‘Quit treating us like we’re the disease.’

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

No, you’re just the disease carrier, your oh-so-independent behavior is just the way it gets from person 1 to person 2 to person 3 to person 4…

These appear to be actual human beings (I’m pretty sure they’re not bots) expressing their views online from Michigan. This is after similar protests in Ohio. These are (deep breath) not very smart people.

Elections matter.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

President Obama endorsed Joe Biden this morning.

He said a lot of smart things about Joe (“Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery.”) and about Bernie Sanders (“Bernie’s an American original – a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams, and frustrations.”)

…and about the importance of standing up to mean, corrupt people:

“…one thing everybody has learned by now is that the Republicans occupying the White House and running the U.S. Senate are not interested in progress. They’re interested in power. Repeatedly, they’ve disregarded American principles of rule of law, and voting rights, and transparency — basic norms that previous administrations observed regardless of party. Principles that are the bedrock of our democracy.

So our country’s future hangs on this election. And it won’t be easy. The other side has a massive war chest. The other side has a propaganda network with little regard for the truth. On the other hand, pandemics have a way of cutting through a lot of noise and spin to remind us of what is real, and what is important. This crisis has reminded us that government matters. It’s reminded us that good government matters. That facts and science matter. That the rule of law matters. That having leaders who are informed, and honest, and seek to bring people together rather than drive them apart — those kind of leaders matter.

In other words, elections matter. Right now, we need Americans of good will to unite in a great awakening against a politics that too often has been characterized by corruption, carelessness, self-dealing, disinformation, ignorance, and just plain meanness. And to change that, we need Americans of all political stripes to get involved in our politics and our public life like never before.

Believe the science.

Monday, April 13th, 2020

We managed to escape the severe weather outbreak that made lives especially tough for Georgians in the northwest of the state and south and a bit east of the city. There was, however, a moment when a radar-spotted Tornado Warning was issued just south and west of the Atlanta airport at 2:15-ish in the morning—aimed in our direction—that gave us pause and had us (quite) prepared for a quick descent to shelter. It spared the metro, however, for the most part, and by 3 am or so we were back upstairs trying to get some sleep. For the most part, we had WSB meteorologists Brad Nitz and Glenn Burns on the TV and/or iPad with the updates, although we thought that Jennifer Valdez with Ella Dorsey at CBS46 and Chris Holcomb and Chesley McNeill at whatever WXIA is now (their branding just confuses me at this point) all handled the cascade of bad weather professionally.

This is one of those scenarios where the science—the computer models—gave meteorologists a well-defined several-day advance warning about what was going to happen, and it was up to the on-camera people gives us that super-advanced heads up, and then warn us again, and then continue to update the information they were getting through the evening to let us know whether it was pretty much happening as the model(s) predicted (it was) and to soberly get people to take urgent action when appropriate (which I think in these days of doubters can be a real challenge.)

Which of course is what we’re still up against in the Coronavirus-ravaged towns of South Dakota, where the governor thinks she knows better than the experts, mayors, and others who are begging—pleading—for a shutdown order. I think it’d be great if we could pass, oh, I dunno, maybe a constitutional amendment that says, by default, believe the science. I’m not a constitutional law teacher like our last president so I have no idea how you turn that sentiment into something worthy of carving in granite, but it would be great if we could do so.

Turbulent night.

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

This is one of those evenings where stress is added to stress. A severe line of storms with high winds and tornadoes has been moving east-northeast across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and here. There have been tornadoes in NW Georgia and the Atlanta Metro is most at risk around 2 am. So it keeps us up nervously listening to the winds outside.

And none of this is at all related to the global pandemic and the resulting turbulence in the economy. So we may stay downstairs close to information, televised distractions, and (we would hope) a safe exit.

Good burger.

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

A yummy bison cheeseburger end to a wonderful day, the first birthday I’ve had during a pandemic. Thanks Sammy, delicious dinner. Great companionship. Mmmmm.

The Metonic cycle.

Friday, April 10th, 2020

Ah, 2004, there was an Easter to remember, yeah, wow, right up there with the Easter of 1993. And 1982! Well, that was certainly…an Easter. 1971? Yep, unparalleled in its Easter-ness.

Before that, you’d have to go back to 1909, and I sure wasn’t alive then.

