Never have I been so close to wanting to acquire a gun ... and a dog.

Just kidding. Mostly. If you know me, you are well aware that I try to stay away from both dogs and guns, though I fully support the right of others to enjoy either or both. But just so you know that our good neighbors to the north aren't any less inclined than we are to throw personal liberties under the bus, if an ordinary Québécois wishes to leave the confines of his house during the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he'd better have a dog with him. And maybe a gun, too, since the night has now been turned over to those whose activities involve both darkness and a built-in willingness to break the law.

It's meant to be funny. Sort of. This guy understands that humor can say what anger cannot. Plus it's very good for diffusing tensions, as well as for one's own mental health.

The funniest line is in the comments, however. Set aside the obvious objections, including the fact that North America technically comprises many more countries than Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and just enjoy the irony: Who would have ever thought that the best-governed country in North America would be Mexico?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 15, 2021 at 8:22 am | Edit
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After about 40 minutes each Thursday morning (and much earlier work by Porter), we're signed up to get the Moderna vaccine next week.

Aren't I worried about getting a new type of vaccine that was rushed into production and has had no long-term testing?

Of course I am. I'd be a fool not to be. I look at the people who treat getting vaccinated as some sort of essential religious rite and wonder how they can be so naïve. These are people who otherwise seem sensible and rational. But vaccines are not safe. That's "not safe" as in "some people are going to have adverse reactions, some of them horrific, and some people are going to die." "Not safe" as in "it's not safe to drive your car to work." As in "it's not safe to jog past a tree because a branch might fall down and kill you." (That one happened here in Central Florida not that long ago.)

We don't get vaccines because they're safe. We get them because we have determined that they are better than the alternative, and we hope they are safe enough. "Better" may be defined as "safer"—or it may involve other criteria as well, such as "I don't need this pertussis vaccine for myself, but I'm planning to visit my newborn grandson, so I'll get it for his sake." In any case, we decide to continue jogging, and hope that we will not be the unlucky one passing under the wrong tree at the wrong time.

However, no one should make that decision for you. Pressure—let along compulsion—either way is wrong.  I'm not out-and-out pro-vaccine, and I'm not out-and-out anti-vaccine.  I'm pro-common sense.

I'm fully aware that this vaccine may later be pulled from the market because of some adverse effect or another. I've seen that happen enough times in my lifetime to think otherwise. So why am I taking it? Because I have looked at the risk/benefit analysis and concluded it's worth it. I've participated in a vaccine trial before (Haemophilus influenzae b) with no problems. As a medical center employee, I took the swine flu vaccine back in 1976—the last time the U.S. government felt pressured to prevent "the worst epidemic since 1918"—despite its apparent link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I've subjected my body to numerous travel-related vaccines (such as typhoid and yellow fever). I've had the old-style pertussis vaccine and also the new one. I've had both the Salk and the Sabin polio vaccines. I've even been vaccinated for smallpox. In all this, I've never had an adverse vaccine reaction. (I don't count getting miserably sick for a day after each of my first two typhoid vaccines; that was considered par for the course and left no lasting damage.)

I'm not reckless in grabbing any new vaccine that comes around. For years I skipped the hepatitis b vaccine because, as my doctor said, my risk factors were so low it wasn't worth it. (But when we started travelling to more countries with less robust medical infrastructure, he and I both agreed it was then time to take that one.) Our kids never got the smallpox vaccine that was essential in my early days, because the risks from the vaccine are currently greater than the possibility of getting exposed to the disease.  I never had nor ever intend to get the measles, rubella, or chicken pox vaccines—for the very good reason that I already have a better immunity than vaccines can give, having had those diseases in my childhood. But since my body seems to be pretty good at handling vaccines, I'm willing to give this new one a chance.

So much for the risks. I figure I'm probably in more danger driving to and from the vaccination site than from the vaccine itself.

And the benefits? Partly they're for me, and partly for others. I figure the quicker we develop herd immunity as a society, the sooner we can shed our masks and go back to hugging and travelling and living. I trust that if I develop an immunity to COVID-19, I won't pass the virus on to someone else. I hope I'll also be pushing us forward along the path to re-opening state and international borders. Whether you believe all the shutdowns and quarantines were necessary actions or foolish, I think we can agree that keeping grandparents away from their grandchildren, and letting people die shut away and alone, are very bad ideas. Inhumane ideas. If I can contribute to ending this oppression, I want to do my part.

I'd rather not have worked so hard to get our appointments. Maybe there's someone who needs this vaccine more. But Florida seems to be doing a good job of making the vaccines available—I know other states that haven't even begun to offer them—so we might as well get the thing done while we're still considered high priority (over 65).

