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Plague diaries, Day 306

Wednesday night.

I’m continuing to grow roots, eh. This big house is divided into 10-15 studios, and it’s rather remarkable how quiet all the neighbours are. Every now and then, I can hear a closing door or someone coming up the stairs, and then it passes. The fact that there are no pets allowed means that for almost the first time in two years, I can have some peace and quiet without barking dogs making the sort of ruckus that requires noise-cancelling headphones.

Going to try something new tomorrow: eating my lunch while working, and using the lunch break to just wander around the neighbourhood. Toronto in January isn’t the kind of environment where you can soak up a lot of vitamin D, but hey, better than nothing. (Besides, fresh air – and other humans! Woot.)

Finally finished reading Disaster Diaries by Sam Sheridan. It’s a mixed bag, at least in my opinion. On the one hand, he’s a skilled writer, and some of the information he presents is both educational and entertaining. (I still can’t believe I hadn’t known the difference between EMTs and paramedics.) On the other hand, despite all of his fancy adventures and learning from the best experts in North America, he still does remarkably stupid things. Here is a short list of things he admitted doing just in this book alone: negligently discharging his weapon; cutting himself with a fancy knife while playing with it and watching TV; dropping $200 on a pair of mittens at the REI (heh) and not researching what kind of parka he’d need in northern Canada. For what it’s worth, I’m glad he got to have so many adventures, presumably on his publisher’s dime. I just wish the book hadn’t been so overhyped.

Next book: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. It’s yet another sci-fi yarn about the multiverse – hooray for escapism, eh?

In political news, Trump is the first president in American history to get impeached twice. This time, 10 Republican congress-critters crossed the party line to vote against him. The rest of them were apparently fine with an attempted coup. The senate won’t convene to vote on this until next week, at which point it’ll really be too late to do much of anything. (The inauguration is next Wednesday.) I really wish they hadn’t dragged their feet so much with this… The initial hope was for Pence to exercise the 25th amendment option but that obviously hasn’t happened.

The attempted coup is growing stranger every day. One congress-critter reported that someone ripped out all the panic buttons from her congressional office, and her staffers couldn’t signal for help during the attack. Some online sleuths noticed that several terrorists had earpieces, which is definitely not something you see among random people who just happen to storm the seat of their government on a lazy Wednesday afternoon. And evidently, Republican congress-critters had given some domestic terrorists a detailed tour of the Capitol in the days before the attack, likely showing them where everything was located. This is getting uglier with every passing day…

In covid news, there’s some positive news coming out about the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. The phase three trial results will be released later this month. For now, people are cautiously optimistic based on what’s available. The J&J vaccine is a traditional one, unlike Moderna’s and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines. (Though I doubt that would convince the anti-vaxxers who fear mRNA vaccines to change their minds.) The best part is that the J&J vaccine requires only one shot, which will really simplify things in terms of logistics. The big question is whether they’d be able to produce enough for everyone. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see – which is basically the only valid strategy in this pandemic.

Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 305

Tuesday night.

My transformation into a brain in a jar continues. (Well, more like a brain in a tiny studio.) I reeeeally need to start exercising again, but a) there was an awful lot of weightlifting when I moved all my stuff last weekend, and b) there’s not a whole lot of open space here. There are maybe two areas big enough to do pushups, but that’s about it. (Excuses, excuses, I know.)

At work, I’m spicing things up by creating yet another Excel-based tool. This one is called Whole Grain Spread (naming things is the best part of being a creator), and it does a high-level analysis of commonly available data to identify big trends that you won’t notice up close. I wonder if in some other life I’m an intelligence analyst for some three-letter government agency. Heh.

And ye gods, Stardew Valley is addictive… I’m fairly sure I’ll get bored with it within a few weeks, but until then, I’ll take what I can get. I am aware that this is not quite healthy to hide indoors with zero human contact and nothing but work, gaming, and a bit of reading. But there’s not much else to do, and the only goal right now is to fast-forward through the next seven or so months and get my shots. Some outgoing extroverts would probably call this approach crazy or cowardly (they did, in fact, say as much on social media) but hey, I kinda like my overall health and would prefer to keep it.

In covid news, congress-critters are reporting the first infections after the big evacuation and lockdown they went through during the attempted coup six days ago. So far, there are three that tested positive: representatives Pramila Jayapal, Brad Schneider, and Bonnie Coleman. There will almost certainly be more. They all get amazing healthcare, but for an older crowd, the odds aren’t always good. (And the representative-elect who died a couple of weeks ago was only 41.) According to the congress-critters, their Republican colleagues not only refused to put on masks but also mocked the mask-wearers. The coup might not have succeeded, but if someone dies because they caught covid during the evacuation… Well, that’ll make for an interesting asterisk in the casualty section of history books.

Good night, y’all. Stay safe.

Plague diaries, Day 304

Monday night.

Today was my first workday at the tiny studio that I now call home. Aside from two daily calls with my coworkers, there’s no more human interaction. It’s alarming how fast I adapted to the fact that I can just roll my chair from the bed to the desk to the kitchen, with an occasional bathroom break. A bubble of one…

My brilliant plan to spend my time walking around Toronto and people has one minor flaw: I forgot how early it gets dark. I typically finish work by 6pm, and prowling the streets in the darkness… Let’s just say there won’t be much to see. Google says February 24 will be the first day with the sunset after 6pm. Whelp, I guess I’ll just walk and gawk extra-hard on weekends.

