Archive for June, 2020

It’s Tuesday night, and the US has become a banana republic with nuclear weapons. A top CDC official has admitted that the pandemic in the United States is out of control, and that it’s impossible to trace or contain all the new cases. That’s pretty phenomenal, considering other countries managed to make it work. Some, like Italy and Spain, got hit hard and took extraordinary measures to reduce the spread. Some, like China, quarantined giant cities and went so far as to weld people inside their apartments if they were caught sneaking out. There were democracies such as Vietnam, Singapore, and South Korea, that took a less extreme approach and ended up with far less casualties. (Vietnam in particular is an extreme success story: they’ve had zero deaths.)

It may not be obvious to most people here and now, but this is the beginning of the end for the American empire. (Or maybe even the middle of the end.) The pandemic plan that the Obama administration left behind wasn’t followed. Governors prioritized partisan politics over their oaths to serve to the people. The CDC is an especially tragic case: established right after World War II, their entire mission was to monitor the spread of disease, study and contain viral outbreaks, and prevent pandemics from happening. They have failed in the most spectacular manner imaginable. They run a tight ship, so it’s not yet clear why they decided to play politics and misinform the public during those vital first months. Perhaps it’s the rigid hierarchy they’re known for. Perhaps something else. In the years to come, there’ll be some books from the insiders, describing the events they witnessed yet took no action to stop.

Today is the last day of June. It’s hard to believe that 2020 is only halfway through. Tomorrow is Canada Day, a welcome holiday that’ll break the workweek into two. Thanks for having me, Canada. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 108

It’s Monday night, and I may have found my zen. That is, logging off from work at 5pm sharp and diving straight into the fantasy ESO world, where I fish (while leisurely reading the world news), craft different things, and acquire gold while going on an occasional adventure. That may or may not be an idealized version of what I want to do once I retire…

It’s interesting that most of the world seems to be done with covid, and it’s only China, Brazil, and the US that generate all the disturbing headlines. It’s been officially confirmed: when the EU reopens for international travel on July 1st, tourists from the US won’t be allowed to visit. Canadians are allowed to fly in, though. Kind of confirms that I made the right choice when I decided to move here, eh? (The cut in salary was incredibly painful, but hey, that’s the price of civilization.) China and Brazil are banned as well, and the list will be reviewed every two weeks.

Arizona has finally decided that they might as well try listening to scientists: they’ve shut down bars, gyms, and other public places. And just to think, this is only the first wave hitting them. We’ll all be in the same boat again later this year. (I doubt they will have learned…) Meanwhile, China is skipping the final step of the vaccine testing: they’ll test it out on their military instead. That is… troubling. If that works, they’ll have a strategic military advantage over everyone in the region. (Not to mention the control over the world’s only viable vaccine.) If that doesn’t work, they may end up permanently injuring their own military. That’s one hell of a gamble.

On the personal front… I’ve been texting on and off with a local friend. She got mildly flirtatious. Then she sent me a video of a covid-denier and said he made some good points. Oh well. At least this pandemic is making it easier to remove people with no critical thinking skills out of one’s dating pool. So it goes. I’m still trying to make the most of my one-man lockdown: today at work, I made a breakthrough and created a shiny useful Excel-based tool that had never existed before. Then I logged off at 5pm sharp (work-life harmony FTW) and celebrated by eating a freshly baked Hawaiian pizza on the sunlit backporch while sipping a coke and taking my French daily lessons from Duolingo. Life isn’t all bad.

Sunday night. I can’t express how beautiful and addicting this Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) game is. Ten years from now, it’ll probably seem primitive compared to the virtual reality haptic-feedback games. (As seen in Ready Player One.) Still, here and now, this is something remarkable. Beautiful graphics, lots of subtle humour, the freedom to do anything you want… I must say, having my character gallop around on an immortal hydrophobic horsie while crafting different gizmos is definitely giving me some ideas for the future.