At least we didn't have to make the decision about which vaccine to get; we "chose" the Moderna vaccine simply because that's what was first available to us. Personally, I leaned toward the Oxford, simply because of this meme:

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both effective, protective and safe.

But the Oxford one seems to be effective, protective, and safe.

Stay tuned for more of our vaccine experiences as they happen.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 9, 2021 at 11:39 am | Edit
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I admit to being a big fan of Vitamin D and the role it plays in our health—especially when it comes from natural sources, such as the interaction of sunshine and our skin. (See previous posts Hold That Sunscreen!; Vitamin D; and Sunshine, Vitamin D, and Why I'm Skeptical of the Medical Establishment's Confidence in Its Broad Pronouncements.) Regular readers will not be surprised that I managed to find time, despite the busiest December we've had in recent memory, to listen to the entire hour of the following MedCram interview, which discusses the possible correlation between high levels of vitamin D in the blood and favorable COVID-19 outcomes.

Despite the length—or perhaps because of it—it is my kind of informative interview. it is full of enough charts, graphs, and data to make your head spin, and even more importantly of the kind of phrasing I'm accustomed to in scientific discussions, and which I've found so sorely lacking in scientific pronouncements these days. Words like, "we don't know for sure," "correlation does not prove causation," and "this study shows X, and suggests but does not prove Y."

Despite the hedging—or again maybe because if it—this information strongly encourages me to resume my former habit of taking a daily "sun walk" for at least 15 minutes of sun exposure on as much skin as I can reasonable turn to the sun. It's easier to do that here in Florida where the sun is more direct and short sleeves usually the order of the day, so it's good to know that this interview suggests that vitamin D supplements are also effective. I still prefer the sun/skin partnership, which produces helpful nitric oxide as well as vitamin D, but we take what we can get. I'm sure I'd be better off if I liked sardines as well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 31, 2020 at 10:14 am | Edit
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As a young child, I received an allowance of 25 cents a week. (A quarter was worth a lot more 'way back then.) From that I was expected to allocate some to spend as I pleased, some for the offering at church, and some to be saved into my small account at the bank. That was the beginning. My family had a culture of saving, as well as giving and spending. Saving was for the future—for larger-ticket items, and for unknown future needs.

Part of the excellent advice I received from my father as I was establishing my own household was to set up a regular savings plan, not only for future purchases but to ensure that I could handle at least a six-month period of unemployment—preferably a full year. Of course it took some time to save that much money when I had all the expenses of newly-independent living to meet, but by making it a priority I soon had a comfortable cushion against unexpected expenses.

Fortunately, I married a man with similar views, which were not uncommon among those of us whose parents had lived through the Depression days. For a number of years we were blessed with two incomes, but made a point of keeping our standard of living low enough that we could live on one and save the other. This stood us in very good stead when disaster hit the American information technology industry, and so many IT workers lost their jobs because the work was transferred to India and other places overseas.

But somewhere along the line the culture of saving was largely lost. Once considered a virtue, saving is now called "hoarding" and held in contempt. It seems to be considered a patriotic duty to spend all one's money—and more. (If true, we have been bleeding red, white, and blue during this pandemic.) However, the ugly consequences of this attitude are nowhere more apparent than in the large numbers of families facing financial disaster due to pandemic-related job loss. So many people have gone in the blink of an eye from enjoying comfortable incomes to standing in bread lines. If they had been encouraged to follow my father's advice and maintain a savings cushion of a year's salary, they would likely have been able to weather this storm with ease. But no one—not the government, not the media, not the schools, not our consumerist society, and apparently far too few parents—has been passing on this essential lesson.

I hope it won't take another Great Depression to recover our lost wisdom.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 30, 2020 at 8:09 am | Edit
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This morning I read part of an article called "Is Florida the New Wall Street?" That link should take you to the same part, though to go any further you need to have a Business Insider subscription, which I don't. The beginning paragraphs were enough to get me thinking about the idea, however.

When the pandemic hit New York City, Florida was overwhelmed with people from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut who had decided to flee here. When our governor attempted to impose a quarantine period, he was overwhelmingly mocked, derided, and shut down by New York and other states, with cries of "overreaction" and "interference with interstate commerce." Of course, it was not long before New York and many other states turned around and decided to implement their own quarantines. It reminds me of the European assault on President Trump for closing our borders—and their subsequent decisions to do the same thing themselves. Mind you, I was not happy with the president's decision to close off traffic from Europe, since it happened just in time to cancel a long-awaited visit from our Swiss family. But the hypocrisy of the reaction (from both Europe and New York), without any apology when they decided to implement the same policies, is galling.

But this post is not actually about the pandemic directly. It's about another flood of New Yorkers who might be coming Florida's way.

The pandemic and the rise of remote work are accelerating movement from the Northeast to the Southeast, and that has some suggesting a tipping point has been reached.