I’ve come up with a new distraction to avoid watching the news: the Stardew Valley video game. I wrote about it a long time, during the second month of the AirBnB odyssey, about nine months ago. It’s such a simple, wholesome, and addictive game. There is no disease there, not even seasonal sniffles. (Though I think one NPC has allergies.) My alter ego has a little farm and spends his time selling his wares, fishing, and exploring local mines while fighting monsters. As far as I can tell, that game is more or less endless. That’s good: I might need that.

It’s been five days, and the US government still hasn’t held even a single briefing about the attempted coup. With every passing days, it’s getting more and more absurd. (Can you imagine going almost a whole week without any official updates after 9/11?) In a refreshing change of pace, the FBI is actually proactively warning the entire country that there will be armed protests in all 50 states (as well as Washington DC) this weekend, just before the inauguration. It’s hard to tell whether the protesters will be encouraged by the very nearly successful coup, or discouraged by all the arrests that followed. If even one of those protests turns violent, everything will go to hell: that’ll prove that the attempted coup was the beginning of a new trend, and not a random improbable outlier.

In covid news, another one of my coworkers got infected. He even knows how that happened: two weeks ago, he met up with his neighbour to watch a football game on TV. The neighbour tested positive a day or two later. My coworker got it a few days after that.

…if vaccines end up not working on all the new covid strains that have been popping up (especially the one from South Africa), and if the rollout continues at the same slow pace, then sooner or later we’ll all catch covid. I aim to be among the very last ones. (So far so good!) Learning how exactly the people I know got sick isn’t just morbid curiosity – it’s a way to learn from their experience, and to make my own that much safer.

Hang in there, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 303

Sunday night.

I take back everything I’d said about being a space wizard. (Unless I can be a very unsuccessful one, like the guy from The Last Unicorn.) Even though I’d managed to wrangle my 42″ TV into the backseat of my Kia, it got damaged in the process. I think I pushed it too hard against the knob of the folded backseat. Now it’s got a big dead area up top: I could still ignore it while gaming, but it wouldn’t work at all if I invited friends or a date for a movie night. Ho hum. That TV has been with me longer than my car: I got a great deal on it back in 2012. I’ve transported it from Vegas to Fort Worth to Tampa to Seattle (all over Seattle) to Toronto, and now it’s time to give it away for free and get a smaller replacement.

I’ve spent most of the day nesting. The giant pile of stuff got sorted out for the most part. It’s gone from an enormous impassable slippery mess to a relatively small pile of stuff. (Something to do tomorrow, eh?) The downside is that now every flat surface of the studio is covered with gems, antique cameras (yay 1920s art deco!), and beautiful pieces of unique glassware I’d picked up in thrift stores. I could use another medium-sized bookshelf… This is a lot like the Schitt’s Creek episode where they end up with a gigantic family portrait that doesn’t fit anywhere. Heh. I’ll have to give away so much stuff before my next move in August… For starters, only flat art from now on: photographs or flat metal pieces such as this Braniff Airways sign.

I also made a few quick walking expeditions (no sense in driving three blocks) to the local LCBO (surprisingly cheap and diverse cider selection), Dollarama (improbably huge art section and literally the only place I’ve managed to buy a small handheld mirror), and a grocery store which had surprisingly low prices. This whole time, I thought the suburbs were cheap and the big city was expensive. Turns out I was dead wrong. Huh.

I’ve hung some of my art hoard on the wall – and then had to rearrange it because some of my, ahem, not-quite-work-appropriate art to make sure it wouldn’t be in the background of my video calls at work. (On the upside, the programmable Christmas lights I’ve finally put up – yay new batteries – look cozy as hell.)

One of my purchases today was a festive orange tablecloth for the disgusting stained table that came with the studio. It’s still every bit as disgusting, but that’s no longer visible. Creating illusions, for ourselves as well as others, is such an integral part of life…

It was strange wandering the main street during my shopping expedition. Most but not all are wearing masks. At this point, I’ve been away from real pedestrians (not a whole lot of those in the suburbs) so long that it almost doesn’t seem real when you see unmasked passersby. It looks almost like a hyper-realistic video game that renders randomized and flawless faces. I need to get out more often.

There’s a video making rounds online: one of the 1/06 domestic terrorists (unsurprisingly white, unsurprisingly male) threw a fit at an airport because he’s been added to the “no fly” list until they figure out the extent of his involvement in the attempted coup. That’s a tiny, tiny fraction of what needs to happen, but it still brings a smile to my face and gladdens my dark and shriveled heart.

In covid news, the attempted coup was four days ago. The Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian Moynihan, notified the congress-critters that there was at least one covid-positive person among them while they sheltered in place at an undisclosed location. Some witness accounts from 1/06 state that a lot of congress-critters refused to put on their masks, being defiant and anti-science even during that unprecedented emergency. There were hundreds of people all stuck together in a place that might not have had perfect ventilation. That was four days ago. There will probably be a wave of new diagnoses. Thus far, only one congress-critter died of covid. Unfortunately, there might be more.

Good night, y’all. Stay safe, as always.

Plague diaries, Day 302

Saturday night.

