Category: current events

Olympics: COVID Style

I’m a self-confessed Olympics junkie. Whenever they’re on, I just can’t resist watching them. It doesn’t really matter which sport, and while I generally cheer for the USA, I also root for Germany and Slovakia, and I’m a sucker for any come-from-behind, underdog story. So you would think I’m really looking forward to tonight, when the opening ceremonies kick everything off. (Well, technically it’s already happened, but I generally go for watching the evening highlights. Why? Because I’ve watched the live feeds before, and while NBC’s coverage frustrates me from time to time (since it ignores some sports and usually focuses just on the American angle), they do a very good job of giving context to the sports. Without context, they aren’t nearly as impactful.)

But instead of being 100% hyped, I’m . . . unsure how I feel. On the one hand, Olympics! Yay! But on the other hand, this is going to be an Olympics with very few spectators, held in a country where 83% of the people said they didn’t want them to take place. And that was back in May! It feels in many ways to me like the rest of the world is just sort of forcing the Olympics down Japan’s throat. The country’s at the start of a third wave of COVID, and there have already been multiple reports of athletes coming down with the disease.

I look at rates around the world still, and right now things look like anything other than “COVID is over.” I know people don’t want to go back to masks and social distancing, and I also realize that many people in America are convinced the vaccine is part of some government ploy, but what in the world are we going to do? In the US, my best guess is “nothing.” People will refuse to go back to masks and quarantine. People will refuse to get vaccines. Unvaccinated people will begin to be hospitalized in droves and then die, and then maybe that might convince the unvaccinated that they really maybe better change their mind.

Or maybe that scenario will be totally wrong, and I’m worrying over nothing. For the moment, I’m vaccinated and almost all the people I know are, so I feel somewhat at ease, even if I’m still worried this all results in vaccine-resistant strain of the virus. (Wouldn’t that be fun?)

But I digress.

How can the Olympics do anything but hurt Japan? They get almost none of the tourism dollars. None of the spectator dollars. They’re forced to do something they don’t want to do, and they’re going to lose around $20 billion for that privilege.

So where does that put me? Probably watching to see how they go, but also hoping that things don’t get too bad? I’m going to watch them, because if everyone boycotts watching them, what does that do? It makes what Japan is going through even more terrible. To have them do it all anyway, and then have it all be for nothing? That sounds horrid. But I’m really hoping NBC or the IOC or someone is doing things to help the country out, because this feels very wrong to me, no matter how excited I may want to be to watch some good sports drama.

What do you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Billionaire Spaceflight

I watched Jeff Bezos go to space this morning. An eleven minute ride that cost a purported $28 million to buy a seat at auction. After they landed, the people covering the event (which was being broadcast by Bezos’ company) called the four people who had gone up “the latest American astronauts,” or something like that, which struck me as an ill-fitting description. What, exactly, had these people done?

Bezos had paid to fund the whole thing, true, but the entire Apollo program cost around $100 billion in today’s dollars. Bezos has twice that, so he’s got the wherewithal to fund things better than NASA did back then. He also has the benefit of doing it all fifty years later, with technology that’s much more advanced than anything that was around back then. Does that make him an astronaut, or a passenger?

The flight was guided completely by artificial intelligence. The vehicle is totally autonomous, from what I gathered. It rockets up more than 60 miles into the air, then jettisons the rocket that got them there. It guides itself back to land on the ground, and the capsule floats down later on. I don’t believe the people in the capsule did anything other than look out the window. Does that make them astronauts? Was Laika an astronaut?

I don’t mean to dismiss the feat. These sort of trips (like the other one Branson did a week or so ago) mark an important turning point in the way we interact with space. If a bunch of millionaires want to use their money to buy tickets on rockets, thereby funding more efforts to develop more things in space, then that seems like a pretty good way to get it done. As these trips become more commonplace and more accessible, it brings other things more into reach as well.