“I suspect” Florida will soon rival New York as a finance hub, Leon Cooperman, the hedge fund manager who founded New York-based Omega Advisors, told Business Insider in an email. “‘Tax and spend’ has been [the northeast’s] policy. It has to change or New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will become ghost towns.” 

It's not as if the business would not be welcomed: Florida needs solid jobs that are not so dependent on the tourist industry. But we do not need more people who are interested in making Florida into a second New York.

I lived in Upstate New York for much of my life, and recall well the division between New York City and the rest of the state, with the large-population City tail largely wagging the State dog. Hence New York's high taxes, strong unions, and onerous gun laws. Florida is in a similar situation, with the Miami/Palm Beach area being worlds apart from most of the rest of the state. If a large influx of New Yorkers comes to that part of the state hoping for more freedom, a better tax situation, and a lower cost of living, they'll find them—but if they bring with them the same attitudes that have led to the troubles they are fleeing, then we will all lose.

We have a friend who one year visited us from New York for the express purpose of trying to influence Florida's elections. His company was welcome, but I tell you, I'm a lot more worried about that than about whatever the Russians might be doing via our social media.

When we joined one of our previous churches, the pastor explained, "You do not have to agree with us to be welcome here. We only ask one thing: don't try to change us. If you feel the need to change our culture, you are released from your membership vows and are free to find another church that may be a better fit for you." When push came to shove, that's not exactly how it worked out, but the theory made sense to me.

I know whereof I speak. When we moved to Florida from New York more than 35 years ago, I was the quintessential Northeastern snob. It took me several years to realize that Florida was not (and is not) the backwards, ignorant place my prejudice had led me to believe.

I still miss New York and the Northeast. I especially miss great apples and unpasteurized cider. But the solution is not to plant apple trees here in Florida, but to appreciate citrus trees and unpasteurized orange juice. And to visit the places we have left behind.

We need to let Florida be Florida, New York be New York, Texas be Texas, and Montana be Montana. Just as Europe is realizing that they must not give up French, Norwegian, and Dutch culture for the sake of the European Union, we need to work for the United States to be united while remaining individual states. If we allow ourselves to become a homogenized monoculture, I can just about guarantee it will not give us the best of everything, but the worst—or if we're lucky, mediocrity.

Florida taught me that. Do you think you know what orange juice tastes like? What you buy in the store, even "fresh squeezed," is taken apart, put (somewhat) back together, cooked (pasteurized), and deliberately made so that every carton of orange juice tastes the same as every other. You haven't really tasted orange juice until you drink it raw, without all the processing, and with flavors that change as the season progresses and different varieties of orange go into the juice.

Florida does not need to be pasteurized and homogenized. I don't mean there aren't areas in which we can improve. But there's a huge difference between working for change from inside a culture you love, and running roughshod over a community to which you have fled, without regard for the local population. Cultural imperialism is no more palatable than any other kind.

So come, New York refugees. Live here, grow here, become Floridians. But don't bring New York with you. When I want to experience New York culture, I'll take a vacation there.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 13, 2020 at 8:57 pm | Edit
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I can't believe it has been more than two months since my last COVIDtide status report. Porter, bearing in mind 1816—the Year Without a Summer—calls 2020 the "Year without a Year." Life goes on, but without the events that usually divide and mark our years.

Our planned family reunion in April screeched to a halt when our borders closed and the Swiss folks couldn't make it. Then no one else could make it either. Then most of what we were planning to do closed, anyway. Doctor's appointments were cancelled. Church choir, a big part of our lives, stopped. Church itself went online. Regular restaurant dates with friends were no more. In July we were to have celebrated our first nephew's wedding, in Connecticut. They still had the wedding, but with only a handful of people in attendance, and postponed the reception a full year. Our annual Independence Day band gig was cancelled. Our scheduled European cruise and our visit to Switzerland were cancelled. Plans to celebrate a granddaughter's birthday in person were scrubbed. Our Thanksgiving traditions that have been in place for decades now look very unlikely. So far the only annual event that has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has been hurricane season.

Not that we're wasting away at home—there's always plenty to do here—but it IS hard to keep track of time when one day is so much like another.

Be that as it may, we are slowly emerging from hibernation. Doctors offices are open now, albeit with new restrictions and procedures, so that blessed time of not having to think of personal medical issues has passed. We've now had dental cleanings and annual physicals, and I restarted the process of getting cataract surgery, which I had not been sad to forget for a while.

Our music director, impatient with choir practice having been reduced to a weekly Zoom chat, dug out the children's hand chimes and started an adult "handbell" choir. They're not bells (our church doesn't have any), but they ring, and I'm thrilled to be making music again at last. Now once a week I get out to something besides the grocery store!

