Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts

05 July 2020

Florida Number 1 !


coronavirus
Few recognize the name François-Marie Arouet but probably know his pseudonym, Voltaire. An advocate for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state, he’s little known for writing one of the earliest detective stories and some of the first science fiction, truly a writer ahead of his time.

Voltaire is best known for a satire, Candide, in which “all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.”

And here, in the best of all possible Floridas, we’re setting daily records! For, umm, coronavirus infections. We’re bigger than Texas! We’re bigger than California! We’re bigger than New York!

Florida! We’re number 1! We’re number 1! Er, wait…

COVID-19 coronavirus infections per day
COVID-19 coronavirus deaths per day

We recently broke 10 000 COVID-19 infections per day. Yesterday’s increment came in at 11 458 as the state approaches 200 000 cases and more than 3700 deaths.

Meanwhile the United States is quickly closing in on 3-million infections. It seemed only days ago we wondered if the nation’s death toll would hit 100 000, but already it’s 131 549 and growing. Once our infectious response teams led the world. Now third world nations shun us.

The US has 4¼% of the world’s population, but more than 25% of global infections… and deaths. Yet, in this best of all possible Candide worlds, 41½% of Americans think our government acted just peachy. Ironically, one of the organs the coronavirus attacks is the brain.

US world population versus infections

This is today’s take home message. I don’t give a damn what your politics are. I simply ask you to error on the side of caution and stay safe.

Additional Risk Factors
  • Age– the older you are, the more you’re at risk.
  • Sex– males are 6 times more likely to succumb than females.
  • Race– blacks are more susceptible than whites.
  • Blood– A and AB types pose a significantly higher risk.
How to Be Smarter than the BBC

If you can bear with the numbers a moment longer, the death rates bandied by news outlets, including the venerable BBC, are often in error. Their non-mathematicians typically divide the number of deaths by the number of cases– wrong! To get the correct number, simply divide deaths by the number of recovered patients. In other words,

COVID-19 Death Rates as of 4th July 2020
525 491 ÷ 5890052 = 0.0892 or 8.9% worldwide
131 549 ÷ 864 996 = 0.1520 or 15% nationwide

12 June 2020

Where Have You Gone, Edgar Sengier?


Edgar Sengier was a Belgian engineer who operated a mine in the then-named Belgian Congo at the early 20th century. His employers, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, initially mined copper, but at some point the firm discovered a vein in a settlement called Shinkolobwe that yielded two substances of astonishing purity. One was radium, a radioactive element which was so infamously used in the dials of wristwatches, with horrifying results. The other? Well, let’s just say that when Sengier’s people informed him how Substance #2 could be used, the world was on the brink of World War II. French scientists wanted Sengier’s ore, but then France was swallowed by Germany. Sengier quietly packed half his stock—about 1,000 tons of this mysterious ore—in barrels and had them shipped to a warehouse in Staten Island, New York. The barrels sat idle for two years. Nine months after Pearl Harbor, Col. Kenneth Nichols—No. 2 in command of the Manhattan Project—paid a visit to Sengier’s New York office, asking if it was true the firm had located ore that could be processed into U-235. The Belgian engineer smiled. “I’ve been waiting a long time for your visit!”

"Where can I get U?" — Actual text message from Col. Kenneth D. Nichols, circa 1940.
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)
That, in a nutshell, is how the US and not Hitler ended up with a critical stockpile that ensured its success in the race for the bomb. Sengier, a man who went down in history simply by waiting for others to catch up to his foresight, popped into my head this week when I interviewed someone about the US’s medical preparedness for our protracted Covid future.

The fellow on the phone was an exec at a major international firm that manufactures medical supplies. (Yes, I am intentionally being vague.) Not ventilators. Not masks or gowns. But nearly everything else a medical office or hospital needs to do its job. By one estimate, this firm produces more than half of a specific medical tool used on the planet.

The corporate headquarters are based in the US, but operates factories over the globe. The execs have been largely quarantined at home for the last three months, but the firm has been running their assembly lines the whole time, tweaking how they do business to keep employees safe and the endless stream of supplies coming. In some cases, they have actually re-routed employees from areas of the business with low demand—making, say, kits for various types of elective surgeries—to areas with high demand.

Moving employees like this is easier said than done. For example, they arranged visas for employees to travel 100 miles from their homes and places of work in one Asian nation to another nation across a border. “ Commuting” was deemed impractical, so the firm is putting these folks up in hotels in the second nation so they can work in shifts. Anything to meet demand.

“First, every hospital in the world needed supplies,” the exec told me. “So we ramped up production to meet that demand. And when we caught up with that, then the federal governments of various countries started contracting with us directly to beef up their national stockpiles. So now we’re doing that.”

For another writing project, ages ago, I interviewed a former military doc who told me that most military stockpiles he’d seen were always in need of upgrading or replacement. Supplies expire and go bad. Medical tech, especially, becomes obsolete or deteriorates sitting unserviced in warehouses, waiting for a use date that never comes. No one wants to have product sitting around in a warehouse. But it’s what you do if you want to be prepared. You rotate in, you rotate out. If you're organized, that is.

But what was troubling our biotech executive the day we talked?

“There’s one country that hasn’t asked us to stock their national stockpile yet,” he told me, his voice dropping. “A big one. Can you guess which one that is?”

