It was a shock last night when I got the news that Irish singer Sinead O’Connor died. My German friend, Susanne, shared a link to a German news article with the headline “Sinead O’Connor ist tot!” (ist tot= is dead). I went looking for confirmation and quickly found it in The Irish Times, a very reputable newspaper to which I am a subscriber. Then I remembered that Sinead O’Connor had lost her 17 year old son, Shane Lunny, to suicide in January 2022. Based on her last tweets, it appears that Sinead was still very deeply distressed about his death.
At this writing, details of how Sinead passed away have not been made public. She was 56 years old, and things do go wrong in 56 year old bodies. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sinead decided to exit life in much the same way her son did. Unfortunately, suicide can be contagious, particularly among those who are vulnerable to mental illness, as Sinead O’Connor freely admitted she was.
A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed her book, Rememberings. At the time I read the book, it was the summer of 2021. COVID hysteria was in full swing, and I was struggling with feelings of depression that were worse than usual. I remember wondering if life would ever go back to “normal”… or some semblance of normal, anyway, as my life hasn’t been really “normal” in years. Between noticeable climate change, moving to Germany, and watching the neverending Trump dumpster fire from afar, things have been rather weird for some time. COVID just magnified all of that anxiety I already had and made it much more surreal.
I’m not ashamed to admit that there were some times during the height of the pandemic when I wondered if I wanted to go on living myself. Who wants to go through life wearing face masks everywhere and being “locked down”, surveilled, screamed at, and possibly even arrested for not complying? Many people were talking a lot about how we should all be living life differently, and some were suggesting that those changes should be forever. Other people were denying the pandemic and becoming violent when they were asked to take the most basic precautions. It was terrifying, and the overall mood legitimately caused me a lot of angst, especially given how hostile and aggressive people were in pushing their views– and I mean on both sides of the issue. There didn’t seem to be much moderation… and I was so very tired of it all. It made me feel HOPELESS.
Anyway, there I was in June 2021, reading Sinead O’Connor’s book. It was about time for my birthday, and Bill and I had arranged a weekend stay at a beautiful five star hotel in Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg is not very far from where we live, but it’s a wonderful city. We went there for the first time in 2008, and had a blast. So, even though we could drive there in less than two hours, I was happy to enjoy the weekend turning 49… the last year of my 40s.
As we were driving to Heidelberg, I was reading passages from Sinead’s book aloud to Bill. Some of her stories were absolutely hilarious! Some were moving. Some were tragic and infuriating. I was sharing passages from her book with friends. My former shrink, who is now a Facebook friend, even had a laugh at one of them. I asked him if he thought he’d read Sinead’s book. He said “no”. I thought that was kind of a pity. I think he’d enjoy her musings. But maybe reading her book would be too much like taking his work home with him.
I remember that weekend in Heidelberg with so much fondness. It was the most “normal” I’d felt in a long time, even though COVID measures were in place. I remember having to go through a pain in the ass rigamarole to get my COVID vaccination credentials in order, mainly because I live in Germany, but got shots from the United States. We had to prove we were fully vaccinated before we could check in to the hotel, and we had to wear masks everywhere. I know a lot of people didn’t think any of that was a hardship, but for me, it was. However– I hasten to add– I DID COMPLY with the rules, even if I wasn’t cheerful about them.
Sinead O’Connor was a big part of that great weekend, because her book was so engaging to me. She made me laugh. She made me cry. I felt things other than anxiety and depression when I read her book. And we had so much fun over that weekend in Heidelberg, even if a lot of what we did involved people watching and taking pictures.
I remember sitting at a wonderful Heidelberg restaurant called Chambao on the night after my birthday. Because it was June and COVID restrictions were in place, we opted to sit inside by a window. At the time, those who weren’t vaccinated weren’t allowed in most establishments. Consequently, Chambao’s patio area was packed. The inside was almost empty. I remember the first bite of that dinner, and how tantalizingly delicious it was. It was the first really excellent food we’d had in a long while… which I know sounds very spoiled, given how much people have suffered over the ages. In my review, which I linked in this paragraph, I wrote that “my tastebuds were exploding”. It was a reminder that there are still good things in life worth waiting for and savoring. And I instantly started enjoying things more, and living life, rather than just wanting to “fast forward” through the bad parts, or just quit working altogether.
I finished Sinead O’Connor’s book, and we headed back to Wiesbaden, taking a brief detour to an awesome German city called Speyer. Speyer is also not that far from where we live, and we probably ought to go there and explore it more. But going there in 2021 was a revelation that there are still things to discover and enjoy, and the world is still out there… and a lot of it, in spite of what’s in the news, is still good. When I got home from our weekend, I bought a bunch of Sinead’s less popular albums and got to know her better. I should have “met” her a lot earlier than I did. She was phenomenal.
I still worry about things beyond my control. I worry about Donald Trump getting back into office and turning the United States into a dystopian, fascist, nightmare. I worry about my body turning on me and having to make decisions that I’ve been putting off for years. I worry about Bill and my mom, and the prospect of someday losing them. As Sinead’s sudden end has shown us, no one is guaranteed tomorrow.
Well… I don’t know how or why Sinead O’Connor died yesterday. I have my suspicions. If I’m right about my suspicions, it’s just one more reminder that mental illness is a real, and it can be deadly. I know she had many people in her life who loved her, in spite of her difficulties with mental illness. My sincere condolences go out to those who actually had Sinead in their daily lives and will miss her very unique and unforgettable presence. I have no doubt that having her around could be very difficult at times, but I also have no doubt that she rewarded her loved ones with warmth, creativity, unusual insight, and true hilarity.
