Saturday, October 31, 2020

Corona Chronicle #6: The Fall is Upon Us

The following column appeared this past Tuesday in Greece’s award-winning Athens Insider Magazine. The only change I’ve made to my published text is to update the statistics to include additional Covid-19 cases and deaths reported since Tuesday in Greece and the United States.

The original version as published can be found here.

With tourist season behind us, a restless populus is understandably anxious to resume its old ways, writes American mystery writer and long-time Greek resident Jeff Siger in his sixth Corona Chronicle.  But for those who question the wisdom of the latest measures here in Greece, one need only look to Trump’s America for a cautionary tale.

This is the sixth of my monthly chronicles on living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years. Since I wrote my last column, my wife and I are back in lockdown mode at our pastoral New Jersey farm.  We’ve kept track of the seasons by keeping an eye on the changing colors of the foliage and activities of our resident bear.  The colors have shifted from a varying palette of deep greens to the burnished golds and reds of autumn, the bear no longer cools itself in our pond, and my wife awaits the day that I write an optimistic column on the state of our world’s battle with this plague.  

I regret to inform her today shall not be that day. 

I sincerely wish I could write such a piece, but that would be disingenuous, and if experts are to be believed, no date looms on the horizon for when I predictably may be able to do so. 


People are tiring of the battle, desperate to put memories of 2020 behind them, and resume the unrestricted lives they once led. These last warm days of autumn are drawing folk out in droves, eager to escape the cabin fever that’s kept them penned in for months. I share their desire but temper mine with a simple indisputable scientific fact:  The virus does not tire, cannot be willed away, and takes ruthless advantage of any edge we give it.  And we’re giving it many.


When governments allow politics to trump public health science as the means for appeasing their electorate’s understandable longings for the pandemic to “just go away,” the virus pounces. Nowhere is that more evident than in the United States, except perhaps Brazil, but virtually all the world has shown itself vulnerable to some degree to that sort of thinking.  As we head into the worst of the flu season, we need hope, we need vaccines, we need therapeutics, but more than anything else we need leadership.


As I’ve written before—quoting Joseph Stalin—“The death of one person is a tragedy.  The death of millions a statistic.”  We cannot allow our leaders to allow us to fall prey to that sort of numbed thinking.  


Artists are attempting to put faces to the statistics, writers offer personal takes on the lives of the dead and crippled, and musicians seek to keep our souls afloat while we await to see whether we’ll be the next statistic.   But those efforts shall not help us to defeat the virus if inept leadership obtains. 


So how is Greece doing?

Starting in the last days of July, Greece’s statistics have steadily risen, attaining record weekly highs in mid-October, reporting more than 37,000 Covid-19 cases and over 600 deaths since February.  Deaths in October alone have far outstripped total pandemic deaths in Greece during all previous months.  Though more than eighty countries report higher case and death totals than Greece, its health authorities are alarmed.  Mask wearing is now mandated nationwide, lockdowns have been reimposed in some (but not all) regions of Greece where most cases are reported, and an overnight curfew is now in effect in Athens and other high alert areas. This is not the only crisis Greece is facing at the moment, but it is one the nation can address unilaterally--as it so successfully has earlier this year. 

The tourist season has had its expected impact on the spread, and a restless population is understandably anxious to resume its old ways, but as winter approaches, it is more important than ever that Greece’s government continues to follow the advice of its public health scientists.  For those who question the wisdom of that approach, one need only look to the United States for an example of the consequences of leadership disregarding science.  Reported cases in the United States now exceed 9,000,000 with deaths above 230,000.  Adjusting for a population thirty times the size of Greece, if Greece followed the example of the US, its case total would be greater than 300,000 (instead of 37,000) and deaths would exceed 7600 (instead of 600).  

Think about that…as you hopefully wash your hands, put on your mask, socially distance, and avoid crowds. 

And think about this too: In nations where governments tout plans for achieving “herd immunity,” is that really a plan, or simply an excuse for avoiding the difficult political decisions necessary to safeguard the health and safety of their citizens.  “Herd immunity” is an epidemiological term for when a sufficiently large percentage of a population (estimated to be 70% for Covid-19) has developed immunity to a virus so that it is unlikely to spread.  BUT, herd immunity is meant to be achieved through the administration of vaccines, not by a government’s barbaric decision to allow a frightening disease to run rampant through an unprotected population, unnecessarily killing millions and crippling multiples more. 

