Republicans are dancing to the Pied Piper

Attention Republicans, or should I say lemmings: you are being misled. Right off the cliff, I mean.

I hate to break this to you, but you guys (and gals) are painfully easy to manipulate. All your opinion leaders have to do is play to your prejudices and you fall in line like enthusiastic sheep welcoming the glory of the slaughterhouse.

I am sure there are “woke” Republicans, in the sense that some of these sheep know what awaits them. I don’t think there are many of them. Most came out as Never Trumpers years ago and have been scorned by their own party. Others are lying low, like Jeb Bush, hoping for a day when all this madness is gone and they will be in vogue again.

Just as P.T. Barnum observed there’s a sucker born every minute, the rest of us “woke” people realize there’s at least one new Republican sheep anxious to bound toward the slaughterhouse born every minute too. Indeed, plenty of these sheep have bounded so hard they didn’t make it and fell over dead along the way. They were unmasked and unvaccinated, for the most part.

After all, their ultimate opinion leader, Donald Trump, told them the pandemic was largely fake news and flouted common sense rules to mitigate the spread of the disease. You guys ate it up because if there’s anything guaranteed to get you riled up, it’s “owning the libs” and appealing to your sense of aggrievement and self-righteousness.

The libs, by the way were, for the most part, busy limiting social contact, masking and getting vaccinations and boosters as soon as they could. Of course you wanted the opposite of that. By definition in your mind anything a liberal does must be wrong, so you had to head in the opposite direction. In the past though you might have ambled in that direction. Now you sprint in that direction.

Your opinion leaders don’t think and behave at all like you. Take Tucker Carlson. When was the last time you wore a bowtie? What about Sean Hannity? When was the last time you wore a suit and parted your hair in the middle? What about Donald Trump? How many of you got at least $100M seeder money from your father? How many of you self-reliant types had a big daddy to bail you out when you kept tripping over your own shoelaces? How many of you go years between going to church, as is typical of Donald Trump, who shows up maybe at an odd funeral? How many of you choose golf and country club dining over a NASCAR race, a shooting range and dinner at an Applebees? How many of you got vaccinated and boosted while Fox News tracks employees vaccination statuses and requires masks in many meetings? In short, aren’t your leaders full of hypocrisy? Why can’t you see their bullshit? The rest of us can.

It’s because they know how to pull your strings and as I said, it’s not hard. If I wanted to use you like grist in the mill I could do so as well; I’d just have to lose a sense of conscience, which for them is long gone. Arguably, Donald Trump never developed one. Worse, these conscienceless people’s habits have turned you into arguably horrible people.

Just five years ago, I knew of conservatives ago really didn’t care if people were gay and had no problem with gay marriage. It was live and let live for a lot of these people back then as many were libertarian in spirit. Much of their overt racism was gone too. Today, it’s all back, baby, because your opinion leaders like Donald Trump know these fears are easily rekindled.

And that’s what it’s all about: keeping you afraid. They know that our most powerful motivator is fear. It’s in their interest to keep you feeling afraid because when you feel afraid you vote for them. Your ability to believe ludicrous crap is apparently bottomless, such as the 2020 election was somehow “stolen” when there was virtually no evidence this was true, as attested by many judges who were appointed by Donald Trump.

And when they are in power, they are glad to pick your pocket. They do it indirectly with obscene tax cuts for the rich. But they also do it directly, like by channeling your donations to Trump’s PACs into his own pocket.

You are not just being used; you are being abused. You are being treated badly. You are like an abused wife certain it must be something she did that’s responsible for making her husband beat her. At root, they’ve recognized that you don’t have much self-esteem and they can use your faults against you and to profit them. And you are dying needlessly by the hundreds of thousands, mostly from covid-19, because you are under their spell. It must be the liberal’s fault that you got the disease. It all must be part of some massive conspiracy when in truth massive conspiracies are virtually impossible to pull off.

I don’t expect you to wake up and smell the coffee, as Ann Landers used to say. Most of you won’t make it to the end of this. The rest of us pity you and, yes, fear you too. Your opinion leaders have created tens of millions of loose cannons. All the rest of us can do is hope that when they go off we can avoid most of the shrapnel and that your exalted leaders take direct hits. Believe me they deserve your retribution.

Dodging covid-19

I’m now among a minority of Americans because I haven’t contracted covid-19. A recent Monmouth poll found that 52 percent of Americans polled say they have come down with covid-19.

I’ve never tested positive for covid-19 either. I suppose it’s possible I’ve been exposed but before getting on a cruise December 1st I passed a PCR test. That was the only PCR test I’ve taken. We have three Antigen test kits in the house. I suppose I could use one of these, but they are only good for helping figure out if you were recently exposed to the virus. I’m feeling fine so using the test kit is kind of pointless.

It’s becoming easier for me to unmask in indoor public spaces. Yesterday about a dozen of us age 55+ guys in our neighborhood went out for dinner. We were unmasked in the restaurant and all the staff was unmasked too. I felt safe in part because my wife volunteers one day a week at the local emergency room and there were zero covid patients while she was there, the first time this happened since the pandemic.

But it’s still out there. This was driven home to me today when I learned that my next door neighbor Jeff, an elderly widower probably around age 90, caught covid. We were wondering why there was an ambulance at his house and finally learned of his condition. After a long bought in the hospital he’s home but reportedly still not doing great. So far there has been no known fatalities from covid-19 in our 55+ community of eighty people or so.