Porter, however, is the one who has become really adventurous. Long before the pandemic, he had signed up to be a census enumerator, but the process ground to a halt before it could properly begin. I'm not sure I see the logic of halting the census here in Florida when our case numbers were low and our hospitals empty, then restarting in in the middle of a much higher wave of COVID cases, but that's what they did. About three quarters of those who had initially signed on for the job quit, unwilling to take on the risk. Porter was not one of them, and has been working for three weeks now.

There's plenty I could say about the census process, but not in this post.

That's about it. Our big September adventure, instead of a Baltic cruise and visiting grandkids, will be the above-mentioned cataract surgery, which involves two surgery days and at least five other visits, not even counting the ones that I'd had pre-pandemic and needed to repeat. I'm not complaining—several positive changes have been implemented since my first try at this. It just puts me in mind of what my mother-in-law used to say:

I'd have taken better care of myself if I'd known that my social life would consist primarily of visits to the doctor.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Edit
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One of the advantages of following the recommendations to stay at home is that I have been making progress at processing old photographs.  I was recently struck by the shirt our grandson was wearing on a cruise with us in January 2019.  It seems innocent enough.  It was most likely a hand-me-down and celebrated something unknown to me and maybe even to him.  However, given today's climate, where people have been assaulted over mask issues, I'm guessing it's a good thing he has probably outgrown it.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 7, 2020 at 8:31 am | Edit
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I think maybe this confinement is getting to me. It's not that I particularly miss going out, though I do really miss the good times we had getting together with other people. I love being home and have more work to do here than I could complete in a hundred pandemics. But I really miss church activities, and two opportunities have already slid by in which we would normally have gotten together with far-away family. At least two more are threatened. We have missed one wedding and are hanging onto hope for another. Our grandchildren have grown and changed so much since we saw them last! The year of 2020 will be the first year since 2005 I have not travelled out of the country to be with family.

I know, I know. Before anyone says it, I know we're still blessed beyond measure and I honestly expect much good to come out of this pandemic. Much already has.

And yet it's invading my dreams.

I love to be outside very early in the morning. Every day I go out to our back porch swing, and listen. I listen to the insects and the frogs, and to the armadillo as he waddles back to his den after his nocturnal adventures. I listen to the barred owls, and to the songbirds when they awaken. Though I don't listen for them, I can't help hearing the traffic noises, pool pumps, and air conditioner compressors. I listen to my own thoughts, and then struggle to still them and listen for the whispering voice of God. Sometimes, in my listening, I fall back to sleep, as I did today. And today I dreamed.

In my dream, I was also dozing. Not on the porch, but in our family room; I must have been doing some work using my computer and my phone, for they were both there with me. In my dream I awoke, and all was changed. Every window had been boarded up, as we sometimes do when a hurricane is approaching. (Clearly Isaias had  also found its way into my dreaming.) But instead of plywood, this was cement board—and unbreakable. And it was not just the windows that were boarded up, but all the doors.

We were completely shut in. There was no way out. There was no view out. Between one moment and the next, we had been cut off from the world outside.

What caused me the most distress was the back door. I couldn't stop looking at the cement board blocking what should have been a green, leafy view. Then somehow—the details are vague—a small view opened up so that I could see into the back yard. Gone were the trees, the plants, the insects, the frogs and the birds. In place of the porch, pool, and yard was a vast expanse of concrete with a single exercise trampoline off to one side, and a bulldozer off to the other.

Still half-asleep, I struggled to think. My computer and my phone were no more responsive than my thoughts. Finally, a little girl's voice asked, "Are we just going to watch the paint dry?"

Still fighting to come to full consciousness in my dream, I awoke to a like struggle to come out of what must have been a very deep sleep. But there I was on my swing, on our porch, with the blue of the pool and the green of the foliage in front of me. Dawn had come, and the birds were singing.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 2, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Edit
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During my lockdown-inspired nesting phase, I tacked the master bedroom closet first, and was thrilled to find two flags from my long-ago childhood. I calculate that they had survived at least six moves over four states: safe, albeit neglected, rolled up in a cardboard tube.

Many people have found this restricted time to be inspirational, and I am one of them. Finally, finally, my long-forsaken flags have been cleaned, mounted, and proudly displayed on our wall.

It turned out to be quite a project, especially trying to complete it with limited resources: this was during the severest phase of the lockdown, and I couldn't follow my usual practice of browsing frames at Jo-Ann's and Michael's until I found a size that inspired me. I did my browsing online instead, which was much less satisfactory. Nothing seemed right—certainly nothing that I could get handily.

I scoured the house for unused frames. I even considered temporarily cannibalizing a picture that had not yet found a home on our walls. But nothing was right.

