Sunday, February 13, 2022

Pandemic Journal, Part 25: New Year, Same Pandemic


My longer-running-than-I-would-like pandemic journal continues with Part 25! This one includes the first several weeks of 2022: omicron surge, canceled plans, everyone but me playing Wordle (see above), and the pandemic still going on despite many people deciding it's over for them. But I have also continued to collect memes for my and your amusement.

1 Jan. 2022




The new year is here. Pandemic year three.


We and the cats had a quiet night at home with snacks (not an atypical NYE for us pre-pandemic, but only typical now). After midnight I sat on the porch on a warm, foggy night with a drink trying to see some fireworks instead of just hearing them, smelling a bit of gunpower in the air. Now I’m catching a bit of the new year’s Twilight Zone marathon. Not unlike last year.


Also, not unlike last year we are currently having a COVID surge. I can only hope I don’t break any bones in the next couple weeks, so it won’t be too much like 2021. 


Also, last year I thought it was possible the pandemic might be over by now and that we as a global civilization might have learned something, but this year I’m merely hoping for COVID to be mostly manageable sometime in the next 12 months. And now I fear it will take more than this pandemic to teach us the lessons we probably need. (sigh)


A few random thoughts:

·      I secretly make fun of people who can’t stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, but they are free to make fun of me any day of the year when I have to be somewhere before noon.

·      As always: My new year’s resolution is to not make any resolutions.

·      A new one: I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I like to be honest with myself and skip ahead to the part where I don’t do the resolution.





For the last 10-15 years I’ve watched The Twilight Zone marathon every New Year’s Day, which especially in recent years has probably prepared me for the weirdness of the years to come. This morning I sat down to watch. The title of the episode: “Twenty-two.”


I guess I’ll watch a few more episodes and relax before my other New Year’s tradition: a nice afternoon walk.



Thurs. 6 Jan. 2022


It has been a busy year so far. A pretty full week of class prep (mainly because I procrastinated before the break and I needed to have an actual break). We still have no guidance for COVID protocols for class next week. Luckily two of my classes are fully online and the other is hybrid, meeting in person only once a week (but I may move that class to a Zoom session for the first two weeks, if I’m allowed to, that is). 


Today is the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, when supporters of then-President Trump broke into the capitol building to disrupt the certification of the 2020 Presidential election. That was some terrifying, weird shit. I looked back at my journal entry from that day last year, when I felt disturbed but not, given everything in the years before that, terribly surprised. I still feel pretty much the same. I wonder if things have improved. I mean, nobody invaded the capitol building today, but the future of democracy is far from clear, especially given more voter suppression laws that have been passed in the last year.


Meanwhile, the omicron surge continues. We’ve had record-breaking daily case numbers several days in a row here in Hamilton county (more than 1,500 today, when we were below 100 per day just a few weeks ago). But some experts are saying hospitalization rates are the more meaningful statistic, although that has been rising, too, albeit not as sharply.


Chattacon is coming up next weekend, with both a mask and vaccine mandate for all attendees. I’m on panels and want to see some friends. I guess I’ll go, but I don’t know. I won’t linger like I used to. Maybe it will be earlier nights for me, less (if any) time in the consuite, etc. On the other hand, a fully masked and vaxxed and rarely crowed con is safer than anywhere outside my house that I could go right now.


I’m supposed to go to the central APA in Chicago at the end of February, which is a bigger dilemma as it involves air travel. It’s exhausting to have to make these calculations all the time… another freedom that bad policies, lack of government action, and non-masking, unvaxxed people have taken from us.


Later: Now that my syllabi are on workable shape for the first week, I finally got around to writing a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Futurewhich I finished on New Year’s DayGreat book! Up there with his best.



Fri. 7 Jan. 2022


Much to my surprise, I was approved for my sabbatical for spring 2023! (Technically they call it a “professional research leave”). So next year I will be doing research and translation toward a book proposal on a second book on skepticism in Indian philosophy, this one focusing on Vasubandhu, Cārvāka philosophers, and Ratnakīrti. Part of my proposal mentioned that I had started work on Ratnakīrti before the pandemic, but have been unable to pick that up since. I’m looking forward to it. 


And this also means I can concentrate more on teaching this semester, which will be helped by having a few long term projects finally coming to an end (a special issue of the International Journal for the Study of Skepticism I co-edited was just published, I have a co-edited volume coming soon, and a few other things should be out soon… and then I’m … free? Except for a presentation in February.)


Also: I’m prepped for week 1 of my intro to Asian philosophy class. A fun auto-caption: “Jeanette” instead of “Gen Ed.”


Wed. 12 Jan. 2022


The first week of classes is… going. The first week is always kind of weird. And everything is weirder these days. But so far, so… okay?


