There’s a Difference

I feel the pressure building up again, so I’m going to inflict another rant on y’all before the steam starts spraying out of my ears. Thanks for your patience.

Damn it, people, “stay at home” means you remain in your house.

It’s that simple.

Yes, I know the directives have exceptions. Here in California, the exceptions are to go shopping for essentials and for exercise.

I’m fine with anyone who goes for a walk, a jog, a bike ride, or other exercise. Solo or with someone they live with. Go for it. I won’t even complain if you take your mask off, as long as you’re actually in motion–keep it on if you’re doing stationary exercises, or face my wrath.

But apparently there are way, way too many people who are unclear on what constitutes “essentials”.

A few hints:

Buying groceries is essential. Having a sit-down meal in (or outside) a restaurant is not. Take-out is fine–no worse, epidemiologically speaking than grocery shopping–as long as you take it home to eat.

Shopping for a computer, cell phone, or tablet so you can work, go to school, stay in touch with family and friends, and, yes, entertain yourself is essential. Shopping for any of the above because your old one is the wrong color, weighs a couple of ounces more than the latest model, or has a small scratch on the back is not essential.

Entertainment media you can take home–books, movies, video games (yes, even video game consoles)–are essential; we don’t want anyone assaulting family members just to break up the monotony. Outside entertainment–movies, sporting events, concerts–not essential. Note that I’m not drawing a distinction between indoor and outdoor events. Yes, the risk is lower outdoors, but the constant vigilance required to stay six feet away from all the yahoos who won’t wear a mask outside is going to ruin your enjoyment of the event. Drive-in theaters? If everyone stayed in their car with the windows closed and the engine off, maybe safe enough–but essential? No.

Buying a new freezer? Depends. If you don’t have one or it doesn’t work, essential. If you want a second one to store the groceries you’re hoarding, not essential. And rethink your priorities if you accumulated a six-month supply of ground beef.

Getting the picture?

Think about it this way: remember “shelter in place” and how much you enjoyed that?* If we don’t stop breaking curfews and going out for non-essentials, we’re going find ourselves back in Shelterinplaceland.

* Man, March seems like a long time ago!

Viruses don’t care how stir-crazy you are.

Vaccines are not cures, nor are they 100% effective, and they won’t be universally available for months yet.

If it helps any, try pretending it’s a earthquake drill, like we had in school, back when we had schools. A very, very protracted drill.

Duck and cover!

(Note: duck is not essential–but it is available from many grocery and restaurant delivery services.)

Take a Deep Breath and…

The good news is that there is a vaccine being distributed in the U.S., and more are likely to be approved for distribution soon.

The better news is that front line healthcare workers are getting the first doses. This is so logical and sensible that I can’t believe it’s actually happening in 2020.

Granted, that may not be the case in all states–each state gets to set its own priorities–but most are putting doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals first, with the most vulnerable elderly close behind.

Amazing.

Naturally, there are those who disagree. Not because 2020, depressingly enough, but because the world is full of people who either can’t or won’t think logically.

“But what about the essential workers?”

“But what about the food service and restaurant workers?”

“But what about the teachers?” (Often followed by “…and the high school and college students?”)

I haven’t heard, “But what about the hair dressers and barbers?” yet, but I figure that’s only a matter of time. After all, nearly a dozen California state senators are petitioning the governor to classify restaurants as essential businesses and allow them to open for dining.

Remember, folks: a vaccine is not a cure. They only stop you from getting a disease if you don’t already have it. And in this specific case, it takes several weeks and two shots to reach its full effectiveness.

So let’s be blunt and look at the bottom line. We can’t vaccinate everyone at once. Can not. There aren’t enough doses available and there aren’t enough people to administer the shots and do the record keeping (especially including the part about ensuring that people show up on time for their second shots).

The more classes of people you including in the first wave of “must haves”, the more likely failure becomes. Heck, if you don’t think there’s potential for abuse of the process, just look at what your state classifies as “essential businesses”. Not matter where you live, I guarantee you’ll find at least one–probably several–that you vehemently disagree with. Or just look at how poorly testing services have been managed.

For the record, in California, I’m considered an essential worker. Doesn’t change my opinion. Realistically, most of the members of the public I come into contact with are not going to be carriers. Measures to prevent the spread–masks, barriers, and distancing–are onerous, but they work.

Would I like to be vaccinated? Do I intend to get the shots when it’s my turn? Yes and yes. But I’m not one of the people most in need.

