Sunday, April 26, 2020

Now what?

With all the pandemic news flying around, I bet this little nugget slipped under your radar:

According to (and other sources) a "giant potentially hazardous asteroid will fly safely by Earth in April."

Huh? Whut?

The asteroid, known affectionately as Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2, will approach within 3.9 million miles of Earth before moving on with its orbit (yes, it will be back). It's been measured to be about a mile wide and two miles long, traveling at about 20,000 miles per hour, and it will be making it's closest approach to Earth on April 29 at 5:56 a.m. – or about the time you're headed to work, if you happen to be essential. (See here)

The good news is that despite its size, speed and orbit, it is not – repeat, it is not – on a collision course with Earth. Even so, I'm still trying to justify "potentially hazardous" with "fly safely by" in the same breath. I guess "potentially" is the key word here.

It turns out the flying rock has been classified "potentially hazardous" by the Center for Near Earth Objects (yes, there is such a thing) because it meets its guidelines of a deep-space object coming within 19 lunar distances from Earth. A lunar distance is how far the moon is from the Earth (about 260,000 miles). OR2 will come within 16 lunar distances. You might feel the breeze as it hurtles by.

And in case you miss it (or if it misses us), OR2 will be back in 2079, coming within a hair-raising million miles of Earth (or a chilling four lunar distances). The fact is, OR2's orbit has been charted for the next 200 years. So there.

Is Asteroid OR2 wearing a face mask? Looks more like a bra.
 But apparently you can't relax. Wikipedia tells us there are 22 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids out there, just biding their time, taking up space. None is calculated to be on a collision course with our hopes and dreams any time soon.

The current global COVID-19 pandemic also is a factor here., a fact-checking Internet site, has had to quell a Facebook rumor or two that the pandemic actually was created by conspiracy-minded deep staters as a distraction from the fears of an impending extinction collision.

Fighting panic with panic, I guess.

And there's actually a digital image of OR2, apparently in profile, showing slipstream flares, that has been interpreted by some as the asteroid is wearing a face mask. I'm not even going there with that one. Paranoia strikes hard.

And, besides, is there a slipstream in the vacuum of space? That's beyond my pay grade.

In the meantime, wear your face mask. And wash your hands.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Quality quarantine

Kim and I went for a walk last evening, as we have usually done during the stay-in-place mandate as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's a way for us to get some exercise, to get out in the fresh air, to enjoy quality time together, to break our cabin fever, even though we walk less than two miles and less than 45 minutes. Sometimes we only do a mile or so and maybe it takes 20 minutes. Depends. Our walks usually take us down Main Street, but it also incorporates two significant hills: Post Office Hill on Second Street (which I named for the Post Office) and Judy Hill, on Payne Street (which I named for a friend of ours who lives near there).

Those hills don't look like much when you drive them in a car. But when you actually walk them, they become cardio events.

Anyway, the point I'm getting to is that I've noticed the world – even our small two-mile portion of it  – seems to have gotten, umm, friendlier?

People, some complete strangers, wave or talk to us from their porches. People, some complete strangers, wave to us from their cars. People, some complete strangers, say "hi" to us when we pass them on the sidewalk. This is unusual stuff. I'm pretty sure this didn't used to happen back in the good ol' days when we had to dodge cars, bicycles or skateboards that were trying to beat pedestrians to an intersection.

I know I'm not imagining this because Kim has commented on it, too. "People seem to be friendlier," she said, confirming my suspicions.

I'm not sure how a pandemic figures into this new etiquette, especially when nearly 40,000 Americans have died in the past six weeks as a result of the coronavirus. And maybe that's it. Maybe we see more clearly that our time is measured. Or maybe social distancing – keeping people away from us – is actually bringing us closer. I don't know. Call it pandemic perspective.

One thing that's amazed me is how quickly the planet seems to be healing itself of pollution. Before-and-now comparison shots of Los Angeles or New York are revealing. City dwellers are saying the air quality has improved so much, they can tell the difference while breathing clean air through their face masks. People in India can see the Himalayan mountaintops from more than 100 miles away for the first time in 30 years. If anyone needed empirical evidence that climate change is, at least in part, man-made, then this might be it.

The question remains, once the pandemic is gone, do we revert back to our pre-pandemic ways? I suspect so, human nature being what it is. But I hope when we see an open door ahead of us offering new opportunities for social justice, economic reform and planetary stewardship that we're wise enough to walk through it. We'll see.

 •   •   •

Just a comment about the One World concert last night honoring healthcare workers.

I thought Paul McCartney (age 77) and Elton John (73) sounded like the old men they are as they performed in unenhanced musical environments (this is just an observation. I can never be critical of Paul McCartney).

