Sunday, May 16, 2021

To mask or not to mask

The other day I woke up knowing that if I went into a store, a gym or most any other business, I had to wear a mask.

By the end of the day, the Center for Disease Control told me that if I'm vaccinated for Covid-19 (I am), I (conditionally) didn't have to wear one any more.

Huh? After more than a year of wearing a mask whenever I left the house, now suddenly I didn't have to?

On the one hand, that's pretty good news. It's the news we've been waiting for. It's the kind of news that can really open up the economy. It's the kind of news that can get kids back in school.

But on the other hand, it's the kind of news that also feels funny. That dropping the mask mandate might be a little too much a little too soon.

What makes me feel this way is that we still haven't reached herd immunity. Just a third of us are vaccinated and we need to reach at least 70 percent to have a chance of quelling the pandemic. And that's just in this country. Covid is still out there. Just because I'm vaccinated doesn't mean I can't be asymtomatic and spread the disease to someone who hasn't gotten their shot.

Still, it was encouraging to see many people still wearing their masks the past few days, like it's an old habit they just can't undo.

But I don't know. It puts this country in the odd position where some of us might be anti-vaxxers who don't believe in vaccinations, while others aren't sure ending the mask mandate right now isn't a bit too soon.

It seems like nobody believes in anything they're told anymore. Ain't America great?

The curious case of eight New York Yankees is unsettling. Eight members of the organization have tested positive for Covid-19, even though we're told they are vaccinated.

What does that mean? It could be the testing is giving false positives, but eight people at once seems unlikely. Or the virus has mutated to a vaccine-resistant strain. Or those damn Yankees are lying about getting vaccinated.

 Nobody would lie about getting vaccinated, right? Right?

Anyway, here's my plan:

I'll probably still wear a mask while in most indoor situations. I'll do that until I see other people going maskless and I feel comfortable about it. I'll do that as we get closer to 70 percent.

And when Fall comes around, I'll get my flu shot, like I always do. And I may wear a mask again in indoor situations, since masking virtually stopped influenza outbreaks this year. That in itself should tell us something. It's empirical evidence that masking works.

I hope I can believe it.




Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mom


 Well, here it is, Mother's Day, and I haven't written to you in a while.

Sounds like me, doesn't it?

Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to bring you up to date, to let you know things are OK.

I guess you never thought you'd have a child that made it to 70 years old, although I know you would wish for long, healthy lives for all three of your sons.

Mom on her wedding day.
So there. I made it to my biblical three score and 10. But not without a hiccup or two. A couple years ago, I had colon surgery, and then five months after that, I had my gall bladder removed. That was interesting. I never saw either of those surgeries coming because, you know, I was bullet-proof for such a long time.

I'm running out of non-essential body parts, it seems, although I still have my appendix. And my tonsils.

But then, you struggled with cancer, so I guess you had your share of hospitals and doctors and chemo. You endured it all until the fight finally wore you out. To this day, I think both you and Dad were on the cusp of medical advances that could have given you your own three score and 10. But the timing was a little off.

You'll be glad to know that Kim and I live in a fantastic neighborhood and with people whom I consider to be our very close friends. That was lucky. But you were a good neighbor yourself and that left an impression on me.

Remember how you liked to live in old houses? Well, our house is in a historic neighborhood. It just turned 100 years old. I think I inherited that money pit appreciation from you. Thanks.

I still read voraciously, I think because you read voraciously. In an era of online books, I still have a library card, just like I did when I was a kid. And there's just so much to read and so little time. I'm hoping to extend my warranty to maybe three score and 20 (which I guess is really four score, but that's starting to sound a little too Lincolnesque), so we'll just have to wait and see.

You enjoyed puttering around in your yard and now I find myself doing a lot of that. Weeding, mostly. Kim does the actual garden art, planting flowers that provide both function and eye appeal. She has a talent for that. It is possible she inherited that from you transactionally? Probably not, but that's what I'm going to think anyway.

I do wish you had passed on to me your ability to sing. You did pass on your love of music, but you forgot to give me a singing voice. You gave me Alfalfa instead. Or, now that I think about it, maybe you gave me your ironic sense of humor instead. Love music, can't sing, can't keep a beat. Bwa ha ha.

You loved to watch birds. So do I. You had bird feeders everywhere. We live in Birdland.