We need to focus on smaller, more attainable goals than “give it to everyone”.

In this case, it means starting with the people who have the most confirmed contact with the virus: emergency room and ICU personnel, their support staff, and their immediate families.

Spread out from there: more medical professionals, nursing home and hospice staff and–to the extent possible–patients. Again, where it can be done, make vaccines available to families, not just individuals.

Note that I said “immediate family” not “family”. Those closely related and living in geographic proximity. Spouses or partners, parents, children. Yes, that policy is subject to abuse, but so is every other policy. But the benefits are huge: pockets of the vaccinated can act as the viral equivalent of firebreaks.

We’ve seen that social bubbles can slow the spread of the virus. Think of family vaccinations as strengthening bubble walls. If your life depended on staying in a physical bubble, would you want it to be a soap bubble or a rubber balloon?

Hey, there’s a slogan I can get behind:

INFLATE THE BALLOON!

Can’t Ignore It Forever

So, to no one’s surprise at all, the Lame Duck a L’Orange has fired Chris Krebs. One might almost be tempted to believe that Krebs wanted out of the Department of Homeland Security. What does he think is coming? (I did say “almost”; that sort of thinking smacks more than a bit of paranoia. On the other hand, now that the baseball season is over, paranoia is the nation’s first choice for a pastime.)

I haven’t written anything about the election because, really, what’s the point before the proverbial final aria has been belted out? The states are still certifying their votes, the Electoral College will have its say, and the Supreme Court could jump in. And don’t forget to obsess about the Senate runoffs in Georgia. But a few random thoughts intrude now and then, so I figured I’d inflict them on you all.

All that said, I’m delighted to see the Quacking One placing his faith in the legal talents of Giuliani. Donny can’t keep a consistent thought going from one end of a sentence to the other, and Rudy can’t keep a legal theory going from one end of an argument to the other. So well matched!

And, of course, there’s that other delightful news out of Georgia: according to the Secretary of State–the same guy who claims Lindsay Graham pressured him to lose Democratic votes–there were 24,000 Republican voters in the primary election who failed to vote this month, presumably because Trump told them voting by mail wasn’t safe, but they couldn’t be bothered to show up to vote in person. Talk about shooting one’s self in the foot while putting said foot in one’s mouth!

You’ve probably heard that toilet paper is in short supply again. My own theory is that people aren’t hoarding it in case of another shelter-in-place. I think they’re just collecting it for a massive TP-ing of the White House if donny (does he really deserve a capital letter?) refuses to vacate come January 20.

Not that it would matter if he locked himself into the Oval Office. As any number of people have pointed out, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (home to the Vice President’s offices) is right next door, and is admirably equipped to serve as a center of government. If donny doesn’t want to leave the White House, that’s just fine. Lock the doors from the outside and he’ll be just fine. I’m sure the Secret Service would be delighted to toss a fast food burger through a window every so often. Wouldn’t do to let him starve, after all, and protecting his life is part of their job description.

And meanwhile, the election goes on. I believe Georgia is expecting to complete their recount and certify the election results shortly. One step closer to closure.

There Is Nothing More Important

The Rays couldn’t quite pull it off–couldn’t even push the Series to seven games–and we’re now into the Winter of our Discontent (which follows the similarly discontented Fall, Summer, and Spring).

I’ll have my usual season-ending post next week, looking at my predictions for the playoffs and taking a peek at next year.

For now, though, something a bit more important.

More important than baseball? Yes, there really is such a thing.

Have you voted yet?

If you have, thank you.

I’m assuming you made the only rational choices. This is not, as many people have been reminding us for months, even years, the time for protest votes; promotion of third, fourth, or fifth parties; or betrayal votes.

It doesn’t matter who she hugged.

It doesn’t matter how much you love their platform.

It doesn’t matter what party’s ticket he’s leading in your state.

Now is the time to vote Democrat. Even if it would be the first time someone in your family has ever voted Democrat, it’s time.

Because if the Republicans hold on to the White House and the Senate, there won’t be an election in 2024.

Not a real one with multiple candidates who could win. Maybe we’ll get a sham election with a single slate of candidates or multiple candidates from a single party.

Choose your reason: a massive death toll from this and the next pandemic, outlawing of the Democratic party as domestic terrorists, or flat-out executive fiat backed by a bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court. Doesn’t matter why. Only the result matters.