Conversely, Mick Jagger (76), Keith Richards (76), Ronnie Wood (72) and Charlie Watts (78) sounded like they missed the time machine altogether while singing "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

I thought Stevie Wonder's (69) performance of "Lean on Me" was strong, too.

And Keith Urban's three-part harmony with himself singing "Higher Love" (although probably counter to the "live" aspect of the evening) was pretty impressive.

It all went well with my wine.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Day 623

It's getting a little weird now.

I feel like we're deep into the COVID-19 quarantine, even though "stay in place" has been, what, three weeks? Maybe four?

See? I can't even tell you. It seems like it's been years. Every day has blended into the same day (Groundhog Day?), unless you happen to be deemed essential, in which case you go to work looking over your shoulder wondering if that's the virus that's shadowing you instead of your child.

If you still go to your work station, I'm going to guess that you know what day it is. I'm not sure about working remotely. You're home, but you're conducting business, so there might be a sense of normalcy for you – except for the fact that you're working from home. That's not normal.

But for a guy like me, the routine that marks the time has become too much routine and, consequently, time is passing, not marking. I have to think what day of the week it is. I mean, there's no church. There's no school. For many of us, there's no work.

So we putter around in the garden. Go for a walk. Make the occasional run to the grocery store or pharmacy, wearing a face mask to hide our faces. Our faces are our individualizing trademarks, and now we cover them up. We talk to our neighbors from across the street. We're social animals who can not be social.

And it's every day. Evvvv-errrr-reee day.

But we cope.

My room-rater backdrop
 I'm kind of getting a kick out of watching live TV shows where most guests are shown speaking remotely from their homes instead of from the broadcast studio. Inevitably, it seems, the remote guests are sitting in their home library, in front of book shelves. I find myself cocking my head sideways to read the titles of the books behind them. Sometimes, I find, we've read the same books.

So, to give you a sense of perspective and, hopefully, a little humanity as you read this blog, I used my book shelf as a comforting backdrop as I write to you.

I actually have read all of those books behind me. They're books about the Civil War, a field of history in which I have an interest. I have more than 100 of them, and some of those books I've read more than once.

And now, in quarantine, I'm reading some of those books again.

Man, I miss going to the library.

I think I understand now why prisoners marked each day of their incarceration with daily slashes on the walls of their jail cell. I understand the desperation of that.

One thing I've noticed on Facebook is some of my favorite musical performers are live streaming from their homes. The technology to do this is amazing, and I'm grateful for it, but again, the musicians are performing at home. If they are in a band, they are now soloing. And while familiar songs can be comforting, distinctive harmonies are missing.

But we do the best we can.

These are weird times. Wash your hands. Stay safe.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Pandemic paranoia

My paranoia has reached epic (or epidemic) proportions.

I saw this musing on Facebook the other day, which made me feel like I wasn't alone: Every time you cough or sneeze, does the thought suddenly flash through your mind: "Oh my God! Do I have it?" (The 'it,' of course, being COVID-19).

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's kind of ironic how in this time of quarantines and lock downs meant for the sole purpose of isolation that you can feel so much a part of a community. Alone together.

My paranoia (I'm thinking this is a kind of paranoia that even psychiatrists might approve) reached the point where I learned how to make my own cloth face mask out of a bandana and elastic hair ties. It was easy peasy. The one I made for Kim kept slipping off her left ear, so I connected the elastic ties with a chain of paper clips, and that seemed to work.

The cloth face mask likely will not prevent you from getting COVID-19, but it might help prevent you from contaminating someone else with sneezes and coughs, which seems to be the whole point.

All of which leads to other musings.

A month ago, we were told face masks for non-essential healthcare personnel were unnecessary. Now the Center for Disease Control has reversed itself, recommending each time you go in public to wear a cloth face mask. I guess this has become a learning experience for everyone, including the CDC.

These are confusing times.

But the fact that we have to make our own cloth masks, months into the pandemic, living in the richest nation in the world, is perplexing. Why can I not get an N95 mask for myself without competing with the healthcare community? Where's my Lysol? Where's my Purell? Good Lord, where the hell is my toilet paper?

And if these things are being mass produced 24/7, then where did they get lost in the supply train? Why are grocery store shelves still empty of these things?

Why must states bid against each other for ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), driving up prices in the middle of a pandemic? Who's profiteering off that policy? A 70-cent face mask is now $7. A $20,000 ventilator is now $50,000, and rising.

No wonder I'm paranoid. Things I need are not readily available.

I'm getting myself worked up. I need to stay calm and watch another old movie on TCM.

Wash your hands. Practice social distance. Right now, it appears those are the only things we've got in supply.