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Archive for Life

July 10, 2021 — A “delta variant” surge that is not to be ignored

This morning, I saw a frightening graph on my Twitter feed.

It showed that, in several countries around the world, there has been a massive upshoot of COVID-19 cases in several countries over the last two weeks. One of the most stunning surges is in The Netherlands, which ended most restrictions June 26th, then saw an absolute moonshot of a trend. Holland had under 1,000 cases a day on July 2, but yesterday zoomed to 6,926.

Similar surges have occurred in England, Indonesia, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, shows data from a Financial Times analysis.

These surges are coming at the absolute worst time when it comes to the world sporting calendar. We mentioned earlier this week that the government of Japan has imposed a state of emergency just two weeks before the start of the Olympics, which means that events are going to be held without fans in the stands.

In the last day or so, it was also announced that the Curacao men’s national soccer team is being withdrawn from the CONCACAF Gold Cup after positive tests within the team, meaning that today’s fixtures are having to be altered in order to have Guatemala participate.

Too, the Capital Cup, an international club competition featuring D.C. United and three Central American teams, has been riven with COVID withdrawals. Puebla, a mid-table pro team from Mexico’s first division, withdrew four days ago because of 10 new positive cases. Today, another Capital Cup team, Alianza FC of El Salvador, also withdrew because of COVID-19 protocols stemming from a positive test, leaving only the hosts and Costa Rican side Alajuelense, which will play tomorrow to finish off what was supposed to have been a six-game competition.

I can’t help but think that, as the United States has been able to get at least one injection to roughly 70 percent of the population, other nations, which may not have the economy, health systems, or logistics to inoculate their citizens at a similar level, are seeing our success as a license to open their nations up.

This is not good.

May 5, 2021 — Slicing down the email boxes

Ever since I got my first America Online account in the days of the ubiquitous 3.5-inch floppy disks which offered you 30 days of the service for free, I took advantage of the feature which allowed you to get multiple email addresses; I had one to receive email from my undergraduate friends, one for my friends from graduate school, one for my “social” friends who I knew from Thursday night dance parties back in New Jersey, and one for this website. Because of the 10-character limit on AOL accounts back then, my email addresses looked like an entry in a baseball boxscore: “topofcrcle at aol.com.”

A few years later when the limit was taken off, I was able to get full-out spellings on my four email boxes. I also got a “burner” account through my association with Yahoo Geocities, which hosted this site from 1998 to about 2006. It’s an account which I use if I am likely to receive a large number of spam emails, so I made this address just to be able to keep them away from my four primary email boxes.

That is, of course, before I found the free Google email in 2004, which you can see in the header at the top of this site. I still have several email boxes to distinguish emails coming from different groups of friends. I also have an email I will use for more professional correspondence.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was receiving an odd message on my phone as I was going through my daily task of going through my email boxes: “Unable to access email address; please check settings.” I tried to go through my phone’s email settings to figure out what was wrong.

Apparently, my America Online email accounts were trying to get me to log off and log back with a code which would confirm my phone number. The problem? The phone number suggested was my old landline back in New Jersey.

It was then that I decided that my AOL email accounts were best left abandoned. After all, I get all of these gigabytes of storage with Gmail, and they also do a great job of arresting spam emails and putting them in a folder.

My phone now monitors just six email accounts. My life is a lot happier.

May 1, 2021 — Declaring too early a victory?

I invite you to watch the video accompanying this story of last Thursday’s CHSAA field hockey final between Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.) and Greenwood Village Cherry Creek (Colo.).

If you’re a health-care professional, the scenes in this video would have scared you to death a few weeks ago. You don’t see a lot of worn masks in this footage, and you have enormous groups of students choosing not to social distance.

Thing is, we’re in a different place as a country than we were six months ago. More than 100 million people have been vaccinated nationwide, and it’s estimated that number could double by July 4th.

For its part, the state of Colorado had ended a lot of its previous restrictions on April 6th, going off the “dial” system of alerts and allowing individual counties to make final decisions. Denver County, in which the state championship field hockey game was played, is in the Blue Level, which is the second-loosest level of restrictions.

This strategy is not without risk. Coming into this week, levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and positive tests in Colorado have generally been trending upward, albeit not at the levels where they were around Thanksgiving.

