Covid 19 pandemic, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: A break in the weather

November 22, 2021

It’s 52 degrees and mostly cloudy. There’s a two percent chance of rain through the next hour, with a high of 56 this afternoon and a low of 33 tonight. The Thanksgiving outlook is, “Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High 63F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” Sounds like a good day to walk off a big meal and enjoy the fall colors.

While these particular numbers are innocuous, the accuracy of a weather report can mean the difference between life and death. When my wife and I owned a beach house, we religiously watched the local news and the National Hurricane Center for signs of a storm.

The credibility of the forecaster is vital. That’s why it was so outrageous when Trump doctored a hurricane map. So why would the Weather Channel share its online real estate with a fake-news purveyor that’s blasting out anti-vaccine hysteria?

News Break is among the sponsored content (clickbait) floating around on the channel app. Founded by a Chinese media exec in Beijing, it aims to crack the U.S. market by billing itself as, “your #1 local news app for current events, free live news, business news, and more.” Here’s a sample.

Not surprisingly, the comment section is full of hatred and vitriol. Some reviews: “The trolling is out of control along with the racists.” “The News Break App is nothing short of a racist’s paradise.” “Never in my life have I seen such [a] hate-filled, threatening, racist, cruel, vile, & disgusting ‘news’ site.'”

I know the Weather Channel is not directly responsible. And yes, clickbait makes money, which is why it’s everywhere. But there’s a difference between, “Kourtney Kardashian Shows Off Toned Abs,” and “Pfizer’s Whistleblower Reveals Vaccine Data Integrity Issues.” A weather operation that’s built around science puts its own integrity at risk by propagating this junk.

Needless to say, the app is gone from my phone, like a couple of anti-vax musicians are absent from my playlists. (I also deep-sixed NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from my radio for its unfunny ageism.) Even if you can’t fix stupid, you can keep it out of your space and send a message to whoever put it there. Take care, have a great Thanksgiving, and be safe.

Covid 19 pandemic, music, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Blues and the cold, hard truth

November 12, 2021

Trees in autumn colors on mountain road.
Photo by Ladyfern Photos on Pexels.com

Fall has arrived in Georgia in earnest, slowly overtaking the sugar maple and ginkgo trees we planted last year in our yard. Though we feared they might not survive, thanks to the summer rain they’re growing fast, showing us a palette of red, orange, yellow, and still a bit of green.

In a few weeks the leaves will be gone. I’ll miss seeing those colors out my window in the morning sun, but there’s always a time to let go: of objects, emotions, and people. Today it’s musicians, great artists I’ve listened to for years who are, sadly, on the dark side of the pandemic.

Van Morrison has been ranting about “fascist bullies,” and equating Covid lockdowns with slavery. As a result, he’s being sued for defamation by the Northern Ireland health minster, who says Morrison damaged his reputation and is giving great comfort to, “the tin foil hat brigade.” I’m with the minster and not because his name is Swann. We’re not talking about moondances and brown-eyed girls. This is global life and death.

Cutting Morrison from my playlist is no problem because I never cared for his post-70s records anyway. If I still had a favorite album, it’d be “Astral Weeks,” his very first one. Eric Clapton is another matter. I’ve been a fan since the days of Cream and the Bluesbreakers. Fifteen years ago in Atlanta he delivered one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever seen, burning through his catalogue with a killer band. He seemed to be one of the few from his generation who hit bottom, survived, and got better with age.

Now he calls science “propaganda” and finances anti-vax musicians in England. He’s even palling around with the governor of Texas, an anti-vaccine tyrant who signed his state’s vicious, anti-woman abortion ban.

I’m not going near him if he hits ATL again. His next tour also won’t include the great blues singer and guitarist Robert Cray, who played with Clapton many times and says he won’t do it anymore. Sorry Eric, you’ve been Marie Kondo’d.

Of course, this isn’t the first time my heroes have changed their spots late in life. Thankfully, rockers like Gene Simmons have stayed on the side of the common good and common sense. There’s plenty of great music for this moment in time, including a favorite of mine from the 90s by Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis, better known as Sugar. It’s called “Changes.” Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Boosted

September 27, 2021

Confirmation screen for Covid booster appointment.

That was easy enough. Instead of heading across town to a mass vaccination site, I drove five minutes to a drugstore and came away with my third and hopefully last dose of Pfizer. Nobody thought to put this event on live TV, but it was definitely worthwhile. Everyone waiting in line was patient and courteous, chatting with each other about kids and sports, just normal things. Some of us, probably most, remember how to be civil.