I didn’t have to guess. Both of us are Americans, and we both chuckled awkwardly at the same time. And then the naive little man inside me piped up: “Couldn’t you do it on your own? Just make ‘em and store ‘em somewhere?” Even before the words were out of my mouth, I felt stupid. This is why I’ll never be a businessperson; I cling too much to hope.

“Can’t,” the exec said. “We have enough trouble keeping up with demand as it is. And we’re sure as hell not gonna do it for free.”

Duh. Logical me understood that completely. But naive me, writer me, fought against it. And my brain kindly coughed up the name of that Belgian engineer.

To be sure, Sengier’s firm was paid. So far as I’ve been able to determined, they supplied the US with 4,200 tons of uranium, and plutonium as well. (The price for the uranium was $1 a pound. I have not located a price for the plutonium, enriched at Hanford.) After the war, Sengier received the Medal of Merit from the US, its highest civilian honor, and other accolades—Honorary Knight Commander, OBE, from the UK, the Legion of Honour from France, five distinct medals from Belgium alone—from nations grateful that he’d kept that uranium out of the hands of the Nazis.

Sengier (center) receives his medal from Manhattan Project director General Leslie Groves (right).
(Atomic Energy Commission file image)

And yes, we can spend days debating the wisdom of creating those first nuclear weapons. I have had those conversations. My wife spent seven years writing a nonfiction book about the Manhattan Project, and for seven years the faces and voices of the few surviving chemists, engineers, and rank-and-file workers she interviewed were in my mind nearly every day. We can also spend an equal amount of time talking about the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and its people by centuries of colonizers.

But...

Those bombs, and the ones that followed them, were tools of death, but medical supplies are tools of life. Call me crazy, but US stockpiles have been known to dwindle. And it dismays me to learn that Sengiers are apparently in short supply.

05 June 2020

We Write. We Escape.


We write. We escape. Escape into worlds we create and follow make believe characters through conflicts, love, happiness, sorrow, through the maze of life.

It's harder today in the middle of this pandemic as we try not to catch this damn virus. We worry about loved ones and friends and – everyone. The ravages of this war are hard to witness and this is just the opening phase. I look back at the traumas in my life, the specter of the Vietnam War, the titanic blows nature sent against my city from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through the worst of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Sudden, maddening destruction. But this virus is a creeping menace, an unrelenting threat, a Lovecraftian nightmare.

I remember the great stress of watching the evening news in the late 60s, as Walter Cronkite gave us the body count of Americans killed in Vietnam. Today we have the media announcing the body counts of virus deaths in our cities, states, country and the world. Then, as well as now, we were let down by out some political leaders while nurses and doctors struggle to save as many as they can. A nightmare revisited.

My cousin Patrick Roche and my father. Vietnam, 1965

And now, we have more rioting in the streets. Cities on fire. We are still paying for America's original sin. Slavery and its long, ugly, horrendous legacy continues. And lest we forget the other original sin – the genocide of the native people of the Americas, which is still going on.

Is this the wages of sin?


I grew up in the neo-confederate south and saw bigotry and oppression first hand but it was never focused against me, so it took a while to see it for what it is. Hard to imaging having that searing spotlight lasered against me day and night. Ben Franklin once said, "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."

I've been outraged for a long time, have voted in every election and it does some good on occasion, but not enough. Not even close to enough. There is no easy solution but so many do not admit there is a problem.

President Jimmy Carter was right when he said, "America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, human rights invented America." It's been so hard to follow that up.

OK. Enough preaching. This is a writer's blog.

It's been hard to write. But a writer writes. I don't know about you guys, but I've been productive with my fiction during the lockdown. It is the only way to fight the stress, although writing is not relaxing. It focuses me and ends with something positive. I hope all of you stay safe.

That's all for now.
www.oneildenoux.com


21 May 2020

Tales From the Waffle House and other 24/7 Adventures


by Eve Fisher

Once upon a time in Hollywood - my Hollywood - I spent an awful lot of time with an old black bluesman named Solomon at a place called Ben Frank's on Sunset Boulevard.  I just looked it up, and it's listed on Rock and Roll Roadmaps, and it still exists, only now it's Mel's Drive-In.  (???)  But I liked it the way it was, a 24/7 place where Solomon and I could meet over coffee and cigarettes and sometimes a little food and endless conversation.  We often got kicked out, not because we were there too long - there was no such thing, at least not late at night - but because Solomon would have a tendency to eventually go off on a rap about how the only religion that embraced the full erotic aspect of God's love was Hinduism (and he waxed very poetic), and then hit on the waitress, who usually thought he was a dirty old man.  Maybe he was, but he was a damn good friend - in fact he saved my life one night at a place called the Free Church, which is a whole 'nother story, that maybe I'll tell another time.  And I love a good long conversation on something besides the weather and politics. 

That - and recovery from hangovers - is what 24/7 restaurants are for. 

Check out Waffle House.

Everyone who's ever lived in the South has eaten at Waffle House more times than they can count.  Open 24-7, there's no where else in many towns open at 3 AM where you can get coffee, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  If they ever add beer to the menu, no one would ever leave.

The motley assortment of people at a Waffle House at any time must be seen to be believed - Sunday churchgoers and the local homeless all chowing down together - but there are those who only walk by night, and they know where they can come.  Granted, the glaring lighting and 3 sided floor-to-ceiling windows are hard on the hung over.  But that's the price you pay for pecan waffles and an accessible bathroom.

