Plague Diary: 1

There is no question, we are living through an event that will send tidal waves of change through our society. What isn’t known is what exactly will happen and what those changes will be. It occurred to me that I might want to keep track of the day-to-day goings on for future reference. Hence, this plague diary.

I’ve already been in lockdown for six weeks, so this post will be my best attempt to sum up what has been going on.

As with most zombie movies, the beginning of the plague happened as background noise in other places. Early January’s news focused on a new virus in China that was not SARS or MERS and appeared to be more deadly and contagious than both of them. By the end of January, the entire province of Wuhan had been isolated and they were building special pandemic hospitals to deal with overflow. They were also, apparently, heavily misrepresenting the numbers of infected and dead.

Personally, I wasn’t worried even though I did make a joke on Twitter that, “This is how every zombie movie starts.” It was still a thing that was happening “over there.” My wife and I were looking forward to our trip to the East Coast for a friend’s wedding.

In February, the American attitude began to change. Cases were showing up in the United States and I began to get worried because there was no one at the helm at the federal level.

The President being the malignant narcissist he is and supported by a Senate rife with looters and carpetbaggers, every agency at the federal level had been captured by corporate stooges. It occurred to me, for the first but not the last, time that without a single competent person at the controls, there could be no national response. Something that is mandatory in the age of fast traveling pandemics.

I secretly began to worry that getting on a plane during a pandemic was the single stupidest thing we could do, but social bonds are strong and the people throwing the wedding are our oldest friends. I expressed my concern for the first time, but not strongly and I never suggested we shouldn’t actually go.

As the pandemic spread across Europe and roared into Italy, it was like watching a wave swamp other people on its way to you without being able to make yourself believe it was coming your way. The hot spot in Lombardy scared me, but rumors that China had vastly manipulated their numbers (by up to 75% though we’ll never know for sure) really got my attention.

By early March, I was worried. At that point, we knew the virus could be spread by asymptomatic carriers for up to two weeks while also being far deadlier than its Corona Virus cousins.

I’ll be honest: I hate working in an office. I spent the six previous years working from home and was reluctant to return to the office when I switched companies last November. But I liked the job and I was only required to go into the office two days a week so it wasn’t a problem. Until it was.

One day, while washing my hands in the men’s room, a young guy (25ish) came up to the sink next to me and aggressively blew his nose into it. Boom, boom, boom one nostril. Boom, boom, boom the other nostril. That was my last day in the office.

I came down with a respiratory infection a few days later and notified my boss I wouldn’t be back into the office until it cleared up. The cough got really bad and there were a few days when I might have had a fever but the infection was generally mild. However, as the day of our trip approached, I knew I would not be able to get on a plane in that condition. My wife then also got sick and we canceled the trip. I took the personal days anyway to recover and by the next Monday, the company had sent everyone home to work remotely.

I don’t know if I had a mild case of C19 or it was some other unrelated respiratory illness, but it kept me off that plane and homebound which may have saved me from catching a full blown case of the stuff.

Even then (!) the severity of the situation didn’t hit me. My first thought when I heard the WFH order was, “Yes!” I had already asked my boss multiple times to move to a full time remote position and been denied.

But on March 19th, the virus finally reached out and slapped me across the face to get my attention. My wife, who was the house manager for San Diego Theaters, was laid off along with all other staff. With all performances canceled, there was nothing for them to do.

Over the course of the last six weeks, we’ve settled into a surreal lifestyle where we see the disturbing things happening elsewhere while our little Southern California niche neighborhood continues on tragedy free. People go for walks, take their dogs, pop down to the store. The only difference is they social distance and wear masks when they do it.

The only shortage we’ve encountered was for paper products but that seems to have been alleviated. The shelves aren’t overflowing with Charmin, but we’ve been able to get the stuff we need. Our butcher shop is still well stocked and the local Ralph’s has instituted limits on stuff people panic buy.

At this point, I’ve lost no one to the virus. No one I know has caught it, no one I know has died from it, but I turn on the news and I see exhausted doctors and nurses fighting an endless stream of patients. I see refrigerated trailers being piled with bodies. I see data pouring out of various places around the world showing alarming statistics.

Any doubts we might have had about C19 deaths being under reported have been laid to rest by statistical analysis that shows extra deaths in various regions and nations riding at 125% to 150% meaning that only categorizing a death as being C19 related if the patient tested positive before they died is counting about 33% of the actual deaths from this pandemic.

Lately, groups of easily manipulated morons have been spurred to hold protests against the lock down orders by bots from Russia and the gun lobby. Some hold signs that say, “Your health doesn’t trump my rights.”

This highlights the fact that we are living in a time of social division… I was going to say “unseen since the Civil War” but the truth is the racism that underlies the right/left split has been there all along. It was only when a hateful goon managed to get elected President that racists felt emboldened to shout the things have always whispered behind closed doors through a bullhorn.

In the end, this may be a good thing. America will never be the country we want her to be until we face down and eliminate her racist underpinnings. That the rich have been stoking the racist fears of fragile psyches for decades through the Tea Party, has been well proven. So it may be that racism isn’t even the final boss to this level, but wealth disparity is.

So where are we right now? We are under siege by enemies at home and abroad. We are locked down due to a virus that may never have a cure or a vaccine. We are suffering from cataclysmic climate change. Corporations have effectively captured the federal government. Guns have flooded our streets. Botnets on social media have been trained to get a rise out of a certain violent and uninformed segment of our society with depressing regularity.