Because I’m a couple of years past 65, the decision to get the booster was easy too. As you know, there’s a lot of debate about how much the vaccines’ effectiveness declines several months after the initial shots. With the case count and death toll as high as they are here in Georgia, I’ll take any protection I can find. Not surprisingly, some of the worst outbreaks are hitting families with school-age children, and even vaccinated parents are coming down with breakthrough infections.

Though there aren’t any kids in my circle, I’m uneasy about even being around them in public. Only about 45% of the people in this state are fully vaxxed, which is ten percentage points lower than the nationwide number, which is still not high enough either. Why take a chance?

Needing a booster doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the drug. I get a flu shot every year and recently had one for shingles as well. All of this is standard practice. Vaccines generally don’t last forever (unlike, for example, the treasonous Republican effort to undo the last election and rig the next two).

If you’re eligible, please think about a Pfizer booster dose, and keep alert for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson info if that’s what you had before. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression

A pandemic diary: Still a man’s best friend

September 18, 2021

I said I wouldn’t get paranoid about the virus again. I lied. Yesterday I almost walked into a restaurant without my mask because I’d distracted myself worrying about other Covid problems. I wake up most mornings exhausted from dreams where I’m struggling against some nebulous, formless foe.

I’ve always been the anxious type. I remember being spooked by a grade-school teacher’s warning that the Russians were about to “bury” us as Soviet leader Khrushchev threatened. In those Cold War days, we had air-raid drills in which we sat on the floor in the hall holding books over our heads: not as bad as active-shooter drills, not exactly reassuring to a kid either.  

Though the early days of the pandemic were far more harrowing than my childhood, the rush of activity — finding masks, learning to work on Zoom, relentless hand-washing etc — helped to calm the nerves. Even if things like wiping down groceries turned out to be wrongheaded, it seemed there were concrete, productive steps we could take.

Now that I’m vaccinated and masked, there’s nothing more I can do. Everything else depends on events and forces far beyond my control, leaving me as powerless as a grain of sand on a stormy beach.

Since I’m over 65 and got Pfizer I’ll be in line for a booster before long. I’d trade that for the knowledge that all of us are committed to fighting this nightmare together, rejecting hatred, making intelligent choices, and looking out for each other. Until that day comes I’m living by the words of John Cale. Take care and be safe.

Darkness warmer than a bedroom floor
Want someone to hold me close forever more
I’m a sleeping dog, but you can’t tell
When I’m on the prowl you’d better run like hell
You know it makes sense, don’t even think about it
Life and death are just things you do when you’re bored
Say fear’s a man’s best friend
You add it up it brings you down

Covid 19 pandemic, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Useful terms

September 9, 2021

Limbo. The word originated with the Latin limbus, meaning boundary or border. In Catholic theology it’s the place between heaven and hell, for those who die in original sin but aren’t among the damned in the underworld. It has nothing to do with the dance shown below, though it feels like the pandemic has forced me into similar contortions.

Hell. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, it’s other people. It’s also the realm whose hottest, most painful spot should be reserved for WHOEVER INVENTED THE BLOODY LEAF BLOWER THAT’S BLASTING OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. But I digress.

If J. P. had to navigate this country right now, he’d amend his definition to “unvaccinated, unmasked other people and the shitheads who lead them on.” (That’s connards for all you French purists.)

Smart. What jam-packed football stadiums are not. Kudos to LSU and the other schools that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Mandate. Formerly a bureaucratic buzzword; now radioactive. Not to be confused with mansplaining. However, the rabid anti-mandaters are often overbearing, bad-tempered men, while the nurses who hold their hands in their last moments are almost always women.

The Fish Cheer. If you’re too young to remember Woodstock (or got so stoned that you forgot you were there): This was when Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish yelled, “Gimme an F! Gimme a U!” etc., from the stage and the crowd yelled the letters and the word back at him.

In those times, f*** never appeared in print or on the three TV networks we had. Today’s culture has freed us to use all its variations and forms: “Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks.” Imagine 100,000 people screaming that. Maybe at an LSU game!

Take care and be safe. I’ll be saying this for a while longer, but not forever. I mean it, too. Gimme a T!

