Tuesday, June 30, 2020

It's All a Conspiracy

I'm friends with someone on Facebook who posted this:

The birthday cake background is a nice touch! I'm not going to attack or defend Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (or author Tom Wolfe) here. In my opinion, some people must have contracted COVID-19 based on their proximity to others during the protests. I also think it's likely that more people contracted COVID-19 from being in confined spaces with no social distancing in bars. It can be both. 

Back to the Facebook post, someone (we'll call him Danny) posted this comment:

Danny: just a ploy to continue to destroy our economy and hurt Trump.

In theory, I know that there are people out there who believe this. That's part of the "It's my constitutional right not to wear a mask" argument. Still, I hadn't seen this in real life by someone I'm tangentially connected to before. Against my better judgement, I decided to reply.

Me: Wait, so the entire COVID-19 with 123,000+ deaths and millions unemployed is a ploy to hurt Trump?  

Danny: the numbers are padded with the extra diagnosis of "covid-related" whatever that is and also the CDC quit counting regular flu deaths in April so those have been added in also.... and the average person that dies of covid has 3 pre-existing conditions and could have died of any of those but they call it covid because there is the financial incentive to medicare getting 13,000 dollars for each death they call covid…. surprised I had to explain all that to you 

Me:I guess that you need to explain more to me. So the thousands of deaths in May and June should be flu deaths? I didn't realize the US had so many flu deaths in those months.

And going back to the ploy to hurt Trump comment. Based on the significant increase of the number of COVID cases and deaths in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, the governors of these states, who I always thought were on Trump's side, are actually also involved in this plot to hurt him?

Who exactly is getting $13,000 for each COVID death and where is it coming from? Thanks in advance for the explanations.  

I should also add, why is the executive office trying to take away health insurance right now when more people than ever need it? Is that to help make sure that someone doesn't get $13000?

Danny: good question Sean I don't know about the insurance.... I know under Obamacare that the insurance that was known as catastrophic before became the normal insurance with high copays and high deductible.... thx for hearing my thoughts and have a great night brother 

I'm glad that it didn't get any further. I didn't really want to shift to a discussion about health insurance. Still, who is this big conspiracy that is sacrificing thousands of Americans just to hurt Trump? I mean is Trump really going to get hurt by all this? Worse case scenario for him is that he loses the election, but he still has plenty of money and will be able to live just fine as a former President. (Well assuming that he doesn't get charged and convicted on various sexual assault allegations and lawsuits related to financial and tax dealings and then doesn't get pardoned by Biden.) I don't understand how someone can say that there aren't any attempts at voter suppression (Hello Georgia and Wisconsin!), yet there's a massive conspiracy to unleash the worst virus in our lifetimes just to hurt Trump.

I'll end with this picture of the Dippy, the diplodocus outside the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

This is ridiculous. This diplodocus died so that we would have the freedom to not wear masks (even though it's in the best interest and the heath and safety of everyone to wear masks).

Photo by The Notorious C.H.U.C.K.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Video: Sir Mix-a-Lot & The Seattle Symphony

I love when symphony orchestras do things that you don't expect. I mean sure they can play Beethoven or Mozart, but I find it cool when they play along to live showings of movies or Looney Tunes or even Baby Shark. So when I recently learned about this video of Sir Mix-a-Lot with the Seattle symphony orchestra, well, mind blown. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Jewish Baseball Draft

I'm going to represent all Jews today and share that we support Jewish athletes and want them to succeed. You know Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song where he goes through famous Jews, primarily those in entertainment? Well, the same applies to athletes as Jewish sports fans tend to know Jewish athletes since there aren't very many of them. Even though Sandy Koufax retired from the Los Angeles Dodgers nearly a decade before I was born, he's still a legend, not only because he had one of the greatest stretches as a pitcher in baseball history, but also since he didn't pitch game one of the 1965 World Series since it coincided with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. There's a sense of pride in Jewish athletes doing well from Shawn Green to Mathieu Schneider to Mark Spitz and even to journeymen quarterbacks Jay Fiedler and Sage Rosenfels. (Ryan Braun is a bit more complicated since he destroyed the Pirates as a member of the Brewers over the years, and he got away with using steroids. But I digress.)