I obviously didn’t know Sinead as a regular person, but she really did help me survive the pandemic. At the very least, her hysterical stories about her fantasies of having sex with Mormon missionaries and the nun who drew a penis on the chalkboard at her school gave me a reason to keep going (and if you want to see those anecdotes, have a look at my review). I hope wherever she is today, she’s finally at peace.
RIP Sinead O’Connor– December 8, 1966- July 26, 2023
Earlier this morning, I reposted a blog article I wrote in January 2018, when I discovered A&E’s reality TV show, 60 Days In. I suspect I was bored one day, flipping through Apple TV, and noticed what looked like an interesting concept for a television program. I binge watched the first couple of seasons and continued to watch somewhat faithfully, until COVID-19 struck.
To be honest, I initially found the concept of the show kind of baffling. As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I don’t know what in the world would compel someone to volunteer for jail for two months. I later found out that the participants are paid to do their time, where they are supposedly treated like everyone else is. The object is for the contestants to blend in at the jail and tell sheriffs what’s wrong in their facilities and offer them a chance to make changes. I do see the value in doing that, but I also wonder how in the world they can hope to keep the participants’ identities under cover when there are camera crews following them around. Plus, some of the real inmates were interviewed on camera. How could they not know that the jail was participating on 60 Days In?
I’ve now watched seven seasons of 60 Days In, and I think season 7 was probably among the best of the lot. Why? Because this time, the show was shot at the jail in Henry County, Georgia, and each of the participants had previously done time. In prior seasons, the participants were mostly people who had no actual experience in jails or prisons, and it showed. Most of them were too “pretty” for the job– they weren’t trusted by the other inmates. But in season 7, the participants didn’t have that “TV ready” look, and they were able to act much more convincingly as they interacted with people who were legitimately in jail.
Another reason why season 7 was especially interesting to me is that it was shot during the height of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which started in March 2020. It’s now May 2023, and the World Health Organization has just declared the global health emergency “over”, although I understand people are still getting COVID and some are still dying from it. I had a feeling the emergency would end in 2 or 3 years, because historically, that’s how long a lot of global health emergencies seem to last. A lot of cynical people are saying that the pandemic was all a sham. They are not people who have studied public health. I am someone who has studied public health extensively, so this news is neither shocking, nor am I feeling like I was tricked. COVID-19 was– and still is– a very real thing. It has nothing to do with politics, particularly involving Donald Trump. If this were about American politics, there wouldn’t be people in Germany still wearing masks just to be able to see their doctors in their doctors’ offices.
Because of the pandemic, there were some unusual rules in place at the jail. Sheriff Reginald B. Scandrett, who seems to perpetually sport a bow tie, had implemented some pretty tough conditions for the inmates. New arrivals were locked down for fourteen days in tiny cells with their bunkies, with only one hour outside of the cell every day. That hour was to be used taking showers, calling family on video kiosks, and getting very brief exercise. The rest of the time, they were stuck in their cells, basically listening to people go insane.
As more than one “inmate” pointed out, the conditions in the jail were disgusting. The cells themselves were filthy. One inmate said there were pubic hairs that weren’t his all over his mattress. Another complained about being forced to wear the same unwashed jumpsuit for a month. One time, there was a flood in the jail, and there was raw sewage all over the floor with no means of cleaning up the mess properly.
One of the women spoke of only getting a couple of maxi pads for dealing with her menstrual flow. I could certainly empathize with that. My own periods seem to finally be on hiatus now, but there’s no way a healthy woman with normal periods can deal with regular menstrual flow in a hygienic way with only a couple of pads. Never mind the women who bleed heavily. The lack of feminine hygiene protection seems especially dangerous from a public health standpoint, as a lot of chronic and/or fatal diseases are spread via blood.
Inmates had medical face masks to wear, but it didn’t appear that they were changed on a regular basis, nor were they worn properly. Several inmates wore them under their noses or chins. One of the show participants showed how the metal wire in the masks could be used as weapons.
The quarantine/23-1 lockdown seemed pretty pointless and cruel to me, given the lack of attention paid to other public health issues in the jail. And, as some of the participants noted, it was very hard on their mental health to be locked down for that amount of time. One participant, Lynn, had done eight years in prison, but she couldn’t tolerate the quarantine and had to quit the program. She said that she had worked very hard to overcome drug problems and the insanity of the jail made her want to start using drugs again. She also pointed out that medications were handed out to help inmates sleep, but she couldn’t take them, because they would threaten her sobriety.
Just as a side note, it surprises me that the show’s producers would risk having someone with a serious drug addiction come on that show for that very reason. Sobriety is a fragile thing for a lot of addicts, and relapses are brought on by stress. Being locked down for 23 hours a day in a place where people have unaddressed mental health issues would certainly threaten someone’s ability to stay sane– and sober. The lights are left on 24/7; there’s constant noise; and people have to be on high alert at all times.
One early quitter in Season 7 was a guy who had done federal time starting in 2004. I was reminded then that 2004 was a long time ago! This guy kept saying he wasn’t a “young buck” anymore. He probably would have been able to complete the program if not for the lengthy lockdown in the cell. But, as it was shown in the program, he was feeling really sick and stuck in a cell with a guy who kept farting. He had to make a quick exit. I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who don’t have a choice and must endure in those deplorable and unsanitary conditions.
