Archive for October, 2020

Plague diaries, Day 232

Saturday night. My Halloween costume this year is “a Russian-American-Canadian who stayed indoors for 232 days.” It’s very niche.

Another cozy weekend day of doing nothing. Treated myself to 50 grams of frozen smoked salmon I’d picked up during the recent grocery run. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the way it melts in my mouth. Absolutely scrumptious. (Free culinary tip: I don’t know how or why, but avocado and smoked salmon make for an amazing combination in a taco.)

I’m still hyped up on the news that my PR application is proceeding on schedule, with just about three months to go until I get it. Things will get quite a bit easier then…

In covid news, The UK has joined France and Germany with its own lockdown: it’ll last a whole month, and will begin on Thursday. It’ll be pretty strict and similar to the one in France: no haircuts or indoor dining, no going outside without a good reason, etc.

Belgium’s medical system appears to be on the verge of collapse. In at least one city, medical staff who got diagnosed with covid but aren’t symptomatic have been requested to keep working. About 25% of their staff have covid… That’s horrifiying. There is a finite number of medical professionals out there. I wonder if there’ll be some accelerated medical bootcamps to train average people to do the most basic and useful medical tasks. (Like the EMT school, only a lot more specialized.) It may come to that if things stay sufficiently bad sufficiently long. Earlier this year, some countries allowed medical students to skip their final exams and go straight to work. They may end up doing that and more as the dark winter continues.

As always, here is hoping I’m wrong about it. Happy Halloween, y’all…

Plague diaries, Day 231

Friday evening. Yaaaaaay.

This is the Halloween weekend. If not for the virus, I probably would’ve been out there – walking around in some self-assembled costume, celebrating, people-watching… This year, I imagine there are still some house parties, but the most relevant official event I heard of was a haunted drivethrough. (I literally laughed out loud when I heard about it.) I like to think that once this pandemic ends, I’ll never miss another opportunity to go out ever again. Then again, everyone returns to their baseline, so that self-promise probably wouldn’t last. On the other hand, you only get so many healthy years, and this damn pandemic has devoured one of them… Gonna have to be fractionally more festive and party-going from now on, eh?

Today was, for once, a bit different. Some good news at last: Service Canada called and set up my long-awaited biometrics appointment. (A very fancy way of saying they’ll take my picture and take my fingerprints. Heh.) The big day is just 13 days away. My company’s lawyers said the permanent residency application is still on track, and they’re still expecting me to get it by early February. Just three more months, just 14 more weeks, only 14 more blinks that take me straight to Friday night as I fast-forward through yet another grey and uneventful workweek… Hope is a dangerous thing. I want to be all cute and clever and say “I’m contemplating allowing myself to begin considering cautious optimism” but no, I really do hope, sincerely and fervently, that everything will work out just fine and right on schedule.

As one of my all-time favourite quotes goes, “Hope… Do not look down, my friend. Even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. Hope for a better day, hope for a new dawn. Or just hope for a good breakfast. You start small, then see what you can get.” Something I always try to keep in mind.

In covid news, the US has set yet another record, this time with 98,000 new cases in one day. Simultaneously, here is what the President of the United States of America said at yet another rally earlier today: “You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right? I mean our doctors are very smart people. With us when in doubt, choose COVID. It’s true, no, it’s true. No, they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s terrible what he said,’ but that’s true. It’s like $2,000 more, so you get more money. This could only happen to us”

…I’m glad I left. It’s interesting, in a rather macabre way. I used to think that just ahead of the election (which is four days away), Trump’s administration would introduce some fake or untested covid vaccines, and fool people just long enough to get their votes. (In this scenario, they wouldn’t care about any side effects, since they would have won the election by then.) In reality, though, they’ve ended up downplaying the pandemic, essentially calling it fake news, and celebrating some imaginary victory. A news release from the White House Office of Science and Technology claimed “ending the covid-19 pandemic” as one of the administration biggest scientific triumphs. It’s really beginning to sound like 40% of Americans live in some alternate reality, where covid is fake, the pandemic is over, and there aren’t 1,000 Americans dying every day.

Oh, and Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin just recorded an anti-lockdown video of herself sitting in a car, holding a gun and a Bible, and talking about inalienable rights. This whole thing is too absurd to be real, too stupid to be funny, too believable to be shocking. There are four days left until the election: if one of those idiots decides to orchestrate a covid-related October surprise, it’ll likely happen this weekend – assuming it happens at all.

Stay safe out there, folks, and especially you, my American amigos.