I have a confession to make. A dark and awful secret. I am Iron Man a space wizard. Earlier today, I managed to fit a medium-sized bookshelf, a 42″ TV, and a roll-up queen-size mattress into the back seat of my Kia Rio. Verily I say upon thee: my mastery over the fabric of space knows no bounds, eh. Loading up a car during a big move is a lot like playing 3D Tetris. It’s a fun challenge: maybe I could become a car-loading consultant. And yes, I know I could have just rented a Uhaul truck, but where is the fun in that? Also, that would have required a lot more time to pack and unpack (I’ve stretched out the moved across an entire week), and a lot of Toronto’s streets are super-narrow, so a wide truck isn’t the best idea.

Aaaaanyhow, all my stuff is finally moved in. I’ve taken care of all the important things: there’s a towel in the bathroom, books on my bookshelf, some food in the fridge, the laptop and electric tea pot are plugged in, and I’ve hung some of my art hoard on the walls. I’m currently relaxing on my new rental bed with a celebratory cider while enjoying the subtle way the building shakes every few minutes. I’m guessing that’s the subway line that runs a few blocks away. The studio smells faintly of secondhand smoke, but I’ll take that over firsthand covid, eh. It’ll be so very strange to wake up in an unfamiliar place tomorrow. My back will probably be mighty sore… There’s a giant pile of stuff in the middle of the studio that I’ll have to sort and put away. Yay nesting!

There’s more and more fallout over the attempted 1/06 coup. AWS will stop hosting Parler (the far-right social media platform) tomorrow, which means they’ll likely go offline unless they find a new host ASAP. Apple has removed their app from their store. If they want to coordinate future attacks, they’re gonna have to use livejournal or smoke signals. Heh.

House majority whip James Clyburn confirmed that things went very strangely on 1/06. There was far less security than usual. Terrorists somehow got in through the side doors. They knew which specific offices to go to – that sort of information was only known to insiders.

Things we currently know:
1. Attorney general Barr resigned in late December, though he had less than a month to go until the inauguration. The timing was strange.
2. In December, Trump added a lot of his loyalists to the leadership positions to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.
3. There was abnormally low security on 1/06.
4. Someone in the Department of Defense repeatedly declined the requests to send the National Guard.
5. Although some Capitol police fought the terrorists, some appeared to open doors for them, took selfies with them, and were seen giving them directions to Chuck Schumer’s (top-ranking Senate Democrat) office.
6. The Department of Homeland Security did not do the usual threat assessment on the Trump rally scheduled for 1/06. They feds claim that was the reason there was no extra security.
7. During the attempted coup, Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani tried contacting senator Tuberville but accidentally ended up dialing senator Lee – twice. (These are not very bright people.) They wanted Tuberville to delay the election certification to buy themselves more time. (For what?)
8. Some of the terrorists were identified as high-ranking ex-military.
9. The executive branch helped orchestrate an attempted coup against the legislative branch.
10. If the terrorists stormed the Capitol just a few minutes earlier, or had more guns, they would have succeeded.

Things we don’t know: a whole lot of them.

What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on the inevitable commission report (1,000+ pages, please and thank you) detailing everything that went on. This was unprecedented in American history, and heads must roll.

In covid news, San Antonio is going to stage their mass vaccination at the Alamodome stadium. They’ll be vaccinating at least 1,500 people per day for 12 hours a day, six days a week. I’m not entirely sure why they’re skipping Sunday, but hey, that’s a good start. (Ideally, of course, it’d be a 24/7 operation.) The vaccine will be free (as it should be) but it won’t be a free-for-all first-come-first-serve operation: they’ll start with the highest-risk groups first. It’s downright refreshing to see a major city in the US borrow other countries’ best practices. Here is hoping this will become a new normal everywhere.

Have a safe second half of your weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 301

Friday night, woot-woot.

Today was yet another day of severely reduced productivity as more potentially historic news took place in rapid succession. The FBI started raiding the homes and offices of the most recognizable 1/06 terrorists. (Some of them, apparently, were state-level elected officials. Ho hum.) Vice-president Pence has apparently decided not to invoke the 25th Amendment, even as more former loyalists announced their resignation. House leader Pelosi held meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to see what options there were to keep Trump from launching nukes. (Either because he’s losing his mind, or just so he could create an even bigger distraction than his failed attempted coup.) Pelosi also announced that the House will start impeachment proceedings on Monday. It’s really rather disappointing that that they didn’t do so right away: it will have been five whole days since the attack.

Speaking of the failed coup… One of the four victims was a woman who got trampled by her fellow terrorists. Apparently, she’d been carrying a flag that said “Don’t tread on me.” Really, now, if this were a work of fiction, the writers would’ve been laughed out of the room for such crude and insensitive satire. And another dead traitor perished after accidentally tasered himself and had a fatal heart attack. The details are unclear, but he might have tasered his own balls. That, right there, is just plain old comedy gold.

To make things even more interesting, around 6pm Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account. After his robotic concession speech (where he did not concede), Trump posted two more tweets. In the first one, he wrote (in ALL CAPS, of course) that his voters will not be defeated. In the second tweet, he wrote he wouldn’t attend Biden’s inauguration on January 20. (The first time that would happen since 1869.) Everyone is on edge right now… Those messages may have been interpreted as a not-so-subtle hint to his traitorous supporters that they can attack the inauguration. Or maybe he was just rage-tweeting as always. Regardless, his account got shut down for good just to be on the safe side.

