Friday, August 07, 2020

There's a pandemic on, so I thought I'd do a bit of my bit

I just hopped off of Etsy, where I ordered a few more facemasks for myself. I figure the wearin' o' the mask will continue well into next year, and by then my store of masks will be looking pretty shabby. I go out for a walk every day, so I'm going through seven masks a week that I have to hand launder. The same drag we used to experience back in the day when we all wore pantyhose.

There are, of course, something like 42 billion facemask choices out there, but I decided to focus my search on masks for holidays. Coming my way will be a couple of Halloween masks (for covid, not trick or treat costumes) and a few Christmas ones. Come October, I'll have a candy corn mask and a spider web one. In December, I'll be sporting my new snowflake and holly masks, and this retro look one that's particularly cute:

Then there's the nice summery-looking mask I saw on a store window on Charles Street. I may stop by later today to pick it up.

I have a few fancy (i.e., not black or white) masks already - a Red Sox mask and a couple (butterflies, plaid) that my sister Trish made for me when we were just starting to mask up, and we were all beginning to panic. That was in the just after before time, and I was ratcheting back and forth between an old bandanna and something I managed to craft up for myself using a linen napkin and rubber bands.

Mostly this summer I've been wearing white cotton masks that look kind of like the bras I wore in high school. Before that, I was mostly doing the black mask thing. I've also got a couple of gaiters, and a package of disposable masks. 

There's a pandemic on, don't you know, and I'm doing my bit for the common health and the economy by making sure I've got enough masks.

Admittedly, before I hopped on Etsy just now, I already had a decent number. But I've been getting sick and tired of the same old, same old, mask-wise, and I'll be happy to refresh my stockpile. Plus spread a bit of holiday comfort and joy, come the fall, come the winter. 

Mask production, as it turns out, is one of the few economic bright spots of the pandemic economy.

There's a company in Chelsea, just outside of Boston, that was making those canvas-over-steel-frame carts used for storage in warehouses and on factory floors, and for shuttling things around on trade-show floors (which is where I've used them). Business slowing down, Steele Canvas retooled and began producing face masks. Because of this, they've been able to keep their entire staff on. They've even brought on a few new employees. Their masks are sold by Crate and Barrel, among others. 

Steele Canvas is not alone.

With about half of U.S. states now requiring that masks be worn in public and most large retailers and grocery stores mandating them in their stores, masks are not just helping keep coronavirus at bay — they are providing a financial lifeline to many small businesses that might otherwise be looking into the abyss.

Companies are stitching them on repurposed manufacturing lines in New England and 3-D-printing them at workshops in California. Hundreds of Etsy entrepreneurs have stopped sewing bags and table linens and switched to full-time mask production. (Source: WaPo)

Etsy is, not surprisingly, a treasure trove, a garden of earthly delights, for mask seekers. 

When I was in mask panic mode in late March/early April - before masks were recommended, let alone required, but when the handwriting was on the wall and it said MASKS! - Etsy was everyone's go-to, but most of the masks on offer were utilitarian. Now there is seemingly infinite choice. (I've already gone back to look at the Christmas masks and - damn - except for the 1960's retro mask, I could have done better.)

You name it, you can probably find the mask of your dreams out there. Penguins (generic)? Check! Penguins (Pittsburgh)? Check! Hydrangeas? Check! Hot dogs? Check! Superman? Check! Super Mario? Check!

Okay. There's not one for everything imaginable. I came up short on Casablanca. But if you're a Sopranos fan, and you're willing to wear a mask with a cartoon of a naked woman on it - make that near-naked: she's wearing pasties - you can order the Bada Bing!

One vendor is even selling masks that she dyes with home-grown lavender and indigo.  

The WaPo article also talked about Ministry of Supply, a way-cool techie clothing company that's based in Boston. I've walked by their store on Newbury Street hundreds of times, but I've never been in. Too techie. Too millennial. Too skinny girl. But they do sell hi-tech masks. I was thinking of dropping in and buying one, but I checked online and their masks go for $50/per. 

Hmmm. I can get a handful of Etsy masks for that amount. Maybe I'll go back and look for something Thanksgiving-related.

I'm guessing we'll be wearing masks well into 2021, if not well beyond. 

So, masks.

And buying those facemasks, I'm at least doing a bit of my bit to save the people, save myself, and save the economy. Looking so forward to my new stock of Etsy masks arriving. 

Thursday, August 06, 2020

75 Years Later

Sometimes I just don't get why atom bombs - and later nuclear weapons - were considered worse than conventional means of warfare.