Another participant– a guy who went by the name Chase, but was famous on Tik Tok under the handle “Lucky Chucky”– was complaining that there wasn’t enough milk or fresh fruit for the inmates. I don’t think he understood that a lot of people in jail are actually experiencing a lifestyle upgrade, although one participant said that she was more comfortable when she was homeless. This guy also brought up prisons in Norway, which I’ll agree, are pretty posh by most world standards. Norway has a very different culture than the U.S. does, though, and doesn’t have the same problems the U.S. does. So it’s hard to compare the two systems, although the prison system in the United States definitely does need a major overhaul.
I think the season was pretty much summed up at the end, when there was a two part “aftermath” episode. Soledad O’Brien facilitated the session during which the participants discussed their experiences on the show. The journalist literally and repeatedly had to tell two participants to “shut up”, because they were arguing with each other. One of them was slipping back into being an actual inmate and was sliding back into being a criminal. They had to pull him out for his own good, because he was about to “catch charges” that would have put him in the jail for real.
I think Season 7 of 60 Days In is one of the best of the series. It’s not a show I particularly “enjoy” watching. I find it interesting for a lot of reasons, but there’s also a part of me that cringes when I see their living conditions. I find it kind of stressful just to watch that show. I can’t imagine being a participant. In fact, I don’t think there’s any amount of money that would convince me to do it. That’s pretty crazy, though, since it’s so easy to be arrested in the United States and land in jail. Plenty of regular folks have “volunteered” for that experience just by committing petty crimes, and either not having enough of their own money, or not having sympathetic friends or loved ones with money they are willing to spend on them, to bond out of the jail.
In any case… I’m glad I finished watching that series yesterday. I look forward to moving on to cheerier entertainment today. Or, maybe I’ll make another video or two. The ones I did in honor of Gordon Lightfoot are doing surprisingly well.
It’s a beautiful spring day here in lovely Wiesbaden, Germany. The sun is shining and the air is fresh, crisp, and cool. I can see my neighbors’ trees heavy with flowers. Later, when I walk my dogs, I expect to see plenty of beautiful blooms in well-tended gardens. I probably should enjoy being outside more, especially since the weather in this part of the world isn’t always as nice as it is right now. It’s always so nice to see spring arrive in Germany, since the earliest months of the year are usually pretty crappy, when it comes to the weather. Making things even nicer is that on April 2, 2022, Germany finally lifted face mask requirements and vaccine checks in many venues, although they remain on public transportation.
Because masks are still required in airports and on public transportation in Germany, Bill and I will be driving to Italy next week. Actually, we might have decided to do that anyway, since we will probably be buying wine, cheese, and other groceries and it’s easier to transport that stuff in a car than on a plane. I like road trips, as a general rule. In my opinion, one of the best things about living in Europe is having the option to drive to so many beautiful places.
My countrymen aren’t so fortunate when it comes to traveling abroad. A person in the United States can’t drive to Europe, Africa, Australia, or Asia. In fact, it’s not so easy to get from coast to coast in the United States by car. It takes awhile to drive from, say, Virginia to California, and a lot of Americans prefer to fly, because vacation days are precious in the US and flying takes less time. So yesterday’s ruling, made with a stroke from federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s pen, has caused a big ruckus among Americans. Public reaction to her decision has been decisively split. Judge Mizelle’s ruling makes it okay to forgo face masks on domestic flights, although it’s my understanding that they are still required on planes that are flying to places where the masks are still required.
Many people are hailing Judge Mizelle for setting them free from face masks on public transportation. Others are cursing her and calling her “incompetent” for allowing people to suddenly take off their masks mid flight yesterday. The facts that she’s from Florida, is somewhat young and attractive, and was appointed by Donald Trump, don’t help some people’s negative impressions of her worthiness as a judge. Some public health and medical experts are very concerned about this restoration of facial freedom the judge has bestowed upon the public. And some people are feeling more emboldened than ever to shoot the finger at people they regard as sanctimonious virtue signalers.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’m liberal about a lot of things. But you may also know that I’m not a fan of face masks, even though I am a master’s level graduate of an accredited school of public health. I was never really in favor of them, even at the beginning of the pandemic. I don’t think a lot of people wear the masks properly. Here in Germany, we’ve been forced to wear heavy FFP2 masks (like N95s), but the infections continue, probably because no one is forced to cover their eyes. And so, I conclude that a lot of the masking is basically theater, although I can certainly understand why they are important in certain medical settings.
Two years ago, before we had vaccines and most people had zero immunity to the virus, I could see why they were initially necessary, even though the masks most people wore at the beginning of the pandemic were pretty useless. As the variants have become milder, and fewer people seem to be getting quite so sick and dying, I can see why the masks are being phased out. For the most part, I think it’s time. It’s been two years, and while I’m sure there are some people who would love to see everyone masked forever, that’s not a very realistic goal.
Many people legitimately hate the masks because they can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. They do cause legitimate problems for some people, particularly those who suffer from anxiety, are hard of hearing, or have sensory processing disorders. They aren’t a good long time solution, in my opinion, because they are so polarizing, and because they hinder communication. Even if face masks were the best idea ever, it would take some time for people to accept them as normal. I am old enough to remember when a lot of Americans didn’t voluntarily wear seatbelts in their cars. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that they became normal for most people. At least that was how it was in the United States. In most countries in Europe, mandatory use of seatbelts for all passengers has been the rule for a lot longer, and fines are pretty stiff for non-compliance. But even a lot of Europeans are over the masks.