In a saner world, that would’ve happened years ago. Trump had violated every single rule Twitter has, but Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey took no measures to stop him: Trump’s tweets generated a lot of traffic and new customers for the platform, and the money was just too good. Someday, someone will do some fancy math to estimate how many people died of covid specifically because of the misinformation and mask-mocking that Trump had posted… It’s impossible to describe just how much having that Twitter account helped him destabilize the US, the economy, and the world overall. When he posted a two-part tweet about banning transgender Americans from serving in the military, the entire military was on edge because he’d said he was making a vital announcement, and didn’t follow up until several minutes later. That’s how wars can begin: some generals thought he was about to declare war with a tweet…

Regardless, the petty tyrant’s favourite toy is gone. I wish I could see just how much he is raging and crying in the half-abandoned White House, with his children and the very last of the loyalists trying to keep him sane. (Or relatively sane, in any case.) Meanwhile, the online chatter of his supporters states they’ll try another attack in the days before the inauguration. It’s hard to say whether they’re serious or just blowing hot air. Following the social media bans, Google removed the Parler app (like Facebook, but for the far-right) from their store. Apple is about to do the same, after demanding they find a way to self-moderate. (Not gonna happen.) It’s nice to see social media companies finally grow a spine, but they did so far too late. The Capitol was breached. People died. (Traitors, but people nonetheless.) A cop got his head bashed in with a fire extinguisher… They are at least partially responsible and certainly complicit. They’re only doing this now, in the last weeks of the lame duck session, because they know there won’t be any consequences from this petulant bully of a president.

…I yearn for the day when I will no longer have to worry about Trump destroying the world or overthrowing the government. Hopefully, he’ll lose all his media access on the 21st. Hope everlasting, eh.

And during all of this, of course, the lame duck administration did nothing at all to combat the pandemic. Organizing remarkably intricate attempts to overthrow the legislative branch and possibly set up a dictatorship? (Emergency inauguration postponement, etc.) Sure thing. Helping your fellow Americans get through this dark winter? Nope. There wasn’t so much as a single acknowledgement after the US passed 4,000 covid deaths in one day for the very first time…

In far more mundane news, I’m just about packed up. The spackle that just arrived in the mail (because hardware stores are closed and all) helped me patch up the many nail holes from my wall art. Packing all the little things and knickknacks (I seriously need to declutter) took up more time than all the rest, as always. (The 80/20 principle in practice.) The physically hard part will be rolling up my mattress and fitting it in my car without having it explode all over the place. Heh. This is my last night in this giant rental room, in this house in the Mississauga suburb of Ontario. Two more trips tomorrow and that’s it – a new start, a new chapter, the beginning of the final act of this here pandemic diary. I can’t wait.

In covid news, Biden has announced his plan to distribute all the available vaccine doses ASAP instead of dealing with the logistics of ensuring enough doses remain to give people their second shot three weeks later. Doing so would simplify things a fair bit, but people won’t be guaranteed to get their second shot in a timely manner, and it wouldn’t do much about the last bottleneck. After vaccines are shipped from the feds to the states, there’s the question of distribution: the logistics of setting up a vaccination site and having enough people (and time, and announcements) to actually administer it. Telling them to start using up all the vaccine supplies would not help defeat that particular bottleneck. We’ll see.

A few friends of mine, back in Reno, have caught covid. One of them is a prolific Facebook user, and she’s been documenting the progress of her disease. It started out as nothing more than a plain cold, followed by muscle pain, followed by the loss of smell. (Though she still has her sense of taste.) Reno isn’t a huge city, and over a thousand Renoites follow her account. For many, she might be the first person they know who got the virus. It’s herself, her adult son, and her partner. This is the same friend of mine who tested negative recently… I hope she and hers fully recover.

It’s hard to believe we’re only eight days into 2021. I really, truly hope things will become more bearable 12 days from now, when adults are back in charge and there are actual anti-covid measures backed by the full might of the US government. Here is hoping…

Plague diaries, Day 300

Thursday night. The 300th day of my lockdown. Yay anniversary.

So, I am an idiot… I was slowly reading my way through the book I recently mentioned (The Disaster Diaries by Sam Sheridan) when I stumbled on a strange passage. It claimed that it takes just 80-120 hours of training to become an EMT, as opposed to 1,200-1,800 hours to become a paramedic. This entire time, all these years and decades, I just assumed EMT was a fancy term for paramedic. I thought the lowest entry point into medicine included training for two or three years… Had I known that you can get in with just a month or two of training, I would have done that many years ago. Before Seattle, maybe even before college, before everything.

I want to send a note to my 18-year-old self: “Become an EMT. Buy Tesla, Amazon, Bitcoin.” I think in that alternative timeline, my other self would’ve had a far more exciting and adventurous life, one with zero student loans (which took eight years to repay) and with much greater return on investment. Heh. Well, the upside here is that I’m still young-ish – I’m 34, so a lot of doors are still open. (But really, this door would likely stay open even if I were 44 or 64.) Definitely something to consider for when I quit the rat race, spend a few years just relaxing and catching up on life, and then maybe, just maybe, develop that unnatural urge to work full-time again. (I’m guessing after about four years of procrastination.)

