the story was only revealed this morning. As soon as I heard it all I could think about was arming teachers.

There was a tragic incident this past weekend in SoCal. An argument between a 28 year old man and his grandmother spiraled out of control. He shot her seven times, grabbed her car and headed out. The chase ended when he crashed the car and ran into a crowded Trader Joe’s supermarket.

Briefly, a gun battle ensued. Thankfully, the perp retreated, began talking with the cops on his cell phone and three hours later surrendered.

We got to watch Trader Joe employee “Sean” help fellow employees escape through a bathroom window.

During the crossfire a woman was killed. She was shot by a cop. This is the responsibility of the perp, but that doesn’t make this any less tragic for the woman killed nor the cop who mistakenly killed her.

It’s a terrible story. Justice cannot even the scales on this.

The ‘friendly fire’ piece of the story was only revealed this morning. As soon as I heard it all I could think about was arming teachers.

Even police, well trained in the use of their weapon, sometimes get it wrong — especially when the situation is one of mayhem. I can’t imagine how arming teachers could end well.

I Probably Owe Kevin Hart An Apology

Helaine and I were the lucky tag-a-longs with my cousins the “Original Irvine Foxes™” and our friends Farrell and Vered¹ for a Saturday night grown-up date night. We had Italian at Angelina’s (real Italians from Italy — not an easy find here) then headed to the FIVEPOINTS Amphitheater to see Kevin Hart. The amphitheater is a temporary 12,000 open air venue adjacent to Irvine’s Great Park (the former El Toro Marine Air Station).

If I knew about the Kevin Hart tickets before yesterday that thought was long forgotten by Saturday afternoon.

I was ambivalent. I’d seen him on TV, probably grazed one-or-two of his movies on cable and decided, “Meh.” He was loud and profane and super egotistical. That’s how I judged him. And I was worried a large part of the show would be about a black experience I only know from reading.


Kevin Hart at the FIVEPOINTS Amphitheater, Irvine, CA.

The guy who came up on stage was a father, husband and maker of decisions good and bad. More than that, he was a great storyteller. This was not setup/punchline/repeat. Kevin Hart is a monologist. He took us into his life warts and all. He is a charming, thoughtful, flawed man.

The cursing I worried about was dolloped on heavy. I can see how some (many) people might be put off by this. I heard it from our friends. In the end content trumped shock for me. Your tolerance may very.

Kevin Hart did an hour ten minute set (I’ll have to ask, but I suspect there’s a 10:00 PM curfew for the venue) and was funny for all seventy minutes. Before he left he mentioned how he always made Irvine a part of his tour. He’ll be back. Hopefully me too.

If I would have gone with my gut (and had a choice) I would have passed up this show. I had no choice, luckily.

Additional note: I have never heard better sound in a concert venue. I would recommend this place for any show.

¹ The term is not really trademarked, but my cousins are well known and liked wherever they go.

It Didn’t Snow In Santiago, Chile — Uh Oh!

If I got a snow forecast wrong people knew and were VERY upset. After all, I claim I can predict the future. People would come up to me on the street or at the market and let me know. No one wants to disappoint the people who trust you — certainly not me.

American GFS computer mode – 12Z 10June2018

It’s winter in South America and the forecast in Santiago, Chile called for snow. It didn’t snow. Snow is a rarity in Santiago, Chile. They get snow, not often. It’s a Mediterranean climate — just what we have here in SoCal.

Which brings us to the message I got Monday afternoon from a reporter at Las Últimas Noticias, a national newspaper in Chile.

Hello Geoff.

Thank you for answering.

Last week, all the forecast said it will be a snowfall this Monday morning. Even the schools closed. Most of people took the prediction as something extremely catastrophic. Well, the predictions failed. The TV weather men and women had to give some explanations. There are a lot of complains and jokes on Twitter about this. So here are some questions:

-How difficult is to predict a snowfall?

-What factors do you have to consider make it?

-Is it a matter of technology? The snowfall forecasts in US don’t fail too much?

-Have you made mistakes in situations like this? What do you do next? Is it good or not to try a kind of apologize?

-In Chile, at least, the weather in TV channels is a kind of terrorific issue. A heavy rain prediction, for example, is almost the end of the world, even with a terrorific music in the background. What do you think about that?

-Do the weather sell in TV?

Thank you
Ariel Diéguez
Las Últimas Noticias

I’m not sure how he found me, but of course I answered.

Of all the predictions meteorologist make, snow is arguably the most difficult. It is a multistage forecast. It’s not just how much moisture is in the atmosphere, but the temperature at different levels in the atmosphere. A small change in temperature is the deciding factor between rain and snow, or even sleet (ice pellets) or freezing rain (rain falls as liquid but freeze immediately on contact with trees, power lines, roadways, etc.).