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Family, history

A pandemic diary: Afflictions past and present

August 19, 2021

Gravestone with flower and carving: "Martha Carrier Hanged August 19, 1692."
Martha Carrier’s marker at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

On this day 329 years ago, Martha Carrier was taken in a cart to Gallows Hill in Salem, where she and four men were hanged after being convicted in the infamous witch trials. A poor woman with an independent spirit, she’d previously drawn the hostility of her neighbors in Andover, who accused her of causing a smallpox outbreak that killed thirteen townspeople. The “afflicted girls” who started the panic screamed in court that they could see the ghosts of the dead. Denounced by the Rev. Cotton Mather as “this rampant hag,” Martha maintained her innocence to the last, refusing to confess to “a falsehood so filthy.

All of this is well-known. What I didn’t know until recently was that among the witnesses in Martha’s trial was Phebe Chandler, who was not quite twelve years old and was my cousin several times removed. Phebe stated she heard Martha’s disembodied voice saying “I should be poysoned (sp) within two or three days,” after which her hand and face became swollen and “exceeding painful.” Later, she said, she was struck deaf during a Sabbath meeting, “and could hear no prayer, nor singing, till the last two or three words of the singing.”

Not everyone joined in the frenzy. Phebe’s aunt Hannah was the wife of the Rev. Francis Dane, who fiercely opposed the trials even after he and his relatives were themselves accused. The family history book that chronicled every Chandler for two and a half centuries is silent about Phebe’s later life, though other sources indicate she married, had three children, and died around 1720.

Though it’s easy to look back on these horrors as a moment in the ancient past, the witch hunt was fueled by ignorance, intolerance, and religious extremism. Which brings us to Cardinal Raymond Burke, not a Salem inquisitor but a present-day prelate and former archbishop of St. Louis. Back in the aughts, he declared that Catholics who voted for President Obama “collaborated with evil.” In 2015, he said gay people and remarried Catholics are as bad as “the person who murders someone.”

Last year, he spread the conspiracy theory that Covid vaccine advocates believe “a kind of microchip needs to be placed under the skin of every person, so that at any moment, he or she can be controlled regarding health and regarding other matters which we can only imagine as a possible object of control by the state.” He also criticized church members for not believing Christ would protect them, calling God “the ultimate provider of health.”

Someone besides God must have provided the ventilator that’s keeping Burke alive. If he survives, he probably won’t be spat on in public like Mather was after the hysteria ended. But years from now, the anti-vaxxers and haters will be remembered the same way as the mob that cheered while Martha Carrier died.

List of victims of the Salem witch trials and the dates they were executed.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, football, Politics

A pandemic diary: Un-unmasking

July 28, 2021

My daily life won’t be affected by the disheartening but necessary call for vaccinated people in many places to wear masks indoors again. I never stopped using an N95 in public areas, both out of respect for others and to extend my personal shield as far as possible.

I take no pleasure in knowing I was on the right track. The warning is driven by the finding that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can carry as much viral load as the unvaxxed, which means they may spread it to others. I’m not at all surprised that the CDC reversed course. I wish like hell that they’d done it before now. According to the New York Times, six weeks ago (June 14) my county in metro Atlanta reported 12 new cases and a seven-day average of 27. Yesterday we hit 282 cases with an average of 208.

Some accuse the CDC of flip-flopping or inconsistency. IMHO, the guidance should apply nationwide, not just where cases are surging, but it changed for a good reason: the data changed. This is natural. In my lifetime, there were serious people who claimed space flight was impossible because there was nothing up there for rockets to push against. You might recall that weather forecasters don’t keep predicting tropical-storm-force winds after the storm blows up into a hurricane.

Forget science: I’ll put this in the language of the least vaccinated part of the USA, the South or more precisely the the Southeastern Conference, stretching from Columbia, Missouri to Gainesville, Florida.* This language is football.

Let’s suppose Alabama’s new quarterback lights up the Florida secondary in the first half but in the second, the Gators’ edge rushers get into the backfield and he’s running for his life. Does Coach Nick Saban stick with the same blocking scheme? If you think so, you haven’t got the brains God gave geese, and he didn’t give geese much. (Nothing personal, y’all.)

Of course, we wouldn’t need masks if more of us got the jabs. That’s why, as a retired federal employee, I strongly support the vaccination mandate for the government. Like members of the armed forces and all civilian feds, I took an oath to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This virus is our enemy but we can win. Take care, mask up, and be safe.


*The home of those Gator fans who never call. But that’s another story.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Back into your life it will creep

July 22, 2021

Man in yellow hazard suit and gas mask holding spray bottle.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Among the current flood of bad news is the word that a few fully vaccinated people are testing positive. According to this widely-cited study, their most common symptoms are headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of the sense of smell.