A return to the Middle Ages is not a solution.

By the way, there’s no need to take my word on any of this.  My resident bear can give you guidance on the subject. After all, he belongs to no herd…but finds prey among the weakest and unprotected of those who do.

Stay tune for better news. Those days shall come. I promise.




PS.  And for those of you who don’t find this scary enough…HAPPY HALLOWEEN.



Friday, October 30, 2020

The Little Ross Lighthouse Murder

 I was watching a film recently where two men were on an island, working on the lighthouse and one killed a seagull. There was lots of weather and long silences. I think the guy from the Vampire thing was in it but after the seagull met its demise I lost interest.


It reminded me of all those Swedish films where death comes to the door and asks for a chocolate biscuit, after a strenuous game of chess.

Lighthouses have always been rather intriguing buildings, lending themselves to crime fiction, and crime.  I’ve stayed in one a few times, a bit cramped but very high ceilings.

There is the famous Flannan Isles Lighthouse (Eilean Mòr, Flannan Isles, Outer Hebrides, Scotland) where the keepers vanished in 1900 never to be seen again.

Another Scottish Lighthouse became famous when one of the keepers murdered the other one. The island where the lighthouse is situated went on sale in 2017 giving rise to new interest to the tragedy. It took place in 1960, a murder that I doubt, well I hope, would never happen today.

Little Ross Island Lighthouse was the scene of the crime in 1960.

On that fateful day, 18th of August, a young boy called David Collin was out on his boat; he and his dad were going for a picnic to the island of Little Ross.

They set off from Kirkcudbright (down at the south western tip of Scotland) to explore the island. They pulled their little boat up onto the beach and noted there was no sign of life around the island, no sign of the lighthouse keepers, Hugh Clark and Robert Dickson.

It was David’s Dad’s day off from his job as bank manager in Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kir could bri). The lad was the sailor, the Dad was going along with him to enjoy some father and son time, a fine sunny day on the island while the weather forecast was good.

They did sense there was something different from the previous times they had visited the island. Usually one of the keepers would be visible going about their business, there would be a greeting, a wave, a shout of good morning, but on this occasion there was nobody around.

Being polite, they knocked on the lighthouse door just to say that they were on the island but there was no response so they went off to have their picnic in a sheltered spot. While they were eating, the wind caught the sound of a phone ringing, and ringing. It was left unanswered. Mr Collin thought it might be wise to check the cottages before they left Little Ross.

Here are the words of David Collin, a boy at the time, now a retired architect.

“My father eventually plucked up fortitude and went into one of the houses, in fact we both went into the house on the right, the principal keeper’s house. Everything was spick and span, neat, clean, tidy, beautiful – a budgie sing in its cage – no sign of anybody.

“My father went into the second house – I didn’t go in – but he promptly came running out and said: ‘Get help if you can, there is a man with an ailment in his bed’.”

They alerted another boat that they knew was lobster fishing nearby, and the crew came ashore. Together they entered the cottage and then the bedroom where they discovered the old man, lying in his bed with his head wrapped up in a towel. They knew he was dead.

They immediately contacted the police and then they waited.

Nobody was thinking that they had discovered a murder, they thought that it was an natural death or the result of some illness.

Three hours later, help arrived on the island

And it became evident that lighthouse keeper had been killed.

Later, it would be confirmed that Hugh Clark had been shot with a .22 rifle by his assistant Robert Dickson.

Dickson had gone on the run to Yorkshire but was caught and brought back to Dumfries for trial. He had prepared for his escape, stealing money but so little money it couldn’t have kept him going for a month.

Despite a defence plea of mental illness Dickson was convicted of murder and, as the law was in those days, he was sentenced to hang.

Many people were uneasy at the sentence as it obvious that Dickson was suffering from severe mental health issues, which were evidenced in his medical history. The judge directed the 15 man jury to a guilty verdict, and the death sentence. One of his arguments was that Dickson had the presence of mind to steal the money, and that indeed, he thought that theft of the money was the entire reason that the crime had been committed.

Others would argue now that it was a pitiful amount of money to kill for, and that there must be a degree of impairment in mental function if Dickson thought that the funds would last him any length of time.

The death penalty was then reduced to life in prison.

Dickson later   committed suicide in jail.

Later investigations have shown just how unstable Dickson was. He was in no state to be sent to work, and certainly not to a lighthouse. A hospital might have been a better idea.