And then there's the floor show:  how many places, other than Benihana's, have their chefs in constant view of the clientele?   I've sat there many a time, feeling a little rocky, watching the master chefs of Waffle House flipping burgers, eggs, and hashbrowns all the while tapping, singing, dancing to the radio and/or joking with each other, flirting with the waitresses, and (in olden days) smoking like chimneys without dropping ash anywhere but the floor.  Amazing.

I remember when the local Waffle House in Bristol, TN was taken over by a Yankee manager.  The guy - young know-it-all type - came in and started giving everyone hell about all kinds of stuff.  Not that anyone was paying attention.  They figured he'd move on sooner or later, and if they had anything to do with it, it would be sooner.

"He wants me to go out and chip weeds in the parking lot," said our favorite late-night waitress.  "Now I ain't doin' that.  And I let him know it.  He said he'd fire me.  I said, when do you think I'm gonna find the time to do that?  He say, you can do it when things are quiet 'round here.  When does he think that is?  Four a.m., and it's pitch dark?  I'm not going out there.  And at five, all them people from the factory come in, they shift over, and I'm running the counter like my ass is on fire?  I don't think so."

Another order he gave - to our favorite day waitress - was that she quit putting raw rice in the salt-shakers.  "Where is that boy from, anyway?  Don't he know that if you don't put rice in the salt-cellars, they gonna turn into Lot's wife?  How else you gonna made that salt flow?  He ain't never been here in July or August, that's for damn sure.  You want your hash browns smothered and covered?"  Hell yes.

There was also the time when the carnival came to town, and apparently one of the carnies made off and made hay with the girlfriend of one of the cooks.  The cook didn't take it well, especially when the carnie showed up at the Waffle House for sustenance before the carnival took off on Monday morning.  Let's just say that no one was chipping weeds in the parking lot that day but the carnie, and it was mostly with his teeth, as the cook bounced him around the asphalt.

And there were always drug deals in the parking lot, the homeless / wino regulars taking a snooze in that back booth that's almost out of sight of the windows, the constant gossip, and the police who ignored all of it, because they wanted a pecan waffle, too.

And we were all snobbish with it.  A Waffle House in Wytheville, Virginia.  Everyone's smoking, including us.  It's raining outside.  Inside, a nice thick haze of cigarette smoke, frying onions, waffle batter, burgers, grease, and coffee.  Perfect.  A car pulls up outside, New York license plates, and a couple gets out.  They walk in, and the woman looks around and asks, "Where is the non-smoking section?"  The waitress didn't miss a beat:  "In New York City."  The couple left, and the entire restaurant clientele stood up and applauded.

Of course, I enjoyed 24/7 restaurants more back in the day when I was apt to be up and around 24/7.  (Now I consider 9 PM seriously late and generally don't answer telephone calls after 8.)  When I was in my early 20s in Atlanta, in between Waffle Houses, the go-to places were the Majestic Diner at Plaza Drugs and Doby's, both on Ponce De Leon.  (Photo at right thanks to GA State Library Digital Collections.)

Doby's Good Food restaurant exterior on Ponce de Leon, 1980Back then the Majestic was just known as Plaza Drugs, and was known for its drugged-up clientele.  We Doby's customers liked to think we were a little more normal, but come on, when you have people walking other people in on a leash at midnight, there's nothing normal going on.  Except for the fact that the walker and walkee were both just showing off.  But at least we knew it was abnormal, and we showed our disapproval by ignoring them, despite their doing everything they could to get our attention.  The waitress' attention.  Somebody's attention.  Anyone's attention.

NOTE:  The worst thing in the world is to be deliberately, flamboyantly shocking and depraved and have no one pay attention.  😉  That is the tragedy of adolescence - temporary or permanent - in a nutshell.

Anyway, I was a Doby's fan, because they had better food.  And it was cheap.  Back in the mid-70s, you could get a vegetable plate (four veg and cornbread or biscuit) for probably $2.00, and breakfast with meat for $2.75.  A 3-piece chicken dinner would run you about $3.25.  I remember this, because we were all poor, doing our starving artist thing in the Little Five Points and North Highlands areas.  Mary Mac's (which is still around) was too expensive for us.

But again, the real purpose of 24/7 restaurants is a place where a group of people could sit over coffee and conversation for hours.  Face to face, laughing, talking, gossiping, arguing, exchanging ideas and dreams, plans and artwork, for hours.  It was great. 

And I think that's what I'd have missed the most if I'd been born in, say, 1990-2000.

Because before the pandemic, the smart phone arrived and ate up the entire attention span of a multi-generational group that apparently had had enough of people, and wanted to spend all their time texting.  From grandmothers to kids, it's been all eyes and thumbs on screen, for years. 

So, why are they suddenly hungering for other people's live company?  I mean, we've all seen it:
  • the people in a restaurant, everyone on their own smartphone, no one talking;
  • the people in a park, on their smartphones, while their kids played and occasionally begged for their attention;
  • the people walking, on their smartphones, never looking up (one walked into our parked car at the grocery store a few years ago, looked at us, shook his head, stepped to the right, lowered his head, and kept going).
Smartphones destroyed riding on subways and buses.  The sights you used to see!  I'll never forget Rughead in Atlanta, who spent all day long riding MARTA, wearing the worst wig in the world, stapled to his head...  Or all the tags of conversation, which I would note down in my little scribble book.  "Ain't no way I'm gonna tell my sponsor everything, even if I am working my program.  I'm not going to prison, even for my sobriety."

