Archive for September, 2020

Plague diaries, Day 201

Wednesday night. It has occurred to me that saying “happy hump day” miiiight be able-ist. A lot of bad karma to make up for if that’s the case.

Things turned out suspiciously auspicious today, and I did not in face pull a work-related all-nighter. Well, at least this week is mildly more memorable and eventful than usual.

I’m starting to live vicariously through my landlords: they’ve made up with their son and got him a guitar tutor. (This is the part where I side-eye my own guitar, which I bought a couple of years ago and never even tuned.) Sometimes, the landlords’ daughter and her boyfriend come over and bring their cute little corgi, Royce. He hates my smoothie blender with passion. (The corgi, not the boyfriend – as far as I know, he’s indifferent to blenders.) That always makes for a fun 30-second pantomime.

Sounds like I didn’t miss much by skipping the big debate last night. The president of the United States of America refused to denounce white supremacist groups, and instead told a particularly goofy (but violent) group called the Proud Boys to “stand by and stand back.” That made them very excited because, hey, the president himself gave you a shoutout in front of the entire country. Trump apparently tried to walk that back today, but that’s too little, too late. One of my old college friends asked me earlier today, unprompted and out of the blue, if I can provide any advice on moving to Canada…

In covid news, there’s something interesting going on with cruise ships. The original CDC guidance called for all cruise ships to cease from April through this today, 9/30. The guidance was expected to get extended through February, but the White House has just blocked it. Now, under the administration’s plan, cruises can resume right after Halloween. (This NYT article has more details.) This is a completely political maneuver because a) cruise companies have some good lobbyists, b) if you let cruise ships sail again just three days before the election, you can use that for self-promotion, and c) a lot of money in Florida is made off cruises, and that’s a big part of the puzzle.

Like I said before, I have a fair bit of money invested in cruise companies: at the time, I’d naively assumed that the US would get everything under control. That turned out to be a bad and naive assumption. I guess a cynical part of me might have suspected that cruise companies would get preferential treatment. This will almost certainly be a disaster, since in addition to passengers, there are also hundreds (thousands?) of crew members, and if a single person is contagious… Well, I’m just glad I’m not in that line of work. Interestingly, this goes entirely against the recommendations of Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director. He’s a complicated figure since sometimes he acts like Trump’s sockpupper, but other times he actually stands up for himself. He got overruled on the cruise issue. I wonder if he’ll get fired and replaced with someone more compliant and less ethical.

I’m genuinely curious how the cruise resumption will play out. Kudos to all those who aren’t that stir-crazy yet. Keep it up, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 200

Tuesday evening. Talk about lame anniversaries, eh?

Two-hundred days… What an unimaginably long stretch of time. Long enough to make a premature but viable baby. If you live to be 80, that’s 29,220 days (mind the leap years), which means 200 days is almost 1% of your total lifespan, including the early childhood years that nobody remembers. What’s worse is that we’re all pretty much guaranteed to go through another 150-200 days until vaccines start getting distributed. (I’m sure the wealthy and the celebrities will get them first.) So there goes another percent of your life.

What a shitty, truly shitty and irredeemable year this is.

More long days at work. It’s seasonal, sort of, since things heat up when you plan for a new quarter. I’ll most likely end up having to pull a work-related all-nighter tomorrow. Oy vey.

Long hours lead to poor diet and more stress, which leads to more therapeutic wine, all of which leads to zero time or inclination left to exercise. Excuses, I know…

Purely biologically, I know my body will survive just fine for another 200 days, and another 200, and 200 after that, etc. I’m not as down as all the extroverts who (perhaps for the first time in their lives) are devoid of company and people to socialize with. I know there are others who have legitimate problems and issues, and need far more help than I ever will. Nonetheless, I know I’m well below my baseline. I’m not so naive as to believe things will magically get better on January 1 (and I suspect many people do, in fact, believe that) – I’m in it for the long haul. Still, I’m not at all sure what kind of person I will be by the time I get my magic vaccine shot. I know for a fact that I’ll be much hairier, and hopefully in better physical shape, and rocking an awesome hermit beard, but beyond mere physical characteristics… It’s anyone’s bet.