Speaking of ages: the landlords’ son turned 17 today. One major advantage of being a geek is that there’s always some fun stuff you can use as an emergency present. In this case, I gave the birthday boy a cool-looking piece of petrified wood that I bought from an amateur geologist back in Washington state for about $3 back in 2018. He seemed to like it. Incidentally, my landlady refused to believe I’m 34 – this whole time, she thought I was about 25. I guess there are some definite benefits when you stay out of the sun and don’t smoke!

The news today is a nightmare… Every time I check it, there’s something new and strange and horrifying. The female terrorist who got shot yesterday was a QAnon cultist. In a dark twist of irony, she’d recently retweeted a message saying that traitors deserve to be shot. That is some dark, dark humour: yet again, the bizarre twists happening in this wild story we’re all stuck in would’ve seemed too weird and contrived in a work of fiction. Three other terrorists died of undisclosed medical emergencies. (Heart attacks? Something else?) And one cop died from his injuries: a terrorist hit his head with a fire extinguisher. What an insane way to go…

Trump spent 24 hours in the radio silence mode before releasing what was essentially a two-minute hostage video where he mindlessly read out the text in front of him. He did not actually say that he concedes the election, but he did say that Biden would take over on January 20. The video was oddly spliced, as if he’d started ranting and they had to do multiple takes. And even so, he still couldn’t get it right: at the end, he told his supporters he loves them, and said that it’s just the beginning. He literally had one job, and he couldn’t even do that.

A lot of politicians, including at least one Republican congress-critter, demanded the 25th Amendment action. Pence has not complied, or at least not yet. Several cabinet members have resigned, possibly because they don’t want to have to make that choice, so they’re taking the easier way out. Reports claim that Trump and Pence stopped talking to each other after Pence certified Biden’s election yesterday. The US is ruled by petulant children. (I started typing “We are ruled” but then I remember I’m not with them anymore, and smiled.) Nancy Pelosi has threatened Trump with a new impeachment vote if the 25th Amendment isn’t enacted. I hope she does that. That would put all the senate Republicans on the spot.

In the media, some are already starting to weave a narrative that the terrorists were just some random anarchists, or that they only stormed the Capitol because they were upset by the general state of things. (Just gotta disregard all the “MAGA” and “Trump” flags, I guess.) What’s far more disturbing is the emerging picture of the police ineptitude. Washington DC is supposed to have the highest concentration of police and federal forces in the nation, yet there were none. (Some cynics on Twitter are asking why people would expect to see police and rioters in the same place; that’s like asking Miley Cyrus if she’d seen Hannah Montana anywhere, or asking Clark Kent why he’s never seen together with Superman.) Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t done any threat assessment on the planned anti-Capitol rally.

That doesn’t explain, however, why the National Guard hadn’t been deployed when the desperate Capitol staffers called for it. That also doesn’t explain why some members of the Capitol Hill police force gently helped the insurrectionists get down the stairs when they decided to leave, or why some of them posed for selfies with terrorists, or why some of them gave those terrorists directions to Chuck Schumer’s office when they asked where it was. (Schumer is the highest-ranking Democrat in the senate.) There is footage of some cops who engaged in hand-to-hand combat with terrorists. There is also footage of some decidedly bizarre behaviour on their colleagues’ part. So far, several high-ranking police officials (sergeants-at-arms, etc) have resigned. Good start…

Right now, as I type this, there’s an emergency situation in Washington DC. A 7-foot fence (which is supposedly impossible to scale) has been set up around the Capitol, and men with machine guns (feds? National Guard?) are directing people away from it. Some fear follow-up attacks from the emboldened terrorists. Apparently, one of the laptops stolen from the Capitol contained highly classified information, and there’s a manhunt underway, as more of these terrorists are identified and named. It’s a little bit funny: since they didn’t believe in the utility of face masks during this plague, they got their faces on tape. (It doesn’t help that some of them livestreamed their shenanigans.) That makes them fairly easy to identify… One of those geniuses still had his work badge on a lanyard around his neck, and online sleuths have spent the last 24 hours identifying as many as they can. The FBI has asked for people’s assistance in identifying the traitors, and a whole lot of people sent them pictures of Trump. Heh.

There is so much going on right now… We all thought this year would be easy, or at least easier. Just one week in, and there’s already the kind of madness you’d typically only see in fringe political novels. This is insane. Absolutely, irredeemably insane. The overlap of my waking time and my screen time is more or less a perfect circle right now. (I listen to classic music instead of news podcasts when I shower, but that’s about it.) It’s strange to wonder if the world will still be the same by the time I wake up.

In covid news, there was yet another all-time-high day in the US. Either 3,800 or 4,000 deaths, depending which source you believe. The official toll in the US right now is approximately 365,000.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 299

Wednesday night.

Well, there’s no polite way to put this: there was an attempted coup in the United States earlier today. An angry mob of Trump fans breached the small Capitol police perimeter and invaded the US Capitol. They were waving assorted flags: US, Confederate, Gadsden, MAGA, etc. I believe the Nazi flag was the only one they weren’t openly waving, though I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few of them had neo-Nazi tattoos.

All the congress-critters got safely evacuated while the domestic terrorists broke inside the inner chambers, snapped pictures at the podium, vandalized congressional offices, stole Pelosi’s mail, and in at least one case walked away carrying a podium. There was no National Guard: Washington DC’s detachment responds to the Defense Department. They did not get called. The first National Guard units were sent by Virginia. This was the first time in over two centuries a key federal building got invaded. The last time was in the war of 1812, when the British stomped all over the capital and set the first White House on fire.