Yes, tens of thousands of (largely civilian) Japanese civilians died as the result of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

But thousands of civilians were killed in the Dresden fire bombing six months earlier. Even more died during the course of the Blitz. It's estimated that nearly 4 million civilians in China were killed by Japanese operations during World War II. Overall, 80 million souls were killed during that war, 50 million+ were civilians. 

War is always hell. Twentieth century war was even heller due in no small part to the ability to use bombs to kill masses of people without having to look them in the eye. They're all weapons of mass destruction.

But the A-Bomb...

All those people killed in a fell swoop. Their cities leveled. Survivors suffering hideous aftermath effects from radiation exposure. A weapon of truly massive destruction.

I'm on the side of believing that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the end of the war, and prevented a tremendous number of American casualties. (One of them could have been my father. He was in the Navy, and if the war had lasted long enough, his understanding was that he would have deployed to the Pacific. As things turned out, he ended out the war at Navy Pier in Chicago, doing Navy paperwork and dating my mother.)

Most believe that, without the demonstration of Allied power and will, the Japanese people would have suicidally fought to a very bitter end. Throughout my childhood, there were occasional stories of Japanese soldiers surfacing in the Pacific 10, 15, 20 years after the war had ended. Even well into the 1970's. There was even a story of two soldiers emerging from the jungle in 2005, 60 years after the war had ended. Surrender unthinkable, they'd soldiered-on in solitary non-battle on remote Pacific islands, eventually emerging, shaggy and a bit crazy. 

It was reasonable to fear that the Japanese military would never give up, and that they'd drag the cultish elements of the population down with them.

Still, the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are horrific, the images haunting. Even after these 75 years. (Hiroshima was August 6th, Nagasaki, August 9th.) 

The stuff of history.

Little Boy. Fat Man. 

The bombs had names. Amusing ones. 

The plane used to bomb Hiroshima, had a name, too. Pretty and feminine, Enola Gay. Named for the pilot's mother. Awww...

I had to look up the other plane. Bockscar. (Bock's Car.) Named for the plane's original pilot. Witty. A play on his name, a play on train names (Box Car).

The Hiroshima bombing took place 75 years ago today. Nagasaki, 75 years ago this coming Sunday.

We haven't learned much. War is still hell. 

But I'll say this about those bombings: except for testing, no one's set off a nuclear bomb since...


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Don't let no pandemic stop ya! As planned, The Wild Ones are coming to Sturgis, SD. (And Laconia, NH.)

If you're not doing anything, this weekend, it's not too late for you to hop on your bike and gun down I-90 for 30 hours or so - a straight shot - until you get to Sturgis, South Dakota. Where, from August 7th through the 16th, the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is being held. Pandemic, be damned!

While they're not expecting the 750,000 souls who vroomed into town in 2015 for the 75th anniversary event - and I've forgotten: is 75th anniversary leather, rubber, or tailpipe? - they are anticipating a quarter of a million attendees.

The city of Sturgis had considered canceling the Rally, but they figured that the riders would show up anyway. So they voted to hold it in hopes that they could at least keep some control. A couple of events have been canceled, including the opening ceremony when, I believe, everyone rides into town (which must be something to behold, if not to actually have to listen to), and a B1 bomber flyover. 

The city will be taking precautions, setting up dispensers for hand-washing, and will be scouring the downtown each evening. (The Rally website itself has little by way of COVID info, other than a link to the South Dakota state tracker, so attendees can figure out just what they're riding into.)

But it looks like most of the show will go on. Including the entertainment, from groups like Hairball, Saliva, and Flaw. 

Not that I would ever in a billion years have been drawn to an event that involved 250,000 bikers sharing porta-potties, but I'm sure for those who go every year it's an absolute blast. Hairball! Saliva! Flaw! 

And it would have been truly awful for the small businesses of Sturgis who count on the Rally for a good portion of their income to have the week canceled. Still, the idea of 250,000 folks converging on this small town - most of who I suspect (with my coastal elite snobbery) think masks are for pansies - and then shooting back home to all 50 states... Ugh... All those leather-clad disease vectors, heading down the highway, lookin' for adventure.

Closer to home, Laconia, NH will also be hosting their annual Motorcyle Week from August 22nd through August 30th. It's even older than Sturgis. This year will be it's 97th edition. 

It doesn't seem like it would have been his thing, but I'm wondering whether my father ever went up their in the 1930's when he was a young single guy with an Indian Motorcyle.