I’m still probably going to Chattacon this weekend, but maybe I shouldn’t. But the vaccine requirement is the key for me. Nothing is completely risk-free, of course, but that removes a lot of the risk. I hardly do anything these days. It will definitely be a toned down con for me, with a lot less hanging out and wandering around than I used to do. Hopefully everyone will be okay.




Thurs. 13 Jan. 2022

Something I forgot to mention yesterday: I had my online office hours, and a couple students actually stopped by! One student was commenting on my lecture video and said something like: “Most professors just tell you what they want you to know, and leave it at that, but you seem to be thinking through things as you say them and questioning yourself all the time, which was interesting.”


I guess normal people just think things and then keep thinking those same things? Weird.




Wed. 19 Jan. 2022


I’ve been busy with the semester and stuff. Chattacon was fun, but even with the vaccination requirement a bit weird and anxiety-provoking considering the pandemic. I have a COVID test scheduled for Friday (five days after the con ended).


This whole “the semester has begun” thing sort of caught me off guard. And then a long weekend with the con and a small MLK Day gathering on Monday (the regular parade was canceled for COVID reasons, but there was a small socially distanced outdoor gathering). I wrote a belated thing for MLK Day last night called “So You’re Going to Quote MLK?” I sort of seem to do everything late these days, but I’m increasingly okay with that.


Tomorrow I have my first in-person class for my hybrid class. We had class on Zoom last week. I gave them a poll for this week, and they voted by a margin of one vote to have class in person, although there’s a Zoom option for those who won’t be there. We’ll see how that goes. This is my Mesoamerican Philosophy class, which is fascinating and conceptually difficult stuff. This is definitely one of those classes I decided to teach so that I can learn.



Thurs. 20 Jan. 2022


I grabbed a sandwich to eat in my office for lunch today. Luckily I had a mustard packet in my desk drawer, so I didn't have to eat a mustard-less sandwich like some kind of Neanderthal.

My first in person class went well. We have a good system in that room for students who Zoom in (a camera on the ceiling so they can see the front of the room and speakers so we can hear them). It was maybe about 60/40 in-person/Zoom. Everyone there in person wore a mask thankfully, whether due to their personal inclination or my gentle (and hopefully not legally actionable) guilt-tripping, I can’t say.




Sat. 22 Jan. 2022


My post-Chattacon COVID test came back negative! I’m glad it turned out that way. I didn’t have any symptoms. I thought I had a sore throat starting a few times, but it didn’t last more than several hours. So, that’s a relief. Still, was it all worth the anxiety during the Con and for the last week? I’m not sure. 


Having to make all these calculations and deal with the anxiety is just exhausting. Someday when COVID is more under control, I think I’ll look back and realize just how much this pandemic took out of me. And all of us, really. I guess except those weird people who seem fine (but are maybe not taking it all that seriously).

World news: Thich Nhat Hanh died. He was probably the first modern Buddhist author I ever read back when I was a teenager. His work has always stayed with me, and I’ve assigned him in class, often as a representative of Engaged Buddhism (apparently a term he coined).


In other news: Beth and I have started the process of buying a house. So far it’s every bit as annoying as I always feared, but it’s interesting to learn about the neighborhoods and look at houses. Mostly I think it’s annoying that it has to consume so much of one’s waking life, but I suppose it is a big decision, albeit one you have to make relatively quickly because the real estate market here, like in most of the US, is utterly bonkers. Some houses sell as soon as (or even before) they go on the market, and prices are skyrocketing. Even little old Chattanooga now has home prices similar to much larger cities, partly driven up by people moving from more expensive places.


I often lament that if even relatively middle class people like us are having trouble swinging this (and really have only saved money due to not paying student loans during the pandemic), what chance to the majority of households have? What kind of a way is this to run a country where barely anybody can afford one of the most basic human needs? 


In addition to the proverbial white guilt, I came to see today that I have “middle class” guilt. Like, what did I do to deserve this? I guess I’m still only a few medical bills not covered by insurance from utter destitution like almost all Americans, so that’s … something? Yay, USA…


I have other anxieties about owning a house. Even just the concept of owning land is weird to me. Like, who the fuck am I to own a chunk of this Earth? Weird. I’ve also seen second hand from family members what not being able to sell a house can do to people’s credit. On the other hand, I guess it makes sense seeing as we’re probably here for the long haul unless we get fabulous job offers, it makes some kind of sense. I just don’t want to go broke fixing a roof or water heater. Mowing a lawn? No thanks, I’ll pay someone to do that.