It’s tempting to brag that we’ve escaped covid, but it’s too early for that. There’s some evidence we are moving from a pandemic to an endemic disease. Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease hardly means that we’re out of the woods, just that it’s becoming manageable. What’s going on today also happened after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. At some point people stopped caring; it became yesterday’s news. They just got on with life although and preferred to ignore the disease.

I’ll never know for sure, but I think the main reason my wife and me have been lucky so far is that we’re retired. It’s just the two of us and most days are spent at home. Still, I’ve been half expecting us to get it too. My wife also volunteers at the local survival center. Both it and the emergency room gig have pretty aggressive covid-19 masking and distancing protocols, but I half expected it would sneak into our household this way. It somehow got our neighbor Jeff too, probably via his son who’s a frequent visitor.

We’re both probably destined to get the disease at some point. I like to think though that somehow we will be the exception. It may take another year or two, but I’ll probably get it. I do expect that if I get it, the symptoms will be relatively mild. But I slipped to Medicare age this year. Seniors like me are more likely to get more severe cases, particularly if you have underlying conditions. My wife has more than a handful. I can count being overweight as a stroke against me. There’s no way to know in advance if we’ll remain the exceptions.

That’s because dodging covid-19 is all about playing the odds. Arguably, I’ve been playing the odds. We took two cruises, one at the start of the pandemic, and didn’t get anything. My wife’s volunteering has been playing the odds. My apparent reluctance to get to a normal body weight is playing the odds. But not having to run to a job every day and not having school aged children in the house definitely has been helping a whole lot.

The Washington Post article notes that 57 percent of Republicans report getting covid, while only 38 percent of Democrats got it. In this case, just me being a Democrat has improved the odds. It’s not too hard to figure this out. The Republican Party is rife with antivaxxers. If you are going to ignore science, you are much more likely to get the disease. While not religious, we were religious in believing in science. We got shots and boosters just as soon as we could, although getting the first shot was a huge hassle. We may be getting a bit complacent. We can now get a second booster but so far haven’t. Hopefully we’ll take care of that in the next week or so.

In general, our success to date probably comes from having a survivor’s mentality. My mother was a nurse. My father was an engineer. So both sides told us what we needed to do in these situations, which was listen to scientists and public health experts. We expected guidance to be off at times and improve as the disease was better understood.

In the beginning of the pandemic we were wiping down surfaces all the time. That was likely a waste of time and money. Learning it was a respiratory disease helped a lot, which meant that masking was useful. Still, the masking we got was really not up to the task. We needed N95 and KN95 masks that were largely unavailable. We needed the government to step up and make billions of these masks and give them out for free. It wasn’t until February 2022 that I could get a free N95 mask at our local CVS.

Since then, I generally use an N95 mask in public, like I did today in the grocery store. Most of the people there were masked, but most were not using N95 or KN95 masks. I suspect Massachusetts (where I live) is the exception with so much masking. I expect there is a lot less mask wearing in other states.

We’re cautiously reengaging in life again. We sat unmasked while we watched the movie Dog recently, our first move in a theater since the pandemic. (The theater was mostly empty, which helped.) We were unmasked at a local Chinese restaurant too, even before our meal was served. Mostly I’ll wear my N95 mask in public. I’m used to it now and it’s no big deal. If you do anything regularly, it ceases to feel like much of a nuisance.

I’m hoping this approach will let us to keep defying the odds. It’s much easier to give in to your emotions, but if you are primarily left-brained like us, it’s not hard to take logical precautions and perhaps possible to never get covid-19.

What do these protest truckers really want?

I got to say I didn’t see this one coming, but really no one did. For three weekends truckers have tied up traffic in downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, protesting a requirement that only truckers vaccinated against covid-19 will be allowed to transport goods over its border and into the United States.

It’s something about freedom, of course. In the minds of these protestors, wearing masks is anti-freedom. For the rest of us, their freedom can affect our freedom to keep from acquiring covid-19, so, not to put too fine a point on it, screw ‘em, but politely, of course.

So far the Canadian government has admirably tried to deescalate the situation, hoping that if protestors get to vent their spleen they’ll go back to being generally law abiding folk. If police use too heavy a hand, it tends to be counterproductive. If I were in charge there, I’d probably be doing the same thing.

These truckers’ tactics have spread to other places in Canada and elsewhere. Most notably, trucks occupied the Ambassador Bridge that spans Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, causing economic losses of about $300M a day. This form of protest seems to be catching on in places like New Zealand and Paris, France. It will likely happen soon here in the United States too. There are likely many “patriots” willing to hold our infrastructure hostage to get what they want.

In the case of the Canadian truck protestors, they want Prime Minister Trudeau to resign and new elections, just five months after voters gave the Liberal Party 155 seats in parliament to 119 for the conservative party and 32 for the Bloc Québécois Party in Quebec. The Liberal Party won a clear but bare majority of the seats (50.6%) to the Conservative Party’s 39%.

These protestors are aided by GoFundMe campaigns with money coming principally from the United States. Prominent politicians here in the USA support their actions including Donald Trump and Senator Rand Paul (KY). No doubt, like the Republican National Committee’s position on January 6, it’s legitimate political discourse for the truckers to do these things. It’s certainly more legitimate than January 6, in that at least so far no one has died.

If you are looking for a civil war, something like this is the next step. I’ve been wondering what it would be, but the left hook that it occurred in Canada surprised all of us. These actions though demonstrate that anti-vaxxers are hardly an America-only phenomenon. That’s not too surprising.