Smartphones destroyed the old coffee shops.  Starbucks is simply a vendor of hot liquid; nobody sits and talks there, they're on their tablets or smartphones or laptops, but no one talks.  And coffee shops, from the 1600s on, were all about talk.  That's what they were for.  Ask Samuel Johnson.

Anyway, you'd think the smartphone crowd - like the militia / survivalist types - would be the last people to be bugging out during this time of social distancing.  But no.  Joni  Mitchell was right.  "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."



Maybe some day we'll all get talking again.  And make some new tales to boot.

Stay well, stay safe, stay home.

Meanwhile, Blatant BSP:

Check out stories by yours truly:

"Brother's Keeper" in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

"Pentecost"  in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor

"Embraced"  in Startling Sci-Fi.

Startling Sci-Fi: New Tales of the Beyond (The NEW Series Book 3) by [Adam Sass, M. P. Diederich, Eve Fisher, Mike Algera, Brian T. Hodges, Charlotte Unsworth, Jhon Sanchez, Scott Lambridis, Stefanie Masciandaro, Casey Ellis]AHM_MayJun2020_400x570



10 May 2020

COVID19 in America versus Canada


Anger is the biggest difference between America and Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people have been discussing the difference between the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the United States and Canada. “When you look at per capita cases and deaths across the course of the entire outbreak, the comparison looks even worse: the United States has over two times as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Canada and roughly twice as many deaths.”

The factors impacting coronavirus infections and deaths in the two countries are complicated and will, I’m certain, be analyzed for years.

What I find impossibly sad is the level of anger in the United States that is not directed at this virus - because we should all be furious at this virus - but at each other.

While both countries are grappling with how to open up the country and help the economy recover, the stories in the two countries couldn’t be more different. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. 



In America: 



In Canada:



One obvious difference is that in Canada, we are not allowed to openly carry guns. However, aside from the guns, the differences are crucial and it is in the level of anger and intimidation in the United States.

In Ontario, my home province, the Premier responded to the protests by saying: “Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s furious at the “bunch of yahoos” who decided to flout physical distancing measures and emergency laws to protest outside Queen’s Park Saturday afternoon, calling them “irresponsible, reckless and selfish.”

For those who don’t speak Canadian, this is a very, very angry statement by a Canadian Premier. Also - he suggested consequences: “He said he hoped Toronto police would ticket them.
Not keeping at least two metres apart from someone not in your own household currently carries a fine of $880 in Toronto.”

In the end however: “A spokesperson for the Toronto police said no arrests were made and no tickets were issued following the protest, saying the crowd was compliant and exercised good social distancing.”

In other words, fairly polite and compliant protesters. 

It is more than not carrying guns. 

The politeness of Canadians has long been a joke among Americans. Although generalizations are never universally true, there may be something to this. However, there is one picture that explains a great deal:



In the United States, people are out of work and losing their healthcare and the financial assistance given appears to be piecemeal -both federal and state assistance- and many appear to be falling through the cracks.

In Canada, our universal healthcare system means that everyone remains covered for healthcare regardless of their employment status.

The federal government has delivered a strong set of financial protections for employees, self-employed, seniors and students. For example, if you are self-employed and have lost your job, you receive $2,000 per month for 4 months. These financial safety nets during COVID19, allow people to put food on the table. The provinces have all stepped up with other financial supports for citizens. 

In short: it is far easier to be less angry about the financial impacts of COVID in Canada than in the United States. 


There is more though. In Canada, there has been coordination between all levels of government in another area: information.

Our press conferences have been focused on Medical Officers of Health (federal and provincial) giving updates on infections, looking at models and doing the crucial work of informing the public about the new knowledge of this virus. This serves to increase scientific literacy in general. For example, prior to this pandemic, some Canadians did not understand that a virus cannot live outside of a cell for long and that is the reason for physical distancing.

The news in the United States has covered the politics of this pandemic and the disagreements between levels of government and within government. This type of coverage in Canada would be rather short - because there is general agreement about the need for physical distancing and to stay at home to defeat this virus.

So the difference in the two countries could not be more striking. In the United States the coronavirus has been a magnet for political anger. In Canada there is some of that certainly, as evidenced by the protests, but they have been small because, largely, our politicians are not fuelling them.

A virus has no politics, knows no party affiliation. It simply infects and kills. The wartime analogy has been used to describe the fight against this virus but this appears to be a strange war in the US, where there is little agreement if the enemy is dangerous, how to fight it or whether to bother fighting at all.

So, while Americans are dying, they appear to be very angry with each other. I wish they would get angrier at the virus.

07 May 2020

One Bite at a Time


Before COVID-19 I was a regular volunteer at the local penitentiary, what with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project - Sioux Falls, of which I'm president) and the Lifer's Group (of which myself and my husband are the official volunteer supervisors).  This meant I was down there pretty much every week, and sometimes more than once.  Well, that came to an abrupt end.  No visitors, no volunteers allowed, for the foreseeable future.

Yes, I miss them.  And I've been trying to maintain contact.  I have permission to write to them, as long as the letters are non-personal and revolve around AVP or the Lifer's Group, and I do not put my personal address as the return.  And since I can't get in to get any responses they send to the in-prison chapel mailbox, it's a one-way communication.  Kind of frustrating.  But I keep doing it.