Now, it may be better to decentralize how COVID-19 and future worldwide pandemics are handled. But left to one’s own devices, people want to gather in groups every once in a while, such as at sporting events. Today, for example, some 65,000 people will be gathering in Louisville, Ky. for the Kentucky Derby.

Problem is, what happens if gatherings like these turn into super-spreader events like that motorcycle rally in South Dakota, a choir practice in Washington, spring break this past February in Florida, and a certain White House Rose Garden ceremony last September that sickened 35 people?

Hopefully, enough of the spectators will have gotten their vaccines.

April 8, 2021 — And now, the wait

This afternoon, with a sit-down behind a white curtain in a pharmacy near the apartment, your Founder received the latest of nearly 3/4 of a billion worldwide injections of a Coronavirus vaccine.

As such, I’m expecting any one of a number of symptoms to hit me anytime over the next one to five days. Friends of mine have reported various side effects from body aches to headaches to fatigue. And at least one vaccine in current use is linked to the formation of blood clots in the brain, albeit it is a 1 in 250,000 chance.

But as my sister told me last weekend in a phone conversation, a small chance of a vaccine side effect is better than getting COVID-19, which can be lethal if left untreated. There are already nearly three million people worldwide who have died from the virus. While more than half a million are Americans, there are rising numbers in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as well as the European Union.

As such, this pandemic is not only taking a horrific human toll, but an economic one. The United States, E.U., and the four developing BRIC nations are the world engines of manufacturing, and account for 3/4 of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.

Even though most present vaccines have proven to be effective in tests and have proven effective in a real-world application, there are still enough people around the world who won’t get the vaccine, which is a public health predicament of the highest order.

Some people are likely not to get the vaccine because of the lack of public health infrastructure in second- or third-world nations. Other people may choose not to receive vaccines because of suspicion or superstition. Still others are anti-vaccination because of political ideology.

Thing is, our world has eradicated pandemic disease before. World health agencies have declared victory over smallpox and rinderpest, and we’re nearly there when it comes to polio.

Why is this important? If enough people are vaccinated in a given population, a pathogen will not be able to spread, and will eventually die off.

Of course, given the fact that COVID-19 has at least five variants, the massive vaccination effort in the United States isn’t going to be enough yet.

But I’m doing my part. I hope each of you do the same if able.

April 4, 2021 — Towards a parallel resurrection?

When my parents died, one of the things I inherited was the only new car they ever had, a 2000 Ford.

It was a car which I used to transport Papa to visit Mama when she was in rehabilitation after that awful sepsis infection in 2010, and I would drive him to various and sundry places like the diner, the doctor, and the day I had to go up to the hospital to spring him after he was found with a golf club, mismatched socks and shoes, and a box of buttons.

At about the same time, my sister would often borrow the Ford to go from place to place whenever one of her cars had to go to the shop. She kept a plastic box of ashes (not hers, but a few ounces of ashes from the barbecue we held in her honor after her funeral) in the rear compartment. These ashes — an outward sign of an inward grace — remain there to this day.

The Ford became a link to my parents in a deep, deep way.

When I was a teenager, Papa would sometimes ask me, “When you get older, will you drive me around in your little car?” This was before I ever started driving classes. But when he lost his vision and his ability to drive in his mid-70s, the prophesy came true. Whenever I came home, I drove him to many places.

I would also help Mama with the groceries, also unloading them even during that terrible day when she almost fell down on the lawn because she was trying to walk on the uneven grass.

This past week, the Ford’s check-engine light went on. I have an appointment scheduled this week with a Ford technician, but, after 21 years of service, I think it is about time to let go.

I’ve felt a range of thoughts and emotions, which are magnified by the fact that I have been very much isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year.

Look, I know it’s just a car. But it’s so much more — a tangible link to the past.

And perhaps, time to let go.

March 31, 2021 — Thoughts for a designated day of visibility

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, which comes at an interesting time in American history.

In a number of states, activists and lobbyists have been proferring and pushing through laws which seek to do the clumsy work of trying to define who gender non-conforming people actually are.

I say “clumsy,” because the “trans” person of today isn’t as simple as the Hollywood trope of the transvestite, someone who dresses in the other gender’s clothing. These days, there are persons who may have undergone gender reassignment to become the other gender.

But there are also a number of occasions of persons born with genetic changes which may have any number of reasons, including the environment, relaxed regulations on blood tests for marriage licenses, and also relaxed regulations on the marriage of first cousins.