What was actually required to get the pandemic under control was much more than many people were emotionally capable of dealing with. Despite what some of these protestors think, no one likes wearing masks and everyone would prefer to inhabit the world before the pandemic compared to what we have now.

The anti-vax community has had a few things going for them so far. Principally, they could be loud and obnoxious and generally get away with it, because their protests fell under the umbrella of protected speech. Shutting down infrastructure and blockading bridges though moves the needle into the plainly unlawful arena.

One could argue it’s been done before, so what’s the big deal. Nonviolent protests were a hallmark of the 1960s, and they sometimes made it difficult or impossible for certain government functions to happen. Sometimes police acted benignly, but mostly they were all about bashing heads in the name of keeping order. That’s a little harder to do with anti-vaxxers and truckers, who we can assume are disproportionately locked and loaded.

Are these protests about changing opinions? I don’t think so. It’s harder to imagine more entrenched political positions than we already have. Numerous protests like this that damage the economy, shut down auto plants and cause unemployment are unlikely to aid protestors. I think it’s mostly about feeling impotent about changing things and wanting to get their way now.

Here in the United States, that’s a curious approach, as the demographics favor Republicans in the midterms. A damaged economy and large scale protests are more likely to have the opposite effect. Nixon ran for reelection on a “silent majority” strategy. Democrats already have about two-thirds of voters agreeing with them generally on pandemic policies. It would be easy to campaign on these protests, potentially leading to a disastrous election in November for Republicans.

One hope is that with the Omicron wave abating much of the problem becomes moot. Protestors seem to assume that liberals want to make people miserable for as long as possible. Covid-19 vaccinations not only save lives and reduces pandemic-related illnesses, but if we reach a critical mass of vaccinated and recovered people, the pandemic ends. Not getting vaccinated prolongs the pandemic. In any event, Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks it’s likely that we’re reaching an endemic stage of the disease, where it is common, but reasonably manageable. In this phase it is likely that masking will be reduced or go away, or be limited to regions where there are new flare ups. It’s already starting, perhaps prematurely, in many states.

It is likelier though that these protestors have deeper grievances that the pandemic allows them to express. Covid vaccinations become discussions on the boundaries of freedom, and they feel they don’t have enough of it. In general, they don’t appear to be amenable to the idea of majority rule when they are in the minority.

The pandemic though demonstrates the increasing encroachment of the needs of society. There are so many more of us humans than there used to be. It’s harder to share space if you don’t feel you have enough of it. It may be that they feel physically and psychologically closer to their neighbors than they would like, and that’s the underlying cause of their animus. The need for laws increases as a community’s density grows.

It’s likelier that these protestors are actually pining for a time that really never was when they weren’t anxious all the time. We can measure it by the extent of the chaos and unlawfulness they unleash.

Religion likely killed Jerry

Jerry (not his real name) is dead. Jerry, age about seventy, died recently of covid-19. Jerry could have been vaccinated but chose not to be.

Jerry is also the first person I know personally to die needlessly of covid-19. With 800,000 deaths you would think I would know some others, and perhaps I do. I either don’t know that they died, or that they died of covid-19. In general though, like most people, I tend to associate with others who share my beliefs. I can’t think of one of my friends who doesn’t believe in the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines.

As Jerry is a friend of a friend, I only know about Jerry’s method of demise through my friend. I couldn’t call him a friend as I only met him a few times. But unquestionably he was a decent man, giving by nature and friendly. He had an odd couple relationship with my friend, who’s a flaming liberal. They worked together for many years for a Beltway bandit and stayed friends after she left the company and he retired.

They took many vacations together. My friend has been posting pictures of them from many vacations from exotic locations like Zanzibar and Guatemala. You wanted to be a friend of Jerry’s. He was a reliable guy with a big smile and a hearty handshake.

But after retirement Jerry had plenty of time. Ex-military, he was Christian by inclination. He found himself going one of these mega-churches in the Northern Virginia suburbs overrun with evangelicals and became one himself.

Along the way he also found, voted for and pushed the candidacy of Donald Trump, perhaps America’s most prominent sinner. Trump was a sore spot between my friend and him, but they managed to remain friends in spite of it. I got the feeling they saw less of each other. Anyhow, she moved to Florida and the distance between them made seeing each other a lot more problematic.

Like many of us, Jerry got sucked into an information bubble. He distrusted pretty much any media except those that told him what he wanted to hear. It appears that he grew to believe that covid-19 wasn’t real, but definitely that getting vaccinated for it was against his principles, principles repeated endlessly in his newsfeeds and among his friends. He was also conspiracy minded and became a believer in QAnon, a belief shared by some members of his family. His faith gave him overwhelming confidence that God would protect him. By being a model of that faith and his beliefs, he was confident that he was protected.

I don’t know too much about his death other than he wasn’t vaccinated and covid-19 killed him. Of course, there would have been no guarantee that had he been vaccinated covid would not have killed him, but it would have stacked the odds greatly in his favor. All we can say is that he is dead and if there is a heaven he’s doubtless there right now. St. Peter was probably surprised by his early arrival.

But his death hardly brought peace to his family. He has a pro-Trump daughter, and she is trying to push out the other daughter who stopped talking to Jerry because of his politics. His pro-Trump sister is not talking to anyone. It doesn’t sound like Jerry’s convictions are going to help his family heal from his passing and I suspect his funeral will be lightly attended.