So I reluctantly set aside the project and moved on. That was when I found, well-hidden in an obscure corner of our daughter's room, an unused poster frame. (Janet, if you were saving it for something, I owe you a frame.) It would be perfect, I thought, if only I had a 50-star flag to complete the set.

It was no easier to find the right flag than the right frame. They were either too big, too small, or too expensive. Finally, I looked away from all the flag stores and found one of the right size at Target. And it certainly wasn't too expensive: the price was $1.00. I placed my order.

Because of the pandemic-imposed restrictions, when Porter picked it up for me, he was unable to browse for the best quality—assuming there was one of better quality—but took what was handed to him. Somebody did a lousy job of print alignment. No matter; it does the job. Someday I may replace it with a better. Or not.

I'm proud to be one of the dwindling generation that has lived under three different American flags. Four, if you count the Bennington flag that was popular to fly during the Bicentenniel celebration of 1976.

Happy Flag Day to you all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 14, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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Mostly we are continuing to work quite contentedly on our projects at home, supplemented by regular Skype sessions with grandchildren, a weekly Zoom choir chat, and other not-in-person forms of communication. Domestically, postal mail communication is working fine, seemingly normal. Internationally it is a very different story. Since the arrival of my 56-day Priority Mail package, our folks in Switzerland have received none of the letters I have sent (numbering at least seven). Given that my friend at our local post office once told me that the only postal system in the world that is better than America's is the Swiss system—this is not normal.

At last I'm feeling comfortable with my grocery shopping habits—not related to COVID-19, but to product availability. That is, I'm confident enough again not to buy something as soon as I see it, but to go back to my normal procedure of waiting until the product is on sale. Today I passed up the opportunity to buy our favorite brand of toilet paper, because it was not on sale. That says a lot.

However, I did NOT pass up the chance to buy my first bag of King Arthur flour since all this started! It was all I could do to restrain myself from buying more than one. (The store set no limits, but we King Arthur fans have to look out for one another.) The price was good, too ($3.99 for five pounds).

I also ventured out to the library to return two books and pick up one that had become available. The library takes in returned books in the vestibule, before you enter the main part of the facility. From there the returned books are put into a three-day quarantine before being reshelved. In the library itself masks are recommended but not required. All the staff but only some of the patrons were wearing masks the day I visited. Not one of all the children I saw was masked—which I found disturbing, given that children are the most likely to spray their coughs and sneezes randomly. Don't tell me you can't make a child wear a mask. I know a little boy who as a two- and three-year-old cancer patient had to wear a mask every time he went out in public. If he could manage it, certainly much older children can.

Our first new venture was participating in Communion on the Driveway at church. We joined the others who watched most of the service from home, then drove to church for the drive-through experience, receiving communion (just the bread) into our hands from long, slender tongs that looked for all the world like chopsticks. Even though our church is officially reopened for public worship, the restrictions are so great that we will be patient with the online version for a while longer. If we couldn't get the Eucharist any other way, we might have to submit to the restrictions, but we'll face that if we come to it.

The other big event for us was HAIRCUTS! I had already taken the scissors to my bangs once, but was still feeling shaggy and uncomfortable, especially with the advent of summer heat. Porter had long ago changed his hairstyle to keep his ever-lengthening hair out of his eyes, but it was time and more than time for both of us. For a long time, our neighbor, a semi-retired barber, has been cutting Porter's hair, but he has been out of town for weeks. I usually go to SuperCuts, but am not ready to have that kind of public contact yet. Finally, our neighbor returned—to a line-up of people anxious for his services.

Not only are we both feeling much, much better, but this was probably my most enjoyable haircut, ever. I know some people like getting haircuts, but for me it is only slightly preferable to going to the dentist. First, there's the stress of wondering how the haircut will turn out. (Don't tell me that I wouldn't have that stress if I paid more for a haircut; I've discovered that doesn't help.) This time, I didn't really care. I just wanted the job done. (And it turned out to be one of my best haircuts, anyway.) But that's not the worst stress of getting a haircut: I hate hair salon conversations. Every once in a while I'll get a stylist who will just cut my hair, but most want to talk. Over the years I've learned to do the small-talk thing, but it costs me a great deal of effort and leaves me exhausted.

But this was soooo different! As I said, this time the barber was our neighbor, and I am accustomed to talking with him. Besides, the conversation was interesting—not the kind of discussion you can have with a stranger. We might as well have been eating dinner at Outback together, except of course that my hair was shorter when we were done. Never has getting a haircut been so easy and so rewarding!

And there's one more benefit that came from our shearing: I have my husband back. Now that Porter's hairstyle is back to normal, he looks like himself to me. Y'all probably laughed when I said that the first time our rector got a radical haircut I thought it was someone else up at the altar until he spoke. Not recognizing one's own husband is even sillier, but that's prosopagnosia for you. I mean, I knew it was him, but ... it's good to have him back.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 13, 2020 at 6:46 pm | Edit
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[Editor's Note:  This is homeschooling.  The school year has ended and thus Wyatt has more time to devote to writing, setting his own goals and an ambitious schedule.]