It’s hard to think of any condition more unsuited to life in such a confined isolated environment.

As you probably know, many of the Scottish lighthouses were designed by the Stevenson family (of Robert Louis fame) and their family archive shows that they were responsible for the Little Ross Lighthouse design.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

The world is confused

Stanley - Thursday

As you can imagine, there is anxious anticipation around the world about the election because the outcome will affect every country. The anxiety is heightened because the system is so little understood, especially after the 2000 election and the election of President Trump, despite a loss in the popular vote.

One thing that is certain is that most of the world is totally confused by the electoral system in the United States. The items below are not ranked by their confusion-inducing ability. 

1. The electoral college system came into focus in 2016 for the rest of the world when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, even though he trailed by over three million votes overall. What is the electoral college and why was it created?

2. The election period preceding a presidential election is at least two years. The consensus overseas is that Americans must be masochists to tolerate a system that lasts so long. For most countries that I am aware of, the period running up to an election is a coupe of months.

3. Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years. People overseas look at this and wonder how any work gets done, because it seems that as soon as an election is finished, fundraising for the next election begins.

4. Money! It boggles overseas observers' minds that an estimated $11 billion to $14 billion will be spent on the elections this year. 

5. Money! From foreign shores, it seems reasonable to limit individual contributions to candidates. However, when it comes to PACs and Super-PACs, there is bewilderment, not only as to what they are, but also as to what and how they can support candidates financially. As a voter, I have tried to understand the rules, but have generally failed. Click here if you want to find out or if you are having trouble sleeping.

6. In all matters, not only elections, people in other countries fail to understand that the United States is far from united when it comes to laws. They don't realise that laws can differ from one state to another. This raises much confusion when reading the results of similar challenges to vote counting, for example, resulting in differing opinions. Yes, state 1, you can count mail-in ballots that arrive after election day as long as they are postmarked on or before election day. No, state 2, you cannot count mail-in ballots that arrive after election day even if they are postmarked on or before election day. 

7. It is puzzling that US voters accept jiggery-pokery when it comes to elections, no matter which side they are on. Surely, observers ask, people realise that if one side tries to limit the other side's votes or voter participation, it will happen to them when the tables are turned? Then where is democracy?

8. The Postal Service may not have the capacity to deliver all votes in time? Huh?

9. Some people have to stand in line for HOURS to vote? In the richest country in the world? Huh?

10. Nobody knows when the results of the election will be known? Huh? Remember 2000 and the hanging chads? Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is reputed to have offered to help the USA with subsequent elections. What happens - enquiring minds ask - if the results are not known before the electoral college convenes?

Overseas observers are not confused by one thing - the need to have free and fair elections everywhere.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020



We often think of guns in the context of hurting or killing others, but in fact in the USA, suicide deaths by firearm are more common than any other category of gun death (including homicide) among both males and females and across most age categories. Males account for more than 85% of all gun deaths, regardless of intent category. 

(Image: / Shutterstock) 

Suicide claims the lives of 23,000 Americans every year, including 1100 children and teens. Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US are suicides, which is an average of 63 deaths a day, about the same number as the fatalities in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

(Centers of Disease Control & Prevention / RCraig09)

The pie-chart view is another way to look at it:


The Global Perspective

The USA leads the world in gun-related suicides. 


Although the USA ranked fourth in the world in 2016 with 12,400 firearm-related homicides, that figure pales in comparison with its 23,800 gun suicides. None of the other 194 nations and territories in the report came close; India ranked second at 13,400. It should be noted that in 2016, the highest per capita suicide rate by firearm was recorded by Greenland at 22 deaths per 100,000. Greenland is beset with challenges such as social turmoil and alcoholism.

Gun Ownership And Suicide Risk

A large and influential study in The New England Journal of Medicine found an elevated risk of suicide among a large sample of first-time handgun owners. Stanford University researchers followed over 26 million men and women in California who were 21 and older and who hadn’t owned guns before October 2004. A little less than 3% of the cohort, or 676,425 people, became gun owners between then and 2016. In this group, the risk of suicide in this group was about nine times higher than among non-owners. 

Those who died by suicide using a firearm — 6,691 people out of 17,894 total suicides (37.4%) — tended to be male, white, and of middle age (mean age of 41 years). The period after gun purchase that had the highest suicide risk was 1 - 3 years. A firearm was used in 89% of the suicides among handgun owners and 33% of those among nonowners.