He's not in this picture, but motorcycling racing wouldn't have been outside of his wheelhouse at all. Too bad there's no one left to ask!

Anyway, this year's Laconia was postponed to an August date, but it's going happen. (Didn't get a list of all the bands that are coming, other than Bad Marriage...) There are, of course, COVID caveats in place:
“The emphasis on this year’s Laconia Motorcycle Week will be on safety,” says Deputy Director, Jennifer Anderson. “While we recognize that New Hampshire is faring remarkably better than most in this pandemic, many riders will be coming from out of state and we want to ensure the public we are taking every precaution to protect their safety, such as promoting the use of face masks when not riding, regular sanitization of public surfaces through sanitization experts, Nano Coating Technologies, LLC (NCT NH), and purposely planning for a toned down version of our rally to minimize large gatherings. Expect lots of fun, food and, of course, riding but in a safe environment.”
"A toned down version" of a motorcycle rally is likely to still be fairly raucous. And keep in mind that New Hampshire is the Live Free or Die state. Hope a lot of the bikers don't decide to head into Boston unmasked, unhelmeted, on their way home. 

And whether they're heading to Sturgis or Laconia, I hope they remember that final lyric of Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Me neither. At least not now and from COVID that rides into town on the back of a Harley. 

Anyway, with America's failure to suck it at all up and do what's needed to do to flatten the curve, it's no wonder that, pandemic-wise, we've achieved third world status. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

I, for one, am looking forward to hearing his side of the story

On my daily walks, I'm seeing regular signs that there are plenty of small, local businesses that are going out of. The nice little candy and nut store. The restaurant I didn't go to that often, but liked when I did. Etc. And that's just the ones that are in storefronts that are in walking distance of my home. I can only imagine what's happening beyond my walking distance, let alone with the non-storefront businesses. Sure, things will pick up. Eventually. And businesses (even if they're different ones entirely) will come back to fill in the blanks. Eventually. But mostly it's pretty devastating to see. And no doubt devastating to experience for the folks who own(ed) these businesses. 

Enraging, too. Especially when we know that the botched national response to the pandemic has created so much of the devastation. And especially since we've gotten confirmation that what we thought had happened with respect to the non-national response was not a figment of a collective blue state conspiracy theory. That, in fact, the major reason there was no national strategy to combat the pandemic was a calculation that only blue states would be hit, so there was no political benefit to be had from coming up with a strategy. And no political loss. (Win-Win in Drumpf terms.) In fact, the political benefit that Kushner & Co. were counting on was that they could blame Democratic blue state governors for whatever awfulness took place in their state. Swell!

What's also enraging is when I read about rotters who conned money out of the Paycheck Protection Program without protecting anyone's paycheck but their own.

Case in point is a Florida man:
David Tyler Hines, 29, not only filed fraudulent PPP applications, but also spent the money on a $318,497.53 Lamborghini Huracán EVO and other "luxury and personal items," including nearly $5,000 at Saks Fifth Ave, more than $11,000 at two Miami-area hotels and a $8,530 purchase at Graff Diamonds, investigators say.
"There does not appear to be any business purpose for most, if not all, of these expenses," the criminal complaint reads. (Source: CNN)
Hines was the beneficiary of $4M in PPP loans - he'd been looking fr $13.5M - low interest and forgivable. That is, forgivable if Hines was actually paying employees. 
"Those purported employees either did not exist or earned a fraction of what Hines claimed," US Postal Inspector Bryan Masmela wrote in the complaint.
He did disburse $30K of his PPP funds to "Mom", and another $19K to himself. Plus spent money on dating sites, and for food delivery. 

Is a payment to Mom forgivable? Not that you can't have a family member in your business, but what was Mom doing to earn a payment of $15K on May 13th, and another $15k on May 27th?
And, of course, that Lamborghini was no way going to be forgivable, unless Hines could convince someone that he needed a company car.

How this bum and his four moving-related "businesses" passed the screen is beyond me. 
According to the Justice Department, investigators did not find any operating websites for any of the four companies. The complaint noted that Promaster and We-Pack Moving were both listed as F-rated businesses by the Better Business Bureau. (Source: Heavy)
Hines, not surprisingly, sees things differently. And he's rather prudently using some of his PPP to lawyer up. (Although, seriously, if you were accused of fraud, would you hire a lawyer named Chad???)
"David is a legitimate business owner who, like millions of Americans, suffered financially during the pandemic," Hines attorney Chad Piotrowski told CNN in a statement. "While the allegations appear very serious, especially in light of the pandemic, David is anxious to tell his side of the story when the time comes." (Source: CNN)
And I for one am looking forward to hearing this legitimate business owner's side.

