In the year of the masks

do I want to know a secret?

Unity MaskIn some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.

One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.

The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.

Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.

In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.

One more

Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters:

For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.


I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”

I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.

Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…

At least I don’t have to deal with these folks.

Seeking “normalcy” in Lake George

Where are they?

lake georgeWhen my wife suggested we trek to Lake George Saturday morning, I asked why. She was looking for a sense of “normalcy.” We hadn’t gone anywhere in the last seven months, save for her fortnightly treks to visit her mother 80 minutes away. Our daughter had gone there a handful of times; I went twice.

After lunch, the three of us plus my daughter’s friend Tee set off on the hour-long journey up I-87, the Northway. We saw an automotive parade for TRUMP 2020 on I-90, not that far from our house, which we became inadvertently a part of. Apparently, there was a rally at some abandoned mall before or after our observation. This took place while the incumbent was at Walter Reed Hospital.

Lake George is a lovely place I’ve been going to for much of my life, even before I moved to Albany in 1979. It is charming and not overly “touristy.” I attended at least a couple of conferences there. While my daughter and Tee hung out by the water, my wife and I went walking. It was disconcerting.

I’ll exclude those people not wearing masks because they were eating or smoking cigarettes or alone on one of the large boats or under the age of five. I daresay that the number of people wearing a mask while they were around people outnumbered the maskless by only about 3 to 2. Tee and my daughter never took off their masks from the time wey left the car until we returned, so uncomfortable they were with the other tourists’ masklessness.


And it was crowded because it was a nice early autumn day, despite bouts of quick rainstorms. EVERYONE needed to get out of Dodge, it seemed, and they picked Lake George as their respite. My wife and I got away from the people for a brief time and saw a nifty partial rainbow across the lake. It was so interesting – short but wide – that a couple people stopped their cars in the middle of a traffic circle to jump out and take some photos.

It was a nice time, but less so because of other people’s behavior. “Normalcy” is difficult to come by when I see headlines such as this in the Boston Globe: “If he believes he doesn’t need a mask, good for him.” It’s because, after all the deaths and illnesses, some folks “still aren’t sure about masks.” And that made me feel unsafe, especially this past weekend.

It’ll be a while before I’ll be willing to venture from my cave again. I’m the very definition of underlying conditions. I do understand the Weekly Sift guy’s sense of Schadenfreude, even as IMPOTUS says he’s finally “learned so much.” I’m trying NOT to feel that way, I really am…

A flimsy surrogate; and yet…

faith and the Census

and yetWhen the singer/songwriter/actress Sara Bareilles was on some morning show recently, she was asked how she was faring in the era of COVID-19. She noted that while she was staying connected via ZOOM, et al., it wasn’t at all the same thing. Each substitute was a “flimsy surrogate” for the real thing.

This resonated with me greatly. I’ve discovered that there are actually MORE chances for hearing music, seeing productions, and interacting with performers. It’s actually a bit overwhelming, truth to tell. Broadway World alone has tons of video opportunities, more than I can avail myself of. Search YouTube for COVID music or coronavirus music and you’ll find a wealth of clever items. The OUTKAST parody Hey-Ya “Ro-Na is a current favorite.

But I miss hugging. I am told that I’m a very good hugger. How one measures that, I have no idea.

I miss going to the movies. Will there be movie theaters next year? Yeah, there are lots of films available on my TV, computer, and even phone. Nah, I’m NOT watching a movie on my phone.

Not the Lone Ranger

The problem with masks is that people don’t recognize me. I was at a Farmers Market and I said hello to one of my state legislators. They said, “Hello to you, whoever you are.” If I wanted to begin my life of crime, maybe now would be a good time.

And I don’t recognize others. At the one Black Lives Matter events my daughter allowed me to attend with her – it WAS Juneteenth – some nice young man brought us water. It wasn’t until he pulled down his mask that I recognized him as the son of great friends of mine; I’ve known him his whole life.

Ordering food is an adventure. Which one of the seven online websites should I order from? GrubHub or EatStreet or AllMenus or MealO or something else? There are places, fine sit-down restaurants where I’ve eaten, whose menus just don’t translate well to take-out. And yet: the sushi place I ordered from for my wife’s birthday was quite fine.

Having nothing to do with WGBH in Boston

The problem of ZOOM meetings there seems to be so many of them. And yet: the Olin family reunion – my mother-in-law’s people – wouldn’t have met at all without it. And they’ve gathered for over three-quarters of a century. While some of the regulars didn’t make it, others who had moved away were able to “attend.”