We used to do this all ourselves. Computers have made life much easier because computer models follow the drops as they fall and figure out their state at every stage. Humans can’t do this alone — much too complex.

The technology has gotten much better over time, but snow forecasts are much more complex than most others. Cloud temperatures decided how fluffy snow is. Snow can range from 6 or 7:1 (7 cm snow from 1 cm liquid) to 30:1 or higher! So, how much snow will fall is very difficult to forecast and almost never exactly right.

I was on TV for 30 years in Connecticut, about 100 km northeast of NYC. If I got a snow forecast wrong people knew and were VERY upset. After all, I claim I can predict the future. People would come up to me on the street or at the market and let me know. No one wants to disappoint the people who trust you — certainly not me.

The number of wrong forecasts is definitely a fraction of what it was 30 years ago. No one is happier about that than me!

I have apologized on-the-air. Absolutely. I take responsibility. The forecast is mine, not the computer’s. I ask you to believe me.

Weather is the single most cited reason for people to watch local TV news. People accuse us of hyping storms, or making them scarier than they are. No. No. No. No. There is no upside to being wrong.

One more thing — Chile doesn’t make the forecast easier by sitting alongside the Pacific. Though we now have satellite observations, much of the Pacific has no surface weather observations. This leads to poor initialization of the computer models and garbage in/garbage out.

Ari – let me know if there’s anything else you need.

Glad to help,

A Connecticut Facebook friend in Santiago promises to keep an eye out for the story.

A Few Moments With My Dad

Just got off Facetime with my dad. He’s feeling a little tired today.

We chatted for a few minutes. Nothing important. Roseanne. Politics. Somehow, how surreal it was to think of him as a sailor.

I had never heard this before. He told me what his father said as my 18 year old father left for WWII. His recollection: vivid.

“Don’t kiss any strange girls.” Thank you Grandpa Jack.

In another part of the conversation we were talking… well, does it make a diff the topic because this really works in all situations.

“Geoffrey, I am 92 years old. I have seen stupid people in my life.”

Yes he has.

So Here’s The Plan

A few weeks ago my sister told me the good news. My dad’s doctor said he was healthy enough to fly. We began to make plans to bring him west.

Then reality set in. My sister was never strong on the idea, but didn’t have the heart to stop us. My niece was wary too and told me so.

It led to one of those awkward conversations where father and son sheepishly came to the same sad conclusion. Practicality over fantasy. My dad had permission to fly, but was he prepared to spend a full day traveling then do it again on the way back?

And so the trip was scotched. Of course that’s not the end of the story.

I purchased tickets tonight. Helaine, Stef and I will be heading to Milwaukee for Father’s Day weekend.

“What are we going to do with Doppler?” Helaine worried. We have no one close-by to leave her with. So guess who’s taking her first airplane ride!

My father got the news on Facetime this afternoon. “I’m very excited,” he said. Me too. Us too.

In spite of having grown up in Queens and her husband Jeff in Washington Heights, my sister and brother-in-law have planted their roots in Wisconsin. Three children. Four grandchildren. And, of course, my dad.

Can’t wait to see them all.

And the Phillies will be in town!

The Political Come To Jesus Meeting About To Take Place

I watched cable news this morning as reporters and anchors tried to explain how Michael Cohen’s accepting money from AT&T, Novartis, Korea Aerospace and a billionaire pal of Vladimir Putin’s was probably legal and the job description of loads of Washingtonians. Business as usual!

What I’m saying is we needn’t worry how retired US Senator John Boehner will afford his newly embraced pot love. Selling access in Washington is big business. Boehner’s easy to pick on but it’s Democrats too.

I’m hoping this will open a national dialog about the position of money in government. I’ve used “come to Jesus meeting” in my title with the understanding it means a frank discussion about a very serious problem that needs immediate action. That’s us.

Obviously, AT&T, Novartis and the others who ‘gave at the office’ felt there were real profits to be made by buying Michael Cohen’s time and shaping his opinion. I find that entirely disgusting.

Before the recent tax bill was passed, The Hill reported this tidbit from Congressman Chris Collins of New York.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) had been describing the flurry of lobbying from special interests seeking to protect favored tax provisions when a reporter asked if donors are happy with the tax-reform proposal.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’ ” Collins replied.

Here’s who they are:

Fewer than one in fifty of Collins’ campaign dollars comes from small individuals. Those weren’t little guys asking for this bill.

When you see obviously unpopular legislation (net neutrality and consumer financial rules as two examples) and wonder how could that possibly become law–see above.