Monthly Archives: April 2020

Number Six

When he awoke, his head hurt. The drizzly fog of sleep thinned and parted. Rays of reality sliced through the departing clouds of his mind, and he gradually regained the ability to think clearly. But his head still hurt. Felt like a fever.

A realization stung him like a slap in the face. This could be number six! He shuddered. But he knew it would come one day. How could anyone escape number six?

He tried to think positive. Maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t it. Perhaps it was only a head cold. He stumbled into the bathroom and examined his eyes in the mirror of the medicine cabinet. They were bloodshot. Not a good sign.

Below the quartz countertop of the vanity was a drawer, which he slid open with his left hand, while steadying himself with his right, next to the sink. Shaky fingers extracted a thermometer that had been in his wife’s mouth and his own mouth many times before. “May God rest her soul,” his lips murmured.

A minute later he pulled it out and read 99. Not too bad. Probably just a head cold. He returned it to its home and slowly slid the drawer closed.

He walked to work, a grocery store, a mere two blocks from his home. Before this all started he’d been a waiter. But after all the restaurants were shut down, he’d spent two years unemployed, on government assistance.

His restaurant never reopened, but a job did, at the grocery store, and he was next in line. Employment was practically mandatory, because the offer of a job always meant the end of one’s assistance check, whether the job was accepted or not. He needed money, so he accepted the job.

That was a year ago. Covid-19 had been ravaging his world for three full years now. It was stumping science. After three years, the experts were still scratching their heads. What few experts remained. They knew a lot more about it now than they did when the pandemic began, but they weren’t anywhere close to a cure or effective vaccine.

He rubbed his forehead as a maskless pedestrian passed closely by, brushing his shoulder. Masks had been proven unhelpful at preventing transmission, and most people had stopped using them. Social distancing rules were still in effect, but more and more people ignored them these days, with a fatalistic “what’s the use?” attitude.

The morning sky was so blue it stunned him, and managed to stimulate his mood to a slightly lighter side from the persistent heavy sadness of his heart. He noticed more birds flying around than he’d ever seen before in the city. And the overgrown yards of the homes where nobody lived anymore, hinted of a revivifying forest.

He passed through the parting doors of the supermarket, headed for the back, and within minutes was assigned his first task of the day. Canned beans were running low, and someone had to restock them.

“Hey Terrance!” a man tapped his shoulder as he was settling three cans onto a shelf. He turned and faced Lamont, a former co-worker at the restaurant. “Finally got beans in, huh? I’ll take a few.” Lamont leaned over Terrance’s kneeling figure and pulled the same three cans off, and dropped them in his cart.

“How you been, Lamont?”

“Fine, fine, how about you?”

“Oh, alright.” He didn’t want to admit to his headache and 99 degree fever. That sort of news sometimes freaked people out.

Lamont held up four fingers. “Four times, man, four times I’ve had it. How about you?”

“Five, I think.”

“Five?! Oh shit man, watch out. Hey, if you get it a sixth time, I hope you break a record,” Lamont said with both pity and hope.

One of the few things scientists had discovered about the coronavirus was that nobody survived more than five known infections. The sixth time, for those who managed to make it to a sixth time, was always fatal.

“Thanks. See ya around, Lamont.” He turned back to his box of beans and resumed restocking, not wanting his eyes to betray the fear of death.

Returning home that evening, Terrance thought he heard a wolf howl far off in the darkling twilight, and quickened his step. There’d been rumors of wolf sightings, but it seemed unbelievable to have such large, wild predators prowling the city. Mother Nature couldn’t be recovering that quickly, he reasoned. Impossible.

He shut the door behind him. Safe now, from wolves or whatever was out there. Safe. Safe from all but the invisible enemy. He rubbed the palms of his hands on his burning forehead. He felt tired. His body ached all over. More so than it should.

Into the bathroom he trudged, to the drawer that held the thermometer that had portended his wife’s death. And she after only three times! Why had he lasted through five? Who knew? No one knew.

What scientists did know, was that each infection was followed by antibodies. But those antibodies only protected people for about four to twelve months. And each reinfection weakened the body more and more, like a cannonade cracking the ramparts of a castle. Infections left survivors with permanently damaged lungs, hearts, kidneys, and other organs, creating within them underlying conditions.

Those who already had underlying conditions often died from their first infection. For healthier victims, it usually took two, three, four, five, and rarely six. Nobody had ever been known to survive six infections. Number six always broke the castle walls down.