Why am I mentioning this? It's a fun discussion to try to come up with the best all-Jewish baseball line-up. And just recently, a pretty neat group including former MLB players Ian Kinsler, Danny Valencia, Ty Kelly and current Miami Marlin (and former Pittsburgh Pirate) Ryan Lavarnway, held a Jewish Baseball Fantasy Draft. Fantasy sports and Jews? This is basically my dream! All of this was a fundraiser for the Israeli Baseball Olympic team. The full draft is available here or via this video:

I'll admit that I didn't watch the entire draft (yet) since it's 2 hours long. Still, it's cool that Shawn Green shows up around the 44-minute mark, and Danny Valencia's hair is outstanding. Plus, through this draft, I learned about The Great Rabbino website, which I should have known about years ago.

Now we just need some analysis on who won the draft and which team would win in a seven-game series!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Road To Freedom

Over the last few weeks, I've discovered some very cool online events and videos. I considered putting them all together in one post, but they really don't fit together. Last Friday, my friend Jason performed in "THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR & THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT." Here's a description of the show:

Join us for THE ROAD TO FREEDOM – From his first encounter with racism to his immortal speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leads you through the experience of the Civil Rights Movement.

Apparently, this play was performed for several years at New York-area schools, so while this is geared more for kids, it is definitely appropriate and for adults. Except for his role in "Michael Clayton," I don't think I had seen Jason in a show, so I was excited for that aspect of the performance.

Both my soon-to-be fourth grader Pedro Tulo and I enjoyed the show. The hour-long event is available here on Facebook. It starts right around the 4:00-minute mark, so don't get freaked out if you press play and nothing happens for a few minutes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Songs Of 2000

I spent the summer of 2000 studying abroad at Lancaster University in Lancaster, England as part of my graduate school program in higher education and student affairs. I wrote some about my European trip in several Summer of Sean posts. Anyway, while many of my classmates had challenging assignments, my task was to help Lancaster University's Management School determine how international students discovered the school through internet searches. I also compared the school's website to other business schools in the UK. With the exception of interviewing a few international graduate students about how they learned about Lancaster University, I really spent most of my time unsupervised doing web searches at the campus computer lab. (This is 2000, so no one I knew had laptops. I didn't even have a cell phone until late 2001 or 2002.) This may sound a little inappropriate, but I think that university miscounted the number of internship spots and just threw me someplace at the last minute.

With my friends busy at actual offices, I often slept in and listened to the radio while getting ready to start the day. I also discovered Top of the Pops, a weekly music television countdown show. (Looking back, I'm not sure how I discovered this. I don't think I had a TV in my room. Maybe the deserted residence hall had a lounge where I watched TV?) I discovered rather quickly that I really enjoyed the pop music scene in England. You got all of the British hits along with the top songs from America and elsewhere. Plus, I thought I was so cool when I heard songs debut in the US months after listening to them in England.

So today, I'm excited to share some of my favorite songs from my time in England 20 years ago. Some of these might be well known to many of you. This may be the first time some of you have heard others. Enjoy!

Destiny's Child - Jumpin', Jumpin'

Before I left Columbus for the summer, I won a contest where I could select tickets to one of about 15 concerts. Most of the concerts occurred when I was away, so I chose Christina Aguilera's concert at the Ohio State Fair. The opening act for this concert was supposed to be Destiny's Child. As soon as I heard Jumpin' Jumpin' played in England, I knew that they weren't going to be an opening act much longer, and sure enough, they were off the tour by the time I saw Christina in August 2000.

Darude - Sandstorm

Of all the songs in this blog post, I didn't expect this song to be the one still played the most. "Sandstorm" remains in rotation at many live sporting events.

Eminem - Stan


I swear that I first heard this song in England, but according to Wikipedia, this wasn't released until November 2000. Maybe some BBC station played it months before the actual single release?

Craig David - 7 Days 

I really thought Craig David was going to be an international superstar. Didn't quite happen at least in the US. 

Coldplay - Yellow

I wonder what ever happened to this group.

Kylie Minouge - Spinning Around

I remember seeing an interview with Kylie Minouge where she was asked about her backside getting filmed in the video. Her response was something of amazement and that she didn't realize that the director had that shot. Although Kylie never made it huge in the US, she was as big as Madonna in many parts of the world. She knew her behind would be featured in the video.

