The State of Play

I remember how bleak I felt in late March, when the U.S. was reporting about 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and most of those were along the East Coast. Like pretty much everyone, I was in no way prepared for the possibility of a pandemic, which seemed old-timey and Black Death-ish and the kind of thing that science had put in its rear-view mirror. And of course, I was wrong abut that.

I was in an area that was getting hit fairly hard. Almost immediately, the mocking came from areas that weren’t hit hard, especially from knucklehead governors in some lightly affected areas. Their scientists were telling them the same things we were hearing, but those elected officials weren’t seeing that kind of threat in front of their eyes, and the cost of not doing business was high. So, naturally, being knuckleheads, they apparently decided their residents had special superhuman abilities. They ignored the obvious warnings, opened businesses back up and went about the hard work of infecting everyone around them.

They’ve certainly been successful on that front. By July 3, the U.S. had skyrocketed to 57,000 cases a day and now has passed 3 million cases overall. The knucklehead governors and their citizen-victims have been forced to retrench, which is sort of like trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and the genie sure as hell isn’t going to help with this process.

Business vs. life isn’t a question of balance. It’s a false choice. Once you make a decision that ignores basic health practices and you choose to endanger the lives of your citizens, they don’t forget what happens next. You can open all of the restaurants in the world, but it won’t matter if people won’t go in them. And they won’t believe you any more when you try to convince them they’re safe (or in danger), either. You end up with the same business outcome and a far worse one when it comes to lives, the credibility of government, and basic human decency.

Not that any of this will stop some people who lust for power, or have built a propaganda-based business model. They will continue to be disconnected from reality, with results that are hard not to call murderous now. Still, at some point, you stop being ashamed of these cartoon characters and start being ashamed of people who continue to buy what they’re selling.

There’s a way to fix a lot of that in November. You should vote as though your life depended on it, because it very well might.

The quiz — and the answer

I posted this quiz on Facebook. Although I think its conclusions are at least debatable, it’s still fun — or it was until people started threatening me with lifelong ostracism and potential dismemberment:

I didn’t want to post the solution there because the quiz is making the viral rounds, and I didn’t people to randomly run across the answer. So if you’re seeing it here randomly, don’t look down the page because I’m about to reveal the answer and how to get to the solution. Ready?

Ready?

Ready?

Here we go.

THE CLOCK:

The hour hands of the clock in the first line, added together, equal 21. This one has no deception at the bottom; the clock adds up to 9 down there, too.

THE CALCULATOR:

1+2+3+4 (the numbers shown on the calculator displays on the second line) = 10. Three calculators with those numbers in the second line thus add up to 30. However, the numbers on the calculator at the bottom add up to nine (1+2+2+4). Thus, the value of the calculator at the bottom is 9

THE BULBS:

15+15-15=15. However, note the lines coming out of the top of the bulbs, then note that there is one fewer line coming out of each bulb at the bottom. Each line is worth three (if the bulbs above have five lines, 5X3=15). This means that the bulbs are the bottom are 4X3, or worth 12 each.

THE ORDER OF OPERATIONS:

This part causes endless complaining (and I don’t recall ever being taught this, but I sucked at math). But this is a Real Thing: When there is ambiguity in an expression, multiplication and division get higher precedence than addition and subtraction. After THAT, you calculate from left to right. What does that mean here?

If you figure out the numbers at the bottom of the quiz correctly, what you end up with is 9+9×36. A lot of people will do these from left to right, i.e., (9+9)x36, which is 648. But the order of operations says to do the multiplication first when the relationship between the numbers is ambiguous, so this is actually 9+(9×36). Let’s solve: 9×36=324. 9+324=333. 333 is the answer.

It’s not my quiz. Don’t shoot the messenger.

And now we are here

Welcome to the ditch. We’re all in it, although some folks have been in here a lot longer than others, but we all need to get out. What are you going to do to make that happen? More importantly, how are you going to help others get out?

And for those of you who have decided to get your shovel and keep digging, know this: History will find you. It always does. This is your legacy.

Another day in dystopia

It’s been more than a month since my last confession, and not much has changed. In particular, the grind of COVID-19 around here hasn’t really slowed down, staying just below the red line where hospitals won’t be able to keep up with the demand for beds but not moving down much below it, either.

For me, the biggest surprise is how quickly I have become adjusted to just staying at home. This was hard at first, and I had to go on a couple of 15-mile or so drives around northern Virginia just to feel some human contact and see something other than my neighborhood. I no longer have that issue; I haven’t been more than a couple of miles from my house in weeks now and I spend almost all my days in a four-block radius.

Meanwhile, summer crowds are showing up in beach towns, with a lot of folks not wearing masks and just pretending everything is the same as it ever was. I’m not sure how long that’s going to last but I give it about a month — basically, long enough for this to create a new surge of cases.

It is very hard for me to accept that some people have decided to die – or worse yet, to kill someone else – because they needed to get some boardwalk fries in Ocean City. But they have, and while most of them are probably going to get lucky, some of them won’t. Those folks don’t realize yet that they’re living the last few weeks of their lives, and that their candle is about to go out because they refused to believe what they were told by health and science professionals. It breaks my heart.

Lots of things break my heart these days. Our government is in shambles and is being looted before our eyes; thousands of people are dying unnecessarily; we are in the midst of learning some very, very hard lessons that should have been much easier. I have accepted the fact that this grind might take years to resolve. A lot of people seem to think it’ll end any day now. It won’t.

Days in shadow

In early February, I sat on a chartered cruise ship in the Caribbean, feeling lucky and listening to live performances by dozens of my favorite musicians. Then something odd (and a little chilling) happened.

On the second day of the five-day trip, the captain announced that the buffet would be closed for a few hours, and food from it would be served by the staff after that. I assumed that someone on the ship showed signs of a norovirus, the bane of cruises everywhere, but I also was mildly concerned about that coronavirus thing that was vaguely brewing in China. But everyone adjusted, there were no other apparent health issues, and most of us seemed to have a good time for the rest of the cruise.

How ridiculous that all seems now.

Like so many people, I have been deeply struggling and occasionally in despair over the situation we currently find ourselves in. It is hard to keep it together when you think you might be dead soon, and that your hopes are tied to what passes for the U.S. government right now. And it is crushing to have spent decades preparing and saving for retirement, only to have those plans washed away in a few weeks. I wonder if I ever will see my office again, or go to a baseball game, or see my brother and sisters in person; my family had a Zoom get-together a couple of weeks ago and I managed to smile until it was done, after which I lost my shit for a while.

Eventually, I landed in a place that offers cold comfort, but that’s still a form of comfort. All of this is out of my control. All of this has become utterly unpredictable. I have accepted this and am living my life a day at a time. I just focus on getting through today and solving its problems as I go along. I don’t focus on the possibility of job loss, sudden health reversal or even worse; I don’t dwell on what kind of a world might still be here if I even manage to retire. Life is just a series of days now, one after the other, with no distant horizon to look at or aim for.

People say these things always end. That took a couple of years for the last pandemic, and this one in some ways is worse. What we’re doing now is designed to keep a brush fire smouldering instead of flaming uncontrollably, but it’s still a fire and we’re the brush. Eventually, you’ll get singed if you’re lucky and turned into ash if you’re not. I know the best scientific minds in the world are working on a vaccine, but I also know how those efforts have gone against coronaviruses in general. I am more hopeful that a treatment can be developed, as opposed to a vaccine.

This all would be a crap way for me to close a really great story of a life, but I don’t think too much about that any more. For now, I live for today.