He shook the mercury to the bottom with a few flicks of his wrist, then stuck the thermometer under his tongue. He studied his ridiculous reflection in the mirror, with the glass stick jutting out from between his lips. He pulled it out and examined the result.

101 degrees.

Terrance didn’t bother putting the glass stick away. He just left it sitting in a puddle of his saliva, on the quartz countertop.

His body was warm, but he felt cold. In fact, he felt like he was freezing. And he was so tired. He wanted nothing more than to snuggle into his bed, under some deep, warm covers, and rest his aching muscles.

Hunger had fled his stomach. He only wanted rest. And so, within minutes, Terrance found himself crawling between sheets and sinking into the comfort of his mattress. He’d neglected to draw the curtains of his bedroom window, but felt too tired and achy to care.

Glancing out the window as he adjusted blankets around his shivering body and head, Terrance caught the vestigial red glow of a recently submerged sunset. He finished adjusting and stopped moving, readying himself for sleep. He coughed a few times.

His tussive fit died down, and a silence enswathed him like heavy cloth. Outside, no city sounds seeped through his window. Just an eldritch quiet, that perfused every molecule of the universe.

Except that somewhere, way off in the dark, between starlight and a wilderness of trees and vacant homes, there drifted a faint howling.

Trump’s Agenda

Carolyn, at joyroses13.wordpress.com, has submitted a Unicorn Beam. Thank you Carolyn, I need all the help I can get. Carolyn has sent us the agenda for our president’s daily COVID-19 press conferences.

Although this agenda seems accurate, it may also be outdated. It seems that after Trump’s last press conference, where he suggested that we drink disinfectant, The Orange One has decided to lay low and discontinue his little standups. For how long, who knows? Hopefully forever.

But in case he returns, and you need some guidance to follow along and understand the confusion, here’s the agenda:

The Good & The Bad, as of 4/25/20

Bad news about Covid-19 seems to spread as fast as the virus itself. But there’s also been good news. So I’ve combined the latest good and bad news, to help us keep a balanced perspective:

Good News:
On April 23rd, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the pandemic is fast turning into a human rights crisis, and he warned that any emergency measures must be “legal, proportionate, necessary, and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.” At last, we finally have a world leader advocating for human rights!

Bad News:
Everyone seems to have ignored the U.N. Secretary General, in my view, except Sweden and the state of South Dakota. Also, the weather is damned cold in Sweden and South Dakota. If you lived there, you’d want to stay at home anyways.


Bad News:
A test of antibodies in residents of New York City indicates that 21% of the population have had the coronavirus. Apparently, it’s been spreading all over the place.

Good News:
The virus spreading all over the place could very well increase herd immunity, reducing the likelihood of a major second wave of infections.

Also, the population of New York City is over 8 million. If 21% of NYC residents have had the coronavirus, that equates to about 1,680,000 infected residents. As of this writing, NYC’s death toll from the virus is about 10,000. This equates to 1 death for every 168 infections, or a death rate of about 0.6%. This is far lower than many alarming death rates that have been reported, such as 2.1% or 6%.

And given that those age 50 or older are dying at about 27 times the rate of those under 50, it would appear that young, healthy people have little to fear from the coronavirus. Yes, there are news stories of young people dying, but these cases seem to be rare exceptions.


Bad News:
President Trump recently suggested that injecting disinfectant into the body might kill the coronavirus.

Good News:
According to subscribers of the theory of Social Darwinism, this suggestion by Trump could result in the culling of millions of idiots from our country’s population. This will improve the overall intelligence of our nation, and ensure Trump’s defeat in November.

Memento Mori:
I’m not a doctor nor the president, but I have this medical advice for those inclined to regard our president as a doctor: Do NOT ingest or inject yourself with disinfectant! It will kill you! No matter how much you may love the president, please acknowledge that at least occasionally he can be wrong. It will kill you! I repeat, it will kill you! 💀💀💀

Bluetooth Contact Tracing

Imagine your cellphone contacting all the cellphones in your near vicinity, without your knowledge. Actually this happens all the time. The Bluetooth chips in our cellphones constantly send out query signals for other Bluetooth-enabled devices. This is how a cellphone pairs with ear buds, or with a car’s entertainment system, or with another cellphone.

If your phone doesn’t recognize a cellphone that it’s queried, it quickly deletes that phone from its memory. No one is the wiser, and everyone’s privacy is preserved.

But this may soon change. Companies such as Apple, Google, and MIT are developing technology that will cause our cellphones to remember all the nearby phones they’ve queried. This is similar to technology currently being used in Asia.