Tonight is the first presidential debate in the US. It starts in a few minutes. Part of me wants to watch it, if only out of habit and because my degree is, after all, in political science. The rest – and most – of me is going to deliberately not watch it. No social media, no blogs, just some book or a TV show. It hurts to disentangle myself from yet another country (first Russia, and now the US) but that’s necessary. If I recall correctly, the first two years are the hardest, before you truly begin to adjust to your new country and comprehend that the past is behind you…

In covid news, a 42-year-old man in Maryland kept throwing parties, and now he’ll spend a year in jail. This is an unusual case, but the circumstances were just as unusual. Evidently, he didn’t even cancel off the second party the police got called for. (It had over 50 people.) Blatant disregard for rules means actual jail time and national headlines, since this is the first time a state actually threw the book at someone. There’s a fair chance that he’ll appeal and end up serving far less time, but still – this is an important change in tone. I expect there to be more arrests for those who deliberately ignore public safety guidelines. Other things will change too. I’m not sure whether here in Canada we’ll ever get to the point of awarding bounties for those who report a car with US license plates, but I’ve seen multiple people call for that online.

I have a hunch that just three months from now, at the very end of the year, the world will have changed more than we can possibly imagine.

Plague diaries, Day 199

Monday night. No, seriously, to hell with the people who say “Happy Monday.”

Long day at work today: I didn’t log off till 9pm. That left a whopping three hours to a) devour something to keep my stomach from digesting itself, b) read something – anything – not related to work, c) exercise?, and d) update this blog. I’m sorry to say that c) got the short end of the stick. I’m telling myself that I’ll just readjust the legs/arms days, and continue my workout regimen tomorrow, but… I have zero agency when it comes to circumstances beyond my control.

Just 4-10 more months till I get my PR.

Tomorrow is the first US presidential debate. I hate myself for not being able to just walk away, to turn the other way, to cut the cord connecting me to the country that I shall never again call my home. Maybe I really ought to skip it after all. Sure, all the social media will be filled with reactions, counter-reactions, etc for days to come, but there’s zero evidence that these things actually sway anyone’s vote. We are nothing but strangely persistent shadows in this prismatic world. Sure would be great if I could just mute all the US news for the next two months and get a simple notification about who won. Life is never that simple, unfortunately.

In covid news… I didn’t want to believe the early reports (on account of being too downright depressing), but the new papers by Yale researchers provide proof that covid can infect brain cells. That would account for all the neurological symptoms of the long covid, such as the loss of smell and taste, the endless fatigue, etc. This is one insidious virus, yes, but there’ll be plenty more where that came from… This century is gonna suck, to put it mildly.

Plague diaries, Day 198

Sunday night. A sunny day is always a treat, but when it falls on a Sunday, it feels like all is right with the world.

First things first: I’m giving away an e-book on happiness! I wrote “50 shades of yay: great thinkers on happiness” six years ago, but it seems particularly relevant in 2020. The book combines 50 writings on the nature of happiness by pre-modern authors. (Incidentally, everything written prior to 1932 is copyright-free.) Some of the pieces in the book are long, some are short, some are collections of thoughts and aphorisms. I’m sure there’s something there that will help you feel a little better in this weird, unprecedented year. The book is free to download from now until the end of Thursday, October 1. If you like the book, I’d appreciate it if you left a nice review and told your friends.

In other news… The great MRI odyssey last night ended with me getting back home at 4am. Ye olde sleep cycle is going to be a bit off-balance for a little while, but hey – worth it. I spent a couple of hours outside the downtown hospital, enjoying the warm weather and the quiet night. I don’t believe I spent a single evening out and about in Toronto this year… The city gets so different at night: quiet, peaceful, somehow more futuristic. That’s also the only time there are no traffic jams, which makes driving on the local highways an actually enjoyable experience, for once.