Meanwhile, I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to learn that, a week before Hines was busted for PPP fraud, he got a $100 ticket in Miami for not wearing a mask...

Monday, August 03, 2020

Workin' in a coal mine. Goin' down, down, down.

Between song and film, there's always been a ton - make that 16 tons - of romanticism around coal mining. Sure, plenty of the content is around disaster (How Green Was My Valley) and/or violence (The Molly Maguires). But, oh those songs: Coal Miner's Daughter, 16 Tons, Schooldays Over, and Workin' in a Coal Mine, Going Down, Down, Down). 

Sure, there's You Are My Sunshine, Here Comes the Sun, and Good Day Sunshine (among 62 billion songs about the sun), and They Call the Wind Mariah, but I don't believe that quite the same cultural markers will grow up around solar panels or wind turbines (let alone fracking).

But the rich cultural and economic history and mythology surrounding coal mining doesn't make up by just how god-awful coal is both for the environment and for the health and well-being of miners (even if it did make for a relatively decent living for those okay with the trade-off between black lung/cave ins and a paycheck). 

The reality is that the coal industry, like the song says, is going down, down, down. 
The United States mined 706 million tons of coal in 2019 — the lowest total since 1978.

That's a 7 percent drop from the previous year, continuing a decade-long decline in overall output since the coal-mining sector's peak production in 2008.

Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, saw a 9 percent drop in 2019. Arizona stopped mining coal altogether after the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired facility in the western United States, and the adjacent mine both closed. (Source: Washington Post)
And this year -  between the Corona Depression and the acceleration of the market forces that, despite Trump's fool's gold promises to keep it alive, and his roll-back of EPA regulations (clean air? who needs it?), have been driving the coal industry into the ground for years now - promises to be even worse.
The country is projected this year to get more power from renewable energy than from coal for the first time, according to the Energy Information Administration. 
Here's hoping the, coal-wise, 2020 lives up to this promise. (At least there's one benefit to a recession.)

Good riddance. 

Coal is not entirely going away. Not just yet, anyway.
Despite the decline domestically, coal is still the leading fuel for power generation worldwide.
Which is why, even without a pandemic, you see all those pictures of folks in Beijing wearing masks as they bicycle around in the city's fetid brown air.  

Few would argue that coal is anything other than tremendously bad for the environment and we need to keep moving all of our power plants off of it, and find alternative fuels for steel making. I'd say that at this point in time, the only thing coal is good for is making a snowman. And, yes, I am old enough to have lived in a home fueled by cold, and to have made plenty of snowmen that used coal for face and buttons. 

Of course, I never produced a snowman quite this good looking. Sure, my mother might have spotted us an old rag to use for a scarf, but one of my father's old hats? Forget about that.

And, of course, given the state o' the environment, it's not clear that we'll ever again have enough snow to roll out a respectable snowman...


Friday, July 31, 2020

Kellogg's Rice Krispies: Snap, Crackle and Gag

It's not as if I don't like Rice Krispies. 

I do.

There's not a box in my cupboard, mind you, but once in a while, when I'm at one of those hotel/motel dealies that come with breakfast, and Rice Krispies are an option, I'm not above pouring some milk into the box and leaning my ear in to hear the sweet sounds of snap, crackle and pop. As an aural remembrance of things past, it's almost as good as holding a conch shell up to your ear and listening to the ocean.

And my mother made a very tasty Rice Krispies-based cookie that involved dates (and walnuts?). They were quite good, and if my thinking that my sister Trish resurrected this recipe within the last few years is a false memory, well, it's not too late for Trish to dig up the recipe and make us some.

Admittedly, I'm not partial to the classic Rice Krispies Treats made with the cereal and Marshmallow Fluff. I think they're more suitable for construction projects than they are for eating. But to each their own. 

I would, however, eat nothing but those yucky non-treats for the rest of my life before I'd snack down on one of these foul little items:

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. 

That's a Rice Krispies Treat combined with bits of hot dog and smeared with mustard, ketchup, and relish. 

Yuck, yuck, a thousand times yuck.