It could be said that I am the absolute worst person to take the long view of current times. I’ve only been around for 15 years and haven’t known the slightest thing about current events until at most three years ago, when I took to them like a fish to water. And I live in New Hampshire, the whitest state in the Union. This is hardly beneficial to interpreting recent events, whether they be the long term effects of coronavirus, or the recent riots that have shaken the country. However, sometimes the unattached observer is best. It is a terribly interesting time, from a historical perspective. Of course, we must remember the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” I don’t think it was meant as good wishes.

First of all, things are not all doom and gloom. We must remember that the standard of living is higher today than ever before. We would all be living at the highest standard of living a major industrial country has ever had, if not for the coronavirus. The Spanish flu was just as deadly as the coronavirus. Yet, everyone went out, and many died. This was because, a hundred years ago, the world couldn’t afford to shut down. Now, we can all stay inside for three months, and our biggest concern is our social life. The sixties were a turbulent time, as turbulent as today politically. The seventies were marked by gas shortages. Life may have been better four months ago, but this is the first dip we’ve seen since the 2008 crash, and all the aftershocks of that. It has taken us all by surprise. We’ll be recovering from this for a long time. But, we will recover from it, in some form or fashion. How much we will lose forever, and how much will continue as it was before, remains to be seen, but we will recover.

I think that the recent riots are as much an indication of economic downturn, perceived as being forced by the authorities, as of the tragic death of George Floyd. The police have enforced lockdowns and have become quite unpopular in some places. It is a simple fact that, while the death of George Floyd is tragic, it is far from the first of its kind. Many examples of police brutality have taken place before, on both blacks and whites. So, why did these ones produce an unparalleled amount of rioting and destruction? I think it is the economic downturn, which has hurt many in the black community. Therefore, there are lots of poor people, black and white, who aren’t allowed to work. Thus, they have nothing to do, other than try and spend unemployment checks. They get into the streets because they dislike the police, and the police have given them another, poignant reason to dislike them. It is thrilling to finally break the social distancing guidelines, thrilling to put oneself at risk for a cause. Then, when they find out that the nation is by and large behind their message, some of the more reckless ones begin looting, and burning police stations. I think it is the natural result of keeping all these people locked up for so long. There was dry wood. The death of George Floyd was the match. That is how I view the situation.

It is amazing how swiftly social distancing was abandoned. If you protest and loot buildings, you are immune to coronavirus, apparently. The rapidity with which the social distancing rule was dropped was amazing. One day, nobody ever talked about anything else. The next, every major player in the world was silent, except for maybe right wing outlets, though I doubt that the protesters’ health is the first thing on their mind. Now, former Vice President Biden is going to attend George Floyd’s funeral, where no social distancing is being mandated. That is quite the risk for the Vice President, who is already elderly, the number one thing to make you vulnerable. It is now politically expedient to ignore social distancing, so it is ignored.

This is leading us into one of the most bitter games of political maneuvering I’ve ever seen, either myself or in history. Usually, when there is a crisis, the nation comes together. We did it in WWII, we did it in the Mexican war in the 1840’s, we did it in the Great Depression, we’ve done it many times. So, why can’t we do it now? It is because both parties have tried and succeeded to make things black and white. Democrats are terrible, say the Republicans, because they want to steal your money and give it to people who aren’t working. Republicans are racist, say the Democrats, because they don’t want to give their money to poor people, and everyone knows that colored people are poor because of Republicans’ racism. And so it goes, getting nastier and nastier, until each side has been convinced the other is entirely evil, and if “those people” get control of the country, it will fall apart. I think this has prevented us from coming together.

It has come up for an interesting election, in that if either candidate were not running against the other, I would assume that they would lose. Vice President Biden is going senile before our eyes, and I don’t think he can physically handle the presidency, the most stressful job on the planet, for four years. I cannot judge his chances until he picks his VP. President Trump was turned to by the Republicans as their last desperate hope. And it worked. However, while he started off well enough, events out of his control have led to him being in a bunker for fear that the White House might be stormed by protesters. Though no one could have stopped the coronavirus, any president that has to be in a bunker has begun to lose control of the country. This is why a European political system with more than two parties would be nice.

So, times may look grim these days. But, they are in some ways the nicest days ever. Remember that oil was once so sought after that wars were fought for it, repeatedly, in the Middle East, not so long ago. Now, we are pulling out of there, a place the United States has been fighting since before I was born, because we don’t need oil anymore. We will need oil again, surely, but I don’t think we’ll need as much for a long time, as people become more accustomed to not driving. It is a time of change. I don’t like it very much, and I think that some of the things being lost will hurt American culture for many years to come. But there are benefits, and I think that the world will come out a new place. The only question is to whom the prize of shaping it will go. Democrats or Republicans? The United States or China? Only time will tell.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 7, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Edit
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The world may be facing some very serious difficulties right now, but the world has always faced serious difficulties.