Two notable findings emerged in this rigorous study: first, new handgun ownership is strongly associated with suicide immediately following California’s 10-day waiting period between purchase and acquisition of a firearm; second, although the absolute risk of suicide is higher among men than among women, new handgun ownership is associated with a disproportionately greater increase in death by suicide among women.

The one-purpose device

Suicide by gun is a particularly violent and heart-wrenching mode of death. Imagine the horror of coming home to find one of your loved ones dead from a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound. This is the kind of image that will haunt a person for years. To me, the revulsion I have for a firearm is that it's an instrument singularly-purposed for a single deadly purpose. People jump off bridges, but that's not why bridges were built; rope can be used to hang oneself, but that's not the primary use of a rope; you can slash your wrist with a razor or knife, but they weren't made for that reason. You can OD on opioids, but their original purpose is otherwise. But a gun? There are no two ways. If you point a loaded pistol at your head and fire, it will do its only assigned job.

Morality of Suicide

There is philosophical, psychological, and moral debate about suicide. Is it actually immoral or wrong in some other way? Is it selfish? People often cite the severe blow dealt to family and loved ones. Why didn't the suicide victim think about that? And anyway, isn't the phrase "suicide victim" an oxymoron?  

In considering suicide however, it's well to examine the surrounding circumstances. Perhaps suicide should be thought of not so much as an isolated act, but as the fatal and tragic (always tragic) end of a certain progression of events. In the depth of a severe depression, the self-loathing can be so intense that the sufferer completely devalues themselves. Even the persuasion that their family loves them can be quite meaningless and unhelpful, because, in any case, a suicidal person doesn't believe that. 

Why guns are the problem

Sworn NRA members often say, "Guns don't shoot people, people shoot people." This is one of the stupidest, most simplistic, circular, and self-defeating platitudes I've ever heard. The answer, of course, is, "Yes, but people can't shoot people without a gun." [Insert rolling eyes emoji here.]

Many people can get to the other side of severe depression by their own fortitude or with the support of others. With treatment, these same people will no longer want to kill themselves. Suicide is sometimes a flash decision after waxing and waning of suicidal intent. That flash decision, which could have been otherwise forestalled, is fulfilled by a gun at hand. The chance the person had to get through their dark, terrible moment is now gone for good. That's where the tragedy is, and that's why the call for gun regulation remains strong.

Monday, October 26, 2020

When a Novelist Ran for Governor: Upton Sinclair

 Annamaria on Monday

So.  It's California. The electoral campaign is on.  A socialist from the East is garnering enormous and enthusiastic support from the State's Democrats. The Republicans are up in arms about his unapologetic insistence on universal health care, greater support of the rights of working people, higher minimum wages, and so on.  Something must be done to stop him from ruining the heyday of the privileged class.

Sounds familiar, right?

Yes!  That's what drew me to this story.  But surprise!  It took place in 1934.  What makes it relevant today it that this Depression-era political battle gave birth to what we think of as the "modern" use of fake news, conspiracy theories, hysteria, and the merciless use of tons of money to stop a frontrunner from winning an election.

In the dead center of the Great Depression, the novelist Upton Sinclair had already lost two bids for office while running as Socialist.  He changed his tactics.  He switched to the Democratic Party, signed up to run in the party's gubernatorial primary, and declared, "There is no reason for anyone to be poor in a place as rich as California."  To reach his ends, he promulgated a plan called End Poverty in California or EPIC.  It called for those long-sought-after but (so far) elusive benefits listed above.  He won the Democratic primary by a landslide, delighting the workers and giving the privileged a hissy fit.

To defend their candidate, the Republicans went so far as to hire the first ever "professionals" at electioneering - a company invented that moment: Campaigns Incorporated, who immediately introduced techniques such as quoting Sinclair out of context, relentless pamphleteering, and trying to anticipate and defang any Democratic tactics.

The cops sided with Sinclair's opposition.  When, at a rally, he started to read the Bill of Rights, the LAPD moved in to arrest him and many of his supporters.  When challenged on behalf of the First Amendment, the head of the police contingent declared "We'll have none of that Constitutional stuff."

The elite of California threw themselves into the battle.  The ultra wealthy Chandler family, owners of the LA Times, without the slightest bow to journalistic ethics, put their paper's full force behind smearing Sinclair.  They found a favorite ploy in the famous author's body of fiction. They took outrageous statements made by his fictional characters, turned them into headlines, and ascribed the opinions to Sinclair personally.  (How would you like that to happen to you, my fellow author's out there?)