Plague diaries, Day 230

Thursday evening. Thirsty Green Tea Thursday, or TGTT for short.

Another inconsequential day, aside from a few minor work triumphs. That said, I’ve been making steady progress with my instapot. I don’t mean to sound like a cultist – I really don’t – but this thing is amazing and I’m never going back. It really does make quinoa in just one minute once it gets to the right pressure. And the four-minute salmon with some more quinoa was absolutely scrumptious and just about melted in my mouth. The best part? There are no pots and pans to wash: just wash the pot itself and voila!

I know I write a lot about every day being almost exactly the same, and yet… Between my exercising, slowly exploring different foods (quinoa is awesome, y’all!), learning French and Spanish, cooking healthier and faster meals, and getting rid of bad habits (and yeah, I view my earlier overreliance on ginkgo as a bad habit)… Between all that, I’m making pretty decent progress – bit by bit, day by day, but upward nonetheless. 2020 is objectively the worst year of the 21st century but, ironically, it may end up objectively being the best year of my life in terms of self-improvement. (Is that what Stockholm Syndrome sounds like? Heh.)

The stock market stopped its three-day crashing pattern and cautiously went up by a fraction of a percentage point today. Most (but not all) stocks recovered a bit, though not nearly enough to make up for three days of catastrophic losses. It’s the earnings season: one of my stocks went up 19% today, which actually made up for its three-day losing streak. Good times. On the off chance anyone reading this is looking for random investment advice, Wells Fargo hit a 52-week low earlier this week, and it’s trading at one helluva discount right about now.

In covid news, Taiwan has celebrated 200 days without locally transmitted covid cases. That is a huge and remarkable accomplishment. That right there is a country that did every single thing right. (I mean, it helps that their VP, Chen Chien-jen, is a former epidemiologist.) They instituted strict anti-travel measures early on, there was a pre-existing culture of wearing masks (the SARS outbreaks were still fresh in everyone’s memory), the government provided financial help and delivered food during the lockdown stage, masks were widely available, contact-tracing and notifications were spot on, there were lots of temperature screenings, etc… All in all, there have been only seven deaths in the entire country. A single-digit death toll among 24 million people. In the US, that would’ve scaled up to about 100 deaths, not the hundreds of thousands they ended up with. (I can’t recall at which point I started thinking of the US as “them” and not “us.” Interesting.)

Kudos to you, Taiwan. May you remain a healthy, civil, and high-tech example for us all.

Plague diaries, Day 229

Wednesday evening. 60% of the way to the weekend, which is a particularly meaningless social construct in this here time of plague.

Today was mildly interesting because of a) a grocery trip, and b) giving a couple of presentations at work. I could’ve lasted for a few more days without a resupply run, but my bananas started going bad, and a protein smoothie without bananas… Look, I’m not the most refined guy out there but I’m not a savage, you know?

The presentations at work were a refreshing change of pace. It’s amazing how much better you can get at public speaking if you have to speak to groups of people (on and off) for about five years. Fun times. It is my firm belief that the corporate America (and the corporate Canada as well) would be much better off with company-sponsored public speaking courses for every employee. Dreams and aspirations, eh?

Earlier today, one of my landlords (the stay-at-home husband) tried to explain to me that masks don’t work, because he saw some study (???) that said 85% of Americans wore masks (not even close to the truth), and then the US got sick anyway. He is not a high-information news consumer… I think he read that on some social media. I tried showing him some sites that stated unequivocally that yes, masks do indeed work, but he didn’t seem persuaded.

I’ll be honest: my landlords worry me. They throw social gatherings (5-10 people) almost weekly, they have this strange recurring cough which kind of implies they already caught the common cold from someone else, so they weren’t perfectly careful, and they’re both big fans of Trump. Both are concerned about the pandemic, but then they invite half of their social circle to feast and chit-chat, and then gleefully share a piece of fake news about masks…

If I catch covid, it will be through them. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many other options at the moment. I can afford my own little apartment somewhere in a high-rise, but the virus can travel through plumbing and ventilation systems. Ideally, an isolated cabin would work best – just like the one in Deep River, at the very beginning of this journey. Unfortunately, Toronto has a rather limited supply of cozy isolated cabins. Ho hum. Theoretically, I might be able to self-isolate even further, locking myself inside my roof (it has its own bathroom, so water won’t be an issue), but that’d also require getting a tiny stove and saying goodbye to all the refrigerated food… Crazy, but not impossible.