It’s hard to say what flipped Jerry into an anti-vaxxer. But it’s not hard to see contributing factors. Ex-military people are largely conservative types. Evangelicals have extreme faith in God and a predisposition toward absolute certainty that their faith seems to require as a condition of membership. They take comfort in communing largely with each other, which tends to reinforce their shared beliefs. You don’t have to do much research on the internet to find out that there is a huge overlap between conservatives, evangelicals and QAnon supporters. If you are in one of these groups, you’ll probably find yourself in the others too.

If you ask me, Jerry’s death was aided and abetted by his evangelical church. While a few faiths like Unitarian Universalism open minds, most tend to shut them and bar the doors to rational thought. No wonder then that about thirty percent of American are now Nones, i.e. don’t affiliate with any religion. This percentage is going to only increase until we are a majority sectarian nation, as is most of Europe. Dogmatic, close-minded but otherwise really nice people like Jerry who die needlessly from a treatable disease are accelerating the trend.

Jerry did lead an authentic life and stayed true to his principles and faith. But I think it’s fair to say that they also killed him.

Up your game with an N95 mask

So I’ve taken to wearing an N95 mask. I don’t use it all the time, obviously, but I do when I’m out (or rather indoors) with the rabble. I wore it yesterday in the pet food store and also at the Costco. At the latter, I surreally saw quite a number of unmasked patrons. I’m guessing the Town of West Springfield (Massachusetts) isn’t requiring indoor masking, which is crazy.

I also picked up Chinese food the other day in nearby Williamsburg (Massachusetts). I of course was wearing my N95 mask but one of the patrons came in and picked up his order without having any mask on. I’m pretty sure it’s required in Williamsburg, so I suspect this man was one of these free-range “I don’t care if I get it and infect you too” types. You can bet I was really glad I had a N95 mask on then.

Other types of masks reduce the likelihood that you will get covid-19 but are much more about helping ensure you don’t pass it on to others. Covid-19 is typically asymptomatic for days, which is why it’s so hard to stop its spread. Thoughtless boobs though clearly don’t give a damn. Or maybe they are fully vaccinated and figure this means that can’t get it. Vaccinations and boosters definitely lower the odds, but they are designed to keep you out of the hospital, not from getting the disease.

Perhaps you read this story on Reddit, which has been widely shared. Basically, a doctor has called it quits after being assaulted by a family of anti-vaxxers, shortly after informing the family that the father had passed away. In the case of this story on Reddit, the family was deeply upset that the doctor wouldn’t save the father by injecting Ivermectin into him and giving him massive doses of Vitamin C.

I confess I was wondering if this was made up, but I doubt it. Health care workers are quitting in droves due to harassment like this, not to mention the stress, long hours and fatigue of taking care of those down with covid-19. The vast majority of these people can accurately be describe as covidiots, i.e. those who aren’t vaccinated from it but easily could have been. These covidiots are making life very difficult for the rest of us. For example, there are all these people that need theoretically “elective” surgery for issues like heart valve bypasses but can’t schedule them because hospitals are overwhelmed with covidiots. A lot of these people will die, not of covid, but because they can’t get the timely treatment then need.

This Omicron wave looks like it will be short but very intense. Covid-19 is getting harder to avoid. An N95 or KN95 mask, which can actually block the virus in most cases, is one of the few tools left. I had given away to a local hospital my one N95 mask at the start of the pandemic because our local hospitals were looking for donations. Other than wearing a N95 or KN95 mask, there’s not much certain about avoiding it other than staying isolated. We excel at that, which will mean just me and the missus for Christmas this year.

Given the hassle of coping with it, it’s understandable why so many of us are at wits end. Our case as a retired couple makes things pretty simple. We’re not juggling school aged children. But just throwing up your hands is stupid. The United States has over 800,000 official covid-19 deaths and reaching a million deaths is a virtual certainty. The rational person uses every tool at their disposal and is careful to judge acceptable risks.

It was acceptable for me to go on a cruise recently. The odds of acquiring the disease were not zero, but acceptable. Holland America’s ships are comparatively small, the passengers tend to be age 60+, and the testing to get on the ship was rigorous. That plus all the indoor masking and shore excursions where you were masked and in a bubble made it acceptable. I would have avoided booking cruises on large cruise ships. Perhaps you read about large outbreaks on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas because these ships are enormous and the cruisers younger.

As this pandemic keeps rolling on, I’m also developing a sense of when to chance the odds and when not to. This makes living with the pandemic easier. When we booked the cruise in early September, I judged that booster shots would probably be available and that a wave was likely to crest on or after Christmas. I bet that cases would be manageable in early December when we were to cruise. But I booked with cruise insurance just in case I was wrong.

By the time we were back in port, it was clear the Omicron wave was going to hit us shortly. That’s when I judged the odds were too high again and went to my next line of defense: the N95 mask. Wearing the mask is not that uncomfortable, it’s just harder to put on and tighter than I am used to. As it is much snugger though, it also feels safer.

I’ll let health officials judge the odds because they will be much better at it than I will be. Infection and hospitalization rates will tell me what I want to know. That the Omicron wave is likely to be sharp but brief also suggests the pandemic is winding down. More of us have been vaccinated or acquired some immunity from being infected. The virus is running out of new hosts. It is likely that toward late 2022 that it will move from pandemic to endemic, allowing life to return to some semblance of normal with periodic minor spikes.

The new best practice is to wear an N95 or KN95 mask when indoors with the public. These masks are not too hard to acquire now either. It’s time to up your game, if you haven’t already.