Well, I think that pretty much catches us up for now. I'm sure there's more I could say, but I'll save it for some future time. This is your day, so enjoy your children and the lives they are living.

With grateful love,

Bruce


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sigh

Just when I was feeling pretty good about the seemingly improving Covid-19 situation in this country, I saw a story on my phone yesterday that said the United States is about to run out of adults willing to get vaccinated against the virus.

It seems at least 57 percent of the population has received at least one shot (two may be required for most vaccinations, like Pfizer and Moderna), but 7 percent of respondents of a recent poll say they are waiting to see what happens to those who do get shots, and 20 percent say they will never get a vaccination.

All of which means herd immunity – where at least 70 percent and perhaps closer to 85 percent of the population has antibodies needed to prevent the spread of infection – may be harder to achieve. Which means the disease will continue to spread, probably mutate and thus become even more difficult to eradicate.

So my question is, why would you not get a vaccine? It's free. What is the fear? What is the rationale?

Apparently, getting vaccinated in this country has become highly politicized, as if you are making a political statement by not getting a shot. Well, in a global pandemic, that's just a brilliant assumption to make. Just ask those grieving for their dead relatives in Brazil and India this morning.

All of this had me wondering what our parents and grandparents might think about the vaccination wars. When I was a toddler, I was vaccinated for smallpox. Nearly all of us in the baby boomer generation were. Worldwide. Consequently, smallpox has been eradicated from the planet as a viable disease.

So has polio. I remember taking a pink sugar cube (or was it two?) in elementary school, filled with Jonas Salk's serum. Now, polio no longer exists in the United States.

And while I was just a kid, I don't remember any rebellions against vaccinations. I think they were even required for kids to attend public schools. Still might be, for all I know. I don't know what is mandatory, and what is simply recommended. Google tells me 16 vaccinations are recommended for school-age children, but it doesn't tell me if they are required.

In the military, inductees get six vaccinations: measles, mumps, diphtheria, flubicillin, rubella and, apparently still, smallpox. I think these are required. It would seem odd, to me, that an inductee would be willing to take a bullet for his country, but not a vaccine. A virus can be as lethal as a bullet.

Up until Covid-19 arrived, the big issue, it seemed, was whether or not to get a flu shot every year. Kim and I always get the flu shot, and – knock on wood – we've never gotten the flu.

At any rate, the empirical evidence seems to suggest (for all of you 7 percenters) that the Covid-19 vaccines work with little or no reactions to the shot. And history tells us vaccines of any stripe are critical to controlling dangerous viruses. My doctor once told me the two greatest life-saving advances in medicine over the course of human history have been sanitation and vaccination.

We have the answer to Covid-19 in the vaccine. It's our path out of this pandemic. Why are we still asking the question?

 


Sunday, April 25, 2021

I protest

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So there it is. The First Amendment. 

Then why have 34 states proposed 81 laws to curb protests? Why have at least three of them – Florida, Oklahoma and Iowa – passed anti-protest bills into law?

Holy crap. Those bills appear to be in direct contrast to the First Amendment. They will no doubt draw lawsuits from all over the place declaring their unconstitutionality, if they haven't already. Yay, civil rights lawyers.

The proposed bills apparently are emanating from mostly Republican controlled states or Republican controlled state legislatures. You don't have to scratch deep into the dirt to ascertain why this is happening: after last year's summer of discontent, with demonstrations ranging from coast-to-coast (as well as internationally) following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American murdered by policeman Derek Chauvin, there is intent to hinder and discredit the Black Lives Matter movement supporting police reform.

So apparently, the best way to dismantle BLM is to take away their fully American right to protest, as defined in the Constitution.

I suppose the state legislatures proposing these bills could argue from a states rights standpoint because it's Congress that "shall make no law...," but that argument would probably butt heads with the supremacy clause found in Article VI that shows federal laws supersede state laws. Yay, Constitution. Yay, lawsuits.

I'm assuming these anti-protest bills are designed to cut down, if not eliminate, perceived violence and property damage that generally comes with passionate protest. Interestingly enough, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) have found 93 percent of last year's BLM protests to have been peaceful (see here). So there's that. Unless, of course, you want to accuse BLM of being antifa in disguise, thereby renewing your QAnon membership.

In some of these anti-protest bills, there exist clauses absolving motorists from running over protesters who might be blocking streets. That's horrendous. It's a bill sanctioning attempted murder. Violence to stop protests about violence? Sheesh.

