Pandemic Diary 2: Use a Password!

Much of life in the coronavirus lockdown moved to online video conferences about three weeks ago, a fact which is reflected in the NASDAQ share price of one company, Zoom Video Communications, Inc: on March 13, it was $107.47 per share and on March 23 the price was $159.56 per share. (It has since dropped to $121.93 as of today, largely for reasons discussed below.)

There have been video conference web sites, platforms, and applications available for many years, but Zoom is free for a “Basic” plan, simple to navigate on a smartphone or laptop, handled the increase in traffic with ease (“a 535% rise in daily traffic to the Zoom.us download page, according to an analysis from web analytics firm SimilarWeb”), can handle groups in the dozens if not hundreds, and is quite easy to use. College classes have used Zoom as virtual classrooms for years, so when college campuses closed in the pandemic, all unfinished courses moved to finish the semester on the virtual platform.

Zoom allows yoga instructors to continue to conduct sessions, therapists to meet clients, recovery groups to hold as many meetings as they may want to, corporate boards to meet, the quarantined British prime minister to run cabinet meetings, journalists to conduct “in-person” interviews, quarantined families to continue to be families. And it is a free service for the “Basic” package, which allows for forty-minute meetings.

Zoom also promises end-to-end encryption for secure conferences. That last part is not a lie, but it uses the phrase end-to-end in a way that does not mean what the average user of the service might think it means.
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Pandemic Diary 1: Of Jokes and Introverts

In this era of pandemic concerns, rumors and memes are more easily communicable and travel more quickly than that airborne virus which we must each dodge like Neo in the first Matrix film. Here in my hometown of New Paltz, NY, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases escalated from one to many long before (well, days before) one was confirmed.

(We now have several, and a town whose boundary is within walking distance from my house is my county’s current coronavirus hot spot. Well, yay! us.)

When New York State imposed a stay-at-home quarantine for anyone deemed “not essential” by employers on the night of March 22—two long weeks ago—a variation of a meme about introverts proliferated: “When you find out your normal daily lifestyle is called ‘quarantine'” read one popular meme over a children’s show character’s reaction to something. (Below.)
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3500 Days of Somehow

I do not recall July 14, 2010, which was three-thousand five hundred and one days ago today. (Five hundred weeks! That number just jumped out at me.) What is more, I did not post or share anything on social media that day, so I do not even have a “Mark is feeling :-)” smileyness that I may have typed that morning on Facebook that could spark a memory.

Of course I looked. I looked just now with a grimace of anticipation on my face in the worry-slash-hope that I would find something I had written that day to someone about anything at all. Nope. No blue thumbs-up for any of my friends from me that day, either. (In fact, there is little that I typed before July 15, 2010, that I much enjoy any longer for reasons that I hope will become clear.) There is no journal entry, no blog post.
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Memories of an Iowa Caucus Voter

The Iowa Caucuses will be held tonight. I was a caucus voter in that state one presidential election, in 2004, so my experience that long-ago January night can perhaps illustrate what we will see unfold.

Certain rules are different this caucus night compared to that one a lifetime ago, but the core principles inside the experience remain the same: 1. A caucus is not a primary, in which one votes with a ballot; it is an hours-long town meeting, and, 2. Caucus night is the climax of a year in which there are more presidential candidates in Iowa than Iowans.

Return with me to 2004, when TV was in black and white, movies cost a nickel, and a Republican president was up for re-election: George W. Bush.

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In 2004, the Democratic Party, my party, offered a buffet of candidates, many of them U.S. senators, like this year. I did not plan to take action or even speak at my caucus, but history forced my hand.
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Pam Bondi: Where Quid Meets Pro Quo

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (pictured above with the president) will join the team tasked with the defense of the president in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, according to the Wall Street Journal today, January 17. The team will be led by current White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Bondi’s role in the impeachment trial has not been delineated in public. She joins a team of specialists that includes former Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr; occasional constitutional-law professor Alan Dershowitz; Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer to the president; and Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr in the Whitewater inquiry.

Before she joined the White House staff in its impeachment preparations in November 2019, Bondi was a registered foreign agent for the government of Qatar and a lobbyist for a Kuwaiti firm. The more famous members of the Trump legal team have long histories as public figures, but Bondi’s history is more entwined with the current president’s public life than theirs are so far.
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Allies Aren’t Silent; Why Was I?

A political friend wrote on Facebook on New Year’s Eve, “If I’ve been too tough on a political opponent in the last ten years, I apologize to them now. If I haven’t been tough enough on them, I apologize to everyone else.”

I have not been tough enough in my own little world, and the decade just past taught me that tolerance of others’ intolerance does not create a larger space for tolerance, and silence in the face of ugliness does not illuminate a brighter path toward kindness for the ill-mannered who choose to walk the road of insults and abuse. I do not speak out enough, and this is an important failure on my part.

My latest example came just this week. I do not know what I would like to have done instead or how I would prefer to feel about the incident right now other than how I feel, which is that I am a mouse and not a human being with a spine and a voice. (Nothing against mice, of course.)
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A Christmas Tree

How (not) to cut down your own Christmas tree.

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Tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye-hand coordination required to decorate a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate was quietly fixed upon my departure.

A beloved girlfriend one Christmas credited me with the expansion of her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve known who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section of the Christmas tree with the same color ornament (albeit on different sections of the branches!) and this needed to be quietly fixed.

Christmas can be a challenge for someone so rarely festive, like me.

One winter’s day long ago, a dear friend enlisted me in a project to cut down a real live Christmas tree from a local Christmas tree farm so that her son could experience a Christmas just like the one she and I had never, ever had.
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Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Laugh at Fascism

A personal reflection in tribute to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”

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A friend and I were chatting about our different Thanksgiving Day plans one recent Thanksgiving and he asked me if I had ever been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. (I almost marched in it one year, by accident of all things, but that is an anecdote for a different post.)

“Well, I just hope,” he said, “that no one tries any terrorism down there today, but if they do,” and here he looked like someone who perhaps hoped that “someone” would indeed “try terrorism down there” because he added, “If they do, I hope we go ahead and use our nuclear weapons the way they were meant to be used. Just go over there and flatten that whole place.”

Quietly infuriated, I found for myself something else to do somewhere else at our gathering. I hate that I do not ask the question, “Why would you think that?” of some of my acquaintances more often or at all, but I know that such a question is seen as confrontational more than a provocative expression of a hope that our nation uses nuclear weapons if and when it is attacked is seen as confrontational.

I did not ask where this place that he seemed to want to “flatten” is. I did not think I needed to inquire. Some of my neighbors walk around with the fear-hope that a horrible act of terrorism is a given in our country’s near future and that it will be, obviously, the act of someone from a part of the world whose foreign-ness (to them) is the only thing they care to know about. They, my neighbors, want to be angered so much that they already can smell the blood that they want the youth of our nation to spill.

They want to be angry perhaps more than they are angry.
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