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covid 19
We All Need A Vacation

Look at this! No story this week! We’ll start a new fantasy novel on July 5, but today, we get to do something different and since there are actually links in this article, we should remind you that bold italic words and phrases are links to whatever we’re referencing. Don’t be afraid to click on them. Thank you for reading!


I need a break. So do you. We’re half-way through this year and I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t feeling, at the very least, significant amounts of mental and emotional fatigue. Since the first of the year, we’ve had to deal with the following:

  1. Impeachment of the US President
  2. Political upheaval in Russia
  3. Locust invasion in Eastern Africa
  4. Coronavirus (renamed COVID-19) spreads around the world
  5. Philippine volcano eruptions
  6. Australia wildfires
  7. 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey (41 dead)
  8. Avalanche in Kashmir (100+ dead)
  9. Flooding in Indonesia (100+ dead)
  10. Kobe Bryant
  11. UK Brexit finalized
  12. Quarantine, unemployment, business failures
  13. Puerto Rico Earthquakes (2,455 since Dec. 22)
  14. Midland, Michigan, Dam Breach
  15. Nashville and other spring tornadoes (74 deaths so far)
  16. Continuing Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
  17. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
  18. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis at US Southern Border
  19. Cyclone Amphan
  20. Continuing Rohingya Refugee Crisis
  21. New Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  22. Black Lives Matter protests
  23. Voter Suppression in US primary elections
  24. Threat of 23 million Americans losing health insurance
  25. US Army soldier conspiring against his own unit

All that has happened and there are plenty of signs that there is still more to come. While we’ve all been consumed with watching COVID-19 numbers going up, down, and back up again, Syrian civil war grows stronger and more violent. The US-China trade war has taken another nasty turn and looks to get worse. All of Latin America looks set for massive political upheaval that could result in a higher number of refugees fleeing those countries.

If you missed several of those news stories, you’re forgiven. The tidal wave of information on a daily basis has been more severe than I can remember and in the middle of that, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, has been furloughing and outright firing huge portions of their newsrooms, all but eliminating any form of investigative journalism. We have no idea what’s being swept under the rug because journalists who would normally catch such things have been sidelined.

We have every right to be outraged. We need to be outraged. But outrage requires massive amounts of energy and collectively we’ve expended so much energy over the past three-and-a-half years that it feels as though we haven’t any left. One would be foolish to believe that nothing new is going to happen for the rest of the year. Hurricane season is just starting and we’ve already seen a higher-than-usual number of tropical depressions develop. The Saharan Winds, which happens annually, typically affecting a few places along the Gulf of Mexico, has fully engulfed the Caribbean and seems positioned to spread over much of the Eastern US by this weekend, making it the worst dust storm in decades. So, what happens when something unthinkable happens in August or September? Where will we find the energy to voice our anger, sadness, and despair in October and November?

I can’t, and won’t speak for you, but I need a break and I’m guessing most people are in the same boat. Not just a weekend away or a quiet night in a hotel, which I’ve been taking on occasion, but a full-on, turn-the-phone-off, no-WiFi-service-here, there-is-no-media vacation. Think of it as a long, hot shower for the soul, a chance to cleanse the mind of all the diseased information we’ve been consuming the past six months. I have reached a point where I can’t even scroll through Facebook any longer than a couple of minutes. Instead, I retreat in the evenings to highly-filtered mindless feeds that contain inspiring photography, cute babies and other animals, and short but smile-inducing videos. That’s all my brain can handle after the perpetual alerts coming in about someone who died, a major corporation closing, latest COVID-19 numbers, and another racist symbol coming down.

The problem I’m facing, however, is that there’s nowhere safe to go. I woke up Thursday morning to the news that the US set a new national record for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a day. Over 36,000 new cases were recorded, breaking a record set on April 25. And while a lower percentage of those are likely to die than was possible back in April, the fact remains that there are still no peer-reviewed studies determining the long-term consequences of just having the virus. Among the biggest suspects observed so far are brain damage, long-term cardiac damage,  and mental health issues such as PTSD. While it will take scientists years to accurately track and sort out the data, the one thing of which we can be sure is that one doesn’t have to die from the virus to have their entire life irreparably altered by it, and to date, no one is tracking those numbers at all. 