If you haven’t voted yet, get off your ass and do it. Don’t rely on the Post Office at this point. Check your county’s website for the official list of ballot drop-off locations* and early voting sites, and do it.

* I strongly doubt that California is the only state plagued with fake drop-off boxes sponsored by the Republican party.

If your state offers ballot tracking (parts of seventeen states use ballottrax.net), sign up. Make sure your ballot is received.

And if you have to cast your ballot in person, especially if it’s November 3 or nothing, be careful. Wear a mask, social distance as much as possible, and pack a lunch–and it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a dinner as well.

Keep your pro- or anti-candidate or issue shirts, buttons, or signs out of sight until after your ballot has been cast: don’t be a target and don’t give anyone even a specious excuse to prevent you from voting.

It’s going to take years to undo all the crap the Republicans have done. Let’s get started now, because if we don’t, we won’t have the chance at all.

Can I Borrow a Sand Shovel?

The Mariners continue to tease us with late season relevance.

It’s a very small tease–they’d pretty much need to win all their remaining games to make the playoffs. And that includes Tuesday night’s game, which they’re losing 6-1 as I write this.

Not going to happen. Not in 2020.

But dreaming about it is a hell of a lot better than paying attention to the way everything political is going in the wrong direction. The Republicans are getting ready to stack the Supreme Court to ensure that the nigh-inevitable challenge to November’s election results goes their way. And if you believe at least four senators are going to slaughter their political careers by blocking the coming appointment, allow me to remind you of every single vote of consequence in the last three and a half years: how many times have we heard that one or two senators were straying from the party line, only to have them vote in lockstep with their orders from above?

Even the current slowing of the COVID-19 numbers has its downside. Just in time for the Dark Side to trumpet the wonderful things they’ve done to stop that virus (that wasn’t as serious as the Democrats wanted everyone to believe) as we approach the beginning of mail-in balloting (that you shouldn’t use because your mail won’t be counted, unless you’re voting Republican).

So, yes, baseball.

The Mariners may be teasing, and the Orioles hanging on by their fingernails–not mathematically eliminated, but winning-the-lottery improbable–but the Giants are still in the running. Half a game back as I write this. That could actually happen.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s looking like there will actually be playoffs this year–assuming I didn’t just jinx it (quite likely: this is 2020, after all)–as improbable as that seemed when the season started last week.

Yes, I know it was a little earlier than that. Doesn’t feel much like it.

And I know obsessing over baseball is burying my head in bread and circuses. I even know that’s a very disturbing mixed metaphor.

But why not? I know how I’m voting. I’ll fill out my ballot as soon as it arrives. And if baseball keeps me distracted enough to prevent full-stomach ulcers until after the election, I’m good with that.

Distance Learning

A rant:

I was going to ask for a little restraint, but on reflection, I don’t think there’s any of it in stock these days.

Specifically, I was hoping we could avoid developing herds of self-appointed distance monitors.

Yes, social distancing is necessary. Absolutely no argument from me on that.

But demanding that people move is not the way to get it done. Humans are contrary creatures. “You have to move,” or “Hey, you, six feet!” just make the recipient want to move closer, strictly out of spite.

It’s in the presentation.

Try “Could you please move a further away?” That’s not so hard to say, now is it?

Or, if you’re in a place of business, just pointing to the tape marks on the floor will probably get the job done–and if there aren’t tape marks, say something to the staff, don’t excoriate your fellow customers!

Because, let’s face it, most people don’t have a clear mental picture of what six feet is. (Hint: your foot is probably not a foot long, and even if it is, you’ve never seen six of ’em heel to toe.)

I have a pet theory that many people, if asked to estimate six feet, say to themselves, “Well, I’m a few inches shorter than six feet, so it’s a bit longer than I am tall.” Then they picture themselves lying down, think, “Ew, this floor is filthy, I don’t want to lie on it,” and completely forget to add the necessary inches to turn five-foot-something into six feet.

All that aside, though–and taking the whole flies/honey thing as given–the possibility for escalation is scary. Because moderation and restraint are, as previously noted, in short supply.

These days it’s a small step from admonishing a random stranger to move a aside to demanding they clear off “your” sidewalk, then to calling the cops on someone you think is too close. After that, the weapons come out, and we have a whole different class of virus-related deaths.

Again, yes to social distancing. But remember that “seventy-two inches” is an arbitrary distance chosen for a number of reasons, not all of which have any grounding in virology.