The Space Race was funded by fear. Fear that the United States would fall behind the USSR, both militarily and technologically. But once that competition was over, with the US coming out “victorious,” the public goodwill behind the program just wasn’t enough to sustain it. There hasn’t been money to support it from government coffers, so (realistically) if we’re going to keep expanding our reach and exploring, it appears ventures by companies is the way to go. How will that affect the ultimate end product? No idea.

I’ve seen a number of comments about people mad at Bezos, or disparaging him for doing something that wasn’t a big deal. Wasting his money where there are so many other immediate problems that need solving. But I don’t see it that way. The remarkable thing about these feats isn’t that someone successfully went up to space and back in a short 10 minute journey. It’s that multiple companies are far enough along now that voyages like this are possible. I’m very excited to see where things head from here, and I can think of many worse ways for Bezos to spend a chunk of change. In the long run, I think these efforts might well pay off in ways we can only dream of for now.

Of course, I’ve also seen plenty of comments saying they think the whole thing was a hoax, and that Bezos never really went up at all. To me, those comments are a constant reminder of how much we need science in our lives. Logic. Reason. Some people appear to have given up on it entirely, preferring to believe anything that’s more convenient for them. (Why it’s more comfortable to believe the earth is flat and we’ve never been to space is beyond me, but stressful times cause different people to react in very different ways.)

Would *I* go to space right now? I don’t think so. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend that sort of money (if I had it available.) I’m just super comfortable with other people spending it. In a way, it’s like the lottery, except I don’t have to worry that people who don’t have sufficient funds are being essentially taxed to line the pockets of the few (and pay for some local needs of the many). I am mindful of the potential impact these sort of flights will have on the environment, but I also believe they’ll lead to potential solutions to the those same problems. The fact that they aren’t carbon neutral right at the beginning seems to me to be a poor reason not to do it.

But maybe I’m just way too much into space exploration.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Assessing COVID Risk for Kids

I’m going to lead off with the obvious: I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m a librarian. I’m good at finding and evaluating information, but nothing in this post should be viewed as some sort of ironclad definitive statement when it comes to COVID risk for kids.

My main reason for posting this is that I’m the father of an 8-year-old, and I’m tired of vague statements floating around in the interwebs about “COVID isn’t as dangerous for kids, but it can still affect them.” My daughter can’t be vaccinated yet, but there’s a whole ton of things she’d like to do (and things we’d like to do as a family). Playing with friends. Going on trips. Heading to the store to go shopping. Mask mandates and usage are going down, and I recognize there are plenty of unvaccinated people who are going to be out and about not wearing masks.

What I really wanted to know is “how dangerous is it (really) for my daughter?” I understand that she might contract COVID. There are a whole ton of things that might happen to her in the course of any day. She could get eaten by a shark when we go to the beach. She could get struck by lightning. Where exactly does COVID rank in the order of “realistically dangerous”? Since I was already poking around online for the subject anyway, I thought I’d share what I came up with.

The CDC has a page that goes over some of this in a strange way. Using children age 5-17 as their reference group, they show how big of an impact COVID can have on different age groups in terms of hospitalizations and death. So looking at it, I can see that I’m 130 times as likely as my daughter to die from COVID. But that’s such a fuzzy number. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it in any meaningful way.

I tried to look for specific numbers from the CDC, but all I could find was this page that showed how many deaths occurred in children 0-17 years old. (As of this instant, 295 involving COVID. 1,152 if you include COVID and influenza and pneumonia.) That doesn’t seem like much. How many COVID cases have kids actually gotten?

The American Academy of Pediatrics answers that over here. 3.94 million. On the same page, it notes that kids were hospitalized in .1-1.9% of the cases. They died in 0.00-0.03% of their cases, which lines up with the CDC numbers I found. (0.03% of 3.94 million is 1,182, so if you attribute all influenza, pneumonia, and COVID cases as “potentially COVID,” then it’s about the same.)

I’m all about worst case scenarios. Let’s say that 1,152 number is all COVID (it isn’t), and let’s say all those deaths happened in a single year (they didn’t). How does that compare with other causes of death in children. (Talk about a chipper topic today . . .) I can’t find the data for 2020 yet, but here’s a study that details the leading causes of death for children in 2016.