I spent a solid couple of hours today just walking around the neighbourhood, trying to find the nearest walking-distance Tim Hortons that sold sandwiches. (I had no idea they had some that sold only doughnuts!) The 30-minute walk ended up taking two hours, but it was a) delicious, b) sunny, c) warm, and d) a nice change of pace. (No pun intended – honest!) It was also a nice opportunity to start reading the new novel by Claire North, one of my favourite authors. (I can’t recommend her “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” highly enough!)

As I was waiting outside the hospital last night, I joined the subreddit on Canada immigration, and the things I read were not very encouraging… Some wrote that they had to wait 11 months to receive their PR (permanent residency) after applying last year. Of course, they’re just anonymous Internet strangers, and they might have had different PR applications than mine, but still… This whole time, I’ve been bracing myself for six months of waiting, from August till maybe as late as February. If I have to keep hanging on all the way through next summer… Let’s just hope it doesn’t get that bad, eh? I like to think that somewhere, somehow, some dedicated Service Canada folks are working hard to eliminate the PR application backlog to keep it from turning into a timebomb.

An online buddy of mine (we stayed at the same Costa Rican hostel years ago) has a girlfriend who just got her PR. Not sure how long they had to wait but hey, this shows that the system works. Even the waiting isn’t worthless: to apply for Canadian citizenship later on, you need to have spent three of the last five years in Canada, and the pre-PR days (work permit, for instance) count as half-years. That means if I get my PR on my two-year arrival anniversary in April 2021, I’d need to spend just two more years in the great white north to fully cement my position. Goals and aspirations!

In covid news, more of the same old, same old around the world. Locally, there’s a bit of a funny story… My previous landlady, here in Toronto, who fancies herself an event organizer, got tired of all the restrictions. She tried to set up a party for 40 people (two separate groups of 20) on the second floor of a downtown bar, skirting the 10-person limit on technicality, and making masks optional… (She’s the sort of person who believes that essential oils will cure everything – and if they don’t, you obviously need more essential oils! It’s basically essential oils all the way down.) When she posted online ads for her party on local social media, some of the saner folks were less than impressed… I’m not sure what exactly happened, but the event page got taken down. (Did someone call the bar and tell them about the legal ramifications? Alas, we’ll never know.) So yeah, it’s not just college students and Millennials who keep starting parties – it’s also older folks who really ought to know better, but just can’t stop chasing the almighty dollar. (The almighty loonie?) But hey, if you look on the bright side, that’s one super-spreader event that got successfully nixed. If that’s not a success story, I don’t know what is! Heh.

Plague diaries, Day 197

Saturday evening. It’s still kosher to say “good morning” after you wake up at 2pm, right?

Tonight will be dedicated to a nocturnal roadtrip, a high-tech infiltration (and exfiltration) mission, a matter of life and death! To put that in more plebeian terms, though, one of xgf’s friends and I will give her a ride from her tiny little town to an MRI appointment (conveniently scheduled for midnight on Saturday night) and back again. The friend will drive her there; I’ll drive her back. I don’t usually run chores under the cover of darkness, but hey – this is for a good cause, MRI’s are awesome, and this will add some much-needed variety to the dull routine that is the lockdown life. (I’m fairly certain “yeah, but it was interesting, though” will end up becoming my famous last words at some point in the future.)

To prepare, and since I won’t get back home till maybe 3am, I stayed up till 5am doing the usual procrastination routine. Some assorted caffeinated beverages will serve as emergency measures should my attention span begin to waver. Plenty of experience with that back when I worked night shifts as a warehouse grunt… Highly inadvisable, of course – and yet another reason women generally live longer than men.