The whole point of social distancing is to not crowd together, to not loiter near other people.

It is not to get in people’s face in the name of getting them out of your personal space.

SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.

SAST 16

Apparently someone at MLB.TV is reading this blog. Less than a week after I noted that nobody’s been talking about MLB.TV subscriptions, they decided to prove me wrong.

I said that I doubted we’d get a prorated refund. Surprise!

According to the email I received, we do get prorated refunds. We can have them credited to back to the cards we used to pay, or we can credit them against next year’s subscription.

That’s a no-brainer. I see no reason to give MLB half a year of interest on my money. More to the point, though, after the example of this year’s negotiations between the owners and players, I’m not the only person wondering if there will be a season next year.

Refunds will be issued around the end of July. I presume this is so they won’t have to go through the refund process twice if the 60 game season gets scrapped entirely–something that seems increasingly likely in the light of the ongoing problems with testing.

On a semi-related note, team schedules are now available online. You can subscribe to them with your Google, Apple, or Windows calendar.

If, that is, you’re willing to give an unidentified third party access to all of your calendars. At least, that’s the case in Google-land.

Maybe it’s different for those of you using Outlook or iCal; I suggest you check the permissions that come along with any calendar requests very carefully.

Moving on.

Douglas Adams was wrong. It’s not time that’s the illusion. Dates are illusions.

These days, I’m far from the only person who can’t tell whether it’s a Wednesday in July or a Tuesday in November without looking at a phone (or calendar for those of us who still use paper). I think we all know it’s still 2020, but I’m certain enough to bet money on it.

It’s not just the lack of stimulation, with our limited ability to spend time with friends, or the sameness of our personal schedules–especially for those working at home. It’s the sense of futility that comes from not having an endgame in sight. Nobody knows when life will return to normal–whatever that is or will be–and, worse yet, nobody knows when we’ll know when.

We’re just marking time. Seconds, minutes, hours. But not days. They’re just too big to grasp.

Moving on–in a limited way.

Along with the retreat from “reopening,” we’re getting a return of one of the most noxious notions from the days of “Shelter in Place.” You know the one I mean: “Look at all the free time you have. You can finally do those things you’ve been putting off!”

Poisonous.

Maybe it works for you. I’ll admit it worked for me early on. I wrapped up the third draft of Demirep and put it in the hands of my beta readers (and thanks to all of you!). But after that?

My usual practice is to start the next novel while the beta readers are reading. This time, nope. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I do. But actually doing anything with them? Not happening.

And the last thing I need is somebody guilting me about it.

Same goes for you. If you’re not capable of working on one of your projects–whether it’s something artistic or practical–you’ve got my permission to not do it and to not feel guilty or defeated. We’re all different, and we all react to events differently.

If someone tells you that you have to work on something, feel free to politely tell them to get stuffed. And if they gloat about how much they’ve accomplished under lock-down, feel free to deliver them to your local taxidermist for stuffing.

On a related note, I will assault the next person I hear saying “Man, being a professional athlete is the worst job these days.” (Yes, people really are saying that. If you haven’t heard it–presumably because you’re being a responsible adult and socially isolating and being a smart adult and staying off social media–I envy you.)

You know what really sucks? Working in a field where you don’t have a choice about going to work every day, where your employer doesn’t pay for tests and won’t pay you if you get sick. Or not working because your former employer is out of business.

We’re all having to learn new ways to do our jobs–it’s not just ballplayers who have to figure out how to get the work done safely. And very few of us have the same safety nets they do. Well-funded unions that actually look out for their members, affordable health insurance, and well-off senior members of our professions who look out for their juniors* are increasingly scarce.

* Major kudos for the various MLB stars who’ve been chipping in money to help out the minor league players who aren’t getting paid at all now that the MiLB seasons have been cancelled.

Moving on.

Well, maybe. One of these days.Sometime.

The Wrong Approach

Okay, I’m going there. Sorry, but it was either this or a rant about the stupidity of ending shelter in place rules while virus cases are on the upswing.

There was a letter to the editor in the SF Chron a couple of days ago. The gist was that both the Republican and Democratic parties have utterly failed to do anything to benefit African Americans. Accordingly, the author says–in apparent seriousness–“The only remedy left for African Americans to get them out of their misery is for them to form their own national political party.”

I can only assume that the writer, Guy Vigier, is either a Trumpist looking to split the Democratic vote or completely and totally ignorant of how people think.