The purpose is contact tracing. Contact tracing is a tool the CDC wants to use, to combat the coronavirus. When someone tests positive, their cellphone will be examined to determine which cellphones that person has come near, over the prior 14 days. Then all the owners of those cellphones will be called and informed that they have recently been near someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. They will be advised, or perhaps ordered, to be tested, self-isolate, or take some other action.

The technology to do this kind of contact tracing could be rolled out in mid-May, with widespread implementation this summer. Apple and Google are working together on a way to embed the tracing software into their operating systems, so that downloading an app won’t be necessary. But MIT’s brainchild would require the download of an app called PrivateKit.

So far, authorities are saying that participation in Bluetooth contact tracing will be voluntary. However in order for it to work effectively, most of the population will have to opt-in. Thus, it’s possible that it could become mandatory. But they assure us that all data will be anonymized through special encryption codes.

Hacking, through deanonymizing techniques, is always a risk with this kind of dataveillance. In spite of the best efforts by developers, our privacy could still be compromised.

If you don’t mind the risk, and want to opt-in, you must make sure you have enabled Bluetooth on your smartphone. It’s normally enabled by default, but there’s a chance it could have been turned off. It’s easy to turn it back on. The way I do this on my Android phone is to press the “Settings” icon (it looks like a gear).

Settings takes me to a menu. One of the items on the menu is “Connected devices.” This takes me to a new menu, with “Bluetooth” at the top. It may say “Connected” or “Not connected.” Just because it says “Not connected”, it doesn’t mean it can’t query other phones. A nearby switch determines if Bluetooth is activated and can do queries.

If the switch is moved left, Bluetooth will be deactivated and a message will say something like “Not visible to other devices.” Moving the switch to the right will activate it.

A few weeks ago I got experimental and decided to deactivate Bluetooth. And then I decided to turn off Location services on all my apps. To do this, I went to Settings again, and then selected “Apps & notifications”. I then selected “App info”. This allowed me to select each app on my phone and, one-by-one, disable permission to track my location.

While I was doing this, I noticed something called “Body sensors”. This seemed a little creepy to me, so I disabled all permissions I came across that apparently sense my body.

With Bluetooth, Location, and Body Sensors disabled, I wanted to see how well my cellphone would work. Well I’m happy to say that after two weeks of this ongoing experiment, everything has been working fine and dandy.

Every day I receive an onslaught of robocalls, as usual, so at least this tells me that my phone can still receive calls. Also, I went hiking where the lockdown police wouldn’t catch me, and way out in the middle of nowhere I tried calling my house. It worked like a charm. So I can also make outgoing calls.

But I can’t use Google Maps unless I activate Location permissions for that particular app. That’s fine, I hardly ever use that app anyway. And I can always turn Location back off, after I finish with the app.

Another thing, my phone doesn’t automatically pair with my car’s entertainment system anymore. If I want it to pair I have to re-activate Bluetooth.

Also, I occasionally get a message from Google Play, begging me to activate Body Sensors. Eww, get your hands off me, Google Play. I just hit “Cancel” when I get this message, and so far nothing bad has happened.

When contact tracing is rolled out, I can easily opt-in by going back into Settings and activating Bluetooth. That’s a decision I’ll make when the time comes. I like the idea that this program will probably be voluntary. I find it refreshing that in a free country, we may still have some freedom left.

Here’s a short youtube video you might be interested in, that provides more details about the contact tracing system coming soon to our phones:

Improving Our Bird Brains, Part 5: Osprey

Some of the biggest and most beautiful birds my wife and I witnessed while in Florida were ospreys.

Nobody knows what ospreys really are, but scientists call them Pandion haliateus. They’re considered by ornithologists to be one of the most unique birds on the planet. In fact they’re so unique, they belong to their own scientific family (Pandionidae), and genus (Pandion). But no, they’re not related to pandas.

Some scientists claim there are three or four subspecies of osprey. But these subspecies are so similar that other scientists argue they are all the same. Scientists just love to disagree, don’t they? I think they can easily resolve this controversy. A duel with derringers at 20 paces ought to do it.

Ospreys are found on all the continents of the world except Antarctica, where it’s too fucking cold. It’s considered unusual for a single species of animal to have such a widespread distribution, which is one of the things that makes these birds so unique.

Another thing that makes them unique is that they’re piscivorous, having a diet consisting almost entirely of fish. Other raptors feast on a wide variety of prey, but not ospreys. They like fish, they want fish, and they won’t eat anything but fish, unless they’re forced by starvation. Hence, your cats and small dogs are safe in osprey territory.