And that’s how I spent pretty much this entire day. Healthy? Hell no. Helpful? Very much so. As escapism goes, this is pretty great. (And did I mention the game is free to play? Heh.)

Elsewhere in the world (well, pretty much just the US) – southern states are starting to obfuscate information: deleting ICU data, not updating the case numbers, etc. This is pointless, but I suppose if you’re stuck in the middle of a shitstorm, you lose your ability to think strategically. Your life becomes a series of tactical mini-shitstorms, and that’s something I can relate to based on my own prior work experience.

South Carolina is particularly bad: they plan to convert school gyms into overflow areas for 3,000 new ICU beds. If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is.

…and now back to my pandemic-free fantasy world. Heh.

Saturday night. Spent most of the day keeping xgf company: I’m one of the three people in her social circle. Aside from my landlord family, she’s the only one in mine. In a normal world, we would’ve put far more distance between ourselves following the amicable break-up, but there’s nothing normal about this here world.

…I wonder if at some point in the future, we’ll just jokingly refer to 2020 as “that gap year” and pretend it never happened. Sort of like they did on the TV show Community: one of the middle seasons had remarkably bad writing, so henceforth they just referred to it as “the gas leak year.” Heh.

The traffic in Toronto is pretty much back to the pre-pandemic levels, or at least it sure feels like that. I’m seeing quite a few pedestrians wearing their masks around their chins, so they could talk/breathe easier. That’s not exactly how that works, but it’s the thought that counts, eh? Xgf is making me a bit nervous by not wearing her mask outside on her 40-minute daily walks… She generally walks laps around her local park, and claims she just holds her breath when others walk by. She’s right that the virus lasts way less outdoors than indoors, but that still won’t save her if someone coughs near her… I tried to explain. She shrugged it off. I hope her luck holds.

Interestingly, Arizona still hasn’t done anything about their reopening, even as their hospitals fill up. They’ll probably take some token action within five days, but still. Yeesh.

In personal news, the Elder Scrolls Online game I mentioned yesterday is remarkably addictive: I finished installing it around 10pm last night, and stayed up till 5am trying to do all the things. (Remember what I said about my addictive personality a few days ago?) I consider it a personal triumph that I never played World of Warcraft because I just know it would’ve gobbled up my 20s. (Not that I spent that decade particularly wisely, mind you.) The ESO game is a calculated risk: since there’s no way to escape into a parallel universe physically, a mental escape into a fantasy universe should work just as well.

Earlier today, I got my oximeter and digital thermometer. It’s interesting: when the pandemic started hitting the headlines in March, these gadgets were unavailable anywhere. Even now, you can’t find thermometers at Walmart. I’m not sure when exactly Amazon got them in stock again, but it must’ve been fairly recently. Despite having stockpiled lots of medical and camping supplies (most of which were from my time with Search&Rescue in the US, I was remarkably short on gadgets. The oximeter in particular will make a world of difference: there have been articles about doctors who realized they had to rush to the emergency room ASAP when they saw their blood oxygen drop to the mid-80s. Here is hoping that won’t happen, but if it does… That’d be a damn fine $50 investment, then.

Enjoy your weekend, fellow gap year misadventurers.

Plague diaries, Day 105

Friday night. I celebrated by going to Walmart and LCBO. It was interesting to see that this time, only 50% or so wore masks. I researched the cancer warning of my new face shield some more: it was referring to California’s overarching warning that working with dust or lead is bad for you. Since I don’t intend to do that, I’m safe. It felt oddly comfortable to wear a cloth mask with a filter, a pair of wraparound goggles, and a face shield. Got a few odd looks but not as many as I’d thought. As a bonus, I spotted a fellow shopper who purchased a similar face shield for herself.

I’m trying to pass the time with more indoorsy addictions… Having finished the Walking Dead show, I’ve switched to reading the source material on Comixology. Steam just launched their summer sale, so I’ve finally bought Elder Scrolls Online to continue exploring the Skyrim universe, only with better graphics this time around. Whatever it takes to keep my mind off the things happening in the real world.