A woman was shot and died after being taken to the ICU. She was one of the domestic terrorists invading the Capitol. She was a 35-year-old who spent 14 years in the Air Force. She was a business owner in San Diego. She was also a terrorist, but that’s not quite how the media is describing her, at least right now. The circumstances of her shooting are unknown right now, but technically it was a suicide. She made a series of really bad choices that ended with her rushing into the Capitol building and getting shot. Like all the rest of us, earlier today she’d woken up, brushed her teeth, had some breakfast, and then ran off to overthrow the government, thousands of miles away from home. I hope she doesn’t get turned into some sort of right-wing martyr.

Incidentally, most of the insurrectionists did not get arrested: they walked away without a scratch. Some of them had guns. Later on, the police found and defused explosive devices in a vehicle parked nearby. Just a few months ago, some storm-troopers used tear gas to disperse some hippies in order to stage a church photo op for Trump. If BLM protesters had done something even remotely like what we saw today, they would’ve been killed. As it was, there was no tear gas, there were no rubber-coated rounds shot at protesters’ faces (several people went blind during the summer protests when that happened to them), and there were no cops riding their bicycles over fallen rioters’ heads. (Seattle’s police did that while being filmed.) There was absolutely nothing done against the terrorists. If there is a better example of white privilege and double standard in the United States, I can’t think of it.

Earlier, Trump had fueled the flame and incited people to come to the Capitol. When the chaos broke out in mid-afternoon, the only message from Trump was a short recorded video in which he made the perfunctory plea for the MAGA mob to go home, and prefaced and followed that statement with more complaints that the election was somehow stolen and it was very unfair. He ended that rant by saying “we love you, you’re very special.” In other words, he made things even worse. Facebook and YouTube removed that video. Twitter disabled the likes, replies, and retweets, waffled a little, and then took it down as well. They also locked Trump’s account for 12 hours. That’s an interesting change of pace from their earlier, pre-election strategy, which was to allow Trump to say whatever he wants because he brought a lot of traffic to their platform. Ho hum.

The congress-critters went back to the Capitol after it finally got secured by the authorities (it helped that the city set up a 6pm curfew), gave a lot of speeches, and voted to throw out the ridiculous objections about the election fraud. (Which no one had been able to find.) Some of the senators gave beautiful speeches. Some of the saboteurs who claimed they changed their minds still sounded mighty passive-aggressive, even as they said they’re withdrawing their objections.

There are rumours that Trump’s cabinet is finally discussing the 25th Amendment option: the VP and the cabinet can remove the sitting president if they believe the president is unable to serve. Since there are just two weeks to go, Trump wouldn’t be able to appeal and take back the power, even if the congress-critters were on his side. (They are not.) If they actually do this, this will be the first time this provision is enacted. But then again, there are have been a lot of firsts… Before Trump, none of the epidemiological simulations even considered a scenario where the sitting president would actively sabotage the CDC’s efforts. Before today, none of the law enforcement trained for a scenario where they have to storm the Capitol and remove redneck revolutionaries. What other strange unprecedented things will we encounter in the months to come?..

The Capitol will be cleaned up pretty soon. Blood stains will be removed. But the impact of it all… The videos, the pictures, the testimonials will live on. Tactically, this is a wakeup call for the right wingers. But strategically, and far more importantly, this will be priceless ammunition for the countries that want to disparage democracy. All they’ll have to do is run all that footage and say, “Is this what you actually want? Just look at them!” More seriously, this shows a huge security vulnerability. The terrorists who got away with it this time will be encouraged to try again and again. (Just like those heavily armed Oregon rednecks who won stand-offs against the feds on several occasions.) If you don’t punish them the first time, you’re essentially inviting them to keep trying until they succeed. This mob was more chaotic than violent, but this is a proof of concept. A group of 30 or so armed rednecks will be able to break in and start public executions if they really want. (This is not a hyperbole: after today, nothing is a hyperbole.)

I am glad I left… If you’re reading this, here in January 2021 or in the future, and if you’re annoyed by my frequent digs at the United States, know this. I don’t hate America. I love America. I fear what America is becoming.

By now, right-wing politicians and media have realized what they’ve done with all their misinformation and incitements to violence. These violent delights have violent ends… There are two possibilities. They will either wake up, stop the misinformation madness, and try to reel in their insane radicalization of their own voters – or they will not. If they try to put the genie back into the bottle, they will either succeed or not. I doubt they’ll be successful: systems have momentum. The mob that stormed the Capitol today will not get de-radicalized – in their eyes, it’s a victory. They successfully stormed one of the key US buildings, they essentially defeated the entire bloated Homeland Security apparatus, they got away with only one casualty and virtually no arrests, and they took a lot of souvenirs. Even decades from now, they’ll brag about this day to their grandkids. (I don’t know how many rioters there were. Definitely hundreds, possibly thousands.) Today, the barbarians succeeded. There’s no incentive for them to retreat or get back to the political mainstream. Systems have momentum, and this loco locomotive will be unlikely to stop. Somewhere out there, there will always be conspiracy sites and far-right-wing outlets giving them all the propaganda they can handle. If there’s money to be made, somebody will cater to them.

Biden’s election got certified in Congress today – good for him. His inauguration will be in two weeks. Will the domestic terrorists try to do the same thing? At this point, there’s really no way to know.

