Off the Top of My Head

April 5. If I kept a journal, I would write As we enter the second month of isolation... At least, it sure seems that way, but it's only been since March 10 or so that things got serious. Some places longer, some places not-yet, but soon to be.

Serious and Not.


In normal times, I'm kind of a stay-at-home kind of guy. I leave the house for one of two reasons: I've got to (need groceries, appointments, return books to the library) and need to. Once every other week or so, I have to get out of the house. Maybe grab lunch, go shopping, visit the library or other place of interest, just to get out. So pretty much what I'm doing now, with some slight exceptions.

But now that we're supposed/required to stay inside, and lots of places like libraries and museums are closed. I'm antsy, and really want to go to those places. I miss the library and other hangouts more than I thought I would. I'm pretty sure that once the restrictions are lifted, I'll resume my normal patterns, and visit as the urge strikes me.

As a sidenote, I feel bad for homeschoolers both forced and voluntary. The good ones incorporate a lot of community resources into the education of their kids, like museums and libraries. I know a lot of the material is online, but there's still something about experiencing an item in its natural surroundings. It's the difference between reading a Shakespeare play, seeing the movie of a Shakespeare play, and seeing it performed in a theater by actors, no matter how amateur.

Cabin Fever

Remember when as a kid you'd be having fun making silly faces, and your mother would come in and say, if you aren't careful your face will freeze that way?

I was reminded of that when I saw the upteenth person walking down the street holding a phone to their ear. Knowing they've probably spent half their lives with their phones to their heads like that, I wanted to rush out and say, Don't you know that your elbow is going to lock n that position someday and you're never going to be able to straighten your arm again?

I didn't because it won't. Plus, I didn't want to sound like Mom. We didn't pay attention to Mom because we didn't see any adults walking around with their faces frozen into silly positions, except people who perpetually scowled, who are sad, not silly. Something got twisted, but it wasn't their faces.


On Monday morning, COVID-19 cases in the US exceeded 330,000, or one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the population.

Meanwhile, according to the CDC, this flu season there have been 32,000,000 people with the flu, 310,000 hospitalizations, and 18,000 deaths (or 1.0%, 0.1% and 0.05%, respectively) as of the beginning of March. Remember we have a vaccine for the flu.


heavy duty face mask

A number of people have asked me to not only wear a mask, but to wear a full face covering, like Arab women do, and to keep wearing the mask when the crisis is over.

I'm beginning to suspect that my health and well-being is not their primary concern.

Covidiana–A Continuing Series.

Rating the maps

I mentioned last week that CNN and USAToday were maintaining maps tracking the COVID-19 Uncertainty (I have been hearing semi-constant references to the uncertain times we live in. Thus, the COVID-19 Uncertainty). The AP also has a map. This one is clear right from the first map that it's by counties. One thing that's worth noting is that the maps don't seem to agree. So it's time to play Who Do You Trust?

Better News

Even though the maps don't show it, apparently the recovery rate from coronavirus cases is much greater than the fatality rate. Recovery and healing are never the story. When did you last see a story about a gunshot victim leaving the hospital that was equal in prominence to the original shooting story? Anyway, part of the untold story.

Time for Introverts

Even though we introverts (a 76 on introversion in the Meyers-Briggs personality measure, if anyone has a problem with the we just in front of the parenthesis) make up approximately 40 percent of the population, we always seem to be losing out to the step up-speak out-push in-party animal extroverts. In the common perception we're shy, retiring, quiet, bookish, sensitive, moody types who would prefer to stay home instead of going out and mingling with others.

You got a problem with that, punk?

Anyway, with all this forced distancing and shelter-at-home and self-isolation, it's time for introverts to shine. We got this. Heck, some of us have been practicing self-isolation for years. Who would have thought we'd be trendsetters? We've already got our books, favorite shows, a supply of tasty shacks capable of carrying us to the next ice age, blankets and comfy sweaters, and of course, a couple of cats to keep us company.

It's hard not to say nyahh!

The Good Ol' Days

You would think that something that killed more Americans in the 2oth Century than all the wars combined would be noted, especially in these current times when it was the deadliest pandemic since the Black Death. But very few people remember the Spanish Flu, which killed 105,000 Americans in October of 1918 alone.

Most state and local authorities acted quickly, one city going so far as to fine people $5 for not wearing a mask in public. Other cities and state governments took a different approach. The New York City School Superintendent decided to keep children in school because they would be closer to nurses. The May or Philadelphia let a war bonds rally continue that drew 200,000 people. Overall, 275,000 in a population of approximately 100 million died in the United States . Over 50 million people died worldwide. About 25 percent of the world's population was affected by the virus.

So why is the pandemic so unknown? It was competing with World War I for attention. The effects of the influenza was considered classified information, and newspapermen could get up to 20 years in jail for reporting on it. The outbreak became known as the Spanish Flu because Spain was a neutral country, and so accurate numbers could be reported there.