There are hundreds of thousands of what can be called “trans” youth all across America. There are different names for them: genderfluid, non-binary, intersex, etc. A number of states, however, see threats to people who are gender-conforming. Activists and lawmakers have actually been able to pass anti-trans legislation in a number of states.

These activists and lawmakers couch their rhetoric in mostly two scenarios: the effect of transgender people on women’s sports, and which bathroom transgender people can use at the mall.

Now, I can understand what could happen with mixed-gender athletic competitions, especially in competitions where size, strength, and speed are prized. But recent moves by the WNBA, the NWSL, and the International Amateur Athletics Federation have shown that it is the ruling bodies of sport who should be the ultimate arbiters of who should participate in a particular event, and not the government.

The same can be said for public accommodations and even gender-affirming health care, the latter of which is under threat in Arkansas.

The problem, it says here, is that these laws are solutions in search of a problem. Trans people are already among us, and don’t intend harm to others.

Trans people are people, and it is not the job of self-styled culture warriors backed with the infinite power of the state to become bathroom police, health-care police, or sports participation police.

March 26, 2021 — Social media as a creative process

Some of you may remember what I did with this site when Leroy Nieman, the sports artist, died nine years ago. For 10 days, I changed the colorway of the logo in the header of this site to honor his splashy, colorful artistic style.

Well, as many of you know from being long-time users of this site, one of my favorite artists is Andy Warhol, who would make studies of multiple images in different colors. If you’ve seen any of my “unfiltered” commentaries on our Instagram account, you’ll notice that the backdrop we use is full of different treatments of this site’s logo.

Most of these images have one thing in common: they have been created on, of all places, my phone. The Apple App Store has a number of free or low-cost photo or image applications with names like Olli, MegaPhoto, HipsterCam, and Hyperspektiv, and they can turn pictures and videos of objects, landscapes, and people into remarkable pieces of art.

When we started posting on TikTok, we knew we didn’t have the kind of content that would normally attract viewers. I’m not one for doing small stunts or lip-syncing to songs I barely know. But we do have our logo and a bunch of different still and video filters.

I’ve been having fun mixing up still and video effects for TikTok — adding a color here, an overlay there, posterizing, rasterizing, and then, at the end, adding a musical track.

I’ve also been occasionally taking video from my screen and adding it in there to point you in the direction of an issue or an event that we’ve not covered in the blog.

All this has gotten me, oddly enough, an outsized number of likes and views per day. I mean, it’s just a logo, right?

March 17, 2021 — Return of a formerly-ubiquitous item

The brown packet came in the mail today, with a white box inside. About 30 minutes later, after reading the instructions, I am now doing something I have not done in about three years.

I’m wearing a wristwatch, made by the Wyze company.

I remember the first time I ever bought a watch for myself. It was a Pulsar watch from a nondescript booth at an outdoor flea market in New Jersey. I liked this watch because it was one of those with an analog watch face with a digital display below it. I used this watch for keeping time, running a stopwatch, and running a secondary timer for an alternate time zone.

I saw a watch in not just a utilitarian sense, but an aesthetic one. A distinctive, simple timepiece is a status symbol, even if it’s just for an office worker. Heck, there was a time when I had a cheap off-brand watch with a gold metal band, and I was treated like royalty in restaurants and shops in the better parts of town, including places frequented by public figures.

I owned a number of watches, most of which emphasized form over function. I had an orange watch, a white watch, and one in basic black. I have also had one with a green face and a Swatch with a pink face.

But all this was before the ubiquitousness of the cell phone, and the fact that most people under the age of 25 don’t feel the need to wear watches because they can easily get the time from their phone screen.

Several years ago, my brother bought me a cheap bracelet smartwatch, from China. The item was fraught with problems. It was far too small for my wrist, and it also stopped working the moment I tried to apply a little heat to the silicone band to try to expand its circumference.

Now, I’ve had Casio watches which take your pulse and another which estimates your blood pressure. But this new smartwatch is a combination of form and function. This has the ability to turn off and on lights and smart devices in your home, and also serves as a sleep monitor as long as you wear it while you sleep.

This watch is a pulse-taker and it also is a blood oxygen reader, something which I think is very useful, given my medical history in the last few months.

It’s taken me a while to figure everything out, but I think this may be some of the best money I’ve every spent, considering some of the more expensive alternatives.