Beth and I don’t entirely agree on what we want. One weird thing about Chattanooga is that most neighborhoods outside of the areas around downtown don’t have sidewalks. It’s utter contempt for pedestrians. But the neighborhoods like where we live now (just outside of downtown) often have crappy sidewalks, albeit existing ones. But we are almost certainly priced out of this neighborhood and downtown. So this may put a damper on my nearly daily neighborhood walks. 


Today I took a long walk over to the Highland Park neighborhood to look at a house for sale, but Beth isn’t sure she likes that area. In general, she’s more on board with the car-centered surburban type areas than I am, but I think we’ll be able to come to some sort of compromise. I would be fine as long as the roads are wide enough for me to walk on, but I like to be able to walk places, too (assuming I can start going places one day again). Or I could start doing more excursions to walk by the river or places designed for pedestrians (although sometimes the bicycles on those trials can be dangerous). But I’ve already written more about this than I meant to. See what I mean about how it takes over your life? Ugh.


In news of things I enjoy thinking about: my Mesoamerican philosophy class is going pretty well. It’s difficult material (and mostly new to me, too), but the students are doing pretty well with it so far, I think.


I rewatched The Matrix Resurrections before it left HBO yesterday. I loved it just as much as the first two times I watched it. I really don’t understand the negative reactions I’ve, but I also don’t want to discuss it on social media because the discourse on it was giving me Last Jedi vibes: I thought it was a brilliant and necessary part of a film series while other inexplicably hated it for the same reasons I loved it and I’m pretty sure the haters wildly missed the point. Oh, well. (By the way, if end up posting this on my blog and you think this is an invitation to tell me why you hated either The Matrix Resurrections or The Last Jedi, then I can only assure you that you are 100% mistaken.)

I finished watching The Expanse TV series the other day. I enjoyed that show a lot, but I feel like I didn’t love it as much as some others. I’m thinking about why that is as I read the third book in the series (I read the first two before the TV series started). Honestly, I’m not finding the third book as enjoyable as I found the first two (no Avrasarala!), but it’s still pretty good. I definitely don’t hate it (I feel like you’re supposed to either love something more than life itself or hate it with the passion of a thousand suns, but this seems to sap all the nuance from one’s experience.) Anyway, I think the issue might be that the science fiction I love most tends to explore ways that humanity itself might change, whereas The Expanse is more about how human nature will adapt but not fundamentally change in space. Which is fine. That’s the kind of SF it is. And it’s good at it.


Well, I stayed up way too late. Luckily I get to sleep in tomorrow, and then the online D&D game I haven’t played in months is happening! Sweet dreams to me.



Mon. 24 Jan. 2022


I just had one of the parts of my week where I email students in COVID quarantine to check if they’re okay and to tell them they can turn stuff in late. Sigh.


Thurs. 27 Jan. 2022


I wish every decision to leave the house didn’t require a complex risk assessment. I’m still deciding whether to go to the APA in Chicago in a few weeks.


And our house search has intensified. Houses are going fast right now.


Tues. 1 Feb. 2022


It’s the first day of Black History Month and the Lunar New Year!


I also just officially decided not to attend two events I was really looking forward to later this month: ConNooga here in Chattanooga and the Central APA in Chicago. ConNooga will not have either a mask or vaccine requirement, and I think it’s downright irresponsible to host a gathering of a couple thousand people like that during the pandemic, especially given that it looks like the omicron surge will still be happening by then. The Central APA will be requiring vaccination and masks, but the thought of getting on a plane in three weeks and then being anxious about COVID for several days and then a week afterward doesn’t seem worth it to me right now. I would drive, which is safer, but I don’t want to be driving in Illinois in February, and I would still be spending a lot of time alone in my hotel room when I got there, which would be kinda sad and a bit pointless. I wish the APA had gone totally online as many other professional societies have done lately. 


I feel really bad about both situations, but I just can’t do either in person right now. I mean, I don’t even go inside the grocery store right now! And if I’m being honest, the experience of the much smaller and vaccine-requiring Chattacon a few weeks ago as so anxiety-ridden for me I didn’t enjoy the whole experience as much as I had hoped. And both of these other events are considerably larger and involve more and/or different risks.


And I continue to be disappointed in our larger society for forcing individuals like me to become amateur epidemiologists. In a better society, I wouldn’t have to make decisions like this.



Wed. 2 Feb. 2022


We just put in an offer on a house. Whoa. We probably won’t get it, but it’s weird to be at this stage.



Tues. 8 Feb. 2022


We didn’t get that house. There’s not a lot out there at the moment, so we sort of took the weekend off. We looked at one today, and decided not to put in an offer. Our realtor told us a house in our current neighborhood (one that we walk past on a regular basis) will be coming on the market in a couple days. Oddly, this house was on the market soon after we moved here in 2014 and I thought it would be a good one to buy if we were able. So maybe… but we’ll see.