I still live in Germany, where public health ministers are still wanting to limit freedoms and impose COVID restrictions. A lot of Germans seem to be fed up with the rules, too, although they do seem to be a lot more willing to submit to them than Americans are. What I like about Germany, though, is that people seem to be somewhat less insulting, whichever side of the mask debate they’re on. And Germans, as a rule, are more community minded about most things. Many people here are still wearing masks, even though they are no longer legally required to wear them. Those who don’t wear masks mostly don’t get harassed for not wearing them. Maybe they get the side eye from one or two people, but no one is getting belligerent or aggressive about it, and there’s a lot less violence all around. I doubt if the mask rules were relaxed in the middle of a Lufthansa flight, that people would be whooping and hollering like they reportedly were on US flights yesterday. But yes, there would probably be people gratefully removing them.
As usual, I took a look at the comments on the news articles. It didn’t surprise me that a lot of people were whining about their fears regarding this decision, while others were being really offensively belligerent about their “freedoms”. I suspect that if the mask mandates are reinstated in the United States, there will be even more of an uproar and possibly, more violence. I have noticed, as many have, that since the mask mandates were in place, the behavior of people on planes was more violent and unruly than it’s ever been. After all, flights in economy class are uncomfortable enough as it is. The masks made them even less pleasant for a large number of people, even though some people don’t mind the masks and never found wearing them “onerous”.
One thing that I’ve noticed and don’t really like from either side of this issue, is that people aren’t willing to compromise or concede. Why can’t the pro-maskers, for instance, understand why people hate wearing masks? Why do they feel it necessary to insult, belittle, and berate people for their valid opinions? Being nasty and sanctimonious to people does not inspire their cooperation. Moreover, I don’t find it very convincing when a person in a mask brags about “caring for other people” as they verbally abuse those who don’t share their opinions and dare to express themselves. I’ve seen more than one comment by a supposed “concerned mask wearing humanitarian” indicating that they think anyone who disagrees with them deserves to die. That’s not a very caring and kind attitude, in my opinion, and it doesn’t necessarily make me want to wear a mask for the sake of others. In fact, I think it’s the height of hypocrisy.
Conversely, I also think it’s awful that there are so many anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers out there who feel the need to laugh, gloat, and insult people who are genuinely afraid of getting very sick from the virus. I happen to agree that masking should be a choice, even though given a choice, many people won’t choose to wear a mask. Having the right to choose is part of living in a free society. But I also empathize with people who are afraid of COVID, or are concerned that they will spread it to vulnerable loved ones. Unfortunately, this was a problem even before COVID, and it will continue to be a problem. Forced mask wearing is not going to make the basic challenges faced by immunocompromised people go away, even if they appear to make things safer. I do agree, however, that we could all stand to be kinder and more considerate about this problem.
I read an op-ed on the Washington Post this morning about the relaxed rules. Robin Givhan, who wrote the opinion piece, demonstrated the attitude that, personally, I’ve found very off-putting throughout the pandemic. Her piece, titled “Whoops of selfish delight”, lamented that people were cheering about the suddenly dropped mask mandates. The mood of her opinion was that people were behaving badly for being visibly happy to be rid of the masks. This was Givhan’s sarcastic comment about the midflight announcement:
“They reveled in the knowledge that while they might be required to buckle their seat belt, turn off their cellphone, put their seat backs in the upright position and refrain from smoking on their grueling one-hour-and-20-minute flight, the one thing they would not have to do was wear a mask. The long, torturous nightmare of government overreach, which is how so many aggrieved passengers viewed the mandate effecting public transportation, has come to an end.”
I just want to ask her what the hell she was expecting. Of course people in their tight airplane seats with no leg room, strapped in and masked up, while their neighbors eye them suspiciously and with hostility, are going to be delighted with the prospect of being free to breathe unmasked. A lot of people– and I’m sure many in the travel industry, especially– are thrilled not to have to wear masks or enforce the wearing of masks, temporary as it may end up being.
Now, maybe it was rude to “whoop” about it, if only because yelling can spread viruses faster, and there are people who are legitimately terrified of being around maskless people. But I don’t think people are being selfish when they’re happy to be allowed to unmask. It’s perfectly natural, especially after two years of this weird, dystopian, plague we’ve been enduring. And if the mask mandates are reimposed, be prepared for backlash. I suspect it could be even worse after people have gotten a taste of freedom. No amount of shaming, virtue signaling, and berating is going to cow certain people into compliance. I just hope there won’t be more violence.
Anyway… count me among those who are for putting away the face masks, although I probably won’t be flying or taking transportation anytime soon. I never liked the masks, and I’m not going to submit to peer pressure to be a cheerleader for them. I’ll wear a mask if I’m asked to, but I certainly don’t want to do it. Not wearing a mask doesn’t make me a shitty person, especially since I don’t hang around people much, anyway. I also don’t care if other people wear masks. They can wear as many as they want to. It’s their choice, and I respect that. It would be nice if we could respect each other’s choices, since we all have to breathe. When it comes down to it, COVID is just another one of the many, many risks we face on a daily basis. Over the past two years, I’ve lost several people in my life, all of whom died years before perhaps they should have. Not a single one of them died of COVID… most of them had cancer or another chronic disease that might not have been adequately addressed, partly thanks to this virus. One died of suicide, and another was killed in a hit and run. I think that’s something to consider.