I’m not much on this particular Christian holiday (in fact, I’m not much on any religious holidays!) but this one keeps intersecting a day I do care about—although less and less each year—my birthday.

And yes, the first day of Passover has hit my birthday in 2017 and 1998. (Only twice? Huh.)

These old holidays, calculated using calendar systems that go (clearly) way way back blow my mind, because, for one thing, they’re complicated. Part of the Time and Date.com article’s explanation: “The date of the Paschal Full Moon, used to determine the date of Easter, is based on mathematical approximations following a 19-year cycle called the Metonic cycle.” This is not the writings of George R. R. Martin or James S. A. Corey or Arthur C. C. Clarke. (heh, heh.)

And according to this article, there’s apparently even a movement in the global Easter-celebrating community to change the calculus to “to replace an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation.”

This year, missed it by one day. While the world will be celebrating Easter Eve (is that a thing? It’s got to be a thing)…I will be contemplating my achieving another trip around the sun. Eggs and rabbits will not be involved. Maybe a nice cheeseburger.

@jcburns April 10, 2020 at 10:47 am

Attn @nytimes @latimes @washingtonpost @cnn @msnbc @ap @npr headline writers: DO NOT ANTHROPOMORPHIZE THE CORONAVIRUS. Resist the urge. RESIST.

Big night.

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

I realized tonight talking to Sammy how much goes into picking movies and television programs and other streams of stuff we can watch without grimacing or averting our eyes or just feeling as if the director really wanted you to know how violent violence can be.

I think we’re both of a generation where gratuitous violence is not impossible to get through, it’s just “why are you showing me this? Why does the story have to include this?”

So that lets out pretty much anything that includes zombies or decapitation or eye surgery or bathtubs full of blood, although we’ll make an exception every now and again for (what seems to us) really well written stuff that includes any of the above. There’s really quite a lot of it out there these days! And there’s plenty of post-apocalyptic drama too, and honestly, where we’re at right now, that sort of thing isn’t much of a palate-cleanser.

And then in the case of television shows we tend to look at the life cycle of the show. Is it from a decade or so ago? Did it end well? Did it end at all? There have been series we’ve plowed through that show their internal struggles in the ebb and flow of episodes. Whoa, suddenly half the cast changed! There’s a new producer! The lead character was in LA, now he’s in New York! Is that a good thing? Did they get to end on their own terms or were they yanked off the air without as much as a how-do-you-do? One of us prefers (ahem) to view series in absolute and complete chronological order, from season 1 episode 1 to whenever they stopped doing them. We didn’t have a great candidate for that tonight.

So tonight we (re)watched Big Night, from 1996, directed by Stanley Tucci (and Campbell Scott) and written by Tucci and Joseph Tropiano. It stars the wonderful Tony Shalhoub and Tucci as brothers. So it’s a lot of Tucci, early in his career, and a great supporting cast that, when you scroll way down to the bottom, includes Liev Schreiber in a very brief, early, almost silent role as a doorman. He opened the doors for people with style.

There were no zombies.

The international desk.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

I worked for Turner Broadcasting System during the earliest days of CNN (and TBS for that matter), and during a global pandemic, my instincts are to turn there for a global perspective on what’s happening.

Sadly, foreign news coverage (what CNN founder Ted Turner insisted be called international news coverage because foreign had that “not from here” put-down attached to it)…well, I have a lot of trouble finding the international coverage on the regular CNN, and we don’t have the generally more global CNN international as a channel choice.

Why is that? Well, I think the feedback they get (and to my mind this becomes a self-reinforcing system) is that, especially in a crisis that hits home, American viewers don’t particularly care about their fellow humans elsewhere, unless it’s just to utter a “tsk, tsk” at bad news from across the oceans. That’s what CNN’s focus groups are telling them. I think the truth is we’d like a broader focus, even in quieter times, but that’s just me.

Also right now, CNN’s news operations are based in New York (they used to be here in Atlanta, which remains a feed center but not that much else.) In New York, the news…the fear from the millions of pandemic-threatened humans right there in the five boroughs overwhelms and sidelines the rest of the globe’s very human stories.

But we do have options in an internet-connected age that go way beyond the Facebook and the Twitter. We can watch news gathered by journalists who work around the globe. We have live streaming choices. Y’know, kinda like television!