In covid news, I’ve stumbled on this most excellent page describing the pandemic up until the present moment. Fair warning, TV Tropes is an amazing but also very addictive site: it’s easy to lose track of time as you explore all of its interconnected pages. (Personally, I’m a giant fan of their “Real Life” section.) It’s written in a simple and accessible wiki-page format. It’s very strange to read a condensed summary of everything we’ve all experienced throughout the year – cataloged so precisely and neatly. This is an actual multifaceted global historical event, and we’re all characters in it. Reading that page was like getting a glimpse of a history book from the future… Some of the things it mentioned were news to me, since no one can keep track of everything. On the other hand, I’ve almost forgotten about some of them, like the firing of Brett Crozier, the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. That was less than six months ago, but it already feels like it’s been ages.

I’m morbidly curious what updates will be added to that site: it’d be fascinating to access a, say, 2025 version of the page just to see how this all ended. (Assuming it does end.) Alas, that’s not an option. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

Enjoy your weekend if you can, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 196

Friday night. I used to know a guy so addicted to work that he’d hate weekends. I figure if I never become like him, I will have accomplished at least something in life.

I’m not a huge fan of depersonalization to get through the boring parts of life, if only because life is a finite resource. And yet… With everything becoming so similar, so routine, with every week flying past me, with every “wait, what?” as I close my work laptop at the end of Friday, I get another tiny bit closer to my goals. Unlike bears, we don’t have the luxury of hibernating through the most boring part of the year – but this fast-forwarding in absence of any new external stimuli is not the worst alternative. Far from the best, though.

Let’s see… My one big accomplishment this week was binge-watching “Black Summer” on Netflix: as low-budget zombie shows go, it was surprisingly good. There’s a new episode of “The Boys” out today, so that’s a small treat for getting through another week, eh?

One interesting thing about the pandemic is that there are essentially no theater movie releases. This will be the first year in a very long while without a new Marvel movie. (Finally, eh?) There haven’t been as many online-only releases as you’d think: my guess is they’re saving everything for 2021 instead. The Academy Awards ceremony will still take place next year, though it got rescheduled from February to April. (I wonder if they’ll actually go through with that.) I don’t believe I actually know anyone who even watches the Oscars anymore, but it’ll be a very strange ceremony regardless, since the only normal movie-release months were January and February. I guess “Birds of Prey” will just scoop up all the awards. Heh.

In covid news, Florida governor Ron DeSantis issued an order to reopen the entire state. Business will resume as if the pandemic never happened, which is some hardcore denialism considering Florida had 2,847 new cases today. What’s worse is that the order specifically prohibits cities and counties from imposing their own capacity restrictions “unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons.” Greed rules supreme… Florida is one of the few states that has no state income tax, which means it relies quite heavily on tourism and corporate taxes. “A Disney trip to die for,” eh? That’ll get so unbelievably ugly, especially once the resulting cases start popping up in a week or two… And on that note, I’m off to binge shows and play the most escapist video games I can find, because there’s only so much of this 2020 world one can take without seriously damaging one’s sanity.

Stay safe out there, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 195

Thursday night. I wonder how many of my coworkers have no idea what I mean by “Happy Thor’s Day!” but are too afraid to ask.

I’m going to have to seriously modify my rules for Thirsty Thursdays because wow, just two glasses of that boxed wine actually made me fall asleep. My sleep deprivation is catching up to me, the way it always does, the way I always think it won’t. It always starts out simple: cutting an hour of sleep here and there, staying up late to watch just another episode of my TV show or read through yet another part of the Internet… And then you realize you have to wake up in five hours. And then you do it again. And again. There’s a fascinating new term for it now: RBP – Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. Heh.

At work, strange news and stranger tidings…

In culinary adventures, you can make a pretty neat carb-protein two-punch combo by making a large plate of pasta with some boneless chicken breast. This might sound completely obvious, but nonetheless – it’s still a great nutritional shortcut, and one that doesn’t require me to bake beets in the oven. (That right there might have been one of my strangest kitchen experiments.)

In covid news, the official worldwide death toll stands at 980,000. Unofficially, the world most likely crossed one million deaths a while ago. If you include excess deaths, we passed that number even earlier. Even so… We’ll likely cross that lowest of all official death totals within a week. Will it change anyone’s mind?