The governors of Texas and Florida finally decided to do the absolute bare minimum required to stop the pandemic: they’ve shut down bars. That wasn’t based on altruism and them coming to their senses; that was most likely because their major cities have run out of ICU beds. Now those petty science-denying tyrants are in an interesting philosophical pickle. They wanted their states to reopen because they claimed the pandemic wasn’t that bad, and that they’re somehow sturdier, healthier, and luckier than all those New Yorkers. Now they’re shutting down again (if even a little bit) because the virus doesn’t care about their politics. In so doing, they’ve successfully pissed off everyone: those who follow medical guidelines and self-isolate, and those who think the pandemic is a hoax. Heh.

Arizona might be the next in line to shut down once more. Then again, it’s hard to underestimate the ineptitude of Arizona’s government. Close to home, Canada will withdraw its armed forces from Quebec: they’d been sent there a while back, as I wrote 69 days ago over yonder. While helping the elderly, they also discovered multiple cases of neglect, if not downright abuse. I worry that things will just slide back toward the baseline relatively soon.

The stock market crashed by almost 3% today. Looks like Wall Street hadn’t anticipated that the reopening would fail. So much for that efficient market, eh? Trump’s bragging rights are mostly centered on the stock market’s performance. Seems like some more strings will be pulled (or more misinformation released) to keep the market propped up. My money is on the cruise industry lobbyists getting a shout-out or some stimulus money to keep them afloat. (Terrible pun intended.)

And so begins one more pandemic weekend… Just to keep things interesting, here’s a pic of yours truly sporting not one, not two, but three different types of PPE. Stay safe out there, folks.

Thursday night. Things are getting weird at work. A once-in-a-century pandemic isn’t the best time for a re-org. Not that there’s ever a good time for it, but this is just spectacularly bad timing. Learned a few things today… If my life were a TV show (and who is to say it isn’t?), there’d be a very angry letter-writing campaign to the show’s writers because some plot twists are simply too bizarre.

On the upside, my job is pretty safe, and the company’s lawyers are pretty damn close to submitting my PR application. Just a few more months till I become Canada’s newest permanent resident… Something to look forward to as the world continues its inexorable slide into madness.

Houston’s ICU beds are officially 100% full. Hospital CEOs are trying to sound upbeat, claiming the overflow will be taken care of with utmost safety and efficiency, but that’s neither reassuring nor believable. Only 198 ICU beds (12% of the total) are available in Arizona. It’s just a matter of days now before the same horrifying footage we saw in New York (forklifts with dead bodies, refrigerated morgue trucks on residential streets, etc) start showing up there as well. Texas governor Greg Abbott has paused the reopening plan, which is probably as close as any southern governor will come to admitting their mistake.

It’s morbid, but… If you kill one person, you’ll get to prison. Kill several people, and you’ll most likely spend the rest of your life behind bars. But if you ignore all empirical evidence and make mindboggingly stupid decisions that result in deaths of thousands, you’ll suffer zero consequences. Hell, you might even get reelected. And as if willful ignorance weren’t enough, now there are sheriffs around the US claiming they will not enforce mandatory mask mandates in their counties.

If you’re reading this in the future, I hope this conveys at least some of the overwhelming, ceaseless absurdity our world has become. There’s more and more news coming out every hour of every day – articles and videos that would’ve hijacked the public discourse for days before the pandemic. Now, however, it’s all just more of the same. Yet another video of a cop killing someone in cold blood and lying about it. More insane tweets from Trump. A 6-point earthquake in California. So-called “Karens” printing out misspelled cards claiming they don’t have to wear a mask because of undisclosed health reasons. This really is stranger than fiction, and more disturbing than any dystopian book you’ll ever hope to find.