In other news…
I got another “restriction” from Facebook yesterday. They claimed I posted “hate speech” for referring to “dumb Americans”. My “punishment” is having my group posts filtered to the bottom for a month. I’m annoyed by this new ding, but I guess I should have expected it. Facebook must have a quota of sanctioning people for posting “offensive” content. What I find especially stupid is that people can and do post all sorts of offensive stuff toward strangers, but I refer to Americans as “dumb” because they won’t allow a children’s author to read his book about unicorns, and I get accused of posting “hate speech”.
Just as I would like to ditch masks, I would also really like to ditch Facebook. I may end up doing that at some point, although it’s the best and easiest way to stay in touch with people. But I resent their stupid bots making false accusations about my posts that are taken out of context. The other day, someone referred to me as a “baby killer”, complete with vomiting emojis because I support the rights of people to get abortions. But that’s apparently okay– to call an individual stranger a “baby killer” as you react with puke emojis. Call Americans “dumb”, and your account gets restricted. It’s very aggravating. But, based on the comments from friends, at least I am in good company with these inane “punishments”. And at least this time, my offensive post was only a few days old, instead of four years old, as it was the last time I got slapped on the wrist. And this time, Facebook said I could appeal their decision. I don’t care enough about this particular issue to do that, though. I’ll just put up with another month of wearing a red badge of shame.
I had an interesting experience this morning. It was a bit of a mind blower, as I realized the wisdom of George Carlin was, once again, informing me years after his death. Back in the 1980s, I was listening to George do a hilarious routine about driving. It remains one of my favorite bits by him, because there’s so much truth in it. This morning, I realized that some of his thoughts on driving could be applied to other aspects of living.
In “Driving”, Carlin shows us how self-absorbed some of us are when we get behind the wheel. He asks if you’ve ever noticed that “anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.” When we’re behind the wheel, we often think we’re doing everything right. And everybody else is in the way, and undeserving of consideration. How often have you been annoyed by someone trying to merge into your lane during a traffic jam? Sometimes, they’re really blatant about cutting in line. Other times, they’re just hoping someone will be kind enough to let them in the lane before they run out of road.
Carlin’s thoughts on driving are pretty good metaphors for everyday life. Take, for instance, the pandemic. I was reading my Facebook feed, and came across an article posted by The Atlantic. It was about immunocompromised people and how they have to worry much more about catching COVID-19 than other people do. The article, which was written by Ed Yong, asks what we “owe” immunocompromised people. According to Yong:
Close to 3 percent of U.S. adults take immunosuppressive drugs, either to treat cancers or autoimmune disorders or to stop their body from rejecting transplanted organs or stem cells. That makes at least 7 million immunocompromised people—a number that’s already larger than the populations of 36 states, without even including the millions more who have diseases that also hamper immunity, such as AIDS and at least 450 genetic disorders.
The immunocompromised are now living in “pandemic limbo”, because this super contagious virus is going around, but healthy people have gotten vaccinated and are easing back into a more normal lifestyle. The rules and restrictions made during the pandemic’s height are now being rolled back… at least in the United States. Well, they are in Germany, too, but not like they have been in the USA. Naturally, people who can’t fight the virus as easily as others can are worried about the future. They want people to show them some courtesy and deference.
As is my habit, I decided to check out the comment section. It didn’t take long before I ran into something that made me pause. Two men with diametrically opposed opinions were involved in an argument. This thread was actually really long, but I’m just going to post a couple of segments. I think they illustrate things pretty well. And because these guys are perfect strangers, and their comments can be easily read on The Atlantic’s Facebook page, I’m not going to edit their names.
Greg Johnson begins with a blunt statement that we didn’t owe immunocompromised people anything before COVID. And we don’t owe them anything now. He didn’t name call. He didn’t say anything that was overtly offensive. In fact, if you think about it, before COVID struck, it was pretty much a true statement that the vast majority of people didn’t think about how going about their everyday routines was going to affect their neighbors. But now, less than two years after COVID became an international scourge, some people are expecting their friends and neighbors to change their habits on a dime. And if anyone dares say or write anything like Greg did, they quickly get labeled a “sociopath”.
I think it’s fair to assume that Greg and Sam don’t know each other at all. But Sam, who claims to “care” about the well-being of other people, is very quick to call Greg a “sociopath”, “trash”, a “garbage human”, and an “utterly un self aware lunatic”. I would like to ask Sam if he actually cares about other people, when he labels total strangers as “worthless” (ie; trash, garbage human) without knowing anything at all about them. He also calls Greg “dim”, a “twerp”, then tells him to “climb down off [his] cross”. Looks to me like he doesn’t care much about his fellow human, Greg, does he?
Now, in fairness, once Sam starts with name calling, Greg follows suit. He tells Sam to “stick it up [his] ass” and calls him a d-bag and a moron. Then he refers to Sam and his “friends” as “crony asshole[s].” However, while I can see by the other comments in the thread that most people are on Sam’s side, I will go on record to say that I can definitely see Greg’s point. And, in fact, while his first comment was a bit of a jolt to the system after two years of constant sermons and lectures about the importance of caring for other people, what he stated isn’t untrue. Most of us haven’t historically thought, or cared, much about the immunocompromised. That doesn’t make us “garbage humans”. That makes us normal.