Hollywood got into the act.  Louis B. Mayer docked all his employees a day's pay and turned the funds over to the Republican Party.  Irving Thalberg (Yes that Irving Thalberg) started producing fake newsreels, using actors from his studio who pretended to be working people, espousing outrageous opinions.

The scariest flim-flam for the residents of California was the "news" that hundreds of thousands of "bums" from all over the country were flocking there to take advantage of the State's handouts once Sinclair became governor.

Newsreels were a trusted source at the time.  You can now find some of the footage on YouTube - very convincing fakes to scare the residents into voting Republican.  Of course, the granddaddy of yellow journalism, William Randolph Hearst got into the act.  And he owned movie theaters to make sure the scary fairy tales got wide distribution.

Sinclair lost.

And so did the country.  Because now we are stuck with an electioneering tradition that makes the majority of us nauseous.  But one that looks as if it will never go away. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

How to Find the Meaning of Life



Like many of us, I’ve been able to scratch out time from my busy pandemic social calendar to sit back on my front porch and contemplate the meaning of life. 


Cue the violins.


For half of most years I live on a Greek island where temporal things matter.  Big time.  The island’s very existence depends on nurturing a sense in the hearts and minds of the hordes drawn there each summer that our very being is defined by what we possess or consume. The right table in the right restaurant, the right row of beach beds on the right place on the right beach, the right watch, the right late night club, the right bikini—or the right bikini wearer—all matter in the eyes of those who keep track of the things that determine your position in the governing pecking order.


Then I thought about other places I’ve lived: big, medium, and small cities, farm and academic communities, chic apartment buildings and shacks.  They all use different measures, but inevitably the same dynamic is at work everywhere.  Perhaps it’s what you do, where you live, where you (or your children) go to school, what you wear, what you drive, what courses you teach, your publisher, what ranks or distinctions you’ve obtained, but in some way or another they factor into the calculations of those who keep track of your position in their particular pecking order.


And I’m talking now about decisions made once the broader categories of race, religion, ethnicity, political party, and gender have been resolved.


Let’s face it folks, we live in world where categorization is a fact of life.  Jeffrey the writer occupies a different position than Jeffrey the New York City lawyer.  Annamaria the chef, a different position than Annamaria the stripper. Caro the comic a different position than Caro the sincere (okay, so my examples aren’t perfect).


The bottom line is, to be truly free you must be happy in your own skin doing what you want to do.  There will forever be persons out there judging you by their standards, and if you invest in playing by their rules, you will end up living someone else’s view of your life instead of living your own.   


A word of warning to those who might think this is a curse of the capitalist class:  Anarchists can be just as ruthless—if not more so—in determining the status of their adherents in the “anti-isms” rankings of their disparate pecking orders.


As Davy Crockett once said, “Be true to yourself and you shall not fear from any man [or woman…other than Annamaria or Caro, of course].” 


Now that we’re all comfortably settled back into our own skins, it’s time to take the next step in our personal quests for the meaning of life.


It begins with this question:  Why do so many of us think that what comes easily to us, must come easily to everyone else?


The natural corollary to that sort of thinking is that what comes so effortlessly cannot possibly be as meaningful as what does not.  For example, some know precisely what colors and patterns work well together, while others can’t even match black shoes with black socks.  Some can whistle a complex tune with perfect pitch, while others can barely blow their noses. Two unique skills, each too often taken for granted by its possessor.


Then there are writers who breeze through complex narrative portrayals, all the while dreading the eventual paragraphs of dialog to come.  And the artist genius with pen and ink that shrinks at the thought of touching oil to canvas. They, as well as those tortured by the opposite dilemmas, all thinking that what comes so easily to them is not as valued by society as that which does not.


I’m not meaning to suggest that one should not work hard toward mastering the more difficult aspects of one one’s chosen craft, but in seeking to master a skill set you find difficult, do not do so to the neglect of enhancing your natural gifts.  In other words, play to your strengths. 


Yes, we all admire and respect those who persevere and succeed in mastering the most challenging aspects of their work, but what of the many who lose patience in the struggle, become frustrated, and simply give up, sacrificing the potential of their natural gifts in the process.