In covid news, France and Germany are going into nationwide lockdown for four weeks (France on Friday; Germany on Monday) due to approaching the maximum capacity in their ICUs, as well as the ever-increasing new cases. In France, the lockdown means you can go to work (if WFH is not an option), you can shop for the most necessary supplies, and you can spend one hour outside for exercise. Schools will remain open, unlike their previous eight-week lockdown in the spring. Germany’s rules will be very similar. I hope they pull this off.

The stock market’s crash is accelerating. Last week was choppy, but this week… It’s been crashing for three days in a row now. Today Dow fell by more than 3%. I’m a very patient person, so I’m just holding on to my stocks (most of which I’d bought back in June) and waiting until all of this gets better at some point in 2021. Others, who are not as patient or strategic, must be losing their minds right now. I’ll almost certainly load up on more stocks within a month, once I get my twice-yearly bonus. And yes, I know, I’m privileged as hell. I know. I just want us all to get through this relatively intact, and thinking far ahead is my personal coping mechanism. Hang in there, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 228

Tuesday evening.

More of the same old, same old, eh. Today’s big adventure was successfully not turning rice into soup twice in a row with my instapot. I’m cautious not to say I’m getting the hang of it, because that’s a surefire way to jinx myself for all eternity. Gotta say, I’m mighty curious about the instapot’s cake-making feature… Eggs and rice I can understand, but cake? That’s black magic at work.

(I know, I know, the lockdown life is absolutely riveting and filled with excitement.)

At work, the business hours got permanently extended by an hour, from 5pm till 6pm. That leaves me just five hours per day for myself. That’s one way to cut down on existential despair, I suppose: it typically goes away when I make all the pie charts in Excel. I’ll really have to start clawing back my 30-minute lunches, though.

My quest to get back to baseline continues: I figure I can extend the sober October for another month or two, and I’m cutting my caffeine down to just one cup of coffee at breakfast. (Sidenote: green tea is disgusting.) It’s curious to feel my body adjust: I actually get tired and sleepy by 11pm now. What a fascinating concept. Is that what life is like for non-workaholics? Heh, I must sound like the lamest recovering drug addict ever, now that I’ve cut down on ginkgo biloba, cider, and caffeine.

In covid news, Russia has ordered national mask mandate: they must be worn in all crowded public spaces. There’s also a strong recommendation for local authorities to establish 11pm-6am curfew. If you believe the official numbers, Russia is currently in the fourth place in terms of covid cases. (The top three belong to the US, India, and Brazil.) Then again, that’s the same country that would literally throw dissenting doctors out of their windows if they dare to disagree with Putin. (No, that wasn’t in the Soviet Union. Yes, that happened here and now, in 2020.) I hope this new measure works out for them, and helps stem the tide.

In other covid news, a store security guard in Chicago got stabbed 27 times by two sisters (age 18 and 21) when he asked them to put on their masks. The news says he’s survived the attack. Not everyone, but some people, out on the frayed edges of our society, are starting to regress – rapidly and ruthlessly. There will almost certainly be more of these headlines, and more frequently, as the pandemic goes on…

And to wrap up the news cycle – I didn’t write about this two days ago because it was a little bit too depressing. Nonetheless, I guess I’d better present this without comment, if only to keep it as a dark bookmark in this here historical record. This is what the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows recently said during an interview with Jake Tapper:

Meadows: “We’re not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics.”
Tapper: Why aren’t we going to control it?
Meadows: “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.”

At least they’re honest, eh?.. Stay safe out there, friends.

Plague diaries, Day 227

Monday night.

If not for all the doomscrolling of different news feeds, I wouldn’t have been able to tell this day apart from any other. There are some superficial differences such as weather or various cooking experiments, but really, today was just another drop in ye olde routine bucket. Not better, not worse, just exactly the same. (I can really relate to Nine Inch Nails’s “Every Day is Exactly the Same” song.)

Speaking of kitchen experiments: I’ve made two more attempts to cook with the instapot earlier today. Upside: the boneless chicken breast is amazing, and definitely faster than boiling. Downside: I keep making rice soup instead of, you know, rice. There’s some magic ratio of water and time – just gotta find it first. Once I do, though, I’ll end up with delicious and healthy lunches done in just five minutes. Huzzay!

In local news, there’s a disturbing shortage of flu shots… There’s a drug store just a block away from me: I call them up every few days, and yet there’s nothing. Those who need it the most should get it first, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if I knew when my turn is going to be. (Even if it’s sometime in mid-November.)