I know a lot of people think that self-centered “ableist” attitudes should change, and I will even agree that it would be really nice if more people did become kinder and more considerate. But the reality is, it’s not going to happen, especially not for 3 percent of the population. I know 3 percent of the US population is a lot of people, but it’s still a tiny percentage of the whole. The simple sad fact is, 97 percent of the population is not going to willingly alter their lives to accommodate a tiny percentage of strangers. They will change their habits to help themselves, and them and theirs. It’s not nice, but I think it is reality.
As I was reading this comment thread, I was suddenly reminded of George Carlin’s “Driving” routine from 1988. Toward the end of it he launches into a tirade about what he called “courtesy bullshit”. You will find it in the above clip at about the nine minute mark. He starts to complain about the “courtesy bullshit” going around. He says he puts it that way because he doesn’t think it’s real courtesy. It’s a “counterfeit generosity”. Carlin sneers, gesticulating wildly:
“Everybody wants me to go first! ‘You! Go! Go ahead! Please! Go! Go!'”
Then he breaks out of character and says, “Even when I leave the house in the morning, there’s a guy there at 7:00AM waiting for me— ‘I’m waiting for you to come out so you can go first, go ahead! Go! Go!'” as he gestures with his arm to go.
George explains, “I think it’s a post Vietnam guilt syndrome of some kind. You know, America has lost its soul, so now it’s gonna save its body. It’s like the fitness craze in this country well (hilarious fart sound effect that I can’t reproduce here) — doesn’t work that way, you know what I mean? Doesn’t work that way. And I’m sittin’ in the driveway… I know I’m sittin’ there and I’m stuck. It looks like I’m stuck. But I’m not asking for any help. I’m not asking for ANYTHING. Just sitting there! And some yo yo, some putz… some world-class, high-tech, state of the art yo yo, who hasn’t had a generous thought since St. Swithin’s Day, slams on his brakes (hilarious car screeching tires sound effect), kills three people behind him… and doesn’t ask me to go… TELLS ME TO GO!”
And then George furrows his brow and says in a deep, menacing, tone of voice, “YOU! GO!”
He pauses for dramatic effect and concludes, “FUCK YOOOOU!” with his middle finger locked and raised. Then he points with an angry frown and says, “YOU GO! I like it here! (sarcastic smirk)” He makes another sarcastic expression and says, “I come here all the time!” He sneers and points again and says, “You go!”
Then Carlin concludes, “Then when he goes, crash into him! And if he gets out to complain, say ‘Hey, you said to go!'”
What Carlin is describing is a kind of fake “virtue signaling” push for superficial kindness that isn’t based on reality or genuine courtesy. When it comes down to it, the vast majority of us actually are pretty selfish. It’s pretty much a feature of self-preservation. If you aren’t occasionally selfish sometimes, you will end up living a very short and unproductive life. While courtesy and kindness are good things, sometimes they can go too far. Just ask my husband about his first marriage and where being too kind and generous led him. Moderation is the key.
Imagine what would happen, for instance, if everyone insisted on always thinking of everyone else instead of themselves. Seriously, stop and think about this for a moment. First of all, if every single person was always considerate, kind, and thinking of everyone else, nothing would ever get done. We’d all be too busy holding the door open for the next person. There could be no progress in a world like that. No one would actually be walking through the door so that it could be closed, and we could all go on with our lives. We’d all be stuck. Someone has to be the recipient of that generosity. And to be the recipient of generosity, one must be a little bit selfish.
That means, on occasion, graciously accepting the kindness and thinking of your own needs. That means that thoughtfulness should extend to everyone, including the healthy people who have been living drastically altered lifestyles due to COVID-19. It includes the people who, for whatever reason, legitimately can’t tolerate wearing face masks. There are people like that in society– people who have sensory disorders, hearing problems, psychiatric issues, allergies to paper products, or even physical problems that make wearing masks problematic. Very few people seem to have much regard for people in that category. They automatically get labeled selfish, sociopathic, or uncaring, when the person labeling them doesn’t know the first thing about them or their personal situations.
It’s true that immunocompromised people are in an especially tough bind with the COVID situation. But it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to extend courtesy to them in all situations. Once again, I’m reminded of a Carlin truism. In the same “Driving” routine, Carlin talks about things that annoyed him when he was behind the wheel. One of his pet peeves was the “Baby On Board” signs that were so popular back in the late 80s.
And let’s not forget the 3 most puke inducing words that man has yet thought of, baby on board. I don’t know what valueless, soulless, yuppie cocksucker thought of that idea. No idea who. Baby on board. Who gives a fuck? I certainly don’t. You know what these morons are actually telling us, don’t you? I know you’ve figured this out. They’re actually saying to us, “we know you’re a shitty driver most of the time but, because our child is nearby, we expect you to straighten up for a little while.”
Fuck these people. I run them into a goddamn utility pole. Right into a pole huh? Roll that car over. Bounce that kid around a little bit. Let him grow up with a sense of reality, for Christ’s sakes. Life doesn’t change because you post a sign. I’m supposed to alter my driving habits because some woman forgot to put her diaphragm in. Isn’t that really nice? Isn’t that a real treat for me? Baby on board. Child in car. Don’t tell me your troubles, lady.
