Pandemic Diary 28: Focus, People, Focus

Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days.

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Anecdotal evidence is evidence only of an anecdote, so I report this not with statistical accuracy but only as something noticed: there has been an uptick in the number of posts on my social media feeds of individuals who describe themselves as “TIs” or “targeted individuals.”

“Targeted individuals” labor under the belief that each one is the focus of intense electromagnetic energy pulses sent to torment them; now, these individuals indeed appear to be tormented, to judge from what they write and how they write it (ALL CAPS and no punctuation), so it is no surprise that they need something on which to blame their depression and suffering.

I am one of those readers who always takes a moment to report these accounts to the Twitter or Facebook offices as “someone in danger of self-harm.” As a more-than-casual consumer of content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have my own sense of how often I encounter posts from self-proclaimed targeted individuals: about twice a year. There have been more than that number this month alone.

Is this an effect of quarantine? Our national and global economies are in a free-fall brought on by a mandatory lock down (in many communities) made necessary by a fast-moving virus that mostly kills the infirm and elderly but also kills the young, middle-aged, and healthy (in New York City, more than twenty-five percent of the dead were younger than sixty-four and the greatest number dead of COVID-19 with no underlying condition are those between forty-five and sixty-four; not young but still employable); which ended almost all in-person commercial activity; which led to businesses shut down and employees furloughed or laid off.
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Pandemic Diary 21: Reasons to ‘Smile’

“Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along.”

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Charlie Chaplin never published lyrics for the piece of music with which he concluded his 1936 film, Modern Times. The Tramp’s last gesture to the Gamine (Paulette Goddard) before the two literally walk off toward the sunset is to point to his mouth and draw a line up along his cheek.

“What’s the use in trying,” she had asked a moment earlier. The two are on the side of a road with no cars to hitch a ride, with all they own in kerchiefs on sticks. “Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along,” the Tramp’s last title card reads. The two walk off down the road and instrumental music swells and the film ends:

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Pandemic Diary 12: Love and Light

Kindness is always available, of course, but snark, innuendo, and rumor are the only currencies in the economy of dread that quarantine offers us.

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An April shower lashes the northeast today; my window faces the southeast, so it feels like my desk is ringside at a boxing match. It is a day-long storm with an angry wind that is noisy even without tree branches or loose eaves to whistle through. After three weeks of quarantine, this can feel like a quarantine inside a quarantine, twenty-three hours of solitary confinement with sixty minutes alone added just for today.

Some days in quarantine, the repetition of minor tasks and details is relentless, and then the relentlessness is its own unforgiving detail. Days like today, with the gusty threat of a power—and internet—outage, which might on any other April 13 carry a “day off from school” relief, instead add foreboding to the limited palette of anxious dread.

Thus, the glimpses of light when they come are more brilliant and meaningful if one allows oneself to perceive them.
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Pandemic Diary 11: Bite-sized Insults

“You aren’t worth the breath you use.” I tweeted that to some Twitter account today, some individual or individuals hidden behind an American flag and a pro-Trump phrase in place of a person’s name. (“Something Deplorables Something,” written in the Fraktur typeface favored by neo-Nazis or those who think it is cute to be thought of as a neo-Nazi. The account spent the morning tweeting GIFs at me happy to think that it had “owned” me, a Lib.)

This particular account had defended … oh, who cares about the controversy du jour of April 11, 2020? It is so small that I can imagine future me perplexed by it were I to supply the details here. But I had replied, and then I had insulted it, so I suppose the “deplorable” hidden behind the Nazi typeface had earned what it wanted: me to show a temper.

No, the bigger issue for me today is the effect of insults on me, both received and given, because I am curious as to why I tossed some insults out there into a world full of insults to begin with and why I subsequently deleted them. Neither act impresses me much.
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Pandemic Diary 3: With a Song in Our Heart

Perhaps in a world in which we need our neighbors more than usual, in which a global drama plays out in our local grocery stores and on the streets where we live, the music and creative expression we turn to for rest, relief, entertainment, and even solace—that deepest of words—ought to be local as well.

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When all this is over, some of the things we used to take for granted will appear to us a novelties or great new ideas. My gosh, even the thought of something ever ending feels something like a novelty at this moment.
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Lauri Love Banned from Twitter

Lauri Love, the British hacktivist who the United Kingdom has agreed to send to the United States to face charges despite pleas from over 100 MPs that he not be extradited, was permanently banned from Twitter this week. His account was @LauriLoveX.

The reasons are unclear, as no specific charges were fully explained to Love. It is understood that the reasons are related to an “alleged violent threat.” He wrote a few hours ago, “Being an actual Nazi on twitter: fine and dandy. Advocating punching Nazis on twitter: permanently banned for violent threats. This is why we can’t have nice things… (Only told I will never get my account back for obscure probably made-up reasons after starting a dozen support threads.)”
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Lovingly Spammed

“Ashley” from “Supplement Sidekick” wrote to The Gad About Town (me) last week: “I wanted to thank you for this wonderful read!! I absolutely loved every bit of it. I have you book-marked to check out new things you post… .”

She (or he) wrote her (or his) comment on an article that one could describe as “a wonderful read,” if accounts of a threatened beheading of a protester in Saudi Arabia strike one as a wonderful read. Perhaps she (or he) felt that my point of view (I would describe myself as being against beheadings in general, but this might not be the first thing I would tell you about myself on a speed-date) is “wonderful.” She (or he) did not elaborate.
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I, for One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords

Most if not all of us have seen dialogue box like the one above in our online lives. Sometimes, a real person is called for, even in our heavily automated world. Especially when real money is about to be moved from one virtual hand to another.

About fifteen years ago, some Carnegie Mellon computer scientists developed a method to be employed to differentiate between a human being and a bit of software. They dubbed it, “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart,” or CAPTCHA. There are several dozen applications commercially available that perform the test.

Some require a user to type in a randomly generated word or number sequence that the app has displayed just for them. Some require a bit less, a simple mouse click inside a box that sits next to a (sometimes) charmingly worded version of the question, “Are you a robot?”
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