  • 12,336 came from accidents
  • 4,074 came from car crashes
  • 3,143 came from firearms
  • 1,853 came from cancer
  • 1,430 came from suffocation
  • 995 came from drowning

So COVID deaths in American children rated (at worst) less likely than suffocating, and just a bit more likely than drowning. A more realistic view would put it much lower on the list. (Told you this was chipper.) But isn’t this line of argument the same thing that was criticized back in 2020 when people tried to downplay COVID as a whole? What exactly did the 2020 cause of death numbers end up at? Look no further. In the US, COVID was the third leading cause of death, below heart disease and cancer, but well above everything else. People trying to brush it off as No Big Deal would have to argue suicide, diabetes, Alzheimers, and strokes are NBD either.

Is COVID potentially dangerous? Yes, for children and adults. But it’s much more dangerous for adults. For kids, it’s around the same danger as drowning. And like drowning, that’s a danger that can be further reduced by taking a few basic steps. Avoid deep water. Learn how to swim. Don’t swim unsupervised. Water is a thing that’s familiar, and we know how to do things to make it safer. COVID’s getting to that point as well.

Mind you, this is just looking at deaths. It’s ignoring hospitalizations or long COVID, though the numbers for children in those areas are also much better than for adults. I heard someone say to treat unvaccinated children about the same as you’d treat vaccinated grandparents. The risk levels are about the same. So would I take MC to a huge indoor party, unmasked? Probably not. Would I be fine having her play with friends outside? That seems quite safe to me, as does smaller play dates inside.

COVID cases in the country and in our area continue to fall. I don’t think you have to treat everyone you see now as a potential carrier. In all likelihood, they don’t have it. As I’ve said before, for me fighting COVID was never about getting to 0 deaths. It was about keeping the curve low enough that our healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed. And in most places in America, we did that. Unless cases begin to spike again for some unforeseen reason, I’m good with having my daughter return to normal in most aspects of her life.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Ending the Mask Mandates

Man. I leave the mainland for a few days, and everything changes while I’m gone. What’s up with that, America?

Before I left on my vacation, I probably would have had many more issues with the speed of this mask mandate change. Now that I’ve been 6 days among the general population, however? I don’t have nearly as big of an issue with it.

Here’s the thing: from what I’ve now seen, I believe masking has largely been an exercise in health theatrics. Don’t get me wrong. I believe they were (and are) necessary for those people who aren’t vaccinated, and I believe they work, and I believe people who aren’t vaccinated should continue to wear them. (This includes both Daniela and MC, since neither one is vaccinated yet.) However, I also believe the evidence the CDC based its change on is as clear as it’s going to get for now. Vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks.

I know the question that’s going to follow: “But what about all the unvaccinated who are just going to lie and say they’re vaccinated so they don’t have to wear a mask?” Except those people haven’t really been masking anyway, folks. While I was away on vacation, I saw so many different approaches to mask wearing. You’ve got the nosers, who just tuck it under the nose. You’ve got the Abraham Lincolners, who treat it like some sort of chin strap. You’ve got the handers, who keep it in their hands. And you’ve got a lot of people who adjust it so that it’s just close enough to look like it’s on their nose, without actually having it on their nose. (Seriously. I watched older men on two separate occasions fuss with their masks for a long time to just them just right. As in “just right below their nose, where they won’t do nearly as much good.”)

It was one thing to come across these types in Walmart or out and about, but when I was on vacation, I saw so many, it was all much easier to recognize. And having a mask in the general vicinity of your face instead of actually on your face is a huge difference. If nothing else, changing this mandate will make it less likely that people will yell at each other over the issue, or worse.

What will I personally do? I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do. If I’m out and about outside, I won’t wear a mask, I don’t think. There’s just no evidence to say it’s necessary. If I want to go into a store that has a sign that says “Please wear a mask,” then I’ll put a mask on. It’s not difficult. If I’m visiting a friend and they want me to have a mask on, I’ll put one on. That’s just being courteous. If a friend visits me and they’ve been vaccinated? No mask needed!