Nothing to see/learn here. Everyone move along.

Banker's Hours

It used to be that bankers were the envy of the business world. Nobody else had a block of time named after them. They worked bankers' hours, starting around 9:00-10:00 and ending around 3:00-4:00, from Monday to Friday, much shorter hours than the rest of the world. There was even something called bank holidays, special days off that nobody else had that seemed to follow the lunar cycle of a moon circling the planet of a far-distant star. This was all before drive-through banking, ATMs, extended hours, Saturday banking, direct deposit, online banking, and in some states branch banking. So it was quite a chore for most people to get money in or take money out of the bank, usually requiring taking time off from work or at least adjusting schedules to complete a financial transaction. Once you got to the bank, there were lines there worthy of big-box stores on Black Friday.

Of course, everything broke down and people expected, demanded even, that bankers act like normal people and work the kind of hours normal people did. They didn't think they were normal, rather a superior species, but with new competitors offering expanded times and becoming service oriented, most of them followed along.

I just got an email from Wells-Fargo, announcing that, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic requirements like shelter-in-place yadda-yadda, those banks that were remaining open would have lobby hours of 9:30-4:00. My guess is that while they're saying Take care, we care like everybody else, they're thinking it's about time we can resume our proper place in the order of things and that the peons are reminded who has the power.

Collateral Upside.

I remember that immediately following 9-11, all commercial flights were grounded. I lived in Houston at the time. I was really surprised how quickly the sky got blue, because all the contrails and leftover water vapor dissipated, to say nothing of auto emissions being reduced. Better skies at night, too. I haven't really seen it here yet, but I hear that some places have much cleaner air now that there's less driving around, and residents are seeing things they haven't seen in years, like the Milky Way..    top



Have you ever noticed how, in movies and TV shows, when the bad guy has a gun on the good guys and he's about to shoot them, he tells the good guys to Turn around. And they always do?


End O' The World.

My wife is an avid reader, and comes from a long line of readers. There are always stacks of books and magazines around the house. Recently, she's been on a fat-book series read-a-thon, featuring Outlander and Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson biography. The reading was accelerated by the stay-at-home phenomenon.

The problem with books like that is you think the books and series will never end. But as I found out with Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, they do. Yesterday, not only did my wife announce that she had finished the available books in both those series, she had nothing on the next up pile of books. She was reduced to looking through the stacks of books she put in book reading zones, like next to the bed. I'm guessing it's the same feeling that smokers who quit have when the urge strikes again, and they go rooting around for tobacco, even in ashtrays.

I really hope Amazon has Books as one of their essential categories of things they are still delivering. In the stay-at-home world, books are as essential as toilet paper. I also hope that those authors with unfinished series (we're looking at you, Donna Gabaldon and Robert Caro) get on the stick and get those next volumes out.


I used the phrase get on the stick in that last section, and realized that I had no idea what it meant originally or where ti came from. Nobody wants to be definitive about it, or provide a reference to the first use, but it generally seems to be consensus that it comes out of early aviation (or automotive) days. The stick was the primary means used to control the airplane (or move the car forward) and be on the stick meant to be in charge, or alternatively, to move things forward.

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with witches riding around on broomsticks. I don't know why. Maybe it's better imagery, or the idea of mischief and mayhem being a goal doesn't resonate with squeamish types, or it's too exotic. Witches don't get on broomsticks to get a loaf of bread and quart of milk.

Where do witches get their groceries, anyway?



Fred the Flower

Fred pens the start of his opus magnus.

Fred the Flower

Fortnightly T-Shirts

Sometimes it's a mug, sometimes a meme, sometimes it's funny. But the price is always right.

T-shirts you just can't buy.


Poetry Corner

Number 9 in the series.

Saturday Morning Poem


Sometime in the night,

A cold front swept through.

Even snuggled in the covers,

With the furnace humming away,

I know.

The floor will be cold.

I pull the blanket closer.

There is no hurry

To test my knowledge

Of the world.


We're back to business as usual

Ms. T faces a harsh reality

Big Think has some interesting, thought-provoking articles. I do a lot of I didn't know that when visiting.

Newest comic I'm following is Eric Scott's 1 and done. Be sure to check out the January 13th 'toon.

Shawn Girvan is getting some content on his website. Click on Vestiges when you go to Girvanaca

My brother-in-law Harvey's academic-politics cartoon: SNAF-U

My sister Mary Pat's occasional musings: LaBrea Rambles

Suzanne's blog: The Tabard Inn. Suzanne's posting again.

Austin Kleon's blog

Gary Larson and The Far Side are back! Replays now, new comics to come. You might want to give that we're going to foul your browser with third party, fourth party and known bad guys' cookies disclaimer a quick read before you click I agree. And then clear your cookies.