In covid news, hospitals around the world are getting into grim overflow situations. A hospital in Poland had to start staging its covid patients in a covered outdoor structure used for parking ambulances. The city of El Paso, Texas, has declared two-week curfew from 10pm-5am. Since October 1, they’ve seen a 160% increase in positivity rate, as well as a 300% increase in hospitalizations. There are emergency isolation tents being set up in parking lots… Elsewhere in the US, there’s talk of resorting to triage to ration medical care when hospitals get completely overwhelmed. That will be ugly, and the halfhearted measures some of the states may enact won’t benefit them until weeks later. Systems have momentum, and if you’re trying to hit the brakes only when your local ICU gets 100% full… You might reduce the impact somewhat, but you’ll still end up in a horrific crash.

Winter won’t officially start until December 21, but for all intents and purposes, dark winter is already here.

Plague diaries, Day 226

Sunday night. Who knew the end of the world as we know it could get so monotone?

Today was filled with mildly productive procrastination. A bit more gaming, followed by finally sorting out the big pile of shiny rocks I gathered during my roadtrip vacation in July. I now have a small box of gorgeous gems (about 5% of the total), a bag of plain-looking rocks that glow in the UV light, a bag of okay-looking amethysts, and about 50 lbs of uggos. (They should still be fun for your average non-rockhound person, though.)

Along the way, I played around with my DLSR, only to find that somewhere, somehow, I misplaced the memory card reader and a bunch of other accessories. Gotta love that two-day Amazon delivery, eh.

Speaking of which: at some point in the past 18 months, Amazon must have enabled the Pandora skill on Canadian Echoes. (This sentence would make zero sense to someone from the year 2000.) The best thing about Pandora is being able to listen to stand-up comedians and set up your own comedy stations: as far as their algorithm is concerned, Maria Bamford and John Mulaney are just unusual-sounding musicians. It’s a little sad how refreshing it is to hear human voices all around me again…

In covid news, several of VP Mike Pence’s staff have tested positive for covid. That includes his chief of staff. Allegedly, both Pence and his wife (the Second Lady? the first Lady-in-Waiting?) have tested negative, so Pence can continue campaigning and traveling, seeing as he is somehow defined as “essential personnel.” Then again, at this point there’s so little trust in the White House communications that even if Pence did have covid, there’s a fair chance they’d just say the same thing. (It’d make his reelection odds even worse if he had to stay in isolation for the next two weeks.)

Tomorrow, the Republicans in the US senate will hold the final vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court. That says all you need to know about their priorities: no stimulus bill for regular Americans, but filling an empty Supreme Court is urgent business. If you were to write this in a political novel (before the pandemic, of course), any sane editor would’ve told you that the satire and jaded humour were a bit too on the nose. To make things more interesting, there’ll probably be another maskless White House celebration tomorrow night. There’s every reason to believe it’ll turn into another super-spreader event…

Hang in there, my yankee compadres.

Plague diaries, Day 225

Saturday night, whoop-whoop.

I was deprived of my usual weekend sleep-a-thon after being rudely awakened just nine hours later by my family’s ongoing texting thread. I’m really glad one of them just bought a house, but maybe more than 10 texts to celebrate on a Saturday morning is a bit excessive, no? Heh.

The plan to fight my cabin fever with pop culture immersion is partly effective, though not completely so. Tried and gave up on a couple of video games. Gobbled up the entirety of Way Station by Simak: a fine and imaginative sci-fi novel that aged quite well (considering it was written back in 1963) and had some beautiful writing. On the other hand, you could tell it was written a lifetime ago, because the sole female character was partly infantilized, partly treated like a prize horse by the very important men who decided all the very important things. I doubt I’ll be re-reading it…

In culinary adventures, I’ve finally unboxed and tried out the instant pot thingamajig that arrived about a week ago. I regret to say that my attempt to cook chili has resulted in soup-like concoction. Again. (A sign from the universe that I should become a soup chef?) On the upside, it was pretty funny to watch the landlords’ daughter’s Corgi go absolutely berserk when I let out the instapot’s steam. (The pupper wasn’t in any danger of scalding: we kept him away.) Whelp, the thing I created was still mostly edible, and there’s a lot of potential there. If it can really cook rice in just four minutes and quinoa in just one… Instapot, I think this is the beginning of a delicious friendship.

In covid news, the US has set a new record for new covid cases: over 84,000 new cases were recorded on Friday. Keep in mind that it’s still not easy to get tested there unless you lie about your exposure or symptoms. The real number is much higher, as always, but assuming the test access is the same as before, this flawed number is still an all-time high, still alarming, still dangerous. Dr Fauci just said in an interview that perhaps it’s time for a mask mandate…

And in more local news, someone started fires in toilet paper aisles of three local Walmarts over the course of one night. No one was hurt, the fires got put out, but that still caused $12MM CAD worth of damage. That might have been a bizarre attack by some anti-maskers making a statement against the lockdown. Then again, this is 2020, so anything is possible, eh?