As with Rice Krispies, it's not as if I don't like hot dogs. I do. They absolutely have their times and places. And those times and places are a) when I'm at Fenway Park for a ballgame, b) when I'm walking along the Esplanade on the Charles River and the little snack bar is open for business, and c) at a cookout. Alas, Fenway is closed to us fans, and the snack bar isn't opening this season, and there are no cookouts on my horizon, so this may will be a hot dog-less year for me. 

But while I always ate hot dogs, even as a kid I was violently opposed to hot dogs sliced up and added to anything. Hot dogs and beans churned my stomach. Sometimes my mother cut up a couple of hot dogs and threw them into the slime that was and is Franco-American Spaghetti. The horror!

For a German girl married to an Irishman, my mother made excellent spaghetti sauce, but sometimes for lunch she opened up a can of Franco-American for us. It bore absolutely no resemblance to real spaghetti, but I loved it. I didn't mind the kind with the mini-meatballs added in, but when my mother decided to up the protein ante and slice in a couple of hot dogs... One roiling kid stomach, coming right up!

No doubt the Rice Krispies Treat hot dogged up is the product of pandemic boredom. Still, this one's a monstrosity too far.

I will forgive my sister Trish for sending this one - which she saw on Twitter, but which came via the Nerdist (ur source: the Vulgar Chef) - if she promises to make some of those Rice Krispies date cookies. What they lack in snap, crackle and pop they more than make up for in yum.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Now THAT's a kitchen!

I have a reasonably nice kitchen. Nothing too elaborate. No chef's dream. No 6-burner gas stove. No double ovens. No eat-in (unless I'm standing over the sink.) It's a city, galley kitchen. But it's very nice (albeit a tiny bit messy: I'm too lazy to "stage" it for a photo op), and it suits me just fine.

As with most of my home, it's highly personal. The dutch oven on the stove top, the dishtowel hanging to the right on the oven: gifts from my sister Kath. The tiles over the stove were a 60th birthday gift from some friends. The blue bowls on the window sill came from my sister Trish. The dishtowel to the left: my niece Molly brought it back for me from her semester abroad in Ireland. You can't see what's hanging to the left on the wall there, but it's a cool photo of the Fenway Park bleachers, given to me by my niece Caroline. Also out of sight, over the sink hangs a goofy framed embroidered dishtowel I made when I was a crafty seven year old.

Other than the dishtowel, nothing too weird. Your standard gray and white kitchen with some pops of color, as they say on HGTV. I think it will age okay.

On the other hand, there are kitchen designs that don't age well at all:

My sister Kath and her husband are looking at property in Phoenix and this one crossed their path. The place is spectacularly located, with fabulous views, but the entire thing is covered on the inside with some rather hideous wallpaper. Certainly over the top by today's standards and aesthetics. But having a wallpapered ceiling? In the kitchen? Yuck, yuck, a thousand times yuck.

But the best kitchen I've seen lately has to be this kitchen of the future that popped up in my Twitter feed. (I think it was from historian Michael Beschloss, who regularly tweets out archived photos from the Library of Congress.)

This is a late 1950's kitchen of the future - the RCA Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen that was one of three exhibit kitchens that were at the scene of the famous Nixon-Khrushchev debate about the merits of American capitalism vs. Soviet communism. Advantage: American housewives. Da!

RCA Whirlpool was definitely anticipating the robotic future. 
"In this kitchen you can bake a cake in three minutes, and in this kitchen the dishes are scraped, washed and dried electronically. They even put themselves away. Even the floor is cleaned electronically. So welcome to this wonderful new world of push-button cooking, cleaning and homemaking." (Source: Indyweek article by Tom Maxwell, whose father was one of the Miracle Kitchen designers)
That thing that looks like a cool little mid-century modern TV is the command center, from which the housewife of the future can control everything from her nicely manicured fingertips.

Being able to have everything done for you automatically apparently gave the housewife of the future plenty of time to line up her pantry items - I see that there's little scratch cooking or baking going on at her house - on the slant. I may take this approach up.

Even though I don't have a command center in my kitchen, I think I'll keep mine over this futurized version. But I'd take the Miracle Kitchen over the Tucson wallpaper-ama any old day. Even if I had to sit around it in an aqua colored, polished cotton dress. (Which, I will note, would nicely match my kitchen color scheme.)

If you have a bit of time, I highly recommend this video in which the spokesmodel walks you through all the goodies that the Miracle Kitchen - including a feature that anticipates checking out who's at the door via Ring-like technology, and an early version of Roomba - will have to offer. Whirlpool sure missed a market opportunity by not pursuing products like these, that's for sure.