2021 cruising report

So we’re out here in what is still known by some as the West Indies. More specifically, we’re in the leeward islands of the West Indies, one of the few places in the Caribbean we haven’t hit before on a cruise ship. This is our fourth consecutive trip with Holland America, but our first cruise since cruising restarted and pandemic protocols were implemented. Is it worth the hassle to get aboard this cruise? Are we likely to get covid-19? How have things changed since those pre-pandemic cruises?

In a way, we’ve been on a pandemic cruise before, having taken a JoCo theme cruise on Holland America in March 2020. We had our temperature checked before we were let onto that ship, as covid-19 was just becoming a thing then. We took that cruise despite many good meaning people warning us not to.

It turned out okay with no cases on our ship. We had invested about $6,000 in that cruise and it was hard to flush that money down the drain. In the pandemic era though we bought cruise insurance which we didn’t need. Or maybe we will need it. One rumor going around the MS Rotterdam (our cruise ship) is that if we get Omicron covid-19 cases, we could be detained for up to fourteen days before being off boarded in Fort Lauderdale.

Needless to say, that’s not on our plans. I hope cruise insurance will cover that, but more importantly we have two cats at home and no guarantee our cat/house sitter could stay an extra two weeks in this event. Also, my wife will run out of medications long before the two weeks would be up.

But I can sense it’s a needless worry. Everyone on board presented vaccination certifications to get on the gangway. We also presented recent PCR or antigen tests. Moreover, since this is Holland America, this is basically a cruise ship full of old farts like us. Seniors are a disproportionately vaccinated group. Then there are all these covid-19 protocols on board. With a few exceptions like meal times, you are masked unless outdoors, in your stateroom, or eating. And you are constantly washing hands. The ship has hand washing stations going into the buffet on the Lido deck. You mostly travel only on Holland America excursions and are masked on those too.

Is this too much hassle though to cruise? That’s an individual judgment, but it isn’t for me. Most of the time I am inured to the masking requirements. I don’t need the masks I brought. Holland America provided a number of super comfortable masks for free, masks that will follow me home and probably become my everyday masks. It’s certainly possible that a case or two of covid-19 could develop. But if there is any place on the planet where herd immunity has been achieved, it’s probably on our cruise ship. We’ve pretty much all had booster shots too. That and all the sanitation suggests to me we’d be more likely to get covid-19 from wandering masked inside the local Big Y grocery store than here on this ship.

Other cruise lines though may not be as anal about covid-19 as Holland America, but probably are. Some like Carnival cater to a younger and arguably wilder crowd. Some of these cruise lines have reputations for being wild party ships, where you can find overly intoxicated drunks passed out in the hallways. These sorts probably aren’t beyond ginning up some fake credentials to get on board a cruise ship. So if you have to take a cruise, you may be better with one that caters to oldsters, like Holland America.

Holland America’s Rotterdam, which we are on, is its newest ship. It’s still being broken in, as it had its first paying passengers in October. Walking the promenade, you can still smell the newly varnished wooden rails. Having sailed the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Oosterdam and Westerdam, it’s interesting to observe what has changed. In general, you get pretty much the same experience. For Holland America, the Rotterdam is a large ship, but not nearly the behemoths in the Royal Caribbean fleet. We’ve come to appreciate smaller ships and actually prefer them. We also appreciate an older set of passengers.

You do miss a few things on Holland America, compared to other cruise lines. Norwegian, while having a reputation as a party ship, has fabulous shows. Holland America though has a fabulous variety of musical venues: a blues club, a rock and roll club and a number of piano bars. The quality of the performers is top notch. We are a bit highbrow and prefer Lincoln Center Stage, where a classical quartet performs three 45-minute shows a day, with one being a repeat of an afternoon performance. It doesn’t matter which venue you choose. You can easily move from one venue to the other; they are all quite excellent.

The Rotterdam also has a new stage with all the latest high technology including wall to wall LED displays, making you feel like you are looking at billboards in Times Square. We saw an amazing dance performance on the Main Stage that used all these lights quite effectively. Their main stage is probably state of the art for the cruise industry at the moment. Just don’t expect Broadway musicals or synchronized bungees jumpers falling from the ceilings like we saw twelve years ago on Norwegian.

All cruise lines specialize in picking your pockets, and Holland America has gotten more creative at it since the pandemic. It used to be at dinner you would get a basket of rolls to share with your fellow table mates. Now they give you one. All the menus offer premium choices for extra money, even in main dining. For $75 you can order an enormous steak and $3.95 gets you fresh squeezed orange juice at breakfast. There is still silly towel art on your bed at night, but chocolates on your bed at night are problematic. There is also a new club, Club Orange, which is exclusive which means if you want a private dining area, you got to pay up, part of the “ship within a ship” concept a lot of cruise lines are doing.

Holland America has always served normal portions, unlike the other cruise lines where you can easily pack 4000 calories into a meal. It didn’t matter though because the quality of the food was always outstanding. Gala night though disappointed. The filet mignon was excellent, but there was no baked potato and the meat could not have been more than four ounces. So you had this enormous plate with a tiny steak and a few tiny vegetables. The Lido deck is always available of course, but even there the buffet seemed smaller than on previous cruises. Moreover, there were hours like 9:30 PM when it was completely shut down.

It’s hard to complain too much though. It’s a pleasure to go cruising again, even with a mask on much of the time. It’s a pleasure to travel and a pleasure not to be stuck at home. It’s a pleasure to converse with strangers over shared meals and actually socialize, something this introvert generally avoids.