March 3, 2021 — Extreme tubing (for me)

I have accomplished a lot during my time on this earth. I have visited London, Paris, Madrid, and Venice during a backpack trip to Europe, I have degrees from the two highest-ranked universities in their particular fields of endeavor, shaken the hands of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, driven 105 miles an hour in a police car, and have started up and maintained this website for two decades.

And I can’t cook a potato.

Nope, I’ve been completely unable to bake, fry, poach, boil, microwave, or otherwise apply the correct amount of heat in order to make a potato into its edible state.

It’s been a considerable source of frustration for me through my adult life. Yes, I can get whatever starch I need from microwaveable rice, putting bread in a toaster, or heading up already-cooked potato products (such as steak fries and tater tots) in the air fryer.

But last week, I ran across a bag of new potatoes in the area where day-old produce was laid out for quick sale. I figured it was worth the time and the risk to make one more go of it. Only this time, I had a secret weapon.

For it was a couple of Christmases ago that I received one of those cloth microwaveable bags (which are invariably red in color) that claims to be able to hold potatoes while you microwave the contents for four minutes, and the inside will come out perfectly every time.

I filled the bag with about eight small potatoes, and did so with a bit of apprehension. What if the recommended time frame was too much for the small potatoes, and was instead meant for larger tubers? What if enough microwaves bombarded the contents of the bag? Would they burn from the inside?

I carefully did the cooking in two stages, per the instructions on the bag. Putting the potato bag on the rotating plate in the oven, I ran the microwaves for two minutes, then flipped the bag over again for two more minutes.

To my amazement, when I removed the potatoes from the bag, they were cooked. No mushies, no dry patches, nothing amiss whatsoever.

It’s a new day.

Feb. 17, 2021 — The end of a monument to dysfunction

This morning, with the press of a button, several thousand sticks of dynamite were detonated in Atlantic City, N.J. just off Mississippi Avenue. In 20 seconds, the edifice formerly known as the Trump Plaza casino became a twisted wreck.

In truth, however, it was a twisted wreck from the very beginning.

The site, located across the street from the Pageant Motel where our family stayed for a couple of summers while my mother took the annual exams to become a registered nurse for the State of New Jersey, was originally supposed to house the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. Our family watched that property start construction, but the project stalled in 1980. What happened was that Penthouse founder Bob Guccione was caught up in the Abscam bribery scandal, and that projected receipts from his movie Caligula fell well short of being able to finance construction.

The casino project eventually fell to Donald Trump, then a New York-based real-estate mogul, to complete. It was not, however, without obstacles. A homeowner named Vera Coking refused to sell out, and the Plaza was built around the property. There was a noticeable apse in the southern wall of the casino where her three-story house stood.

The Trump Plaza casino was complete by 1984, but when it opened, casino management did something that rubbed locals the wrong way. Posted on signs between Columbia Place and Mississippi Avenue were signs saying that this stretch of oceanfront beach was reserved for people staying at the Trump Plaza casino.

People were stunned. You see, New Jersey remains one of the only U.S. states that regulates unfettered access to the beach. Towns are allowed to charge money for beach tags — an economic barrier which has contributed to segregation in many shore-area counties over the last 100 years. It’s a kind of de facto segregation that continues to this very day.

But the Trump beach reservation in Atlantic City — a town that does not require beach tags — was done away with swiftly amid public backlash. Not to mention that it was completely unenforceable.

The Trump Plaza, being the casino closest to Boardwalk Hall — a convention center which has hosted the Miss America Pageant, numerous sporting events, and large gatherings — should have been a primary money-gainer within the Trump casino empire. But in leveraging Plaza revenues to build other properties including Trump’s Castle, the Plaza suffered financially.

Now, Trump’s Castle has its own story. The original laws allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City originally allowed for development only along the Boardwalk area of the city. But Trump was able to develop an area adjacent to the State Marina along Brigantine Boulevard. With that development came a road which took down one of the last middle-class neighborhoods in the city. Despite legal actions, the road was built right to the Trump’s Castle front door.

In addition, the debt leveraged by Trump’s other casinos to build the Castle wasn’t enough to finish the project The Castle was only able to open because Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump, bought $3.5 million in casino chips which he never cashed in — a move that was deemed to be an illegal loan.

Needless to say, because of these and other episodes of financial dysfunction, the Trump casino empire filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Six years later, he filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for President.

The rest, as they say, as history. But with today’s implosion, so is the Trump Plaza casino hotel.