Plague diaries, Day 224

Friday evening. If my landlord hadn’t said “happy weekend!” when I went downstairs after logging off from work, I might have forgotten what day this was.

I’ve fought it off long enough and as well as I possibly could, but there’s no denying it: boredom is setting in. I find myself digesting old memories, reliving old experiences and dates and meetups, trying to recapture in the most vivid possible way the memories of old vacations – Nevada, Costa Rica, the six-day cruise six years ago… Was it the Tuesday road trip that got my brain so ravenous for stimuli again? That might have been the case. After months of self-lockdown – a trip, an adventure, dozens of new people I talked to during my random and improbable day-long quest.

I’ve watched a movie, and brainstormed an exciting new vector for the next six years of life, and learned some French, and finally requested to cancel that gym membership that I’ve been holding to out of politeness before I saw all the unauthorized charges they’ve made. (That was a step too far, eh.) And it’s still only 9:24pm. Heh. Maybe it’ll help to just start devouring escapist science fiction: I’ve found some fun new (to me) titles by one of my favourites, Robert Charles Wilson. But first, the classic novel Way Station by Clifford D. Simak.

Or maybe this is all just some secondhand existential anxiety about the US election, which is just 11 days away now. The social media is refusing to talk about anything else, which rather interferes with my usual doomscrolling. (How inconsiderate of them, I know.) There’s a lot riding on what happens there.

In covid news, my company has extended its WFH policy: now we’re allowed to work from home until June 30th. If our own specialized analysts have looked at it and said, “nope, nope nope nope nope nope,” then the outlook is dire indeed. I’ve said this many times before – Canada is dealing with covid far better than the US, and we’ll likely do a better job with distributing vaccines when they become available, too. (It’s funny how I started to refer to Canada as “we” at some point I’m unable to recall.)

Realistically, I think I’ll get my shot in February or March. (Will we make it to Plague Diaries – Day 365? Heh.) But if WFH continues through end of June… That opens up so very many choices. Maybe I can move out of the suburbs and into the actual city of Toronto. Maybe I’ll be able to sell my car. (Car insurance is ridiculously expensive here.) Maybe, for once in my life, I’ll become a cosmopolitan city slicker, enjoying the life of the largest city in my country (I’m so sorry things didn’t work out, New York) while leisurely exploring the million things it has to offer, as opposed to having had to plan an entire day-long excursion like I had been before the age of covid. (Congratulations to everyone who made it to the end of that run-on sentence.)

In any case, it was awfully nice of them to give such a long-term reassurance. This gives so much more food for thought…

Enjoy your weekend, folks – I hope it’s mildly more manic than mine.

Plague diaries, Day 223

Thursday night. I blinked, and it was Friday once again…

I’m still riding that emotional high from having helped out that customer with my long road trip yesterday. The clarity of driving… Having an entire day with nothing to do but think (with food for thought rolling in from all the interesting podcasts) really helped put some things into perspective. My mind is now abuzz with thoughts of several potential futures, of what might be, of what I might always regret if I don’t do. 2020 is a very big year for me in very many ways. I’m setting a few plans in motion – only time will tell how well they will play out.

Skipping the exercise today since my back is a bit sore from all the heavy-lifting yesterday. There’s a distinct possibility it’s just my mind being lazy, but I don’t want to risk an accidental and avoidable injury. I’ll pick it back up tomorrow.

The final presidential debate just ended. It was a hot mess, which wasn’t a big surprise. It was curious to see Trump actually talking for two hours without coughing or wheezing: either they temporarily stabilized him just for tonight, or they’ve pumped him full of more experimental treatments. (Or perhaps both.) It’s interesting, though, that when he appears in public, there are obvious traces of IV needles on his right hand. Oh well. The US election is in 12 days. Hopefully, it won’t be contested or fought over – I and many others like me would really like that particular dumpster-fire to end.

In covid news, Trump defended his covid approach during the debate and said he’d rather open up more businesses instead of changing anything or calling for a mask mandate. And in Florida, there are plans to stop daily reporting of new covid cases – and it’s unclear whether the reporting would switch to weekly cadence or stop altogether. I suppose that’s one way to make the virus disappear magically – if you just stop reporting on it at all.

Ye gods, what a shitshow… I love you, Canada. 🙂