Shore excursions are a bit chancy. We’re not stopping in Guadeloupe, which had recent riots caused by crowds of anti-vaxxers. Even here in today’s port of call, St. Martin, the French side was off limits. There was civil unrest there too, this one due to lack of work for younger people. I have a feeling there will be more of this in other destinations before we berth back in Fort Lauderdale in eight days.

Life may be surreally nice on our cruise ship, but it’s hardly representative of most of the world right now.

Traveling in the age of covid (part two)

Time to get this vacation thing on! But boy, it’s sure a hassle. We’re on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale today and getting on the ship is like running a marathon. It’s also become more expensive. It’s hard to quantify the additional expense as certain things, like WiFi, are now part of the fare. In addition, in the age of covid-19, it’s stupid to not add travel insurance so there’s that, for both the cruise and our flights.

Shore excursion prices look higher too, but there seems little point in booking shore excursions when the itinerary can change. It changed about a week ago, so we’re just going to wait until we get onboard the ship and listen to the lectures before booking shore excursions … and hope they aren’t sold out.

But perhaps the most annoying thing of all is meeting the covid-19 testing requirements. You have to present a negative PCR or Antigen test and it can’t be more than 48 hours old, plus the test must be observed. This meant we had to get a test on Monday and we had to hope we’d get test results back before our cruise departed. CVS Pharmacy says it takes 24-48 hours for test results, but there is no guarantee. My wife got her results back in under a day. We were tested at the same time, so why didn’t I get mine? Was there a snafu?

Before scarfing down a dinner at a Bradley International brew pub last night, I called CVS. I eventually learned that my results simply weren’t available yet. I thought maybe they got lost. They arrived sometime in the middle of the night while we slept peacefully at a Hyatt hotel here. Of course, we both tested negative.

So we’ll be on board our ship. Our hotel was strategically chosen because they offer free shuttles to and from the airport and the cruise port, plus a complementary breakfast. Cruising is still struggling to come back here. It was made harder by Governor Ron DeSantis trying to impose on cruise lines a requirement that they take unvaccinated passengers. It was a pointless exercise designed to prove his street creds among Republicans, because it’s the federal government sets these requirements. Plus cruise lines don’t have to dock in Florida, and having cruises overwhelmed with covid-19 cases taints their brands. Using Florida is just more convenient for them. Until recently, if you wanted a Caribbean cruise you flew to some place like the Bahamas, assuming they would let you in.

The flight to Fort Lauderdale last night was interesting. It was my first time on a plane since the pandemic. It’s always a bit chancy to take an evening flight the day before a cruise, and as we approach winter, snow delays were a possibility. But weirdly all flights out of Bradley International were on time and the flight was extra smooth. Everyone wore masks, but on both the plane and in the terminal I noticed dissenters who think that wearing a mask but not putting it over your nose counts. It doesn’t. I wish police would arrest these scofflaws. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them.

While wearing masks on a flight is a new thing, I was glad for it. In addition to reducing the likelihood of acquiring or passing on covid-19, they reduce the likelihood of acquiring all sorts of sicknesses. The lady next to me was suffering from some sort of cold. Wearing her mask might keep me from getting whatever she got. So I’m hoping that one result of this is that when the pandemic is over that the masking requirements in airplanes and terminals remains. It’s a sensible precaution and really no bother at all.

More masking is happening in Florida than I expected. People wore masks in the terminal, and outside of it. Here in our hotel people are mostly masked. This could be because Fort Lauderdale is a relatively blue part of Florida. Or it could be that the Delta variant, which knocked Florida for a loop, knocked some sense into a lot of the people here. Curiously Florida now has one of the lowest covid-19 infection rates in the country. This is likely because Delta tore through the state. One effect of all those deaths and hospitalizations is to make the virus harder to transmit.

But we’re ready. With a fresh booster shot coursing through our veins and masks up the wazoo, we’re ready to cruise. Some masking will be needed on the ship, but it will be minimally invasive. The West Indies awaits.

Stay calm and stop doing stupid stuff

Was my last post too alarming? I actually hope it was. But I’m hardly alone thinking the end is nigh for democracy in our country. Thanks to gerrymandering, the number of competitive House districts is now nearly nonexistent. An institute that monitors the health of democracies listed the United States as a backsliding democracy. It’s hard to ignore such blatant signs, as if virtually the whole Republican Party marching in step with Donald Trump was somehow not enough evidence.

At least I can say that the United States is part of a larger trend wherein people decide to trade in messy self-governance for autocrats. We’re hardly the only country with antivaxxers either, as recent demonstrations in Europe show.

But perhaps our institutions are stronger than they appear to be and we’ll weather this somehow. Perhaps at least the Senate will remain in Democratic Party hands after the 2022 election. Perhaps the combination of the so-called Build Back Better bill and the recently enacted American Recovery Act will tame inflation and improve things for ordinary people sufficient so that voters will reward Democratic candidates next year in numbers sufficient to overwhelm voter suppression efforts. Giving in to despair is a pretty good way to ensure the outcome you don’t like.

Meanwhile, I can at least stop doing the stupid stuff. Emotions are more powerful than reason. It’s something Republicans have figured out decades ago and have hammered home to great success. But sometimes it can be counterproductive, such as if it makes you virulently antivax.

I too am sick of living life behind a mask, but not stupid enough to go around unmasked in potentially dangerous situations. So I’m likely to still be around if the Apocalypse happens. It’s unlikely many of these antivaxxers will be. In the interim I can hope that maybe sufficient numbers of us same people will wrest control of our politics again. It’s lately led me into dark places like suggesting we encourage antivaxxers.