I know many people today feel - and say - that social distancing, and COVID-19 lockdowns are like being in jail.  To which, my simple answer is, no, it isn't.  Not at all.

A typical cell at SCI Phoenix, with room for two inmates. Mr. Cosby has not been given a cellmate yet because of security concerns.Not unless you're spending your social distancing in a 6' x 8' concrete room with one wall that's nothing but bars, and inside the bars is a toilet, and against another wall are bunk beds, and you share this space with another inmate.  Who you may or may not like, but you probably have to live with, because if you refuse to share, that's a violation, and could land you in the SHU, which is an even smaller room, with even less stuff in it.  Not only that, there are guards who make sure you stay there up to 23/7, and enforce a wide variety of rules on behavior and speech that have to be read to be believed.

So, no. Staying at home is not at all like being in jail.

But we can learn a lot from inmates. And the first thing is how to do time.  It seems that to a lot of people, six weeks is way too long to have to be stuck indoors.  What if you had to do a year?  (There's a good chance there will be no effective vaccine for at least that long.)  What if you had to do more than that?  How does a person do a long stretch of time?  Well, one of our best inside facilitators, lifer Mighty Mark, said, "Well, it's like eating an elephant.  You take one bite at a time."

Every inmate has to learn - even if they're in for a short sentence - to NOT think too far ahead.  To NOT focus everything on their exit day (if any).  To NOT fume and fret and demand more than they can have.  To accept, in other words, what their situation is.  And then live, as much as humanly possible (and we are all human and frail) in the moment.  Right now.  This bite.  Chew.  Swallow.  Bite.  Repeat.

The big mistake most people do when they find themselves in confinement is to focus all their attention on:
(1) how horrible their situation is.
(2) how unfair the lawyer / judge / sentencing system is.
(3) how are they going to survive the next ____ months / years?
(4) how much the next ____ months / years is wasted time, time they'll never get back, no matter what, and it's just unbearable.
(5) how everyone has abandoned them.
(6) how alone they are.
(7) how useless / hopeless / tasteless everything is.
And on down the a long, long, long negative list of emotions, facts, realities, that are indeed unmistakable and undeniable.

A lot of them - especially the young men - lash out, towards themselves (there's a lot of cuttings, self-harm, and attempted / successful suicides in prison), towards other inmates (a lot of aggressive posturing, attacks, fighting), and even towards the COs (which never ends well for the inmate).  Some of it - even sometimes the self-harm - is showing off, to themselves and others that they've still got what it takes.  That they're the man, and no one better mess with them.  Rising in the pack, hopefully, to Alpha male.  The angriest - and ironically the most wounded - spend the most time in the SHU (solitary confinement), because not only is isolation the punishment for violence, but it's also where they put the suicidal.  (And those who are contagious.)

But, as the young inmates age, many of them come to realize that it doesn't work.  That sinking into violence or despair, aggression or depression, does nothing but make the time go longer and longer and longer...  And they realize (especially the lifers) that they have to make a life, a whole life, where they are.
Including friends.
Including hobbies.
Including goals.
Including education, perhaps even a career.
Including happiness.
BTW, a rip-roarer of book is Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.  Meet Edmund Dantes, sailor, who is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned for life - in solitary confinement - in the Château d'If (which still exists - see photo on the right).  After 8 years of solitary, he's suicidal, but then the Abbé Faria - digging his way out, a poor sense of direction - ends up at Edmund's cell.  Over the next 8 years, Faria teaches Edmund everything - language, culture, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and science - so well that, after Faria dies and Edmund escapes (read how yourself), Edmund can pass easily as a Count, welcomed everywhere and anywhere.  This is one of the great swashbuckler thrillers, especially as the Count ruthlessly, tirelessly pursues his revenge - but the opening chapters are also a master class in how to survive doing serious time.  And how important education can be.

Another master class is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, an account of his years in the camps and how people survive horror beyond imagination.  He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the  Holocaust - barely.  (See the Wikipedia summary HERE or, better yet, read it yourself.  I've read it more than once, and gained something new every time.)
"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."
Remember, this is from a man who survived four - yes FOUR - concentration camps.

And there's a story about Viktor Frankl in another book called The Monks of New Skete:  In the Spirit of Happiness.
We had a friend who was in a Nazi concentration camp in the Second World War, a dog breeder, and he was digging in the trenches with the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, and Victor Frankl told him:  "This is where you've got to find your happiness - right here in this trench, in this camp." ...  For this is where we're supposed to find our happiness - where we are now, wherever that might happen to be, in all that we do, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  To experience happiness is to experience freedom.  No matter what may happen in life, nothing will be able to touch true happiness. ...  So we have come to understand that happiness is not only in our power to attain, it is our duty to attain.  - The Monks of New Skete, pp. 312-313
A handy list to help:



And a wonderful video of how they do it in prison, Path of Freedom, with Fleet Maull, a former inmate:


    One bite at a time.
    One beat at a time.
    One breath at a time.
    And repeat…


    And now for some blatant self promotion:  My latest story "Brother's Keeper", set in Laskin, is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I share space with many of my fellow SleuthSayers - Robert Lopresti, Elizabeth Zelvin, Michael Bracken, Mark Thielman, Janice Law, and many other fine writers.

    AHM_MayJun2020_400x570

    23 April 2020

    Modern Little Plague on the Prairie



    by Eve Fisher

    NOTE:  Due to complete discombobulation last week, I posted this a week early.  But, here it is again, newly updated and with a new section - at the end, don't cheat - on possibilities for crime in a time of pandemic.  Enjoy!