My choir meets every two or three weeks. On the one hand, we miss the singing. Getting details about the music we’re not performing is sad. And yet: one of the choir members suggested we share our joys and concerns. That’s something we’d do at the end of every rehearsal. The addition was profoundly meaningful.

I’ve had the chance to go to the Adult Education class, which I could rarely attend in the past because it conflicted with the choir. I’ve even gotten to facilitate it once, about my Martin Luther King references on the blog. And I’m doing another one on July 26 at 8:45 a.m. EDT about faith and the Census. (If you’re that much of a Census junkie, I’ll email/IM you the ZOOM link.)

My Tuesday morning Bible study group stopped meeting for the summer. And yet: the Thursday morning group, which I began attending, continues on. I’ve even led the discussion once and I’ll do it again next month.

The church service is actually on Facebook. We do communion with, as instructed, with whatever is available. That might mean Wheat Thins and shot glasses of Blueberry Peach Cobbler from our local cidery.

Advances in technology

The opportunity to go into my bank has been diminished. And yet: the ATM at my bank, which had dispensed only twenty-dollar bills since forever is now allowing customers to get tens and fives. So if I need $100, I could get 3 $20s, 2 $10s, and 4 $5s, or whatever combination I want.

I understand my former colleagues are now more productive working from home.

My wife is now enamored with Google Classroom, which she barely used five months ago.

There are some innovations, such as no-touch door openers.

So we continue to adapt.

FTC Disclaimer: I noted links to a couple of products/services positively, but I received no remuneration for doing so.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

a brief and minimal reduction of maximum personal freedom

Quackery: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 3.0 Unported License
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a noted German theologian and resister. “So despondent had been the German people after the defeat of World War I and the subsequent economic depression that the charismatic Hitler appeared to be the nation’s answer to prayer — at least to most Germans…

“Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions intensified — as did his opposition, which included the likes of theologian Karl Barth, pastor Martin Niemoller, and the young Bonhoeffer.” You should read the whole passage, as it is instructive. “On April 9, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged with six other resisters.”

Now his biographer, theologian Charles Marsh has brought these words to our attention. “You can apply them … as you see fit.”

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force…

“Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.”

A couple things I read recently came to mind. One was from a friend of mine IRL that she had posted on Facebook. It started: “From Yale Epidemiologist Jonathan Smith: As an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures.” Then 16 more paragraphs of rational thought about how to fight COVID-19.

He blinded them… with science!

Yet I wrote: “Yeah, science, blah blah blah. The audience who believe this already knows. And the ones who refuse to listen, you lost them at ‘Epidemiologist.'”

Opposing Social Distancing Isn’t About Freedom, Tim Wise wrote. It sure the heck isn’t about science either.

Scenario One: For the next six months, everyone masks in crowded public places such as stores, restaurants, and office buildings. It’s a minor irritant that no one enjoys, but it helps reduce infection, saves lives, and makes more people willing to go out and engage in commerce. This, in turn, puts us on a path to economic recovery, at the cost of just a brief and minimal reduction of maximum personal freedom.

Scenario Two: For the next six months, people are allowed to mask if they want to, or not, in crowded public places, and many — chanting freedom and liberty — choose not to. As a result, there is more infection, more illness, and more death of persons with underlying health issues (but who nonetheless have to do things like getting groceries and who engage with otherwise healthy people who may spread the virus to them).

And as a result of a much slower reduction in COVID cases, commercial activity returns more tentatively as many people remain afraid to venture out for much of anything beyond necessities. This, in turn, slows the recovery but maximizes the personal freedom of those opposed to masking (even as it reduces the true freedom of everyone else by forcing them to take greater risks).

Is there any doubt what the Gadsden Flag wavers and MAGA faithful would choose? Of course not.

Do unto others…

Tim Wise calls those people sociopaths. “What do we call those with such a cavalier attitude about the well-being of others? What is the word for persons who lack a seemingly functional conscience about the consequences of their actions?” While I’m not yet willing to slap that label onto these people. I will say they are, apparently intentionally, woefully ignorant.

The number of cases begin to rise worldwide as restrictions are lifted. But this isn’t just a function of pandemic exhaustion. There was an article, “I’ll do what I want”: Why the people ignoring social distancing orders just won’t listen back on March 24.

I’ll stick with Dietrich Bonhoeffer on stupidity as the root of the problem. Not just here and now, but crossing time and place. Or to quote the philosopher Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”