I checked one of the online services to see what it would cost me to sneak away to a beach I’ve always enjoyed. While it’s not completely isolated by any means, the beach would be a change of scenery that would allow me to, hopefully, clear my head a bit, listen to the sound of the waves as they break, and maybe enjoy a rum-flavored drink or two. Immediately, right at the top of the search results, was a warning: “Your destination has enacted travel advisories and other regulations around COVID-19.” Lovely. I checked and, sure enough, the beach is closed, as are most of the restaurants and all of the clubs in the region. Then, to make matters worse, the day after checking that information, a news headline pops up showing a severe increase in COVID-19 cases in that area.

Check someplace else, right? We’re a country literally surrounded by beaches. But no matter where you check, Pacific, Gulf, Atlantic, they’re all experiencing surges in virus cases, and even if businesses are currently open, there’s no guarantee the whole thing might not shut down tomorrow. None of the places that stand to serve me well are safe. 

That’s not to say there aren’t pockets here and there that are relatively germ- and incident-free. Amarillo, TX looks fairly safe, if one likes high crime rates, high temperatures, and cars half-buried in the desert. Even though they currently show one of the lowest rates of virus infection in the country, though, much of what passes as entertainment in the outlaw city is either closed or severely limited in operation.

Most of the state of Montana has gone disease-free to this point as well. That might be due to the fact that prairie grass doesn’t spread the virus. If one wants that stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience, Montana might be a reasonable place to escape. Don’t everyone go at once, though, and stay away from camping at state parks—the CDC has issued a warning about that, too.

There are still a few beaches that show little sign of being affected by the virus. Coos Bay, Oregon reports zero new cases in the past two weeks, making it a rarity. While I’m not big into salmon fishing or rocky beaches (I really prefer sand), the local waterfalls and other sites could be sufficient compensation to provide the break I need. Getting there, however, still requires going through a major city’s airport, which could be enough to negate the whole deal. Oh, and there’s the fact that wildfire season started in that region this past week. I’m not feeling comfortable taking the risk this year.

Look around hard enough, and there are, perhaps, a handful of places in the country one might consider reasonably safe, but every last one of them has drawbacks that make me hesitant. I won’t go someplace too conservative because I don’t need that kind of hate in my life. There’s no point in going someplace that’s still largely in lockdown mode and, let’s be honest, most of the country should be in at least partial lockdown. There’s also little benefit, for me, of going to a town that’s so small the only other out-of-town guest is an air pump salesman from Hoboken. If I’m turning off all media, which I want to do, I need something to intersperse with the stack of books I’m reading. 

The sad truth is that there is no good and safe place for a vacation this year. COVID-19 has ruined that. Were I younger and at less risk, like Kat, then I might go ahead and venture out somewhere with appropriate levels of caution. I’m not. I have to watch where I go, what risks I take, and wear a mask anywhere I’m likely to come into contact with people. Millions of other people are in the exact same situation.

So, I’ll sit here, and you’ll sit there, quietly going crazy, hoping that we don’t cause our families any lasting trauma as we descend into the depths of mental fatigue and decay. At least I know I’m not alone. 

Oh, there aren’t enough mental facilities to hold us all when we collectively slip right on over the edge. That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? Maybe, if enough of us go insane at the same time, no one will notice.

Who Are We?

Who do we want to be?

I’m not sure who we are anymore. 

I’m sitting here on a Thursday morning in late April watching the rain, which isn’t all that unusual for late April, and as I’m going through my morning reading, which has become more extensive in the past month, I’m noticing a disturbing trend: We’re no longer pretending to be nice.

Put a strong emphasis on the word pretending in that last sentence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we, as a society, have ever actually been nice. While the subjective term has always been applied on a bit of a sliding scale depending upon the person to who it was actually applied, most people have long known that much of the niceness we see in a public setting is fake. We were taught a certain set of manners, a distinct level of public decorum to which we all, or at least most of us, adhered. How we behaved privately, however, has always been in opposition to that public face, and knowing whose word could or could not be trusted was valuable capital in navigating the social landscape.

As most of us have been forced to stay at home for well over a month now, or otherwise socially distanced from the level of population that we might normally encounter, cracks in our social veneer have become major fault lines and many people are no longer making the slightest effort to be nice either in their tone nor in their behavior. To some degree, the public face that has been worn by so many for so long is falling completely off and we’re seeing people for who they truly are. 

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. One might argue that it was predictable. We have known for quite some time that herd mentality is neither stable nor predictable and we always expect it to be centered toward some vision of self-preservation; such is the nature of the beast. Beginning in 2007, and expanding more across the field after 2013, economic models have stopped assuming that people act inherently logical, putting the growth of their own economic interests ahead of everything else. That we don’t necessarily value profit above all else played a large part in the 2008 recession and is going to be a significant factor in determining when/if the economy gets back on its feet now. 