In covid news, Japan is still trying to find a way to host the Olympics. They got postponed from 2020 to 2021, and it’s not looking so good right now… Cases are spiking in Tokyo. Somehow, Japan has managed to not have any lockdowns thus far. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is considering declaring a state of emergency to bring the cases down in time for the Olympics, which will take place in late July-early August. I would be very surprised if they can actually pull this off. It’s not impossible, but it’ll be a huge logistical feat to keep everyone safe. It’s pretty clear that the stadiums won’t be packed…

I’ll go to bed in about an hour or so. I have no idea what will happen in my former country overnight. Will Trump be impeached and actually convicted this time around? Will his cabinet finally grow a spine and depose him with the 25th amendment? Will key officials resign in protest and/or in disgrace? There’s just no way of knowing: after today, anything can happen…

Oh, and almost forgot: both of the Democrats won their races in Georgia yesterday, though by very narrow margins. They are the first Black man and Jewish man ever elected to represent Georgia. Democrats will have control of the senate, and will actually be able to pass legislation and stimulus bills, at least until the 2022 election, due to their trifecta control of the House, the senate, and the White House. So there’s some good news after all, eh.

Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 298

Tuesday night.

The biggest thing that happened today was finishing the Schitt’s Creek show. Xgf introduced me to it waaay back during our first month of the AirBnB odyssey, back in Deep River. I typically don’t like TV shows with spoiled rich protagonists who never worked a day in their life (looking at you, Game of Thrones) but Schitt’s Creek was remarkably wholesome. (Even if some characters did grate on my nerves sometimes.) It was filmed in Goodwood, a small town right next to Toronto. If and when this pandemic mess ends, I look forward to touring all the shooting locations like so many other tourists.

This is incredibly nerdy, but one of my posts on Reddit received over 10,000 upvotes and 10 awards from my fellow Redditors. (It was about a piece of trivia from WW2 that I discovered after spending about an hour reading random stuff on wikipedia.) One of the awards gave me a temporary trial of Reddit Premium, with access to their elite r/lounge subreddit. That place is remarkably free of controversial or political news – or any kind of news, now that I think of it. Just a bunch of people posting about their little life successes and not having much of a discussion. It felt a little bit too nice, which is suspicious in its own way. I wonder how many Internet reputation points I can score during this lockdown… Nah, that’d just be pointless.

A bit of good news: my New York sister flew back from Miami a week ago, and neither she nor her family has any covid symptoms. She said she tested negative twice, so huh, they actually managed to beat the odds. The way they described it, they just had two trips to a grocery store, and spent the rest of the time going from their condo to the pool and back. Even so, I’m glad they managed to get through the airport, fly out, and make it back without getting exposed. I still think it was a remarkably stupid idea to fly to a pandemic hot zone, but I’m glad she and hers are okay.

The much-awaited Georgia senate runoff election took place today. They’re tallying up the last votes right now. It looks like the two Republican candidates (David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler) are currently in the lead. Democrats need both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to win in order to control the senate. (50-50 split, with the VP being the tiebreaker.) Unless both Dems win, the Senate will remain under the Republican control, which means more obstruction – Mitch McConnell was recorded saying that exact thing just last month. Playing politics and sabotaging your opposition instead of passing stimulus bills… Still, there’s much that can be done just through executive orders.

I’m more curious about what will happen tomorrow, when Congress formally counts the electoral votes – the last step of the antiquated charade that is the presidential succession process. Trump apparently thinks that Pence can somehow overturn the whole process. A dozen of so Republican senators threatened that they wouldn’t count the votes if they think they’re fraudulent. The white supremacist gang Proud Boys will presumably converge on Washington DC to do who-knows-what. And just a couple of days ago, every living secretary of defense signed a public letter and stated that a) the election is over, and b) the military will remain neutral. Nobody knows what spooked them into making such a strange announcement, but whatever wild development (or overheard idea during a brainstorming session) inspired that, it must have been truly disturbing. Oh, and New York air traffic controllers received a broadcast from someone who promised to fly a plane into the Capitol on Wednesday to avenge the Iranian general that got killed in a US drone attack a year ago. (Thus almost starting a war.) I don’t go out of my way to find this sort of news – it just pops up on every news and social media platform. I feel confused just reading about all that from the comfort of my cozy bed in Ontario, so I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to actually have to live and deal with all that uncertainty in the US.

In covid news, England, Scotland, and Quebec are locking down. If I had to guess, I’d say most of the industrialized world is in some sort of lockdown at this point. And in LA county, ambulances have been instructed not to take people to the hospital if their odds of survival appear low. This is due to the ICU fullness and the severe oxygen shortage. They’re essentially in triage mode right now… I’ll never be able to come even close to imagining what it must feel like for those EMTs when they have to make that choice. If the UK variant spreads (and it does appear to spread much faster than the plain old covid-19), the strain on the system will be even worse.

Probably the only positive bit of news, covid-wise, is that the very first people who got vaccinated three weeks ago have just received their second shot, making them the first fully vaccinated people in the world. Time flies: feels like the first vaccinations were just last week. This is a minor but significant turning point. Let’s hope there’s more of those, eh?

Plague diaries, Day 297

Monday night.