So, I guess, what I’m saying is that today, on April 27th, our country is being ripped apart along many fault lines and I don’t know if we will emerge from this in anything like the same shape we went in.

I would not be surprised if future posts from this blog come from the new Nation State of Wacaliforegon. Or Lower Canada. Or from a Fox News reeducation camp in the desert.

Current Events Ep.48: Mandalorian 1×8

Join us as we enthuse — and I mean positively glow — about the season finale of The Mandalorian.

Hunters Season 1

Well, so… that happened. And I’m still sorting out the entire season, one that started so brilliantly and mysteriously then veered into comic book action, until collapsing in a heap for the most artificial surprise ending since an M. Night Shamwow film debuted in a theater.

SPOILERS for Hunters Season 1 follow:

If you don’t know this show, the basic premise is a bunch of vigilantes — an Asian Vietnam vet, washed up actor, MI 6 Nun, etc. — spend their time and their founder’s fortune hunting Nazis living in America.

The characters treat this idea with slack jawed disbelief while the audience, which has been getting a steady stream of this stuff since The Boys From Brazil, just wishes they would hurry and get it already.

Surprisingly, Al Pacino plays the Jewish millionaire who leads and bankrolls the group. Surprising for two reasons: I don’t think he’s ever done TV before and also because this is one of his more nuanced performances. Every now and then he breaks out the Hoo Hah! style, but only when called for.

The action, of which there is quite a bit, is broken up be devastating flashbacks to the camps. These stories don’t get better or less impactful with time is all I’ll say about them.

The mystery plays out very nicely over the first six episodes before it dives into a conviluted terrorist plot run by a cartoonish Fourth Reich and then barrels into a horrific twist ending that yanks the viewer right out of the story.

It’s actually a pretty good series up until the last three episodes and I will definitely watch the next season if there is one. And though the finale was much, much less than I had hoped for, they did leave us with one haunting image targeted directly at our modern sensibilities.

The lead Nazi henchman murders his own lawyer in prison as a sacrifice to put himself at the center of a new movement of antisemites. The season finale fades out with him leading the other prisoners in a chant we know all too well from current attempts to stir up race divisions in our already divided country.

“The Jews will not replace us.”

Current Events: Picard 1×5 Stardust City

I found this to be one of the weaker episodes in an otherwise flawless series, probably because of my own loathing for Las Vegas and everything it represents, but we still had fun talking about it!

Picard 1×5: Something About Stardust City

Train to Busan

So I decided to aleveate the boredom of sitting out a slow moving virus by watching a movie about a fast moving one. Right up front, I’ll tell you that I normally shy away from foreign language films because the dubbed version is usually terrible and reading the subtitles can kind of flatten the emotional response for me.

Having said that, action films speak more in visuals than in words anyway and this movie is cram packed with great, pulse-pounding scenes. To name a few:

SPOILERS

  1. The uninfected passengers disembark in a supposedly safe train station only to find the military troops have been turned.
  2. The long, grueling fight through three zombie infested train cars to get to the other survivors only to be locked out.
  3. The train engine dragging a carpet of zombies.
  4. Zombies suspended overhead in the windows of a tilted train car.
  5. And then the glass starts to break.

The fact that the story is also heavily themed about wealth inequality makes me think the same thing is going on in Korea that’s going on here. Forty years of runaway, unmitigated capitalism has created an unsupportable divide between the elites and the other 99% of us and it’s seeping into our culture.

If I had one quibble, and it’s a minuscule one, it would be the line about how the virus spread from a biotech firm that is the cornerstone of the fund manager’s account. A little on the nose.

The ruthlessly selfish COO who simply cannot learn that cooperation leads to survival, though? Yeah, I know six guys like that. Perfect.

Four stars out of five moons, highly recommended.

Current Events Podcast 46: Mandalorian 1×7

The Reckoning! The penultimate episode of The Mandalorian’s excellent first season. Join us as we… talk about it.

I’ve done the math and this is what’s coming:

Current Events Ep 45: Picard 4, Absolute Candor

Let me be completely straightforward with you: This was a fun episode. Join Mike & Me (I guess I’m the Bots now) as we discuss the elusive Kwisatz Haderach — I’m sorry, I mean the Kuwat Milat which is completely different.

Openings

Four of the greatest openings ever:

  1. Streets of Fire. The cold open of this Rock n Roll fable may be the best music video ever made.
  2. Rollerball (1975). Seeing the game set up — the referees and coaches coming out to start the festivities and check the goals makes this gruesome, ultraviolent game seem like another day at the ballpark. (And no movie makes a more poignant comment about the corporate takeover of America)
  3. The Shining. The interview with the hotel Overlook manager sets an insanely creepy vibe for the rest of the movie.
  4. Saving Private Ryan. Never have people had a better chance to understand the randomness and chaos of combat.

Current Events Ep 44: Mandalorian Eps 5&6

Mike and I discuss a couple of superior Mandalorian episodes. In one, Mando helps a rookie bounty hunter who’s so grateful he doesn’t even betray Mando! Then Mando and bunch of upstanding citizens break an wrongly accused guy out of a prison ship and he’s so grateful he doesn’t betray Mando, either!