As suggested above, the right to protest is as an American institution as baseball. You need reminders? The Boston Tea Party (destruction of property), women's suffrage, the Viet Nam-era anti-war demonstrations (Kent State comes to mind), the Abolitionist movements prior to the Civil War, the March on Washington that powered the civil rights movement of 1963, even the Triangle Shirtwaist fire protest of 1911 that brought out 80,000 protesters and ultimately changed labor and safety laws.

The list is endless. And defiantly American.

Yay, protests.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Garbology

As the new week approached, it seemed our whole neighborhood was suddenly put atwitter (not to be confused with Twitter, which is something completely different and perhaps generational):

It was the approach of the City of Lexington's recently revamped recycle and collection schedule.

Nobody, it seemed, was exactly sure when their trash would be picked up.

In the Park Place Historic Neighborhood, where I live, trash was picked up on Fridays, with the recyclables collected every other Friday. Seemingly simple enough, espcially after years abiding by this schedule.

But a month or so ago, we got a mailing notifying us that the collection schedule was changing on April 13. Included was a color-coded calendar with dates featuring green spaces, blue spaces or red spaces, with no explanation of what the colors meant for those specific dates.

The notification also included a Web site that directed a resident to an interactive map to find our particular trash collection day. That's great for people with access to a computer. Part of the trouble is that not everybody has computers.

Anyway, as the new collection week approached, our neighborhood Web site lit up like a Christmas tree. I may have been responsible as the original author of a post asking if anybody in our collection district understood what was happening. About 15 people responded, and none of them had a real clue.

Some of us thought collection day was Thursday, others thought it was Friday. The Find-My-Trash-Collection-Date Web site told each of us to enter our address to find our personal collection day.

It turns out that, for our neighborhood at least, nothing had changed. Trash collection was still on Friday, with recyclables every other Friday.

But in order for the schedule to get off to the correct start, our recyclables were going to be collected for a second straight week to set the correct stagger in motion from the previous schedule. So there. Easy peasy.

I figured there had to be at least 32 college degrees (I might be exaggerating), including a sprinkle of graduate diplomas, among us trying to figure out the neighborhood schedule in our Web site conversation.

Some of the confusion, I think, was the color coded calendar. Some people were equating the blue dates with their blue recyclable containers and the green dates with their green trash containers. The color coding actually correlated with the collection district you live in on a city map. We live in a green district.

The dates colored in red are holidays, when only garbage and recycling rollouts are collected.

The city was doing all this to make its collection more efficient, and I guess maybe it is. Just don't ask our neighborhood to look into it.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Share and share alike

 Cast of characters: Dave, Billy, TJ, Shawn and myself.

Location: West Second Avenue, Park Place Historic District.

Premise: If you need it, and I have it, you can use it.

I really, really, really love my neighborhood. Yes, I've been down this road before, but the more I think about it, the more remarkable this whole scenario becomes. I mean, I've lived in great neighborhoods in my 70 years, including a childhood Nirvana in a place called Fountain Hill, PA, where the borough playground was right across the street from our house. We also lived in Portsmouth, NH, where we were 10 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 10 minutes from Pease Air Force Base (where Dad worked), and another 10 minutes from the Portsmouth Naval Yard, all major stops along the Cold War highway back in 1959. That was exciting stuff for a budding 8-year-old history buff.

But I was a child back then, lost in my own world, and nowhere do I recall having neighbors as remarkable as I have now.

Here's the current situation. TJ, who lives catty-corner from us, raises egg-laying hens. But recently he lost several of them to nocturnal predators that roam the area, either foxes or raccoons, and could he borrow my Hav-A-Heart humane trap to catch the critters? The trap, by the way, isn't mine. A former neighbor, who has since moved to Charlotte, let me have the trap back when we had groundhog issues. He said he knows where I live if he needs the trap back.

Shortly after I let TJ borrow the trap, I needed to use his pressure washer. Bingo, it was waiting in my yard within the day.

After I pressure washed my picket fence prior to painting it, Billy, my next-door neighbor, wondered if he could borrow the pressure washer. He knew it was TJ's (he'd used it before), so there was no problem. TJ wouldn't mind. That was months ago. The pressure washer is still at Billy's. I guess TJ doesn't mind.

On the other hand, I still have TJ's bottle of Sta-bil, a gas additive for the pressure washer.