First business day of the year. The first day back at work went about as expected: putting out giant fires, catching up with everyone, slowly getting back into the groove. During yet another daily call, one of the coworkers joked that he never saw me in person even though he’d joined our location nine months ago. When I pointed out that I’ve been gone for 297 days, there was a collective groan, followed by “I’d go insane!” Heh. Silly extroverts. If this continues, then at some point I’ll become their patron saint, a disembodied voice that gives them financial advice and guidance. The legend of Grigory Lukin, eh.

My hair is getting longer. It’s almost halfway down my neck, and I can pull together a very short and sad ponytail.

When I was killing time on social media today, a fellow Canadian wrote that Alberta’s phase 3 vaccination (for everyone who is not essential and not in a high-risk group) would begin in October at the earliest. I couldn’t believe it, but that person provided this link and yep, sure enough, their phase 3 wouldn’t launch till October. That’s a lot later than the original Canada-wide graph I saw a month ago, the one that claimed that mass vaccination for everyone will start in April. I googled a bit and found something disturbing. According to the most recent communication from Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, phase 3 won’t launch until August. Phase 2 (essential workers and everyone in risk groups) will kick off in April.

This is… I try not to curse too much on this blog, and I won’t do so now, simply because that would require a whole lot of typing to adequately describe my thoughts on this topic. Bear in mind that that’s the most optimistic, best-case scenario they could come up with. Considering that those are the same geniuses that shut down the vaccination drive for several days over the holidays, I’m not quite filled with confidence. And even if they were on top of their game (they are not), then life and logistics would still get in the way, leading to unforeseen delays. I’m calling it now: under this new timeline, I most likely won’t get my first shot until late August/early September. If that’ll be a two-dose vaccine (as opposed to a single-dose that Johnson&Johnson is developing), then I won’t complete my vaccination until mid-September, if not later.

I’ve made a commitment to blog and chronicle this mess daily until it’s all over. (And to quote a movie, “When you break a promise to yourself, things can get a little dicey.”) Today is day 297. This will go well past 365 days. Past 500 days, even. Wild guesstimate: the last day of the Plague Diaries series, when I get my final shot, will be roughly day 540, give or take a dozen. If you round that up just a little, that won’t be just one year – that’ll be two stolen years of our lives. (And really, the winter months in Canada don’t really count as living.)

…that long podcast on the physics of time travel yesterday introduced me to the concept of eternalism. As opposed to Newtonian absolutism, eternalism assumes that no single moment is special, that your life doesn’t proceed from point A to point B but rather it is a series of snapshots, the sum total of all of you from beginning to the end. From the four-dimensional perspective, you can see the whole of your life, all the little trivialities and triumphs and disappointments. I’d originally encountered that concept in Kurt Vonnegut’s excellent book Slaughterhouse-Five. You may know it by its famous quote: “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

I wonder… Someday, after this blog series inevitably ends, if someone were to encounter it, and if that someone were stubborn enough to read the whole damn thing from start to finish, what would it feel like to flip through 19 months of my life in a matter of several days? Hey there, reader. I hope the future is awesome, though for all I know you’re probably battling bath salt zombies out there. I wish I could sneak a peak at the end of my own blog series, to see how everything plays out, when it ends, who makes it. If you were to print all 500-some blog posts and lay all of them out on the floor all around you, that right there would be as close to the concept of eternalism as one might get: 500-some fragments of life, 500-some days of the covid pandemic, arranged around you as if it really were that simple.

…I’m going to have to do some very serious thinking about all the different ways I’ll cope with this. The early retirement plan (hitherto scheduled for May or so) is probably going out of the window – even if I do pull it off, I’ll still be stuck in solitary misery, so might as well keep working remotely. Human contact: would recreational people-watching on the streets of Toronto suffice? (I know it probably will not.) Human interactions: yeah, no, that part will go away and I’ll definitely go full-on feral. Damn. Just… damn.

Just so this post isn’t a one-man pity party, here’s some covid news. The FDA is considering administering half-doses of the Moderna vaccine instead of the full dose. A whole lot of epidemiologists seem to think that might not be the best idea, if only because there were no stage 3 trials on half-doses. (As far as I can tell, all they have is stage 2 evidence.) That reeks of desperation, like a gambler going double or nothing. It might work and help twice as many people. It might fail, and give those people a false sense of security, which would lead them to go out, get sick, and spread4 the virus further. That’s not a great cost/benefit ratio they got there.

And elsewhere, in Indonesia, the vaccination order will be exactly the opposite of the western countries. Due to limited supplies, they’ll vaccinate young people and essential workers first, on the assumption that they’re more mobile and more likely to spread the virus if they don’t get their shots. That logic may seem brutal or counterintuitive to us, but you can see their logic, since the objective is to limit the spread of covid with limited supplies. I’m curious how it’ll work out for them.

And in Canada, a well-intentioned rule has backfired. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit was supposed to provide $500 CAD per week to the Canadians who couldn’t work due to covid. One peculiar side effect is that it’d give $1,000 to vacationers spending two weeks in quarantine after returning home. (Provided they couldn’t work from home, or claimed so, anyhow.) Given how righteously pissed off people are about hypocritical politicians (redundant, I know) going on vacation when everyone else is locked in, the very idea that someone would get a thousand loonies as a bonus after flying someplace nice and warm and sunny… Well, folks are mad, eh. They’ll probably strike that provision from the law, and soon, but this is just another example of the growing unrest. 2021 is gonna be a long, looooooong year…