Good news from Helsinki: they’ve trained sniffer dogs to detect covid at airports. The only thing passengers need to do is dab their skin with a wipe, and the pupper in a separate signal if it smells the virus on the wipe. Apparently, the results are almost 100% accurate, and dogs can detect the virus even before there are symptoms. I blogged earlier (feels like much earlier) about Germans using sniffer dogs as well, but either they didn’t scale that up to airports, or they did, and the Finns are doing the same exact thing, but the world is just that starved for good news.

If other countries can do the same, it’d really make things easier: fewer clusters, and hopefully less community spread if there’s anti-covid paw patrol out in public as well. I do find it ironic, though, that for all our technology, supercomputers, high-tech microscopes, and other fancy toys, we’re reverting to the most ancient technology we have: letting dogs do their thing. A nice serving on humility to go with our hubris, eh? Good dogs.

Plague diaries, Day 194

Wednesday night. Life must be very strange for people who don’t know what “hump day” means.

I’ve written this so often that even I realize how much of a cliche this is – but wow, days really become indistinguishable after a while. It doesn’t help that the nature of my work is very repetitive: it’s my job to preserve the status quo, with an occasional well-researched improvement. That results in nearly identical workdays and nearly identical weeks…

Let’s see – today was mildly different because I saw two bluejays while I was eating my usual lunch (fried egg sandwiches with tea) in the backyard, enjoying the sunshine. I don’t recall ever seeing birds here before, this being a high-traffic suburb and all. I wonder if this is their migration season. Dinner was steak with mushrooms and steamed broccoli, and it was delicious.

And aside from that… Well, there’s more horrific news from the US, but that feels like an everyday item now, huh?

In covid news, Missouri governor Mike Parson and his wife Teresa both tested positive for covid. Earlier, Parson opposed mandatory mask mandates, claiming it should be up to everyone whether they want to wear one or not. He also appeared without a mask at multiple social and official functions, though not always. I hope he and his wife recover. But if the worst does happen… Will that be a wakeup call for the rest of the Republican governors who seemingly try to one-up each other when it comes to sabotaging health efforts? Or will they continue their macabre game as if nothing happened, as if one of their own didn’t fall?

Meanwhile, in Indiana, their governor (Eric Holcomb) announced the final stage of reopening scheduled for this Saturday. All the social businesses (restaurants, gyms, stores, bars, etc) will be able to operate at full capacity, but folks inside would be expected to practice social distancing and wear masks unless they’re eating or drinking. Good luck with that one… Indiana’s numbers aren’t looking so great, so this denial-fueled reopening will probably backfire. I feel bad for all the regular people who don’t follow the news and who will view this as an explicit permission and encouragement to get back to business as usual… Not for the first time, here is hoping I’m wrong. (Except I’m usually not.)

Plague diaries, Day 193

Tuesday night. If I skip too many Taco Tuesdays in a row, can I declare one week to be nothing but Taco Time?

I made a quick run to the grocery store and LCBO today – the remaining bananas had gone completely bad, even in the fridge. LCBO was fine, but the grocery store had some glaring examples of ignoring the mask rules. Most shoppers and staff were okay, but some wore their mask under their nose or even under their chin. The two-meter distancing rule has also completely disappeared: either that, or the people reaching directly past me to grab some tomatoes had a distinct death wish. (I can’t imagine that I look particularly healthy as I stumble around in all my protective gear.)

The dinner was a scrumptious affair: salmon filet fried with freshly acquired mushrooms and onions, accompanied by red wine and a croissant. (I don’t have a wine glass per se, so I used a multifaceted glass goblet I’d picked up at a thrift store ages ago.)

Speaking of wine: in yet another attempt to get more classy (classy AF!), I’ve decided to try to switch from drinking cider to enjoying wine. Boxed wine, to be precise. It’s a better deal, I can’t taste the difference anyway, it lasts for weeks (I always feel under pressure when I open a bottle and know I must finish it within days or it’ll get sour), and a four-liter box generates waaaay less waste than the equivalent cans/bottles of cider. (I know, I know – I’m classy and eco-friendly!)