One of the best ways to combat the depression and ennervation that come during such times is with laughter. Not course, mocking laughter, but the kind of bright, wholesome, joyful comedy that lifts the spirit.

Here's one I found yesterday. It depends for most of its comedy on familiarity with the old television show, Monk, so I know several of my readers might not find it as funny as we did. But I hope you enjoy it anyway.  (The fun part starts at about 1:29.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 6, 2020 at 10:25 am | Edit
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The coronavirus has really brought out the culture differences throughout both the world and the country. It has sharply contrasted the mindset of China and the mindset of the West. Within America the divide between Urban and Rural has never been clearer. Both of these are interesting and important aspects of the future.

The Chinese got hit by this coronavirus first, and I’ve heard a lot about what they do from my dad, who works with Chinese kids, teaching them English. Since kids are less tight-lipped than adults, we probably know a lot more about China than most people and were hearing higher death numbers before they were revealed to everyone. China is the embodiment of the centralized state, at least in the modern day. The Communist party rules as a dictatorship. It first invented the lockdown, where everyone was kept inside. They exercised to the fullest their control over the population. And China managed to keep the counts low, as far as we could tell. Bigger numbers came out later. Because of the false numbers, the lockdown was considered the best and only way of beating the coronavirus. China is the most fertile ground for any virus, with many urban areas that Americans can only imagine. Beijing has 21.7 million people in it. California has less than double that with only 39.5 million. That is astounding. Because of this, and the poor nutrition of most Chinese, the virus has every reason to be rampant in China. Only now, as the temperature goes up, has it begun to melt away.

In the West, things went differently. First Italy was hit, and it stood against the Chinese way, and let their people take care of themselves. This led to disaster, from which Italy has not yet recovered. After that the West went into a panic, especially Europe. In America, it was mostly done in the form of suggestions, at least at the Federal level. In Europe things were shut down much quicker. In both, the end result has been the same. We’ve had a large amount of trouble in the urban areas, where people are closer together. In the rural areas, things aren’t that bad. This has been a chief cause of division between urban and rural.

The urban/rural debate has been going on throughout history. It has been brought to a head in recent times, however, as the urban population goes up, and the rural population goes down. That, combined with the partiality of the coronavirus towards urban areas, has led to this divide becoming sharp. The chief difference is this. In the city, everything is there. You work hard to be on the cutting edge, and everything is there. You have a lot of money, but everything costs a lot. You rely on public transportation. You pay high taxes, and get lots of benefits. The urban life is bustling, and is always on the cutting edge of culture. The cities have always had the ideas first. In Paris, the French Revolution was conceived. In Moscow, Communism was first practically considered. In the American and European cities, we’ve seen the ideas of the past thrown away for new ideas. The current divide is about whether they will spread.

The Rural population is “behind the times.” They live a simpler life. In one of the most rural states, Wisconsin, they opened up bars, because the state Supreme Court ruled that the lockdown order was unconstitutional. The Rural population is independent. As they say, “A country boy can survive.” The rural life is one of working without much intervention. People mostly just want to live the way they always have. The rural population is much older, and this is because the colleges are run by the urban population. These colleges then try to imprint the people who go to college with urban ideals. Thus, the rural population is rapidly ageing, while the younger generation goes from college to the urban centers, and from there the rural population loses the population battle, despite the fact that one of the urban ideals is having fewer people in the world. I suppose it is the natural result of living in such a crowded place. I describe it as a battle, and that may seem extreme. However, it really is not. It was the rural population that produced President Trump, who won by sweeping the Midwest and winning key states that have large rural populations, like Pennsylvania. The Urban population despises Trump for the most part, and they are not at all happy that the rural population, through the electoral college, defeated the superior population of the urban areas. The massive gap between these two populations can make the U. S. seem like two countries, with two radically different cultures and ideas being put forth for the governance of the country.

How will it go? I can’t say. The rural population is shrinking, but that was primarily due to college, in my opinion. If colleges become virtual, and young people stay in rural areas, perhaps they will have rural ideals. We shall see. We may have an exodus from urban areas like New York City when this is over. Who can say what effect that will have? Whatever the result, this will certainly be one of the most important issues of the next decade. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 8:32 am | Edit
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My Big Adventure of the week? Picking up two books I had ordered from the library. I called ahead because they have a 25% capacity limit, and was informed that they haven't come close to the limit since they reopened. The checkout workers were masked and behind a plexiglas shield far more extensive than those at Publix, which I view as inadequate for the protection of the grocery clerks. On the same trip, I stopped at the post office to check our PO box. We're that wild and crazy around here.