I got my second dose of Pfizer in March. I haven’t been in a big crowd since I went to the clinic for that shot. I know the vaccines are highly potent against the raging Delta variant, which is why 99.5% of the people dying are unvaccinated. I still wear an N95 in public places.

Unless we’re talking about University of Michigan football or basketball, I’m a pretty rational guy. Colleagues used to say I could keep a steady hand when things were falling apart. And except for the loss of smell, the effects of my seasonal allergies are almost identical to the Covid symptoms above. So why, when I woke up the other day with a congested nose and a mild sore throat – exactly the kind of allergic post-nasal drip I’ve had for years – did fear grab my insides while I ran to look up those symptoms?

Though it was probably wishful thinking, I thought I was done with pandemic heebie-jeebies. My anxiety went down several notches after we stopped sanitizing groceries and quarantining mail. When the first jab hit my shoulder, I felt real relief and hope.

What probably got to me is the roller-coaster effect: a terrible winter when cases soared, followed by a hopeful spring and early summer, normalcy popping out like the leaves on the trees, and now we’re hurtling backward. Again. A leading vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic says this about Delta: “Don’t be deceived that ‘I got this far and I am OK.’ This is a very different variant. It will find you. This virus will find everybody who is not immune.”

Even though I have as much immunity as anyone, I’m recalibrating. From now on I’m following the doctor’s lead and masking up in all public spaces, indoors and out. However, I will not grind myself down with paranoia. Again.

Doing rational things (and writing about them) helps keep the neurosis at bay. A cold shot of vodka on a hot summer day doesn’t hurt, and neither does some good old rock ‘n roll by the Kinks. Take care and be safe.

Silly boy, you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure, you self-destroyer
— Ray Davies, “Destroyer”

2020 election, coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic

A pandemic diary: Die hard, live longer

June 24, 2021

We just bought a fresh batch of N95s. We’re not making travel plans. Takeout remains the order of the day (pun intended) and “eating in” means our own table. Actually, we often dine on the deck, looking out on a leafy street with bluebirds flying around and the temperature hovering in the 80s, which is unseasonably and pleasantly cool. But I digress.

What I’m getting at is that my wife and I are diehards when it comes to safety and are perfectly comfortable that way. Yes, we’ve been jabbed. We’re playing it cautious until we’re certain the virus has been beaten down. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, people, and it ain’t over yet, not with the Delta variant spreading faster than voter suppression. According to this article, “In early April, Delta represented just 0.1 percent of cases in the United States…As of a few days ago, the estimate hit 20.6 percent.”

Delta may make victims sicker than other strains, and since vaccination rates in the South are lagging badly, there’s bound to be more of it around here. Fully-vaxxed folks are believed to be well protected, but in our county, that’s only about a third of those eligible. It doesn’t make sense to be in crowds routinely, for no good reason.

Things came into focus the other night when I picked up dinner at our favorite barbecue restaurant. The place was packed to the gills with Republicans attending a campaign party for a U.S. House candidate who’s pushing Trump’s lies about election fraud. Of course, there wasn’t a mask in sight. Needless to say, I grabbed my order and got the hell out of there, stat.

Call me paranoid if you will. I’m content to be a passenger on the slow boat to normalcy, which is a lot better than riding the ferry across the Styx. Take care, y’all, and please stay safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: One small step for my face

May 20, 2021

To keep up with these changing times, I’ve decided to dispense with my mask. Not on my actual face, just the one I display on my “platform,” the amalgamation of social media, writing, and other sites that make up my online brand.

Last year I replaced all my profile pix with new ones that showed I was trying to act responsibly and protect others as well as myself. I’m still doing that, but in keeping with CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people, I don the mask less often. So I’ve gone with a new mugshot. This little gallery shows how my persona has evolved since last March.

I still wear a mask in public spaces even if they don’t require it, out of respect for those who aren’t vaccinated or are understandably confused about the CDC info. I’m confident the science is correct. As a communicator, I can categorically state that the messages were terrible. Nobody seems to have thought about how this news would affect states, cities, stores, offices, schools, nursing homes, etc.

After fourteen months, we should know the importance of speaking clearly and with authority, and not forcing a weary population to muddle through (again). The bottom line is that the news is good. I just hope I’m not putting a mask back on my face or my photos next fall. Take care and be safe.