There is good news out there, if you look for it. Antivaxxers are a virulent minority. Most of the rest of us are sensible enough to get vaccinated. A couple of weeks ago I got a booster shot. I got Moderna shots, but for a booster I chose Pfizer. I read that Moderna recipients might get a slightly higher boost from a different messenger RNA type shot.

This vaccination business is a long slog, but it’s helping reduce covid-19’s mortality rate. Bloomberg has been tracking this stuff. Worldwide, 7.73 billion vaccine doses have been administered. 451 million doses have been administered in the United States. 1.45 million doses were administered just last week. Now anyone who had a shot more than six months ago can get a booster. In addition, children as young as five can now get a vaccine. About sixty percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and 10.6 million of us have gotten a booster vaccine dose too. All this is very encouraging and suggests that we’re beating this thing.

All this happened of course during a period of major civil unrest and protest. Americans don’t like to be told what to do, but most of us understand vaccination is both in our self-interest and in the national interest. Most of the hesitant will reluctantly get vaccinated if life becomes too difficult for them otherwise.

By President Biden pushing mandatory vaccinations where possible he is also slowly turning the pandemic into an endemic disease. We’re likely to get at least one more wave this winter, as one is underway in much of Europe. But the disease is becoming less lethal simply because more of us are vaccinated. With my latest booster shot, there is probably a better than even chance that even if exposed to the virus, I won’t develop any symptoms. If I do it’s very unlikely I will require hospitalization and with no other chronic health conditions (unlike Colin Powell), it’s extremely unlikely to kill me.

This was my thinking a couple of months ago when we booked a cruise in the midst of a summer spike. I anticipated a booster, but also likely falling infections by the time we took our cruise which starts in eight days. Cases will likely be on the rise again by then, but by being on a cruise where everyone is vaccinated and tested, and who wear masks in most public spaces on the cruise, and by our likelihood to ward off any infection being pretty high due to the booster, it’s more than reasonably safe, much safer than our last cruise at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Most of the time we will use cloth or paper masks, but we’ll also carry an N95 mask for use when we are in crowds in airports and in Florida. I can still sit on the promenade deck unmasked, enjoy the open oceans and read in a deck chair. I can also do this on our balcony. And I can enjoy the company of amiable strangers over meals with little likelihood of infection. It’s not a zero risk vacation, but by remaining with a tested crowd and donning masks when needed, I can enjoy life with people again, at least for the duration of the cruise.

Antivaxxers have repeatedly ignored government recommendations at the cost of many lives. They did this under the illusion they were exercising freedom, when it’s impossible to be free if you are dead. The State of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. By ignoring the government and the medical establishing, for antivaxxers it’s increasingly live free and die. For me and most of the rest of us, it’s live with some reasonable constraints on our freedom and you can be reasonably free to enjoy life and not die.

Sensible people realize that medical science is imperfect. Novel viruses like this coronavirus variant take a while to be understood and for sensible mitigation strategies to be figured out. You simply do the best you can with the best information out there, which will come from people who do this as a profession. Follow their guidance as the pandemic evolves. Don’t do the stupid stuff. Listen to your head, not your heart when it comes to something as fundamental as staying alive.

If you are sane like me, it’s a completely reasonable and sane way to get through this and to be around for what comes next.

It’s time for Democrats to encourage Republicans to be anti-vaxxers

I’ve reluctantly concluded that it’s in our national interest to encourage Republicans not to get vaccinated. Really, those of us who care about a true representative democracy and civil rights for all should be giving gobs of money to Facebook and right wing sites to make sure they keep reinforcing anti-vax messages.

It’s cruel, it’s crazy but it’s also what Republican “leaders” have been doing to their own supporters since the covid-19 outbreak began. They judged the cost the cost of killing off so many of their supporters justified the larger goal: to wrest political control and to ensure a future Fascist States of America. And true to form, the sheeple that form the basis of their party followed along, dying disproportionately, needlessly and pointlessly of covid-19.

Yes, this left a lot of grieving family members and orphans. My new suggestion for us Democrats to encourage them would leave more of the same. But desperate times call for desperate measures. If working with Republican “leadership” we can kill off enough of their voters, then maybe our coming democracy crisis can be averted.

Implicit in the idea of democracy is that the voters are well informed. It’s clear that Republican voters are not as they are largely only getting one perspective. The switches in their minds that allows critical thinking has been turned off, and appears to be permanently turned off. Most of these Republicans who get covid-19 and survive it don’t seem to regret their foolish behavior. It’s clear they have no problem at all passing on this disease in the name of “freedom”, and are highly offended at the mere idea of masking up in public places. They are already public health menaces. They are already threatening the lives of the rest of us. And they’ve been at it for nearly two years now.

Democrats have a basic humanitarian instinct built in. That’s true with me. Of course I hoped Republicans would avail themselves of highly effective vaccines for covid-19 that were available for free. I hate to see anyone suffer because I’m not a sadist, and that includes those whose political views I find repugnant.

For Republicans though, sadism is the whole point. Freedom equals sadism. Gaining disproportionate political power is justified by all means necessary, legal, illegal or immoral. “Owning the libs” is the oxygen that seems to keep them alive. They can’t wait to have a fascist state. Many of them are looking forward to civil war and looking forward to hanging a lot of people like me at the earliest opportunity that their future fascist state allows.