When our herd response to the chance of a lockdown coming was to hoard toilet paper above all else, we sent a strong message as to where our values lie in that, for the most part, we have none. This is self-preservation in hyperdrive. Old people can’t get what they need? Screw them. People with critical illnesses can’t get the medications they need to live? Screw them, too. We turned the grocery store into a battleground. If the fights in the aisles weren’t enough, now people are creating bots to snatch items out of store inventories and taking up delivery spots so that, once again, those most vulnerable can’t get what they need. The number of online hacks has increased substantially, putting more people’s private data in danger, and the trolls who have always inherited the seedier places of the Internet have grown to the point of being a public nuisance.

What is ultimately most damaging, though, is that our elected leaders, those who we depend upon for guidance and leadership through difficult times, have ripped off their masks as well and we’re seeing that this land of the free and home of the brave is more like The Bad Place, a facade based on evil with the intent of inflicting as much pain and torture as possible. We see this in the actions of the Mayor of Las Vegas, eagerly desiring to re-open the town’s casinos, not caring how, or if, they choose to enforce any precautions against the spread of disease. We see it in the words of the Texas Lieutenant Governor who callously says, “There are more important things than living.” We see it in the decisions Governors who are ignoring data and science and re-opening commercial activity in their states long before adequate testing makes those actions safe. We see it in the Senate pro Tempore saying that he’d rather see states go bankrupt than pass another stimulus package. 

Most critically, we see the evil in the actions of a president who made it his practice to ignore the earliest warnings of the virus possibly as far back as November of 2019, continually downplaying its severity and questioning the recommendations of medical and scientific professionals, and considered only 30,000 deaths a winning situation. His callous disregard for the volume of human life his actions effect, the demeaning manner in which he speaks to reporters attempting to clarify the situation, and the self-centered insistence on turning every press conference into a campaign rally, proves he cares nothing for anyone but himself and those who are giving him money.

That there remains anyone who still supports this president and those who are committing similar acts of evil proves that we have lost our soul, our national identity, and our social morality. There is no valid claim to greatness in a people who stand on statehouse steps holding automatic weapons in defense of their “right” to move about freely with full knowledge, whether admitted or not, that such actions could impact the health and welfare of hundreds (exponentially) of innocent people. There is no valid claim to righteousness in religious leaders who choose to test God’s sovereignty in order to preserve their pocketbook while potentially infecting thousands. There is no valid claim to morality when pastors and debt holders and even some employers demand people to turn over their entire stimulus checks to them.

I’m not ignoring the fact that there are plenty of people who are doing good within their communities. People who are sewing masks, giving free rooms and meals to medical staff, delivering meals and wifi to children home from school, and many others are demonstrating that there remains some hope that we, collectively, have not lost all humanity. 

What bothers me is that there are apparently not enough of those people to overwhelm the evil and drive it into oblivion. If we were a humane society, our shouts and objections would have forced a change in the president’s behavior from the very beginning. If we were all so intent on doing good and caring for those in need, there would be no one facing eviction or worrying about being able to pay for the medication. If we truly cared about the safety and welfare of our friends and neighbors, we wouldn’t need a forced shut down of businesses, we would all simply stay home until the medical and scientific data determined it was safe to do otherwise. That NONE of those conditions exists tells me we are not who we claim to be.

We sit here at a crossroads where we have to make some difficult choices, putting what’s humane and safe and appropriate above our desires, our wants, and our selfish proclivities. There’s nothing “reasonable” about wanting to re-open business that cannot safely enforce social distancing. We are not “protecting jobs” when the first businesses we want open are those that pay the least and employ the most vulnerable. We are not “doing what’s best for America” when our actions overwhelmingly endanger people of color and those who exist below the poverty line.

We are not who we thought we were or who we claimed to be. The masks are off, the charade is over. America, we see you for the evil you are. 

Now, you get to choose. Who are you going to be?

cats on a couch
Social distancing is not something cats understand. Humans don’t have the same excuse

What If We Don't

I hesitate to publish something that interrupts the flow of our ongoing serialized novel, but this has been a pervasive thought for some time now and I don’t think Facebook or any other social media is the best place for it. Please allow me this one indulgence as I momentarily direct our attention to more urgent matters.


Anxiety has risen around when we’re going to break free of the COVID-19-related shutdowns and “get back to normal.” While the US president is pushing for an unrealistic May 1 date for business to reopen, other experts are projecting much longer time periods. One bioethicist predicts it could be autumn of 2021 before large crowd gatherings such as concerts and sporting events can be resumed. The underlying question on everyone’s mind is, “When are we going to get back to normal?”