The next trip didn't really count, since we encountered no breathing creature but merely picked up a pair of new masks from a friend's porch. Behold, the Space Grace Face Mask!

How does this mask differ from our other Grace Mask? It's pleated, surgical mask style, instead of the Fu design. I like the Fu for its fitted nose area, but this does it one better by having an aluminum strip sewn into it, which can be used to conform the mask to the nose. This is a great improvement in fit, and results in significantly less air being expelled through the top (and fogging my glasses).

The earpieces are elastic, rather than crocheted, which also helps with the fit, thanks to the elastic finally having become available for purchase. I wanted the mask a little tighter, and putting a simple twist into the elastic on each side did the trick. I could make the fix permanent with a few stitches, but this was so easy and worked so well I may just leave the size flexibility built in.

Based on my limited experience at this point, I'd say this is the most comfortable of my masks, largely because it feels the most secure. The aluminum nosepiece is a significant addition, I think. I might even be able to sing in this mask, albeit in a most muffled manner, without it slipping out of place. Thanks, Grace!

Sadly, this mask does not have the non-woven interfacing layer of our other masks, which I believe provides significantly more filtration, because the interfacing is still unattainable. On the plus side, the lack of the interfacing layer does make breathing easier, so that on my most recent trip to the grocery store I did not find myself experiencing the reflexive deep breathing that troubled me before. Hopefully this, along with the better fit, will make up for the lack.

About that grocery trip. On the list of COVID-19 blessings surely must be my new habit of doing my grocery shopping at 7 a.m. on Saturday. The roads were empty, the parking lot nearly so. There were far more Publix employees to deal with than customers. It almost makes grocery shopping fun. Almost.

I'm afraid some people may be becoming complacent, however, as I did see a couple of folks without masks. As I've said before, it's not that I have that much faith in the protective power of the mask, but it does say that the wearer is concerned and trying to be careful. It reminds me of Michael Pollan's observation that nutritional supplements have been shown not to do any good at all for normal people, but nonetheless, people who take supplements are generally healthier than those who don't, because of related habits. "Be the kind of person who takes supplements," he advises, "and ditch the supplements." Well, I'm not ready to ditch the mask—but you get the idea. And I certainly think that the time when we are beginning to experiment with reopening is a time to be more cautious in other behaviors, not less.

There was a little bit of toilet paper available, but no napkins this time. (Last week the situation was reversed.) Flour was nearly unavailable, unless you wanted the self-rising variety. I almost bought one of the four or five all-purpose bags, but decided to leave them for someone else because our home supply is still okay.

If there'd been plenty of flour I would have bought a couple of bags. I like to bake under normal circumstances, and find that I have joined the rest of the country in upping my efforts during this time. Decluttering and baking seem to be the new national pastimes. Our New Hampshire family went through their 50-pound bag of King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour in one month. (There are a lot of bakers in that family. And even more eaters. Well, maybe not that. I believe they all bake.)

Porter's big outing for the week was finally getting his much-postponed census-taker's fingerprinting session taken care of. In case you were concerned, he passed the background check. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 30, 2020 at 11:46 am | Edit
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On April 1 I mailed two things to Switzerland: a birthday card for Janet, and a Priority Mail box of books that she had ordered and had had delivered here, because she was planning to be here in April to receive them.

Perhaps mailing an important package on April Fools' Day was not the wisest choice this year.

Normally both items would have been delivered within a week, but what with the great reduction in flights from here to Europe, I was not surprised that the package was slow, even though it was sent Priority Mail. It did go promptly to Miami; on April 2 tracking results showed that it had been processed there and was "now on its way to the destination."

And there the status sat. Where the package itself sat I know not. Most likely it was at the Miami airport in some big pile awaiting an airplane to take it across the Atlantic, but for all I know it could have been sitting in a pile at Swiss Customs, because their system, too, was affected by the COVID-19 disruptions.

The days passed. The weeks passed. April turned into May, and as far as the USPS was concerned, the package was still "processed through Miami and on its way to the destination."

An then, on May 19, Janet reported the arrival of her birthday card! I'd had no idea that it also had been delayed. Frustrating as that was, it gave me hope, and I shelved the "lost mail" report I had been about to submit.

Six days later, the missing package cleared Swiss Customs, and was delivered the next day. The package and its contents were in fine shape.

Fifty-six days it took for those books to make the journey from Orlando to Switzerland. And yet I feel more gratitude than consternation, even though I paid airmail prices for slow-boat service. It's a reminder of how much normal international communication has changed since the days when transporting packages to far-away countries routinely took several months.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Edit
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