Madison Avenue - Don't Call Me Baby

Sonique - It Feels So Good

David Grey - Babylon

Love this song!

Five + Queen - We Will Rock You

Yes this song really happened. By the way, who knew that nearly 20 years later, there would be a movie about Five that won four Oscars?

Mary Mary - Shackles (Praise You)

I only learned that Mary Mary was a gospel group years later.

Samantha Mumba - Gotta Tell You

I have a confession to make. I love belting out the chorus and especially the bridge of this song even though I get nowhere close to hitting the notes! 

Billie Piper - Day and Night

Several years after this song, Billie Piper starred in some Cinemax or Showtime show, and I remember thinking, hey, she's a singer!

Louise - 2 Faced

York - On The Beach

Bomfunk MC's - Freestyler

I'm ending with this song since I don't think I ever heard this song or of Bomfunk MC's since I returned to the US. However, this video has almost 197 million views, so lots of people know it.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Right Now

I've been fairly quiet on the blog recently. While I published a couple of posts about the coronavirus, it's been two weeks since I wrote about the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. A lot has happened in the country since that post. On the afternoon of that June 1st blog post, police cleared peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square in DC, so that President Trump could take pictures outside St. John's Episcopal Church holding a bible. (I'm using police in general since it seems like it was some combination of the US Park Police, US Secret Service, Washington DC police, Arlington police, National Guard, Bureau of Prisons Special Operations Response Team, and members of the US military.) This Washington Post video details all of this brilliantly. (I also recommend reading this Washington Post article about the early legacy of these events including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, apologizing for going with Trump on his field trip.)

Mostly peaceful protests continue throughout the country. Statues of confederate leaders have come down. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder (he was originally charged with something less) while the other officers present for the killing of George Floyd were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. A 75 year-old man was pushed down by Buffalo police resulting in brain injuries and Trump blamed the guy for falling. The Louisville officers responsible for Breonna Taylor's death still haven't been charged. Rayshard Brooks was killed by a Atlanta police officer with the Atlanta police chief subsequently resigning.

There seems to be some real discussions about race in America and police reform including legislative actions or at least proposals. The big question is whether real, long-term change can and will happen. You see peaceful protests with people from all different ages and ethnicities, so I'm hopeful.

Since this is my blog, I'm naturally going to share where I'm at right now and how I can help. I want to attend a protest here in DC, but as I mentioned last week, I'm not going anywhere right now especially during the last few weeks with school still in session. I feel like I'm going to regret not being part of these protests in the future. The big thing I'm trying to figure out is how to teach my kids about what's happening. They don't know anything about white privilege or the history of police brutality. They're only 9, 6, and 2, but the 9 year old is old enough to understand some things. We showed them the CNN/Sesame Street town hall, and I thought certain parts were really well done. 

(On a completely different subject, I started thinking about what a Fox News/Sesame Street town hall would look like. It would be much, much, much, much different.) 

If you have any suggestions about books or shows or movies that are age-appropriate, please leave a comment or contact me directly. Now that school is over, we have a lot more time.  Otherwise, I continue to follow the news and read stories shared by others about their own experiences with police or prejudice. 

Again, I'm hopeful that real dialogue continues and change happens. A good start regarding police reform would be if politicians and community leaders read this article by J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and Special Agent with the Secret Service and someone I'm friendly with online.

So that's where I am right now. Still trying to figure out how to balance life and work and being with the kids nearly 24/7 and trying to do the best I can. I can do better.

Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, June 08, 2020

Why I Stay Home During The Coronavirus

Despite the fact that as of June 8th, we're right around 109,000 deaths and nearly 2 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, many parts of the country are reopening and seemingly close to returning to normal. This post isn't to say whether this is right or wrong. This post is just about me and what I'm doing.