    As some of you may have heard on the national news, Sioux Falls, SD, currently hosts one of the top hotspots for COVID-19 in America, thanks to Smithfield Foods.  With 941 cases just from Smithfield, we were #1 until we got beat by two correctional facilities in Iowa, and they can have the honor.

    Smithfield (which bought Morrell's, and then in turn was bought by a Chinese company back in 2013), was operating like any other meat packing plant, with super-crowded conditions for animals, carcasses, and people, all at super-high speeds, thanks to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who pretty much deregulated the industry in September, 2019. (See story HERE)  And, lest you think Smithfield was an outlier, meat packing plants are popping up all over the country, full of COVID-19, thanks to a tendency to cram workers cheek by jowl for their shifts.  See "Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants" HERE.




    Anyway, Smithfield wasn't transparent - there's a shock - and covered it up from March 25-April 6, when they had 80 cases and couldn't hide it anymore.  So they promised to close the facility for 3 days for deep cleaning. The next day there were 160 cases, and the day after that 234, and it turned out Smithfield hadn't closed for cleaning but was still processing.  So our Mayor and Governor asked for 14 days quarantine and cleaning, and the CEO closed the plant "indefinitely" and put out a snippy letter saying they'd only kept it open so long to "protect the food security of the nation." Yeah, right.

    But I don't want to go into our sorry tale of woe. Instead, I want to post some observations for future mystery writers and historians. Because you know, sooner or later, people are going to start writing about this, and they need to get it right.

    In Sioux Falls, 90% or more of the people grocery shopping - and the clerks - are wearing masks and gloves. The aisles in grocery stores are all one way, and they have 6-foot markers on the floors. But most people are not wearing masks / gloves outside for walks or exercise (including myself) because your glasses fog up and God knows we have plenty of fresh air because here the wind never stops.

    Norwegian Stoicism - In other parts of South Dakota, however, most people are NOT wearing masks or gloves anywhere. And it's business as usual regarding the number of people in the store, etc. And in many areas, someone wearing a mask and gloves is considered pretty much a wuss. They receive rolled eyes or a little sad chuckle: the Norwegian Lutheran version of the Southern "Bless your heart" - which is not a blessing. Of course, the average Norwegian / German / etc. Lutherans are by and large a stoic lot and expect everyone else to be the same. Another reason for no masks / gloves: these are the same people who'll be out in sub-zero weather without hat or gloves, because they can take it. 

    Libertarians - From the get-go of COVID-19 in our state (currently 1,858 cases, 1,659 in Sioux Falls) our Governor, Kristi Noem, has only given directives, and will not put in place official shut-down orders of any kind for any location. "We're not New York", which is pretty much the mantra of many rural areas. Apparently this gives some kind of immunity except in Sioux Falls, which is an urban area, so what do you expect?  
    BTW - one surprising thing is that many people aren't thinking about what happens if Sioux Falls does go all New York City, overwhelmed by cases and deaths. The truth is, if that happens, the whole state of South Dakota is screwed, medically, because guess who's the health care center of the state?  Avera McKennan and Sanford hospitals and all their clinics are here. Where all patients with serious health issues are brought. When Allan had his heart attack in 2010, they airlifted him from Madison, SD to Sioux Falls for (successful) surgery. What happens if there are no beds because COVID-19? 
    Mayor TenHaken tried to get a stay-at-home order for Sioux Falls, but he couldn't get the Sioux Falls city councillors (made up mostly of business owners) to back him, nor some residents, who were "concerned that it violates constitutional rights, is difficult to enforce and will bankrupt business barely holding on as it is. And one pastor called it "a massive government overreach." (Argus Leader) (On the other hand, the front-line workers want it, and want it NOW.)

    Last night, the city council agreed to a "no lingering" ordinance and expanding and enforcing the rule of 10 or less for gatherings.  But the same people showed up to protest:
    Some said they were concerned about what the measures had done to the economy. Some said they didn't believe the virus was really a threat at all, citing stories they'd seen online. Former political candidate Lora Hubbel questioned the credentials of Public Health Director Jill Franken and asked why the public was listening to doctors "who are not elected officials." - (Argus Leader)
    Economics!

    “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." - Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 27, 1925.

    Oh, Cal, you don't know the half of it.

    Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City plans a racing event with up to 700 spectators Saturday night.

    Fun fact:  The Park Jefferson International Speedway (above) in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota, is going to host a dirt track racing event with up to 900 spectators this Saturday.  Our Governor, bless her heart, will not lift a finger to stop it, but did "strongly recommend" that no one go.  And Union County officials, including the Sheriff, say they can't do a thing to stop it from happening.  (Argus Leader)

    Further fun fact:  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming up in August.  This hosts about 500,000 bikers annually, and they spend a lot of money on concerts, concessionaires, etc.  How many people believe that our Governor will stop it?  Or the city councilors of Sturgis, SD?  Pray for us.  But also for yourselves, because most of those 500,000 are from out of state, and they do go home eventually.

    Religious - As someone told me, "Why is everyone so afraid? If you're a true Christian, you shouldn't be afraid of anything, because everything is in God's hands." To which I replied, "Gethesemane." (see Matthew 26:39) Which was a polite way of avoiding screaming, "WE ALL GET AFRAID SOMETIMES.  EVEN JESUS."
    I detest people who try to be holier than Jesus, I really do. Life is hard enough as it is.
    Reminder:  "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."   

