a journal of the plague year, part the first

It didn’t have to be like this. 300,000 dead and climbing every day. An economy brought to a slow bleed and an uncertain future. Vaccines that will sit in warehouses for want of a distribution structure. Make no mistake: if Pittsburgh had been wiped off the map by a terrorist attack or stray North Korean missile, we would be on a wartime footing that would make September 11 look like a garden party. Instead, we’ve lost the same number of people to a virus, and half the country is still shrugging and saying “it’s just like the flu” and wailing about their freedom.

I don’t make the September 11 comparison idly. I’ve said it before, but had the shoe been on the other foot, I don’t trust that the GOP would have rallied behind Al Gore. I know for a fact that they wouldn’t have rallied behind Barack Obama, and I expect scorched earth from January 3 onward. The plague that’s killing Americans isn’t coronavirus – we had a coronavirus pandemic threat in 2009 and it was controlled; MERS and SARS and other animal-originating respiratory ailments never struck the United States like this, and we didn’t have vaccines for them. The plague that’s killing Americans in 2020 is stupid-worship. Fox News, the Southen Baptist Convention, Facebook, AM talk radio, the Wall Street Journal – a decade of validating the worship of stupidity as the only truly American viewpoint has made it impossible to have cohesive government action.

If everyone had been made to shelter in place for six weeks in March, with masks sent to every household and $5000 in stimulus money for every taxpayer who made less than $100K last year, this could have been mostly behind us by May. But it was always somebody else’s problem right up until it wasn’t, and a cohort of Americans conditioned for years – for decades, really – that they don’t have to care about other people promptly did what they wanted. Which is asinine. It’s like a zombie apocalypse – you can’t reason with the virus, you can’t negotiate with it, you can’t own it online and chortle at those stupid libs. It. Does. Not. Care. It will keep coming until you or it are dead. And useful idiots from Washington DC to Sturgis, SD to Orlando, FL colluded unwittingly to give it what it wanted. And now here we are.

The lesson of the plague year is that you can’t wait for your problems to go away. If you want a better life, if you want a future, you have to take action. And keep taking action. It wasn’t enough to elect Joe Biden, you have to do it in such a way as to frustrate the aims of the ratfuckers who will try to overturn it. And then you have to turn out the vote in Georgia in hopes of preventing the Senate becoming the graveyard. And then, and then, and then. One foot in front of the other, forever, accepting that there will never be a day when the lion lies down with the lamb and we ain’t gonna study war no more. Not in this life.

And that’s the other bit, the hard bit. You have to protect yourself from the virus by creating conditions where it can’t get to you. Masking, hand washing, constant vigilance. So too with that other virus. You have to put the stupid-worship where it can’t get at the vulnerable, where it can’t infect and spread. Until we have a vaccine for it, it must be contained – actively, transitively, and relentlessly, until we have a cure or it dies out for want of hosts. Call it what it is and fight it. Heal it where you can, quarantine it where you can’t, but you can’t give up and you can’t give in.

Because we’re all going to die if we do.

festivus 2020

The grievance of grievances for the last five years chose today to really rear its head for good, spewing pardons around like STDs at a Panama City spring break bar. I don’t know what’s worse: the utter contempt for the rule of law or the complete Republican acquiescence. Or the fact that they will simultaneously court the fanatics forever while demanding that we quit bringing up old stuff.

I don’t understand how we’re meant to get along with this, how we’re supposed to find common ground with people who reject the very notion of commonality. We’ve been in a cold civil war for 50 years that went brushfire-hot in the last 10, and at this point, quite frankly, the democrats – deliberate lower case – have given all the ground they need to give. Otherwise we’re looking at a very real threat of permanent minority rule, with old rural whites maintaining control of government despite the constant failure to collect the most votes.

When the structure of the system gives one side a permanent advantage over the side with more votes, it’s broken. The system is broken. How we survive as a country will depend on whether we can make the needed changes – and overcome those who will fight like Hell to keep their unearned privilege.

the ballad of babe and bimbo

What had happened was, I had a piece of mail from a friend of mine during my first couple months at undergrad, and he had graffiti’d the outside with all kind of random nonsense. “WARNING: TOPOGRAPHICALLY UNSTABLE CONTENTS”, “OPEN IMMEDIATELY unless HAVING SEX”, that kind of stuff. And in that spirit, I did something similar with a piece of correspondence to a former high school classmate at Randolph-Macon Women’s College. And what I got back was not from her, but from a couple of upperclass women who had been amused by it and posted me back a note to tell me so, scribbled on a piece of cardboard from some free publication distribution rack.

I have no idea what I replied with. That’s the downside of the five years before my first email account: I have no record of my sent correspondence. As embarrassing as it might be to read from 2020, I think it might be illuminating to see the thought processes of my brain thirty years ago, if only to marvel at how much has (and has not) changed. Be that as it may, I sent off a reply to them, expecting nothing to come of it.