Why don’t you put up an honest sign? Asshole at the wheel! Asshole at the wheel. They don’t sell many of them, do they? No. They give them away free with Volvos and Audis. God help us. And Saabs. Some of these misfits buy Saabs. We bought a Saab. Well, what’d you buy a Swedish piece of shit like that for? It’s a safe car. These people think if they buy a safe car, it excuses them from the responsibility of having to learn how to drive the fucking things. First you learn to drive, then you buy your goddamn safe car.
George is describing the same mentality some people have in the wake of the pandemic. Lots of people are climbing on a moral high horse, shaming people who just want to live normally again. Living “normally” means not constantly being so worried and concerned about everyone and everything else.
Maybe that sounds callous and selfish, but it’s reality, isn’t it? It’s not realistic to expect the whole world to permanently change in order to protect the tiny percentage of the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s certainly not realistic to expect everyone to adopt that generous attitude on a dime. It takes time for people’s attitudes to evolve, and even then, some people will never change. What good does it do to call those people “garbage humans” for being who they are?
If every single person did nothing but consider the other guy all the time, not only would nothing ever get done, but we would probably all be legitimately mentally and physically ill in short order. We’d be overanxious, starving, homeless lunatics. Life requires some basic selfishness. You have to take care of your own needs before you can help other people most effectively. If you’re constantly giving away what you need to help the next person, you’re going to have a short, and probably very boring, life. Yes, it’s good to give to others, but you also have to take some things for yourself. And before anyone comes at me, condemning me for being cruel, stop and think for a moment. You really do have needs that require some selfishness to fulfill. We all do.
In the above comment section, these two strangers quickly became uncivilized because they have different perspectives, and I suspect, different political leanings. Imagine what might have happened if the two of them had shown some basic respect and consideration for each other’s perspectives. What if Sam had taken a breath and, before labeling Greg a “sociopath”, softened his approach a bit and been more thoughtful? What if he hadn’t sanctimoniously qualified himself as a “caring person” as he hypocritically called Greg a “garbage person”? What if he had acknowledged that the pandemic has been hard on EVERYONE? Yes, it’s been especially hard on the immunocompromised, but the truth is, it has affected everyone. And everyone is entitled to a little bit of grace… and a little bit of selfishness.
Has it occurred to Sam that the prospect of living the COVID lifestyle has been soul crushing for some people? Does he think about the people who have suffered real losses, even though they aren’t immunocompromised? What about people whose businesses have failed? How about people who have been so burdened by loneliness and despair that they have considered or even actually committed suicide? Or people so overwhelmed at the prospect of following the rules for social contact that they avoid doing things like going to the doctor or shopping?
Why can’t there be compromise? For some people, the prospect of this lifestyle dragging on forever is unbearable, even if it might benefit the immunocompromised. They deserve some good news and hope for the future. And, the sad reality is, every single one of us is going to die of something at some point. However, I do think it’s reasonable for the immunocompromised to get some consideration. Like, for instance, I think the ability to work from home should be normalized. That would be beneficial to a lot of people and the environment as a whole, not just those who are at a higher risk of being around other people due to their health.
I will agree that some people truly have been very selfish. Some people have not cooperated at all, and have taken belligerent and downright reckless attitudes toward the public health guidelines, especially when COVID was at its most dangerous. This post isn’t about those people. I’m referring to regular folks who have been patiently waiting and hoping that they can have some semblance of their lives back. It’s not wrong for people to want to get back to a normal lifestyle. That doesn’t make them “garbage human beings”.
Everybody has perspectives that have been formed by their own experiences. Before you go labeling someone a “sociopath” because they don’t agree with you, stop and think about whether or not you’re being a total hypocrite, and whether or not your virtue signaling shaming routine isn’t just “counterfeit generosity”. If you call someone trash just minutes after you praise yourself for being caring and kind, you might want check yourself… and maybe take down that “Baby On Board” sign on the back of your Volvo.
For those who would like to see George Carlin’s hilarious routine in its entirety… all sales made through my site result in a small commission from Amazon for me. That would be nice for me, but really, this is just one of my favorite Carlin shows.
The featured photo is one I took from a hotel room in Rostock, in northeastern Germany.
Thanks to the pandemic, cruising is about the last way Bill and I want to travel right now. However, prior to 2020, Bill and I did enjoy the occasional vacation on the high seas, and we definitely prefer the luxury lines. We haven’t yet had the chance to try out too many of them yet… mainly because we were won over by the two we have tried– SeaDream Yacht Club and Hebridean Island Cruises.
I have eyed Crystal Cruises on and off over the years, having heard that it offers a wonderful experience with six star service, excellent food, and all inclusive amenities. Crystal Symphony can carry up to 848 guests, but passengers enjoy a crew ratio of one per every 1.7 guests. It certainly looked enticing to me, even though we are more attracted to smaller ships. But, life happened, and we never got the chance to pull the trigger on one of Crystal’s dreamy seafaring excursions.
This morning, I woke to the news that a U.S. judge ordered the Crystal Symphony seized because the company has been sued by Peninsula Petroleum Far East over unpaid fuel bills– to the tune of $4.6 million! The fuel company filed their lawsuit in a South Florida federal court on Wednesday of last week, and the judge issued the order to seize the ship on Thursday.