    Media driven - There is a distinct difference between the Fox News / Sean Hannity / Rush Limbaugh / OANN / QAnon crowd and the rest of us. Those 6 weeks of presidential golfing and rallies - with the full on support, encouragement, denial, and general "it's nothing!" of Fox News, etc. - pretty much poisoned the well. Today, most of those media consumers still don't believe that COVID-19 is anything more than just another flu, and everyone should just go ahead and get exposed to it.  In the immortal words of Bill O'Reilly, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway." (Hill)  So let's let everyone get it, get herd immunity, and whoever dies, dies. 
    NOTE: What's interesting to me is that most of the people who are in denial are the same people who are hoarding. "Well, I thought I might as well pick up that extra bale of toilet paper..."  
    And as for the young people - well, when you're a teenager you think you're bulletproof and invulnerable. I remember it well.  God bless you, and there's a reason I'm staying on the other side of the street.  

    Good Stuff:  On the other hand, people are volunteering, in various ways. They're sewing masks, running errands for the elderly, sending cards, making posters, and helping at food banks. They are Zooming and GoToMeetings and calling like crazy.  (BTW:  FUND THE USPS!)  There's a lot of good going on. A lot of helping. A lot of prayer. And a wonderful team of doctors (including a godson), nurses (including a goddaughter), grocery clerks, USPS workers, police (BTW, here in Sioux Falls, the Chief of Police, a police captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, an officer and three civilian employees all have the virus), and other front-line workers.  Please pray for them all. 

    But now let's talk about possible future mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.  

    • Robberies - well, when almost everyone's staying home, how well does B&E work?  However, I'd like to point out that cars must be feeling fairly abandoned.  (You would be amazed at the number of guns that are stolen out of unlocked cars every month up here...  it got to the point that one of the City Councilors even proposed penalizing gun owners who didn't lock their guns in their vehicles.)
    • Kidnapping - Besides the obvious who's going to know who's gone if no one's going out, here's a little scenario.  If plasma treatment is the only thing that works for a while (or longer), what if a group of billionaires - like the ones at Saint-Tropez - with their own medical facilities at their own compound hire / co-opt / acquire recovered COVID-19 patients for future treatment?  (WaPo)  (Might be time to re-watch Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"...)
    • Scams - going full throttle.  Invent your own, every one else does!
    • Murder - Well, there's lots of opportunities, as always.  Even more, what with the effects of COVID-19 on a body, and the lack of time for autopsies in a pandemic.  And I think it was Brendan DuBois who pointed out on Facebook that giving unregulated medicine to an irritating spouse might be one way of getting away with getting rid of them...  
    • And how does the prevalence, indeed in some places, requirement of masks add to these scenarios and more?  

    Strange times.



    Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

    31 March 2020

    For Your Quarantine-House Arrest Viewing Pleasure


    by Paul D. Marks

    I work at home. And we live off the beaten path, so I'm home a lot and used to it. Disciplined. Etc. But knowing that I shouldn't be going anywhere and that everything is closed still gives me a feeling of unease. Before, if I wanted to get out somewhere I could. Now I pretty much can't cause everything's closed, social distancing and all the rest. So, even though not much has really changed for me, it's still different. But Buster still gets his walks.

    So, in this time of “sheltering in place” and concerns about being out in public, I thought I’d suggest some fun movies for your quarantine. And I hope I remember them correctly. But even if my descriptions aren’t 100% correct they’re close. I think. I hope. Maybe. Also, I’m not including movies where zombies come after people or people turn into zombies or zombies have romances with other zombies or zombies have romances with humans. (Note: This is a zombie-free blog post.)


    Outbreak – A virus moves from monkey to humans. Starts conquering the universe until Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo save the day.

    Contagion – A virus moves from bat to humans—sound familiar? Starts to infect the world, until Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet save the day. Get Matt on the horn. Stat.


    Panic in the Streets – A doctor and a cop have 48 hours to stop pneumonic plague from conquering the world. Richard Widmark saves the day.

    The Killer That Stalked New York – Evelyn Keyes is a smuggler who arrives in New York infected with smallpox. She eventually feels guilty, turns herself in and saves the world.


    The Andromeda Strain (1971) – A virus comes to earth from outer space and begins to conquer the world until Owen Marshall, I mean Arthur Hill and pals save the world.


    12 Monkeys – A deadly virus almost wipes out humanity—until Bruce Willis saves the world. He has to go back in time to do it though. Of course, this is after he saved the Nakatomi Building in Die Hard I (The real building of which was a couple blocks from where I used to live. I remember watching it go up in the distance.) and rescuing the Fed’s gold bullion stash in Die Hard III. He’s a busy dude. But he couldn’t save his hair.



    The Stand – A deadly plague kills off most of the world. Who (actor-wise) saves the day depends on which version you watch.

    Runaway Virus – I haven’t actually seen this one, but a “runaway virus” is out to get the world. I’m sure somebody saves the day. Wanna bet on it?

    The Devils – Lotsa hanky panky in the town of Loudun in 17th century France, while the plague rages in the background. Burn ’em all at the stake…and hope the plague burns with ’em.

    The Hot Zone – Follows the spread of the Ebola virus. I sure as hell hope someone saves the day.

    Pandemic – There’s a handful of things by this title in which a virus spreads. I think someone will save the day.