This means that if you’re looking for ospreys, you must go where the fish are. And that is near large bodies of water, such as the ocean. But they can also be found thousands of miles inland, by lakes and rivers.

An osprey hovering over the Firehole River, at Yellowstone National Park, preparing to dive down and catch a fish.

Another name for ospreys is seahawks. Aside from their talent for fishing, seahawks are regarded for their skills at punting, passing, receiving, and running. But so far they’ve only won one Super Bowl.

Ospreys are huge sons-of-bitches, with wingspans reaching up to six feet. And they have sharper eyesight than your average eagle. They can see through glare on the surface of water, and thus find fish in many different light conditions. There’s no hiding from an osprey.

They’ll fly 30 to over 100 feet above water, briefly hover as they spot an unsuspecting fish near the surface, then plunge feet first into the water and grab the poor bastard. When they hit the water, a nictating membrane closes over their eyes, and valves in their nostrils seal shut. Meanwhile, their well-oiled feathers waterproof them, and keep them from sinking.

An osprey patrolling the waters of the Bahia Honda Channel, in the Florida keys.

Their hooked toes pierce the body of the fish. Each foot has a reversible toe, similar to a human thumb, that works to more tightly grasp the slippery piscine and keep it from slithering away. This is a near-unique feature of ospreys, as no other bird of prey has such reversible toes, except owls.

Their massive wings enable them to hoist fish out of the water that weigh 10% to 50% of their own weight. Most of the fish they catch weigh only about a pound, but some can weigh over four pounds.

Ospreys across the world eat a wide variety of fish, but an individual osprey tends to be a picky eater, concentrating on the two or three types that are most prevalent where it hunts.

After an osprey catches a fish, it carries it so that the fish’s head faces forward, as it transports it to its nest. Bald eagles sometimes mug them enroute, by chasing them down and forcing them to drop their catch.

Ospreys prefer to nest at the tops of trees such as this, at Bahia Honda State Park, Florida.

Ospreys like to nest at the tops of trees and poles. At first they’ll throw a few sticks together, then line them with smaller, finer material. They keep the same nest year-after-year, gradually building it bigger and bigger. By the time they reach old age, which is somewhere around 10 years old, they will have built quite a large dream home for their retirement.

They mate for life and produce one brood of two to four eggs per year. The male goes off and catches fish while his wife babysits. He brings his catch back to her. Then she does all the cooking and feeds the fish to her young. Apparently, ospreys haven’t graduated from the traditional nuclear family structure of the 1950s.

This fledgling osprey seems to be going out on a limb, at Bahia Honda State Park, Florida.

DDT made ospreys an endangered species 50 to 60 years ago, but they’ve made a big comeback since then. So the next time you’re near the ocean, or some other large body of water, keep your eye on the sky and you just might be lucky enough spot one of these unique birds of prey.

Lockdown Rules

Cranky Pants has submitted another unicorn beam to Chasing Unicorns. Thank you, CP. By the way, anyone can submit a unicorn beam, by emailing me at TippyGnu@gmx.com. If it seems like a unicorn to me, based upon my criteria, I’ll post it.

Cranky Pants lives in the hyperborean reaches of northern Alberta. This is a land that is far, far away, eternally covered in ice, and under about a thousand feet of snow, where the wind constantly blows a hundred kilometers per hour (not miles per hour, because this is Canada), and where the temperature never exceeds 0 degrees C (the C stands for Canadian).

You’d think they wouldn’t have to worry about the coronavirus in such a far-off land, but no it’s there also. And so are bumbling bureaucrats. And even there, one never knows what to fear most, the virus or the health department.

Cranky Pants is sharing with us the bizarre, confusing lockdown rules she and her fellow Albertians must follow. As if we weren’t familiar with them already. But living so far away in such a distant land, how could she know it’s the same where we’re at, as where she’s at?

These universal lockdown rules reflect the comedy/tragedy of humankind’s response to the coronavirus. Thank you, Cranky Pants, for the following submission:

Lockdown Rules

Well this is both funny/not funny and true.
The Rules:
1. Basically, you can’t leave the house for any reason, but if you have to, then you can.
2. Masks are useless, but maybe you have to wear one, it can save you, it is useless, but maybe it is mandatory as well.
3. Stores are closed, except those that are open.
4. You should not go to hospitals unless you have to go there. Same applies to doctors, you should only go there in case of emergency, provided you are not too sick.
5. This virus is deadly but still not too scary, except that sometimes it actually leads to a global disaster.
6. Gloves won’t help, but they can still help.
7. Everyone needs to stay HOME, but it’s important to GO OUT.
8. There is no shortage of groceries in the supermarket, but there are many things missing when you go there in the evening, but not in the morning. Sometimes.
9. The virus has no effect on children except those it affects.
10. Animals are not affected, but there is still a cat that tested positive in Belgium in February when no one had been tested, plus a few tigers here and there…
11. You will have many symptoms when you are sick, but you can also get sick without symptoms, have symptoms without being sick, or be contagious without having symptoms. Oh, my..
12. In order not to get sick, you have to eat well and exercise, but eat whatever you have on hand and it’s better not to go out, well, but no…
13. It’s better to get some fresh air, but you get looked at very wrong when you get some fresh air, and most importantly, you don’t go to parks or walk. But don’t sit down, except that you can do that now if you are old, but not for too long or if you are pregnant (but not too old).
14. You can’t go to retirement homes, but you have to take care of the elderly and bring food and medication.
15. If you are sick, you can’t go out, but you can go to the pharmacy.
16. You can get restaurant food delivered to the house, which may have been prepared by people who didn’t wear masks or gloves. But you have to have your groceries decontaminated outside for 3 hours. Pizza too?
17. Every disturbing article or disturbing interview starts with “I don’t want to trigger panic, but…”
18. You can’t see your older mother or grandmother, but you can take a taxi and meet an older taxi driver.
19. You can walk around with a friend but not with your family if they don’t live under the same roof.
20. You are safe if you maintain the appropriate social distance, but you can’t go out with friends or strangers at the safe social distance.
21. The virus remains active on different surfaces for two hours, no, four, no, six, no, we didn’t say hours, maybe days? But it takes a damp environment. Oh no, not necessarily.
22. The virus stays in the air – well no, or yes, maybe, especially in a closed room, in one hour a sick person can infect ten, so if it falls, all our children were already infected at school before it was closed. But remember, if you stay at the recommended social distance, however in certain circumstances you should maintain a greater distance, which, studies show, the virus can travel further, maybe.
23. We count the number of deaths but we don’t know how many people are infected as we have only tested so far those who were “almost dead” to find out if that’s what they will die of…
24. We have no treatment, except that there may be one that apparently is not dangerous unless you take too much (which is the case with all medications). Orange man bad.
25. We should stay locked up until the virus disappears, but it will only disappear if we achieve collective immunity, so when it circulates… but we must no longer be locked up for that?

Why I’m Against The Lockdowns That I’m For

Protests against lockdowns are springing up all across our country. I’m glad of this, because for awhile it looked like groupthink was ruling the day. But now we have a lively debate going, over the wisdom of locking human beans down, and stopping the economy.

I sympathize with the protesters, because I’m against these lockdowns, that I’m also for. Yes, I’m both against them and for them. Here are some reasons:

I’m against the lockdowns, because they may cause a great depression, with millions dying from the effects of poverty. But I’m for them because they may prevent millions of deaths from the coronavirus.

I’m against the lockdowns, because I value freedom and civil rights. But I’m for them, because I value my health.

I’m against them, because the experts on TV keep contradicting each other. But I’m for them, because maybe some of those experts know what they’re talking about.

I’m against them, because my wife hardly ever leaves the house anymore, and she’s driving me crazy. But I’m for them, because when she’s bored she waits on me hand and foot, and I like being pampered.

I’m against them, because hospitalizations are down. But I’m for them, because I want hospitalizations to stay down.

I’m against them, because by now there must be quite a lot of herd immunity out there. But I’m for them, because maybe the lockdowns have been so effective there’s hardly any herd immunity out there.

I’m against them, because we’ll never have adequate testing, so we may as well give up on that idea. But I’m for them, because we don’t have adequate testing yet.

I’m against them, because I’d rather not wait for a contact tracing system. Contact tracing might involve huge invasions of privacy, with Big Brother watching us as never before. But I’m for the lockdowns, because we need to have thorough contact tracing in place before we end lockdowns, with everyone who is anyone being tracked everywhere we go.

I’m against them, because I prefer the America we had before the coronavirus broke out. But I’m for them, because I’m strangely growing accustomed to living under martial law and dictatorship.

I hope the reasons I’ve provided have given you food for thought, and helped you to decide where to stand on the issue of lockdowns.

If you’re anti-lockdown and would like to join a protest rally near you, check out this website, and then get out there with your picket sign.

But if you’re pro-lockdown, you’re out of luck. All you can do is hunker down at home, rather than get out and join a counterprotest. For the pro-lockdown movement, by its very nature, cannot go outside and demonstrate.

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