I've been trying to cut down on sugar lately, but this afternoon I indulged in a bit of candy and was reminded of this quote from Stephen King's Dark Tower series: 


“Roland could not understand why anyone would want cocaine or any other illegal drug, for that matter, in a world where such a powerful one as sugar was so plentiful and cheap.”


Cutting back on sugar along with eating mostly salads for lunch, cutting out my late night snacking habit, and cutting down on alcohol has led me to lose some weight. I’m down to what I was soon after the pandemic started and I lost weight because I stopped going out to eat all the time (whereas everyone else seemed to gain weight at the same time—weird). I do get pretty hungry at night (as I am typing this for instance), but it’s so far seeming like a relatively manageable way to meet my weight loss goal of becoming slightly less fat. 


I had a weird doctor visit in early January where my blood pressure was unusually high (I’ve been taking medication for it for a decade). But then it was normal at home later that week and when I went back to the doctor a week later. I was a bit of a medical mystery and will be going back in a few more weeks for some blood work. 


I decided to try all this after the sugary, boozy excesses of winter break (which had also led to some weight gain). I don’t like talking about this around other people or on social media. Weight loss is a weird thing in American society. It’s not always healthy to lose weight, and it’s not always unhealthy to be fat. We praise or blame people too much for their weight (especially women, but I can tell people judge me for my weight, too, if to a lesser extent). We Americans like to think personal choice is everything, which is why we like to blame poor people for being poor or praise rich people for being rich, and so on. But one’s weight, like one’s economic situation, is far more outside of our control than we like to think.


But maybe I can be a bit healthier and keep the doctors off my case a little bit. I’m eating a lot of vegetables anyway, so that’s something. It probably helps that I’m not really going anywhere these days, although there have been hints the last few days that the omicron surge is on the down swing locally as it has been nationally for a week or two (we were down to about 200 cases today, whereas we were still getting over 1000 per day last week).


If I had had until this week to decide on Chicago, maybe I would have gone. Oh well. We rescheduled the panel for next year in Denver, so that will be fun.


In other news, the winter Olympics are happening. I like to watch all the weird sports like luge, bobsled, curling, etc. and some of the ski jumps and stuff. I’m not a sports person at all, but I like watching the Olympics because nobody expects you to understand the sports and you only need to watch them every four years. You can go with the flow and watch skilled athletes do bonkers dangerous things for your amusement (even curling is probably more dangerous than it looks). I like to imagine the inventor of the luge saying: “Here, take this tiny sharp metal sled that won’t fit your whole body, lay down on your back, and go down this dangerously curvy iced water slide at 80 miles per hour.” And then the inventor of skeleton was like, “Okay, that’s not quite dangerous enough, so now do that head-first.”



Sun. 13 Feb. 2022


Our local COVID numbers have been coming down steeply in the last week. The county was finally under 200 cases on Friday after being over 1000 just a week before. So we’ve finally joined most of the rest of the world, the country, and even the state in seeing the downward trend of the omicron surge.


It was a warm day on Friday, so I went to my favorite local brew pub and sat outside with a beer. A friend joined me. It was a great time. And there was a small gathering of vaccinated friends last night. So… social activities. Weird.


I’m still not going to go to ConNooga next weekend. A lack of either vaccination or mask requirements at an indoor gathering of a few thousand people? Not a good idea right now even with our local numbers going down.


I’m also not going to Chicago the week after that, but since I already canceled class that week, I guess I’m giving my students an extra spring break (from my classes anyway).


Classes are going okay. The pandemic still makes things weird, but I think my online course is going about as well as online courses can go. My dream for my hybrid course was to have everyone sit around a big table in a conference room for our in-person sessions, but instead we sit socially distanced in a large room with some students on Zoom. Oh well. At least most, sometimes all, of them are wearing masks in class. So I got lucky there.


It’s been a while, maybe since 2021, so here are the numbers. The US surpassed 900,000 COVID deaths since the last time I posted this, and my county surpassed 1,000 deaths. Almost a million Americans gone, and probably more than that due to undercounting, not to mention whatever the real worldwide count might be. And US and local vaccination rates have only very slightly increased during the omicron surge, while many poorer countries struggle to get vaccines for those who want them. It’s hard to process all this, either intellectually or emotionally. But I think we owe it to each other to try.




Cases: 411,664,755

Deaths:  5,831,724



Cases: 79,298,398

Deaths:  942,956


Hamilton County, TN

Cases:  95,951

Deaths: 1,024


Worldwide fully vaccinated: 54.4%

US fully vaccinated: 64.6%


Hamilton county at least partially vaccinated: 61.1% (everyone), 70.8% (12 and up)

Hamilton county fully vaccinated: 55.7% (everyone), 65.6% (12 and up)

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