Plague diaries, Day 103

Thursday night. As Toronto is starting to open back up, people are starting to take more risks. The landlords’ teenage son really wants his haircut… Another possible vector. My life would’ve been so much easier if I’d simply rented a small studio apartment when I moved to Canada. Then again, I would’ve missed out on lots of adventures along the way. (Moving right now is not advisable: Uhaul isn’t known for their standards of hygiene or for sterilizing things.

Alarming reports from Houston: 97% of the city’s ICU beds are full. Unless this is the peak of their outbreak (and it probably isn’t), they’ll have to resort to picking who gets the intensive care, just like their Italian counterparts did two months ago… Meanwhile, in West Palm Beach, Florida, angry morons at a town hall meeting claimed that mandatory masks are unconstitutional, and that doctors are guilty of crimes against humanity. It’s all fun and games until one of those mouth-breathers decides to administer their idea of justice.

Incidentally, I used to live in both Texas and Florida. Neither of these news stories surprises me… (I do miss Florida’s beaches, though. The beaches were nice.)

Cruise companies are taking a beating once again, dropping 5-10% every day. The CDC put a stop to cruises until September, even though bars and restaurants are allowed to open. It’ll be curious to see how many lobbyists the cruise industry will throw at this problem. And speaking of September: no one has any idea what will happen when the school year begins. Parents with young kids won’t be able to leave them at home, and kids in general aren’t big fans of sitting still and following instructions on their tablets. There’s no nationwide plan: it seems there are as many plans as there are school districts.

Decades from now, when those haven’t yet been born listen to our stories about 2020, they won’t believe us – and who can blame them?

Tuesday evening. Good news: my face shield has finally arrived. Bad news: according to the context-free label on the mask, it may cause cancer. FML. I guess it really was too good to be true: time to return it to Amazon.

No word yet on my permanent residence application, but I feel like it’ll be finalized within a week – and after that, there’s just a bit more waiting, for a few more months, and I’ll be a real Canadian. (And then a citizen a couple of years later.) My timing is perfect because Americans are no longer welcome in some parts of the world. The European Union will start opening up on July 1st, but a leaked draft suggests that US tourists wouldn’t be allowed to fly in. That’s a pretty huge development… The US wasn’t going to sustain its superpower/world leader status in the 21st century, but still… Damn.

Trump is holding another rally, this time in a megachurch in Arizona. The true faithful claim that they’ve invented an air filtration system that’ll kill covid and keep everyone safe. This world is getting too weird to even make fun of.

Twelve days ago, I mentioned that Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood has declared independence and adopted the name CHAZ. Well, they have a shooting a day now, and since they won’t let the police enter, that means paramedics can’t go to an unsecured scene, and it takes 45 minutes for victims to get to the hospital. So much for that experiment, it seems. (If you’ve ever watched The Wire, this is an awful lot like Hamsterdam, a designated neighbourhood where everything goes and no one gets prosecuted.

Hard to believe that the year isn’t even halfway through yet. Folks on Twitter are posting things like, “I wish I’d done more before the world ended.” Heh. It seems to me that the second half of 2020 will be even stranger and more outlandish than what we’ve seen so far.

Monday evening. Another day just like any other. Over 100 days now since I’ve actually gone to work. That place must be so different now, with all the precautions they take…

I’m trying to concentrate on the advice I read the other day, that life should be about living, not waiting for some other, better part of life – but there just aren’t that many fulfilling and fascinating things to do right now, when every stranger’s every cough could hypothetically change your entire life. I’ve finished binge-watching The Walking Dead series, though the last episode of season 10 hasn’t been released due to covid. (Somewhat ironic that a show about the zombie plague got stopped in its tracks by the real plague.) Time to tackle another piece of entertainment: there’s enough out there to fill a lifetime…

One of my landlords is looking forward to the US-Canadian border reopening. (I can’t entirely understand what his employer does, but it has something to do with tourism.) The current reopening date is July 21st, but that’s been pushed back a few times now, and it likely will again. I tried explaining that things will like stay close till at least August, but I’m not sure he believed that.