Given these indisputable facts, maybe by me and people like me simply encouraging their own proclivities to kill their own kind by promoting counterproductive disease management policies is something of a kindness. It’s a kindness to me, as I have some hope of surviving their obvious hopes of genocide. If there has to be genocide, let them do it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right now a global climate change summit is wrapping up in Glasgow, Scotland. With a Democratic administration, we are making substantial commitments to address our disproportionate share of carbon and methane emissions. It’s clear though that a future Republican administration, much like the unlamented Trump Administration, would simply ignore the issue, if not fan its fames. The effects of the climate crisis are crystal clear. Republicans in power would do everything possible to make it worse.

So it’s imperative that we kill a lot of Republican voters prior to the 2022 and 2024 elections. The easiest and most benign way to do so is simply to encourage them to double down on their own stupidity. Let’s taunt them even. “So many of you so-called Republicans are secretly getting the covid shot! You are hypocrites! You should not allow any of your neighbors to get anywhere near a CVS Pharmacy. You should demand the local CVS and Walgreens withdraw all covid-19 vaccinate shots, and the same is true with your hospitals and physicians offices! It should not happen. Form militias to make sure it can’t happen!” It’s likely this would play right into their playbook, and their “leadership” would approve. To the extent possible, we want to clear the voting rolls of these people, which is possible if they die painful deaths from a wholly preventable disease. Clearly this will help them feel as if they are owning the libs … any of them who are left anyhow.

All this feels deeply wrong to me, and goes against all my humanitarian principles. But it seems to be necessary and this is the most benign way possible to do it: by simply reinforcing their own prejudices.

So I guess make it so.

Traveling in the age of covid

We’re leaving New York City after three days of playing tourist. It’s my first trip away from home since the pandemic began.

It’s been interesting to see how much has changed for tourists in the age of covid, which turns out to be quite a lot. In NYC there are definitely privileges associated with being vaccinated. For one, we could get in to see two Broadway shows. Our vaccination cards and IDs were checked at the door, but even so we could not take off our masks during the performance. If you were eating or drinking food from the concessions, you could briefly unmask, but that was the only exception.

Amtrak requires you to self certify that you are vaccinated or have a recent negative covid-19 test, but doesn’t check your credentials. You wear your mask on the train, except when eating or drinking. Their cars are pretty big so it’s likely it wouldn’t be a problem if you were unmasked, but better safe than sorry. The penalty for not wearing a mask could be permanent disbarment from Amtrak.

You end up wearing a mask most of the time because most of the time you are indoors. There are a few exceptions when indoors. It’s pointless inside your hotel room. We had breakfast at our hotel and it was not possible when eating, but to get into the restaurant you had to show proof of vaccination and show an ID. Most people kept their mask on in the restaurant except while eating.

When outdoors, most people were unmasked. Those who were masked probably just didn’t want to bother temporarily unmasking. It’s not pleasant to spend most of your day breathing your warm air, but you do get used to it. The only real problem if that masks can get wet from your own breath after a while. I discovered a cloth mask is preferred, as a paper one I bought failed when looping it over my ears.

How safe is all this in the delta age? It’s hard to say. It’s unlikely I have acquired an infection, but for all I know I might test positive. I just don’t have any symptoms. I’m probably fine despite being in close quarters with other humans for hours at a time.

Without a N95 mask, masks won’t prevent me from getting covid, although they can lessen the odds. Their purpose is to reduce the risk that if I have the virus that I will pass it on to others. It’s basically common courtesy; wearing a mask effectively says that I care to take proactive steps to inadvertently pass it on to you. Not wearing a mask effectively says the opposite: I don’t care enough about you to bother to inconvenience myself by wearing one. No wonder that those of us who are vaccinated by 2:1 majorities are for requiring mask mandates for everyone.

So the vaccine can’t prevent exposure to the virus or ensure you don’t get the disease. If most everyone masks, it reduces greatly the odds of getting infected. But it does mean that if you are exposed to the virus, you may test positive but have no symptoms. The main point of the vaccine is to lessen the likelihood of hospitalization and death. That’s how vaccines work. So I expect that I will get covid-19 at some point, or at least test positive for it. If I’m lucky, I’ll never develop symptoms. If I get it, I will almost certainly not die from it and avoid hospitalization. And if most of us wear masks in public we can markedly reduce the level of infections and deaths.

I am noticing some new trends. At least in New York, restaurants are going menu-less: you need a smartphone to see the menu. You scan a QR code and follow the link to the menu. This saves a lot of paper, obviously, but it also allows restaurants to save money printing menus and to dynamically change prices. This is true of museums and other tourist attractions as well. For example, when we toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we used a QR code to download an electronic tour.

We were last in New York City in November 2019. The city has obviously changed since then. There are a lot of closed restaurants, even close to Broadway. Many restaurants are taking over sidewalks and parking places, allowing outdoor dining. The city doesn’t feel quite as busy and vibrant as it did back then. Broadway is about half reopened.

In general, New Yorkers are vaccinated and vaccine-savvy, and don’t have a problem masking up. They suffered 30,000 fatalities early in the pandemic, which helped, but being a large multi-cultural city they have learned to mostly get along with each other and are used to following rules.

It’s not surprising then that the city has weathered this latest covid wave reasonably well. These restrictions seem to be working reasonably well, allowing the city to do what it does best: make money. Judging by our hotel rates and ticket prices, they are making plenty of it again. I doubt this is true of most Southern states.