I live in Fairfax County, Virginia not far from Washington DC. The greater Washington area has been one of the harder hit areas in the country (though nowhere near New York City and New Jersey) and was even labelled as a COVID-19 hotspot last month. Virginia was one of the first places in the country to close schools for the academic year, and the stay-at-home order for Northern Virginia was only lifted on May 29th. As I'm typing this, much of Virginia is now in "Phase 2" while we're in "Phase 1." Basically, there are still too many new cases each day to move us to Phase 2. Fairfax County publishes the number of new cases daily with additional data on cases by age, race, and zip code. I started tracking the specific number of cases in my zip code on May 25th. In the two weeks since then, we're up 51 cases. In case you're wondering, that's 605 cases per 100,000 people. Again, while other parts of the country may have no new cases, that's not the situation here.  

I am fortunate that I have a job and am able to work from home. I know that there are millions of other people throughout the country who aren't in this position. The work at home part is important because of my commute. In normal times, I take the bus to the Metro to get to work, and then the Metro to the bus to get home. My bus route hasn't operated in two months and Metro has significantly reduced service (and now my station is closed for the summer for construction). 

Now the big factor. My kids. Six year old Pedro Tulo had several "dizzy spells" a few years ago. He was too young at the time to really couldn't explain what was happening. I personally never saw him have these episodes, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why or when they occurred. After going to several different doctors, it turned out that these dizzy spells were actually seizures. That's a scary diagnosis for a parent! He's taken anti-seizure medicine for the last year and a half, and fortunately, he's been seizure free since then. 

The few things I read online seem to show that seizures do not make someone immunocompromised. In addition, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, "the early information from countries where outbreaks have occurred suggests that the risk of worsening seizures with COVID-19 seems low for more people with epilepsy." Still, it doesn't seem like there have been comprehensive studies on this. I should probably mention that Pedro Tulo touches everything and regularly puts his fingers in his mouth. He's the last person I want to take to a highway rest stop, a sit-in restaurant, or anywhere with crowds.

Which brings me to travel and the summer in general. The kids' camps are closed and who knows what will happen with schools this fall. Daycare for two year old Luigi is a question mark too this fall. If his school opens, I assume Luigi will go back. Still, there's no way that the kids can be socially distant from each other. I can't imagine that the kids will keep masks on.  And if one kid in a class gets sick, there's a good chance others will get sick too. In January or February, Luigi stayed home for a week because of RSV (a common respiratory virus for kids) which resulted in a fever that he couldn't shake. Most of the class got RSV. But school and daycare are more than two months away. I'll worry about that then.

For now, I know that my family has been good at keeping socially distant, but my worry is about going outside our bubble. Others aren't being as vigilant. I've seen videos from beaches in Texas, the Ozarks in Missouri and during some of the protests and talked with a friend in beach-town in Florida where you would never know that there was a pandemic going on. This worries me about traveling anywhere. This article from The Washington Post didn't make me feel better:

But a briefing document prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and distributed Thursday to senior federal officials captured the scale of the challenges remaining. FEMA tracks how many days in a row a state records a decline in new daily coronavirus cases. Thirteen states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin — had not shown a sustained daily decrease as of Tuesday, according to the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.

Here's the bottom line. Until my office reopens, the bus route returns, and there are no new cases in my zip code, why would I feel comfortable resuming life as normal? (And I'm counting wearing a mask as normal.)  And when I see videos of people not being socially distant, why would I want to go anywhere or be near crowds with people who still think this is a hoax? Look, I'm not a fearful person even though it certainly sounds like it after reading this post. I'm just taking the summer off. I'm going to spend more time with my kids than I would normally, and we'll do that from home getting plenty of time outside. I know that we miss seeing family and friends in person, but maybe because of their ages, the kids seem happy which is the most important thing.

Feel free to disagree and do your own thing. This is just what I'm doing.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Mourning During COVID-19: June Update

Let me preface this by stating that this is a bit of an unusual post for me. I get into religion and prayer, but it ends with me trying to be funny. Actually, most of my posts are me trying to be funny, though I'm not sure how often I succeed. 

In tradition Judaism, there is a seven-day period of mourning following the burial called shiva. There is also a 30-day period after the burial, including the seven days of shiva, called Sheloshim, which is observed by immediate family members. You don't work during the shiva period, but you can work during Sheloshim though there are still some restrictions. The restrictions are refraining from attending joyous celebrations like weddings, dances, or parties. Basically, anything with music. If the deceased is a parent, there is a full year of mourning (actually 11 months) where the restrictions still apply. Apparently, there is a loophole here. Let's say that you're a musician who earns a living by playing at weddings. In this case, you can still do your job. The same would apply if you help out at a joyous occasion. Like help clear some dishes or set the table. Anyway, through all of this, you're also supposed to attend services daily to say the Mourner's Kaddish prayer.