It does get trickier for my two daughters who haven’t been vaccinated yet. True, COVID is generally less dangerous to them than regular influenza, but there are some fringe cases where they can get long COVID or MIS-C. So I’ll be having my girls mask up when they’re inside with other people, and I’ll think twice before I have them go someplace inside as well. Not necessarily because I’m terrified they’ll get COVID, but more that I want to do what we can to continue slowing the spread of the disease. Kids get COVID and give it to others. Like, for example, those unvaccinated people who think it’s a hoax and lie about being vaccinated so that they don’t have to wear a mask. I might think those people are behaving foolishly, but I still don’t want them to get sick.

It’s called “being kind and considerate,” and it’s something I’ve been trying to be more of, even during the pandemic. I highly recommend it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Tortoise and the Hare: COVID Style

Back in the days after Thanksgiving last year, I remember feeling a general tension among my friends and associates here in Maine. COVID numbers were rising higher than we’d seen them before, and there was a real sense that we might have a serious problem on our hands. After all, we’d had our biggest surge back in May 2020, when there were case rates in the high double digits each day. (78 was the peak on May 20th.) December 9th. about 2 weeks after Thanksgiving, we were up to 405 cases in a day.

It definitely felt (to me, at least) like people were taking this seriously. That said, it didn’t stop the trend. By January 13th, we had our most cases recorded in a single day: 824. Thankfully. people seemed to get the message by then (or perhaps they just stopped getting together for family holidays, since there were no more family holidays to get together for?). Since then, the case rates dropped into February, when we bottomed out in the low 200s. That seems low in comparison to January 13th, but it felt high right around Thanksgiving.

Case numbers have only gone up since then. We’ve now had our third day in a row of more than 500 cases a day, and we’re running 30% fewer tests each day than we were in January. The case trend is more troubling now than it was back then, so why is there not more of the tension in the area around the spread?

There’s a couple of obvious reasons I can identify. People are just tired of following restrictions, for one thing. Even when the restrictions are relatively easy (like wearing a mask), it feels like a lot of people just don’t want to do them anymore. There’s also the fact that we have yet to see the corresponding spike in hospitalizations and deaths, almost certainly due to more than 80% of our population older than 70 being vaccinated now.

Then there’s the fact that many people are already vaccinated to one degree or another. The end is in sight, after all. I will be getting my second shot tomorrow and two weeks after that, I’ll be good to go. Denisa’s on the same schedule as me. Tomas will get his second shot by the end of the month. The odds of COVID having a drastic impact on my immediate family will be drastically lower. So at this point, my general approach has been to shake my head at people who seem unable to follow some basic guidelines for the last few weeks, but to not really stress about it other than that.

It doesn’t mean those case rates don’t concern me, however, especially since there’s nothing to point at to show why they’re going up so much. No Thanksgiving or Christmas, though perhaps some of it is from Easter? It seems very probable right now that we might have our worst surge of cases now, just before we ought to be at the point where our cases are dwindling. Also troubling: the spread is happening in more rural areas instead of cities.

Perhaps it won’t end up mattering. Perhaps the hospitalization rates will stay down (even if they might be higher than they would have been by following guidelines better). Same for deaths. But I’m concerned more right now that some of the shut downs across the state might have to be put into place again. I want this to all be done as much as the next guy, but I realize from a public planning standpoint, the dramatic rise in cases might well slow that down.

But who really knows? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m just focusing on the things I can control. Once I’m vaccinated, I’m definitely going to be going out more and doing more. There’s a trip to Puerto Rico in my future already, and I think I’ll start going back to restaurants and maybe even a movie theater if there’s something worth seeing. That is to say, I completely understand wanting to be done with all of this, I just don’t understand the insistence on doing so prematurely, and the lack of general concern I’m feeling around me about the direction my state is currently heading. The numbers we have now were grounds for “very concerned” back in November/December. I wonder what they’ll have to get to for the same response now.

Here’s hoping I’m worrying over nothing.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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