Forget the woeful history of third parties in American politics since the demise of the Socialist movement. Never mind the fact that the NAACP–arguably the most effective organization working for civil rights in the past century plus–hasn’t managed to gain the support of all African Americans*.

* According to their own website, they currently have a membership of “more than a half-million”.

Can you think of any better way to mobilize racist white non-voters than to give the right wing the opportunity to point Fingers of Alarm at the BLM Party candidates? “They’re coming for our jobs! They want to take over! They said so themselves!” (The identity of the “our” is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Maybe there’s something I’m missing. It’s certainly possible. I’m white. I don’t have a visceral understanding of the African American experience–I hope I have a handle on it intellectually, but I don’t have the gut-level automatic understanding that comes from living it.

Maybe a BLM Party could turn a significant chunk of the American population into active, informed voters. Even enough of the population to elect a president. I doubt they could take Congress as well, but say they do. Say they do it by such an overwhelming margin that the Supreme Court can’t find an excuse to overturn the election.

What happens next? Barring assassination, I mean, though history suggests that’s a distinct possibility. A bunch of laws get passed. Most get tied up in the courts; those that don’t will be enforced by the same police they’re intended to restrain. Anyone want to put money on the laws being fairly enforced? If there’s a way to selectively enforce them against African Americans, you better believe they’ll be used that way.

Then, two years later, with the racist right fully mobilized, Republicans recapture control of the Senate. Anyone remember how much trouble the Republican Senate caused President Obama in his last year in office?

And, of course, two years after that, President Trump (or the functional equivalent) is re-elected on his promise to give America back to the Real Americans. You know: the melanin-deficient ones.

Mr. Vigier seems to think that an “African American national political party” could somehow “hold the balance of power between the two major parties” and turn that into resources for their communities. I’ve got news for him: this is not a parliamentary system. Small blocks are largely powerless.

Hell, large blocks that aren’t the majority don’t have a whole lot of power. I suggest Mr. Vigier check back on Puerto Rico and remind himself just how little aid they got two years ago, despite the efforts of a large-but-minority chunk of Congress. How would he suggest that his hypothetical BLM office holders direct money to their communities in the face of conservative resistance and without decades of political favors to draw on for support?

It’s the opinion of this white guy that the current crisis is not going to be settled by the creation of a new political party. It’s not going to be solved in a top-down fashion. And it’s not going to be resolved–not truly–at the ballot box. If it’s ever settled, it’ll be because right-minded people of all parties–yes, including Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Democrats, and independents–come together in their communities and create change from the bottom up. By the time national laws come about, they’ll be a recognition of the status quo.

Hungry?

I really wanted to write something cheerful today.

(Disclosure: I’m writing this Tuesday evening so it’ll be ready for you all in the morning.)

But then I made the mistake of looking at the news.

Yeah, I know, I know.

I presume you’ve heard by now that our government has declared meat processing plants to be critical infrastructure.

I’m an unrepentant omnivore, and I was not looking at the predictions that meat could follow toilet paper* into virtual non-existence on store shelves.

* Our TP supply dropped low enough last week that we went in search of a few rolls. As it turned out, we found some in the first store we checked. It’s a 30 roll package, which should be enough to stave off the total fall of civilization for at least a month, and quite probably several times that. Mind you, it’s a Korean brand–not the one everyone knows–and of totally unknown quality, but it’s almost certainly better than, say, last week’s newspapers. We haven’t tried it yet, but in the spirit of helping one another, I’ll issue a report once we’ve put it to the ultimate test.

So, on one paw, it’s good to know that meat will remain available. On another paw, though, the fact that our gracious president highlighted the fact that his declaration will “solve any liability problems” does lead one to wonder (a) just how sweeping that immunity from liability is and (b) just how safe that meat will be. On a third paw, one also has to wonder what effect the presidential order will have on the cost of meat. And, on the fourth paw, will that shield remain in place indefinitely?

Let’s face it. The current administration is fond of rolling back laws and regulations that improve the health of most individuals. And, as we all know, the meat packing industry’s favorite recreation is dancing back and forth across the red line of legality.

Without more details than we have right now, I can only assume that the price of meat is going to go up in lockstep with the health risks of eating that meat. And there is, of course, no upper limit to either cost.

I see only one solution for those of us who aren’t going to go vegetarian.

Anyone got a good recipe for coyote?