More quirky cartoons at The Oatmeal

Last Week

March 31. This week, we'll have one big chunk o' prose goodness–everything served up all at once. I thought I was going to do a thoughtful piece, but that may have to wait, as I have to think about it a little more. Too much thought involved–three in the last two sentences–I'm all thought out. In the meanwhile, you get the same tasty stew of silly to sillier. Not real nutritious, but boy o boy, can we pack in the useless calories that go straight to the brain!


caulliflower in bloom

In the fall of 2018, almost as a joke, we bought a 3 cell box of cauliflower plants at the garden store. We planted them, with no expectation of their ever amounting to much of anything. One plant lived up to expectations–it disappeared almost before we got in the house. The other two, however, not only survived, but thrived in their own way. We saw the distinctive white floret form in the center of the plant. Unfortunately, we had a touch of cold weather that was enough to ruin our crop. Tne plant stayed healthy, though, and we just sort of left it there. In the spring, it was gone.

That is, in the spring of 2019. In the fall, we saw the cauliflower plant growing again. The leaves have a nice gray-green color, so we left it. Then, this spring, we saw another vegetable forming. We left it alone, as it was too small and also had a slightly unappetizing yellow color (not that I find cauliflower of any color appetizing) Then after a bit of warm weather, we suddenly had this lovely three foot tall flower in the yard. If nothing else, I found out why it's spelled cauliflower and not cauliflour, my preferred spelling. Very pretty. That's it up above.


The CDC Says

from the CDC

We got this card from the CDC last week. Without getting into the politics of the CDC apparently stumping for the President's re-election campaign, and considering some of the contradictory advice that the President and his coronavirus panel had been giving, I was very interested in seeing what those guidelines were.

I was really surprised when I read Number 1: Listen and follow the direction of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES. Numbers 2 through 6 were variations of stay home,, numbers 7 through 10 were stay away form other people, and finally, we should always practice good hygiene.

Final card takeaway: No news is not always good news. Sometimes, no news is just no news. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Quack-Quack here.


I was wondering why I was thinking Daffy or Donald or Uncle Scrooge when I've seen pictures of hospital workers recently. Turns out one version of the facemask is called the duckbill, apparently the choice of health professionals everywhere when fighting a pandemic, or even just a nasty virus (I made that up. Sorry). No explanation why it's shaped that way, although the shape can be traced back to 1619, and was used during a plague in Italy in the 1600's.

I've also seen people wearing masks that cover their mouths but leave the nose exposed. That's a waste of a perfectly good mask in so many ways.

Let me add my thanks (again!) to all those from hospital workers to grocery store clerks who are working to keep us safe and fed, especially those working without protective gear.

Mapping It.

It's surprisingly hard to get simple, clear information about the progress of the coronavirus. The CDC has tons of information, which is navigable only by CDC statisticians. I keep forgetting that at the end of the day (and the beginning) the CDC is a government agency. They let us know how hard they're working by putting everything out there. More data than information.

So in looking around, I came across a couple of news sites that provide accessible information about the spread of COVID-19. My favorite site is this one, apparently some subsidiary of Gannett/USA Today (CNN also has a good map). The infographic shows the locations of the virus by state. The size of the orange circles shows how severe the contagion is. Hovering on a circle results in a pop-up box telling the number of total cases, active cases, recovered cases, and deaths. The CNN map also has a table that shows cases per 100,000 population, a useful statistic. No matter how you slice and dice, New York and New Jersey are way ahead of the pack in cases per 100,000 people.

It used to be that if you expanded the map, it would show cases by county. No more. I don't know if it was too hard to keep up, or if I'm looking in the wrong place. Overall, though, still handy for a quick comprehensive look.

Penobscot County.

As of when I looked at the map last (when it still had county information), Penobscot County in Maine (I used to live there, so I check) had six cases of Coronavirus–three were active, and three people had recovered. I think of all the places I had looked, that was the only one that had any recovery rate, much less a 50 percent recovery rate. Good news indeed.

Scaling the Heights of Useless

There's lots of collateral damage to coronavirus. Restaurants close, but we don't think of all the suppliers and small local wholesalers who supply them. We don't think about the florists and photographers who derive a big chunk of their business from weddings. And all the sports reporters who now have nothing to do since there are no sports to report on.

Such is the case of Harry Lyles, Jr., of SB Nation, a large sports blogging conglomerate.. In our curious times, Harry is reduced to more frivolous pursuits, such as reordering the alphabet. It's kind of stupid, totally without any redeeming social value, and I can see Harry's tongue in his cheek from here even without squinting. I sympathize–I've been there.

Spoiler alert: The #1 letter is R. Personally, I always found the capital R a little top heavy. I refuse to speculate if that tells us something about Harry's preference in women, too.

Good Stuff to Read

I've recommended (and linked to) The Oatmeal for quite a while (quite a while: at least two weeks). To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the writer came up with a very useful and entertaining post, which you can see here. it's almost a must read, a show and tell for creative types. As Ferris asked, What are you still doing here? Go read some good stuff already!

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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