Each of us has gifts meant for us to develop, nurture, and exploit.  If we pursue what we think is more valued by society, to the neglect of what we’re blessed with, we’re playing into the strengths of those who possess the very gifts we lack.  Our energies should be directed toward successfully competing through our strengths.


It’s like a five-foot-tall natural born jockey who, instead of racing, chooses to compete against seven-foot giants in basketball.  The outcome will assuredly be as unsatisfying for the jockey, as it would be for a seven-footer who decides charging for the finish line astride thoroughbreds is a better choice than heading for the hoop in a pair of Air Jordans.


Bottom Line: “Play the cards you’re dealt.”  But play them well.


That’s all from the front porch for this week. 


Cornets please.



Friday, October 23, 2020

Blog Apology

Due to the building work on the house, unexpected issues ( the intervention of Agnes the ghost ), there will be no blog from the Scottish correspondant this week. The electrician made a mistake and we have no electr....

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The view from abroad

 Michael - The last Thursday before who knows what

It just struck me that this is the last blog I’ll be writing before the US election. Two weeks from now, we’ll know the outcome (or maybe not) and, whatever happens, it will change the world for at least the next four years (or maybe not). Of course, it’s a matter for Americans to decide, and many of the issues will be local, but economic and foreign policy issues will impact almost every other country. Failing the magic wand of a perfect vaccine and with the virus settling in for a second (third?) surge, the world economy is going to continue to take a beating whether lockdowns are imposed or not. So maybe this isn't the moment for a global trade war to Make America Great Again. No doubt the big economies will hold their own—China’s economy is growing strongly again in spite of everything—but America First could really hit small countries like South Africa. This isn’t necessary a political issue—George W Bush provided more aid to Africa than Barrack Obama did, for example, and Joe Biden will have a pretty full plate if he does win.

The result of all this is that there's unprecedented interest in the election outside the US. In most (but not all) countries where there have been surveys of public opinion, people are rooting for Biden, and people outside the US are keen to understand how the election works and what might happen. I’m anything but an expert, but I’ve been in the US through elections—I still have a I’m from Minnesota Don’t blame me!! T-shirt from the second Reagan election—and I’m interested, so people chat to me about it. The conversation goes something like this:

“So the whole country votes for the president and the candidate with the most votes wins, right?”

“Well, no. Hilary Clinton won the largest number of the votes cast last time, but Trump won the presidency. Each state has its own election and the winner of the popular vote wins the state. Except in Nebraska and Maine where it’s a bit different.”

Surprise. “The election is different in some states?”

Everything is different is some states.”

“I thought it was one country.”

“Well, it is, but the states have a lot of powers and they guard them very jealously.”

“Oh. So each state has one vote? That’s not very democratic.”

“No, it’s weighted by population. Actually, it’s the number of seats the state has in Congress.”

“So it varies a bit.”

No, I don't understand it either...

“Some states have more than three times the number of electoral votes that an even distribution of population would imply.”

Surprise. “Wow! That's not fair at all. Anyway, then they sum up the weighted votes and that’s it?”

“Well, no, the states appoint electors and they all get together and vote for the president.”

“But that’s more of less the same thing.”

Minnesota Post's take on the Electoral College

“Not quite. The electors may decide to vote for a different person from the one on the ballot.”

Disbelief. “What? You mean they’re bribed or something?”

Or something. They’re called faithless electors and they may be fined as a result. In some states.”

“But that’s mad. Aren’t they careful who they choose as electors?”

“You would think so, but it happened in 2016.”

Thinks. “Well, it’s a system. So why do they say that it may all go wrong?”

“Well, suppose the result in a state is contested - the Republicans have made it clear they'll contest every vote. The state may not be able to appoint its electors by the deadline. Or if the governor and the state legislature disagree, then they may send two delegations—one each.”

“Huh? How does that work?”

“I don’t know. But I’m sure it depends on each state.”

Long think. “So what happens if the electors can’t choose the president?”

“Then it goes to the House of Representatives.”

“So then it will be Biden. The Democrats control the House, right?”

“No, because the states have one vote each and the Republicans have the majority of members in 26 of the 50 states.”

“But wasn’t it supposed to be weighted by population?”


“Then why—

“I don’t know.  I guess it's in the Constitution.”

“So then it’ll be Trump.”

“Not necessary. It’s not the current House. It will be the one elected in November.”

Puzzled. “But aren’t they elected together?”