One minor problem (aside from me not having any self-respect, that is) – the actual mechanism for pouring the wine out of the damn thing is hilariously undignified. In terms of classiness, that’s the polar opposite of popping open and pouring a bottle of champagne. Oh well. Tastes great, though, and makes for one amazingly classy dinner. (Isn’t lockdown life fun?)

In covid news, the flu season is just about here. The Ontario government is starting the flu vaccination campaign because it’s fairly clear that the flu/covid overlap would be a very bad thing indeed. This will be Ontario’s largest flu shot campaign ever.

In the US, Trump told his audience at yet another rally that “it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.” The most charitable possible interpretation is that he was talking about those under 18. (Which means, once again, that a random dude on the Internet – yours truly – is better informed than the goddamn president of the United States of America. If that’s not existentially horrifying, I don’t know what is.) He also appeared to downplay the virus by saying it mostly kills the elderly. Unbelievable. As even the most conservative death toll trackers have crossed 200,000 – such callousness is unimaginable.

Elsewhere – Boris Johnson said there may have to be a second lockdown in England, though it’s not yet certain. Good luck to them. Good luck to all of us.

Plague diaries, Day 192

Monday night. Saying “Happy Monday” should be a federal crime.

Another day, another XXX loonies. (This just prompted me to start doing mental math and adjusting for currencies. I have concluded that I am, in fact, making more than when I was a low-level warehouse grunt in the US.) I’m trying to differentiate the passage of days any which way I can. This week, I’m treating myself to an episode of “Black Summer” (a Netflix horror show) each day before bed. Most of Netflix’s selection is frankly unremarkable (especially if you get past the top-25 in each category), but hey – it is, for all intents and purposes, an infinite archive, and who knows how much longer the lockdown will last, eh?

One tiny success story – today was my 100th consecutive day of learning French on DuoLingo! To be perfectly fair, I haven’t been putting in as much effort as I should (considering my 2021 goals and all), but that’s still better than where I had been 100 days ago. It’s nice to know that I’m objectively better in at least some quantifiable way after spending so much time in the lockdown mode. And hey, seriously, give DuoLingo a try: it’s corny and a bit childish, but it works. And it’s free! Pick a language, any language, and go for it, eh.

In covid news: the CDC is being weirder than usual. First they updated their covid guidance and confirmed the long-suspected aerosol transmission: it can spread through the air, and not just on droplets. (That’s the best way to explain the infamous choir cluster a few months ago: either that, or that person had deliberately licked every doorknob.) And now that guidance has been taken down from their site again. They released a memo stating that the initial update was an accident.

The social media consensus is that politicians (and/or the apparatchiks at the HHS) have control of the CDC’s site, and they’re just blatantly manipulating the facts for their own bizarre purposes. It’s really hard to gauge why exactly someone would actively take down valuable guidance. My best bad guess (and remember, I’m just a random guy on the Internet) is that the chasm between the scientific evidence and the White House’s “everything is awesome 🙂 ” view is growing so wide that the only way to keep up the charade is by destroying all evidence to the contrary with extreme prejudice.

Either way, the CDC’s reputation is damaged even more. With each back-and-forth update, with each blatant political intervention, they lose more and more trust that they’d earned since their inception in 1946.

…in more positive covid news – Nova Scotia hasn’t had any new cases for 13 days in a row. That is huge. That proves that it’s possible to beat the pandemic in North America – not just in Vietnam or New Zealand. Part of their success is demanding that anyone visiting from outside the Atlantic region self-quarantine for 14 days. (I doubt that can be successfully implemented in different states in the US.) One downside: I don’t live in Nova Scotia. One upside: if they could do it, that means eventually we’ll all be able to. (Though, needless to say, some sooner than others. Sorry, yanks…)