    Now, if we can only get Matt and Evelyn and Renee and Richard and Dustin to save us.

    Okay, don’t get on my case for trying to be a little funny here.

    I’m sure there’s many more. So feel free to add to the list in the comments. And please no political comments.

    ~.~.~

    And now for the usual BSP:

    Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

    Got another early review for The Blues Don't Care. Thank you to Sam Sattler at Book Chase.

    "The Blues Don’t Care is a fun, atmospheric look at 1940s Los Angeles that almost perfectly captures the tone of all those old black and white gangster movies of the day. Bobby Saxon is such a fan of those films himself that he uses them as training films in his quest to make himself into a detective capable of solving a murder the police have little interest in solving for themselves. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it makes him crazily reckless. And that’s exactly why The Blues Don’t Care is so much fun. (Well, that and one other thing about Bobby you’re going to have to learn for yourself – trust me.)" Sam Sattler, Book Chase



    Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

    08 March 2020

    Coronavirus COVID-19: The Heroes and the Culprits


    Dr Mary Fernando
    Mary Fernando, MD
    Every time a patient goes to a doctor with a new illness, the story of chasing down the diagnosis is like a mystery novel with one difference: everyone works hard to make the story short with as little excitement as possible.

    In medicine, no one wants a long, twisted plot line and the best stories are the boring ones where the culprit is found quickly.

This desire for a short, boring story line has done what nothing else has been able to: it has united the world because citizens of every country want the story of the new coronavirus, #COVID-19, to end before they get a starring role in the tale of a new epidemic.

    

On December 30, 2019, Dr Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, posted on Weibo that he had seen 7 cases of a SARS-like virus and warned fellow doctors to wear protective clothing to avoid infection. This sensible and medically appropriate suggestion resulted in Dr Li being summoned to the Public Security Bureau four days later and he was made to sign a letter confirming he had made false statements. Before his death from Coronavirus on Feb 7, 2020, Dr. Li explained why he warned people initially despite the fact that he knew he might be punished for it: “I think a healthy society should not only have one kind of voice.”

    
Like the Chinese government who tried to put a lid on information about COVID-19, we have had many others who have tried to do the same for political and financial reasons. There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect businesses, however, there is a great deal wrong with stifling information. The only thing that protects people and saves lives is the truth: if certain activities or places are unsafe, people should know this.

    Through the evolution of this disease, there have been many kinds of voices speaking out and, just like in any mystery novel, each new crises reveals a great deal about the character of those involved.

    There are some people who want everyone to stay calm – as if one smidgeon of worry will muck up their world. They came out in force at the beginning of this epidemic grabbing every straw they could to dampen down concern. I’m a huge fan of calmness but not when it is coupled with misinformation such as: this is only spread by animals, only spread by people who are symptomatic, the virus doesn’t live on surfaces for days and it is no more lethal than the flu.

    Not one of those statements is true and people cannot protect themselves if they don’t know the truth. 


    While some grasp at anything to calm people down, others have done the opposite and developed theories to fan all sorts of flames and even to start fires on their own. One theory floated around that this new virus was developed in a lab to destabilize the world. Right on the heels of this is another, very malignant theory that this is a virus that largely infects people of Chinese origin and that they are responsible for the spread of this. This has resulted in racist attacks on people around the globe.

    There is another set of characters that have been emerging and speaking loudly: those who take a great deal of reassurance if they know things and even more reassurance if they know everything. Now this person who knows everything is a purely fictional character who has never existed but this doesn’t stop some people from emulating them. If this person who believes they have all the information has a large pulpit, they can spread information that is inaccurate and possibly dangerous.

    
Who is the biggest, baddest, scariest culprit in the saga of #COVID-19?
 Misinformation, spread by people whose need for calm, chaos or personal brilliance blinds them to the new facts emerging about this virus daily.

    Some of those new facts are reassuring, some are worrisome and not one of us knows them all because it is an evolving story. For example, there has been some evidence that gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea may precede respiratory symptoms during infection with this new coronavirus– this is crucial information that could lead people to seek medical attention earlier and therefore limit spread of the disease. Since we know that people without symptoms can spread the disease – unlike with SARS – we can’t assume we haven’t been exposed because no one around us was ill. 


    Just like in any mystery novel, we should remain suspicious of all the characters - any one of them could spread misinformation – often not from malice but because their character compels them to engage in certain behaviours that increase misinformation. Bottom line – the only thing that will keep you and those you care about safe is information on how to avoid getting infected with coronavirus.

    The heroes of this story? The first hero was Dr. Li  because he had a simple mission: to inform those around him with whatever information he had to keep them safe.

    Inspired by the heroes in this coronavirus story, I recently told my children who were traveling with me that – given the fact that this disease can be spread by people who have no symptoms and the virus can live on surfaces for days – they could stay safer if they assume their hands are infected and not touch their face and food without disinfecting them first. This simple set of instructions was the best way I could summarize this disease to the people I care about the most in this world. I also keep telling them that we are in the midst of learning about this disease so I’ll keep them updated. My children must have confidence in me because they grin every time I say this.

    As of the 7th of March, 2020, the World Health Organization reported that the number of confirmed cases of COVID19 has surpassed 100K. The doubling time of this disease appears to be around 7 days but the numbers, just like this disease, are fast moving. A peek at that study along with with data used gives an idea of why we need to take a deep breath and keep learning.