“Yes, but the inauguration only happens in late January and the new Congress is sworn in before that.”

I think I see… Wasn’t there a story that Nancy Pelosi could become president? The Republicans wouldn’t like that!”

“Well, it’s very unlikely. But if both the House and the Senate are tied, and they can’t resolve it by inauguration day in January, it’s possible. Or maybe the senior senator will take over. He's a Republican. I don’t know.”

“I thought you said it was all spelt out in the Constitution.”

“I said I don’t know. I guess somebody does. At least, I certainly hope so!”

Long think.

“Have they tried tossing a coin? Like to decide who bats first.”

I ignore that.

“Don't you miss live Cricket matches. It’s not the same with no crowds cheering. All a bit antiseptic. Did you see that hat trick Rabada got in the one day match the other day?”

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Kicking the Pandemic Bucket

 Sujata Massey

This is not a post about death.


It is about the phenomenon of Pandemic Bucket Lists. 


In the Before Times, my family and I commuted to work and spent long hours on errands and other activities outside our house. When our state locked down in April, I was among many who vowed to do things differently: to think positively, in the face of fear, and use the empty hours as a commitment to fulfilling dreams.  


I heard a lot about pandemic bucket lists, and they seemed to fall into two varieties: one for wonderful activities to look forward to after the pandemic’s end, and the other for things to accomplish while living in solitude.

The bucket lists are a way to make sense of the insane; to order unpredictability. I can understand why some might think of them as a trivial trend. But I am a list maker and a resolution lover. I already had buckets at the ready.


The first imaginary bucket I have is shiny clean, because it is the bucket for Wishful Thinking.

Peering in, I don’t see much. I’m happy with the work I do, so I don’t want to reinvent that, or the place that I leave. I do spy imaginary reservations for planes and trains and beautiful inns around the world. The first trips on this bucket list will be only see a few mundane activities of my past, and a few imagined activities for the future. I see travel: plane, train and car. I’ll get to Minnesota and Louisiana, to see my family and in-laws. I’ll also drive to Asheville, North Carolina and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. I will reappear looking different, with salt and pepper hair. I am using the pandemic let artifice fade and reality rise.


Another activity is feeding local friends inside my home and going around the country to see far-flung mystery readers and writers at conventions. Finally, the bottom of my wishful thinking bucket is filled with water. It represents the warm-water pool where I used to exercise four times a week and where I hope to someday be jumping and kicking and splashing again. 


The second bucket—Pandemic Action Bucket—is gritty because it’s in use.


Gardening was one of the first things I got going on during pandemic spring, and as every gardener knows, the goals never stop. Besides my weed knife, the bucket holds plenty of books, especially those that are newly released by authors who I can read and watch on zoom. I'm also enjoying my children's book collection, which felt too indulgent before, but is just right now.

And speaking of writing, I aim to finish my next book before pandemic’s end. 

In the Before Times, there were social justice issues I cared about but didn't have time to show up for. Now I am showing up, again and again, for Black Lives Matter, for the sake of the Post Office, and to support voting. In the end, each action takes only an hour or two; and the feeling of raising my voice for what I believe in gives me such an energy boost.


Back to the bucket of to-dos. I still haven't decluttered my home to the point of looking as serene as  an AirBnB. Yet I've re-organized my fridge and freezer and pantry every few months. Each venture teaches me how much food I actually have, and gets stuff out of storage and onto the table. I've mentioned my garden in previous blogs, and in the waning light of autumn, it is fullblown and exuberant. While I weed, I get to chat with my friends and neighbors and see the adorable young generation learn to ride bikes in the nearby lane. 

Enjoying outdoor socialization, I felt inspired to buy two small tables for the side porch. Once the tables were set up, I arranged for the installation of ceiling fans. And the porch’s paint job was chipping, so it needed repainting. But wouldn't it look weird for the rest of the house to stay dingy? That meant new shingles. And a fresh coat of stain.

As I write this, ten men are literally climbing the walls of our house, sanding off flaking paint, staining cedar shakes, and transforming tired beige trim to Windsor Green. After about a week's work,t hey’ve still got a ways to go, but without a doubt, they’ll finish before the pandemic does.

“Thank you for the work,” a man nailing shingles to the house said to me when I praised his work.  One of the painters said the same thing to me today. It made me realize that the things I think about doing to help myself feel calm have the potential to do the same for others. 

And in such an uncertain time, this realization makes me happy.