All of this was after I had borrowed Shawn's pressure washer months earlier to clear off my porch prior to staining.

Dave, directly across the street from us, recently let me use his stand-up garden claw, an invaluable tool when you have a small area to turn and you don't really need a tiller. It's a great help when you want to prep the lawn for seeding.

I've occasionally paid Dave back by mowing his lawn or watering his vegetable garden when his family has been on vacation. That's how it works.

Meanwhile, Dave borrowed TJ's shop vac some time ago. I think he still has it.

Our block is like a lending library with no due dates and, so far, no late fees.

Billy has been known to take his leaf blower and clean out my lengthy street-to-alley driveway. What Billy may not know is that while he and his family were on a recent extended weekend trip to Illinois, Dave mowed Billy's yard. And on Friday, I brought Billy's trash containers back to his house after the garbage trucks came by.

Just the other day, Billy gladly let me borrow his metric ratchet set to assemble a garden scooter that came from China.

We often exchange bottles of beer around the fire pit, whether they be classic or crafted.

Our wives are also involved. Crockpots have been summoned for socially-distanced neighborhood get-togethers. Recipes are shared. Garden techniques are exchanged. Billy said we can plant tomatoes in his raised flower beds. He'll get some tomatoes out of it if the squirrels don't get them first.

If somebody gets sick, food magically appears from several addresses.

And so it goes. My only question is whether I live in a remarkably unique neighborhood, or are many other neighborhoods like this? It seems pretty special to me.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Baseball and voting rights

Just a couple of days into the 2021 major league baseball season, baseball suddenly finds itself in the middle of a social and political vortex.

This is because baseball commissioner Rob Manfred correctly decided to pull this year's All-Star Game out of Atlanta in the wake of an egregious state senate bill signed into law putting severe restrictions on voting access within that state.

The Georgia Senate is controlled by Republicans, who saw both of their Federal senate seats turn over to Democratic control in a special runoff election in January. In response to losing, the Georgia GOP decided to change the rules for voting.

Under the new law, Georgia voters face new provisions, such as less time to request absentee ballots. Drop boxes have been pared down to where some counties have just one box. Offering water to voters waiting in lengthy lines is now a misdemeanor. It is now illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications to all voters. There are many other restrictions in the 98-page bill that is now law. (see here).

While the law is meant to apply to all Georgia voters, there is a target audience that will be more severely affected. Lower income voters and minorities – and specifically Black voters who electrified the Democratic victories – will suffer because they might not have access to transportation to distant polling stations, or even a required driver's license for voter ID.

This law will be challenged in court. Already, at least three lawsuits have been filed.

The Georgia Republican Party, apparently, are poor losers. They have become the party of The Retribution of Old White Guys who either cannot see, or are afraid of the browning of America. Ooops, there goes their power...

So, thank you baseball, for taking a stand.

The argument for rewriting voter law is The Big Lie that the past election was rigged. This claim, espoused by conspiracy advocate and former president Donald Trump, has been empowered by the Republican Party desperate to maintain power. Never mind that then Attorney General Bill Barr said there was no voter fraud. Chris Krebs, then the Director of United States Cybersecurity, said there was no fraud and indeed, stated it was the most secure election in U.S. history. The Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said there was no fraud. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said there was no fraud. They are all Republicans. Why are they being ignored by their own party?

It's why we had the outrage of January 6, where an insurrectionist mob, claiming cancel culture, tried to cancel the government by storming the Capitol while it was in session to certify the electoral votes.

Voter suppression is an abomination directly opposed to the foundation of this country. The right to vote is who we are. Apparently, so is suppression.

The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789, or 232 years ago. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, provides equal protection to all citizens under the law. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, states that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied. The Voting Rights Act, signed in 1965, was needed to enforce the 15tth Amendment of 100 years previous.

Good God. Instead of suppressing voters, we should be empowering them.

Interestingly enough, baseball can find itself in the forefront of many civil rights issues. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first African American to play professionally, when he signed to play for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association as a catcher in 1884.

Six decades later, Jackie Robinson brought righteous integration to baseball in 1947. But even then, it took 12 years before the Boston Red Sox signed Pumpsie Green to become the last major league team to integrate.

And now, baseball is taking a stand again. There are a lot of reasons to like baseball and what it means for this country. Supporting voter rights is one of them.