Crystal Symphony, which had embarked on a two week voyage on January 8, was on its way back to Miami, where it was due in port on Saturday. If the ship had continued to Miami, or any other U.S. waters, it would have been seized by the authorities. According to the above news report, Peninsula Petroleum wants the ship sold so it can recoup some of its expenses.
At the last minute, the ship changed course to Bimini, in the Bahamas. There, the passengers were put on a decidedly less luxurious ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Making matters worse is that the weather was inclement, and apparently some passengers had motion sickness. That last bit I got from a thread on Cruise Critic’s message boards. Someone who was on the cruise had been entertaining everyone with daily posts, right up until the cruise had its unplanned ending in a different country.
I probably would have been interested in this story in any case, but as I was reading about the ultra luxe Crystal Symphony, I noticed that a 51 year old man named Steven Fales was interviewed for the story. The New York Times described him as an actor and a playwright, but I immediately recognized the name because about fifteen years ago, he wrote a book called Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the off-Broadway Hit. I bought and read that book in 2008, when I was still kind of fascinated by Mormonism and ex Mormons… again, thanks to Ex and her unilateral decision that she and her most recent two husbands would convert, and her children would be raised LDS.
In 2008, I was still pretty thick in my bewilderment and disgust for the way Mormonism is so often used as a tool to alienate and divide families. Now before anyone comes at me in the comments, let me state that my mind has somewhat changed about the LDS church since 2008. I no longer despise it as much as I used to. I still don’t like highly controlling religions, but I don’t think the LDS church is among the worst there are. Like, I don’t think mainstream Mormons are as bad as fundamentalist Baptists. Moreover, I don’t really care what someone’s personal religious beliefs are, as long as they don’t use their beliefs to control other people. I never have cared about that– I just hated that Bill’s decision not to be Mormon was one of the many excuses Ex had for why he was deemed “unfit” to be a dad to his daughters.
Anyway, back in 2008 and the years around that time– the blissful pre-pandemic days of yore– I was reading a lot of what I referred to as “exmo lit”. I wrote many reviews of the books by ex Mormons I read during that period, many of which you can find reposted in this blog. I no longer read much about Mormonism, since my interests have evolved. But I do remember Steven Fales, and how entertaining I found his book. Notably, Fales was also married to fellow author, Emily Pearson, daughter of Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson.
Carol Lynn Pearson is a much celebrated LDS poet and author who wrote a very moving book called Goodbye, I Love You, which was about her relationship with Emily’s father, Gerald, who was gay. Although Carol Lynn never stopped loving Gerald, they did divorce. Sadly, Gerald eventually contracted AIDS in the 1980s and died with Carol Lynn at his side. Emily Pearson wrote Dancing With Crazy, which I also read and reviewed in 2012. As far as I know, Carol Lynn Pearson remains a faithful and active LDS church member, while Emily Pearson and Steven Fales left the church.
Of course, I don’t actually know if the Steven Fales in the news story is the same one whose book I read, but my guess is that the person is one and the same, since the Fales I’m thinking of is also 51 years old, and an actor and playwright. If there are two 51 year old Steven Fales who act and write plays, I will gladly stand corrected.
As I was reading the story about this cruise– somewhat happily realizing that, for once, it wasn’t a story about cruisers coming down with COVID-19 en masse– I was reminded, once again, about how luxury cruises can unexpectedly put someone in contact with a person they might never otherwise meet. Bill and I have rubbed elbows with a number of interesting people on cruises. On the other hand, we’ve also met people like “Large Marge”. Suffice to say, she’s someone I hope not to run into again. What’s funny is, on our last cruise, I mentioned her to the bartender and he knew exactly who I was talking about and said she’d just been onboard the ship two weeks prior to our voyage.
I read one of several Cruise Critic threads about this unfortunate turn of events. A poster who had been on the voyage wrote about how the crew bravely kept smiling, even though they didn’t know if they would still have jobs. I have met some truly amazing crew members on the cruises I’ve been on. Many of them come from countries where it’s hard to make a good living. They are able to help support their families back home with the money they make on cruises, taking care of the well-heeled, often without ever revealing the stresses of having to deal with a potentially very demanding clientele.
According to Fales:
“That crew treated us like royalty through the tears of losing their jobs,” he said. “They’re all just heartbroken, and it was just devastating.”
As if it’s not enough that cruise ship crews are, no doubt, working harder than ever in these pandemic times, now this has happened. It really doesn’t look good for Crystal, or the industry as a whole.
As for Bill and me, I think our days of cruising are over for the time being. I don’t want to cruise until the COVID-19 crisis has been mitigated more. It’s too risky on so many levels– from financial to health. And now, it appears that even the cruise lines that cater to the wealthier segment of society is not exempt from falling into a crisis. My heart goes out to the hard working crew, who are now faced with uncertain immediate futures. And, while I think anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to afford a Crystal cruise is doing alright, I feel somewhat saddened for those whose vacations might not have ended happily in the wake of this development– or those who have booked cruises and may now be wondering if they just lost thousands of dollars or euros, thanks to this financial fiasco.
I do hope that Crystal can settle this mess satisfactorily and eventually resume operations. I know the line has many fans. I’d hate to see it go away.
Below are links to the books written by Carol Lynn Pearson, Emily Pearson, and Steven Fales. If you purchase through those links, I will get a small commission from Amazon.com, as I am an Amazon Associate. I recommend all three books, but if you choose just one, I would recommend reading Goodbye, I Love You first.
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