We have BBC News America, which most of the day is BBC’s 24 hour news channel, and on YouTube it’s easy to find legit live feeds for France24 (in French, English, Spanish, or Arabic), Franceinfo (in French only, merci), Sky News in the UK, DW News (from Germany, but in English) Al Jazeera English (from Qatar, in English), and ABC News, that’s Australia’s public broadcaster live, 24 hours a day,and Australia’s day is, probably not news to you, a full 12 hours ahead of ours. Oh, and Atlanta’s WPBA PBS station carries NHK News from Japan in English on their DTV 30.2 channel, and, on YouTube I watch a lot of CBC News’s coverage from Canada. Sometimes I can speak decent Canadian.

That’s a pretty rich buffet of choices! If nothing else, you can see the leaders literally on the other side of the world struggle with some of the same sorts of challenges. That connection feels very human to me, and gives me comfort as we roll on.

Overnight headlines.

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

The twitterverse is (fittingly) filling up with the lyrics of John Prine, who died Tuesday. Almost any 280-character chunk of Prine’s words is evocative, sparkling, powerful. Sad that he will not be around to craft new verses.

The guy (the acting acting something of the Navy) who flew all the way to Guam to unfairly castigate the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (after firing him!) has apologized and resigned.

The woman who did an astonishingly bad job as White House Press Secretary has returned to a comfortable job with the First Lady as she is replaced by an even worse television personality who spent a lot of time taking unfounded, ill-informed shots at President Obama on right wing television.

The Attorney General of Texas has taken this moment of chaos to suspend abortion services as “non-essential.” It goes without saying the Attorney General of Texas has never been pregnant.

One of the guys who created Twitter, Jack Dorsey, will give one billion dollars to fund COVID-19 relief. He says it’ll all happen transparently because you can follow along on a shared Google spreadsheet.

And the people of Wisconsin voted. in masks and gloves, and many carrying plenty of midwestern contempt for the GOP leaders who made it go down this way.

There are nights I wish Linda Ellerbee and Lloyd Dobyns were reporting this to me, along with some duck-gargling electronic music and just enough wry world-weariness… as perfect for the early 1980s as it would be today. NBC News Overnight.

Here, to the right, is a picture of the original Overnight anchors, Ellerbee and Dobyns. It’s in black-and-white, although the show was broadcast in color. That thing she’s leaning on is called a typewriter. Those things he’s leaning on are called books. That big thing on the wall to the right of the TVs is called a paper map, which showed them where Greybull, Wyoming is. The white thing with the thick cable dropping out at front right is, of course, a telephone. And lurking behind the telephone, I believe that’s an ashtray.

Now you know how newsrooms smelled in those days.

And so…it goes.

On Wisconsin.

Monday, April 6th, 2020

There will be something resembling an election Tuesday in Wisconsin, a state not spared infection and death from COVID-19. Instead of polling places spread out conveniently throughout the state, a relative few will be open, because the army of volunteers required to staff the places have wisely decided to follow CDC stay at home guidelines and they un-volunteered for the human-contact-intensive task.

So if you live in Wisconsin and you want to vote in this election and you haven’t received the absentee ballot you’ve requested, you have to figure out a way to get out there and stand in line and interact with lots of people and touch strange surfaces and try not to pick up anything microscopic, and certainly not bring it back home to possibly fragile loved ones. Gloves and masks, sure, to begin with. Oh, and chances are your regular polling places will be closed, so you might have to wait in line. This is, let’s not mince words, a life-threatening set of variables for voters of all ages and parties to face. It is beyond cruel. I’m trying to imagine a discussion of a decision like this in history books years down the road. I think the kids will find it hard to believe.

This is all because the Republicans (who have the Wisconsin state legislature and Supreme Court right now) have done the math and they realize that unless raw voting numbers are held down, there is no way that they can win, pretty much ever again. So even in this crisis, this global pandemic, they are working a strategy, and they will do something like it next time and the time after that, not just in the badger state but in every state and community they can…until even these extreme antidemocratic (and pro-infection) tactics succumb to the realities of population change.

Needless to say, I am hoping at some point that all states and communities will adopt vote by mail and any other methods to make sure that if you are qualified to vote, you need not risk your life to do so.


Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Apparently President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro feuded with other officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, over hydroxychloroquine’s unproven effectiveness to treat coronavirus.

This paragraph is news in the midst of a global pandemic, coming out of a seriously messed up American administration where trade advisors and politicians think they know better than medical doctors about medicine, viral outbreaks, how one becomes infected, and how a patient should be treated.

Sunday night’s Trump media event was put hurriedly on the calendar at 7 pm eastern after Joe Biden announced a he would be making a statement at…7 pm eastern.

Pretty sure that carrying these live now does not in any way do journalistic good.

Yes, do the reporting. Do the fact checking. Get the information out there promptly.

But if the President creates these opportunities in the name of informing the American public and then fills them with self-serving bloviation—well, that’s pretty dishonest, and the decisionmakers at the cable news networks who put these out to the world live and unedited are doing the heavy lifting for this dishonest, impeached President.


Saturday, April 4th, 2020

I spent some of today on another sojurn out into what passes for the real world these days. This time, when going into Target and Whole Foods I wore a mask that was a souvenir from the last national tragedy, and therefore probably no longer up to medical specs, but it it did cover my face and made me look absurd as I checked out organic broccoli. Also, by the way, it interferes with Face ID, so my fancy new iPhone considered me a stranger and wanted my passcode again and again.

I was working on a project for Time Warner just before—and after—September 11, 2001, in office space in the then just-renovated Chelsea Market in Lower Manhattan. I flew up there a couple of days each week to work on a state-of-the-art automation system that I’m sure is ancient history now.

After the towers fell, and before flights had been fully reestablished into and out of New York, I rented a car and drove back up from Atlanta two or three days after the attacks, checked into a hotel in New Jersey just across the Hudson, jumped on a NY Waterways ferry and, well, went back to work. The ruins were still smoldering. Some of my fellow hotel guests were firemen/EMS people from other cities who came east to help. The air in Lower Manhattan had an overlay of concrete dust and other toxics. So the Time Warner Engineering Project Manager handed out 3M N95 masks to all hands. I jammed mine in my denim jacket and concentrated on coding.

Nineteen years later, I found mine in a drawer. Hadn’t worn it before today.

Insane clowns.

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

I clicked on the wrong thread on Twitter this morning, and all this ill-informed outrage just poured out onto my screen. A part of me wants to reach out to each and every one of these people and discuss, you know, science, and the way the universe works, and another part of me, well, let’s just say another part of me does not.

No wonder they had to beef up the security for Dr. Fauci.

I have to go sanitize my keyboard now.

Rebar none.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Tonight feels like it’s best expressed by a couple of pictures shot during my walk. Well, not even a walk, just (what Sammy would call) a perambulation around our little Virginia Highland neighborhood.

Yes. A chair. In a driveway. For those out of the house Zoom meetings?

And then we have what appears to be a new utility pole or two, some roof work needed at a tiny library on our street, and rebar, lots of rebar.

I post that last in honor of my (long departed) Uncle who had plans of conquering the world with ferrocement domes (framed in rebar) and boats (uh…framed in rebar…)

Rebar, it’s the ‘ferro’ in ferrocement. Happy birthday, Uncle Bob.

Unknown to him.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

The Governor of the State of Georgia announced on Wednesday he was finally ordering, or will order that Georgians stay at home, because he now knows something he didn’t know, say, 48 hours ago. He uses the royal “we,” as if this was something literally just discovered and breathlessly announced at the CDC.

So there will be a shelter in place order for all Georgians.

As Greg Bluestein in the AJC reported:

He said his decision was triggered by “game-changing” new projections on the disease’s spread in Georgia. He also said he was informed of new data that this virus “is now transmitting before people see signs.” “Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt” symptoms, he said. “We didn’t know that until the last 24 hours.”

“We didn’t know that until the last 24 hours.”…!?
Mr. Governor, this is staggering, staggeringly ignorant.

He’ll have those fresh, up-to-the-second new rules ready on Thursday, he says, and they’ll be in effect through April 13, a very few days from now.

This is the core problem with how Republican leaders process scientific information. The contortions scientists have to go through to push facts through thick skulls is so frustrating, and eventually, painfully, they get it and make the changes to be in sync with what experts and really, enormous masses of average joes have been saying for weeks.

No nimbleness or getting ahead of the crisis here.