But what if we don’t?

What happens if “normal” as we knew it on January 1 of this year never returns? What could that look like? Could we create a better society for everyone if we don’t allow normal to come back? I don’t think anyone would say that our world we perfect before the pandemic struck. There’s absolutely nothing in the world that says we have to go back to the way things were. This is our opportunity to build something new, something better.

What if we don’t return to a society where people are segregated socially, financially, opportunistically, educationally, perceptively by race, religion, gender, sexuality, or any other arbitrary denominator base on traditions of hate, jealousy, and outright stupidity? 

What if we don’t return to an education system that is demonstratively better for those in some neighborhoods, cities, and towns than it is others, leaving many undereducated and lacking the skills they need to survive and/or hopelessly in debt for the majority of their adult lives?

What if we don’t return to a financial system that preys on the poorest of the poor, denying credit to those who need it most, charging fees to those who can least afford them, and rewarding those who hoard the most wealth with opportunities and resources the majority can never achieve?

What if we don’t return to a workforce that undervalues people we now see as critical to everyone’s survival: grocery store workers, food service employees, delivery drivers, postal service workers, first responders, pharmacy technicians and assistants, warehouse workers, and others?

What if we don’t return to a healthcare system that can deny care to anyone because they don’t meet a list of arbitrary and unnecessary qualifications such as insurance, or pre-existing conditions, or ability to pay, or where they live, or their chances of surviving, or their age, or the gender by which they identify?

What if we don’t return to a political system that denies anyone over 18 the right to vote because they don’t live in the right place, don’t have the right ID in their wallet, can’t physically get to the poll, were once in jail, didn’t meet a deadline for registering, or haven’t jumped through all the restrictive hoops?

What if we don’t return to churches, synagogues, and mosques that teach divisiveness, elitism, racial separation, retaliation, warmongering, theocracy, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, disregard for science and medicine, authoritarianism, and complete disregard for the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum of people?

What if we don’t return to a disregard for climate and other evidence-based sciences, underfunded medical research, the obliteration of our natural resources, complete destruction of entire ecosystems, willful ignorance of climate change, underfunded science education, and pay-for-play publication systems?

What if we don’t return to an entertainment industry that makes its fortunes by exploiting the worst qualities of humanity, finding humor in our ignorance, celebrating irrational stereotypes, greed, corruption, nepotism, class warfare, racial disparity, injustice, and blatant misrepresentation of history and people groups?

What if we don’t return to a music industry that steals songs from songwriters, exploits performers, promotes live-or-die competitions, makes live music inaccessible for the masses, creates profit for labels over musicians, minimizes the role of women, and replaces talent with gimmicks?

What if we don’t return to an art industry that relies too heavily upon a system of corrupt curators and collectors hoarding art and controlling access to galleries and museums, diminishes the role of indigenous arts and gives unwarranted preference to eurocentric elitists, denigrates illustration and graphic design to lesser class status, and blocks access to financial stability for artists?

What if we don’t return to a world where more than 700 million people are food insecure, where 78% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck—struggling to provide basic necessities, where as much as half of the world’s population does not make a living wage despite endless hours of work, and where workers’ rights are continually diminished?

What if we don’t return to a world where taxes are imposed on those with the least to give while billionaires escape with no taxes at all, where the efficacy of representation depends on the size of one’s political donation, and the voice of corporations dominates over the voice of individuals?

What if we don’t return to a world where any form of sex is illicit, where nudity is prohibited, where personal forms of pleasure are shamed, where professional sex workers have no legal protection, where protection against sexually-transmitted infections is arbitrary and optional, and where individual choice is superseded by antiquated laws based on unjust morality?

What if we simply refuse to return to the dysfunction that previously defined normal? What if we refuse to participate in something that is broken, inept, and unsustainable? What if we say no? What if we consider the possibilities of our own actions, collectively and individually, to change the world and create a new normal?

What if we take this opportunity to disrupt the political systems of the world, to demand more open and honest elections for everyone, to destroy the very concept of party restrictions and the misrepresentation inherent to their existence, to recognize the interdependence and cooperative necessity of every individual on this planet?

This is our opportunity to take control. We don’t have to accept the ineptness of our politicians. We can say no. We can demand resignations where resignations need to happen. We can refuse to support an economy built on corporate greed. We can demand more. 

We can create a new normal—something better, something lasting, something sustainable. All the cards are on the table. What do you choose to do?

The Old Man in the rain

Where we pass the hat

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