What I got back was a homemade scrapbook of sorts. One populated with magazine cutouts, biographic details and the like. Babe, so-called, was from St Louis (and somehow an Auburn fan), and Bimbo from the greater NYC area and of Italian extraction. They detailed what they liked and didn’t like (it being 1990, Kevin Costner figured highly in the “like” range), and more to the point, actually invited me to an event at RMWC. Along with the note “We know your real name…and we still wrote to you,” along with an addendum to the party invite “THIS IS NOT A JOKE. Contact your friend for details.”

This was kind of earth-shaking. It was interest. Not even in a sexual or romantic context — just the fact that two women were curious about me was a mind-blowing development in a time and place that had made it abundantly clear I was no one of interest. The vast majority of my undergraduate institution closed the doors as soon as I flunked out of fraternity rush, and I was left on the stoop, all alone save for the girlfriend I had desperately made a play for the moment she evinced an interest herself.

And here we ran into the problem of the bird in the hand. I had absolutely no way to get to Lynchburg, Virginia, to the best of my knowledge. I had never driven anywhere further from Birmingham than…Gadsden? Maybe? This was an eight or nine hour drive. I had ridden to Knoxville countless times, so that would be familiar, but the back half of the route…I might as well be driving to Mars. My car was a seven year old Monte Carlo with 150,000 miles on it already. I had functionally no money, no prospect for lodging, and certainly no way of explaining to my girlfriend, the one person at this school who would speak to me, that I needed to drive 500 miles to meet two women I’d never met and only knew through two pieces of mail.

Call it fear, call it anxiety, call it a catastrophic attraction to the devil you know, but I chickened right out. I must have counter-offered them the spring band festival at my own school, and mentioned my girlfriend, because in December came a care package: liquor filled chocolates, a can of Coors Light, a can coozie,  a candle (“for when you want a romantic interlude with {$NAME}”), a pink disposable razor (purpose unknown?) and some other things, all detailed in a blue book along with grips about Auburn losing to Alabama and their rider requirements for attending Southern Comfort that spring.

And I don’t know what happened after that. I assume nothing. I probably never had the nerve to reply. Four years later, with a reliable Saturn and practice wheeling everywhere from Nashville to Chattanooga to New Orleans to Pensacola, with the added utility of email…maybe? I certainly could have done it by 1997, because I did, but in 1990, the pieces weren’t in place yet to make it feasible even if I’d had the nerve to go for it.

But I think something important was lost when I didn’t have the chutzpah to try it anyway.

second impressions

The Apple Watch series 6 and the iPhone 12 mini are both at the leading edge of current Apple hardware. Unfortunately, getting them to work together was trying. It ended up taking two resets of the watch for Apple Pay to actually start working properly, and there is still some question of whether notifications are all ironed out.

But after a couple of tests, the original case is still on it. As evinced by its spiritual ancestor the Moto X, so much of a phone’s feel is the thickness of the edges – and putting an iPhone 4-style bumper case on a phone of this side effectively inverts the process, making the sides thicker and the middle comparatively thinner. This case will also take the MagSafe charger puck, which might be important, because on three separate occasions now the phone has failed to charge overnight on the Anker wireless charging stand – I think this phone is too short for the charging coil to line up. I either have to place it on the stand higher up and slide it down once it’s charging, or else put something on the bottom shelf to stand it up higher. A sufficient annoyance that if I ever go back into the office, I will almost certainly invest in a MagSafe puck.

The camera, though, is sterling. The screen is amazing. The battery life is no worse than the SE and largely fit for purpose. FaceID is instantaneous when not wearing a mask. I find myself gravitating to this phone for every non-work task other than blogging or video watching. Much like the M-65 feels like the jacket that’s been missing from my back, the iPhone 12 mini feels like the phone that’s been missing from its pocket.

Meanwhile, the watch is getting one particular job done. I have close all three rings every day but one for over a month, and I frequently find myself either walking out at 9 PM to close all three or walking out for coffee in the morning to ensure I don’t have to walk out at night. With the Fitbit and its step count, I had long since given up on hitting even the 8000 step mark. But the watch is forcing me to clock 25 exercise minutes, 500 calories of movement and 12 hours standing every day, and I’m hitting those numbers even when it forces me out on a fifteen minute walk to settle accounts. And then I plug it up to charge. While I haven’t missed a day yet, there are times when I look at my arm at 10 PM and think “shit, I haven’t charged it” but I can get it from 30% to 75% quick enough to go to bed and pick back up in the morning.

So now we have the watch, the compact phone, and the AirPods Pro. The personal Apple environment is complete. Now to see how we live in it.