There’s civil unrest, even in the allegedly civil EU. An apartment building in Germany got quarantined after two covid cases turned into 120. There are 700 people, and they’re rather unhappy… They clashed with the police enforcing the quarantine. Cases are spiking in rural India, after all the migrant workers got home from major cities. (I’m positive I’d predicted this earlier, but I can’t find that blog entry for the life of me.) Brazil crossed 50,000 deaths – and that’s just the official count. The excess mortality analysis showed that the true worldwide death most likely stands at 600,000 – not 450,000. 25% of the total isn’t being accounted for… And last but not least, they’ve discovered the D614G strain with more “spike” proteins: it came to the east coast of the US by way of Italy, and it appears to be much more dangerous than the west coast strain that came from China. It’ll be hard to determine just how much impact different state reactions had when they weren’t quite dealing with the same virus. Small wins, I suppose.

…I wonder how many people these days read as much covid-related news as I do. 50%? 10%? I have this sneaking suspicion that if more people had read about the long-term risks, the worldwide reopening wouldn’t be greeted with quite as much enthusiasm. And if I were the kind of person to disregard the news… Would I be happier? Likely. Would I be more at risk? Certainly. And as a side effect, then y’all wouldn’t have this blog to keep you company. Heh.

We’re one step closer to the weekend now, for what it’s worth.

It’s Sunday night, the 100-day plaguaversary of my personal pandemic experience. One-hundred days ago today, xgf (or just gf back then…) and I had that fateful phone call when we agreed things were getting too dangerous to be around other people. The following day, we began our AirBnB odyssey across Ontario and Quebec, a journey that lasted 72 days. Today is four weeks since we returned and parted ways. It’s also ninety-seven days since Trudeau declared the state of emergency and declared that the US-Canadian border would get closed. It’s also one day since the summer solstice, which I’ve completely missed. The year is past the halfway point. I wish I could say the same about the pandemic.

The first mention of the US death toll I found on my own blog was 1,045 – way back on day 12. The current official estimate (which doesn’t include the excess mortality above the baseline) is 122,000 Americans, or at least 1,375 people per day since I posted that first number way back on March 25th.

The world has changed so much… If you went back in time even 100 days ago and described what has happened, no one would’ve believed you. At best, you’d have been accused of being a fear-mongerer. I wonder what strange tales a time traveler from 100 days in the future might tell us. Guess I’ll look back at this in late September and find out.

There was a miniature alarm on the personal front today: I woke up to the sound of my landlords’ son coughing. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him, so I just called xgf and said it might not be a good idea to meet today. We compromised and sat very far apart in a sunny park while we had a picnic, and cut the day short after an hour. The whole time, we were talking about whether it’d be better for me to get a month-long AirBnB or just build my own mini-kitchenette in my room so I wouldn’t have to go downstairs at all. When I got back home, the kid said he always coughs when he wakes up because his throat is dry… False alarm, then. I’m not a fan of having to be so hyper-attentive and far more anxious than I’d been before the pandemic. Then again, can’t be too careful, right?

Not much is new in the world covid news. At last night’s rally, Trump openly admitted that he ordered less covid testing because he wanted to bring the numbers down. There’s no way to estimate how many people died because of that alone. There’s some fist-shaking over this, but it got relatively little media coverage. It may get used in a campaign ad or two, but even in the best-case scenario (barring unexpected covid casualties), he’ll still be in power for another seven months. I left the US partly because other horrific things had gotten normalized: things like concentration camps for children whose families tried crossing the southern border. And now it’s just a fact of life, like so many others… I’m glad I got out. I’m sad none of my friends or relatives followed.

I’ll keep this blog going daily until a) there’s a working vaccine, and b) I get vaccinated. Something tells me it’s still far away. I fully expect there to be a “Day 200” post, and maybe one for “Day 300” and beyond. Whatever else happens, this should never get normalized or forgotten. I’m just one guy writing random stuff on an outdated, unfashionable medium, but hey – it’s better than nothing. Happy plaguaversary, y’all.