Still with me? Thanks!

I wrote a post back in March about mourning the loss of my dad at the beginning of the COVID-19 stay at home period. Over two months later, and just a few days after we started "Phase 1" in Northern Virginia, a lot of things haven't changed. Thanks to Zoom, I've participated in some type of prayer service every day since my dad's funeral with the exception of the first night of Passover since we were doing a Seder. Why is this night different than all other nights indeed! In normal times, I wouldn't attend services daily. I probably would have during the Sheloshim period, but it just wouldn't have been realistic to do this every day for a full year. To be a parent to three kids while commuting about two hours to and from work each day and then driving to a synagogue (or synagogues since mine doesn't have daily services) for a service and then back home? There's no way. Being at home, however, all I have to go to a different room for 30-45 minutes (or more on Saturdays). It's become a constant for me. Some sense of normalcy in these otherwise very abnormal times. I mentioned some of what I just wrote in that March post.

And now to a dramatic shift in this post. 

The Torah portion a few weeks ago was Parashat Bamidbar. Yes, I just included a word with "shat" in it in a blog post! At this point, the ten plagues already happened and the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt thanks in part to the leadership of Charlton Heston.

We join this story already in progress where a census is taken of the Israelite community. What's interesting is that the census only counted men who were 20 or older. It seems totally unfair that some Israelites were old enough to buy lottery tickets, but couldn't get counted in the census. Oh yeah, they didn't count women either. You can probably predict that every rabbi in America made sure to include the importance of the 2020 census in their sermon. 

A significant part of the portion is then spent naming all of the men responsible for conducting the census. There are a lot of biblical names that are still common today. Jacob, Rebecca, and Sara are at the top of the list. This Torah portion listed some names that I think are due for a comeback. So if you are expecting a boy or have a new pet, I hope that you consider these names: Zurishaddai, Zuar, Eliab, Ochran, Deuel, and Pagiel.

The world would be a better place with more Zuars. Zuar good, Zuul bad!

Monday, June 01, 2020

George Floyd, Mike Pence, and The State of The Country

On Saturday night, I turned on the TV expecting to watch a movie or show. Instead, I watched coverage of protests occurring throughout the country. A few minutes later, 9 year old The Moose, who I thought was asleep, came downstairs and wanted to see what I was watching. His immediate response to what was on the screen was questioning why people weren’t social distancing or wearing masks. I tried to explain the death of George Floyd and the reason behind the protests, but he really didn’t fully grasp what was happening. While it’s good that he understands the seriousness of the coronavirus, he’s still a fairly sheltered white kid living in the suburbs.

On Sunday morning, The Moose in turn tried to explain the protests to 6 year old Pedro Tulo, who was much more interested in breakfast and didn’t listen to his brother. That was probably for the best since I know that Pedro Tulo wouldn't understand anything.

I don’t have much to add to what’s happening across the country. The protests are happening for the right reason to fight injustice. Meanwhile, the looting and destruction appear to be done by people just to create chaos and harm. It seems to have little or nothing to do with the reasons behind the protests.

I’m going on a brief tangent here, and I know that I’m not the first person to mention this. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence posted this tweet.

I think the vast majority of people are for peaceful protests. This would include the VP, right?

So much has happened in the last few years that it’s really easy to forget this. Mike Pence travelled to Indianapolis to participate in a jersey retirement ceremony for Peyton Manning and to make a scene at a Colts-49ers football game. Everyone knew that players on the 49ers would take a knee during the national anthem. Pence and President Trump came up with a plan that if any player kneeled during the anthem, Pence would leave. How much money did it cost or security was needed for Pence to pull off this stunt? Anyway, he clearly didn't like a peaceful protest then and essentially took the ball and went home.

Anyway, I'm just frustrated with the direction of this country right now. There is no leadership or empathy in the executive office. We're at over 100,000 COV-19 deaths right now and sky-high unemployment rates. To The Moose's point at the beginning of this post, there definitely hasn't been social distancing during these protests. There have also been plenty of pictures and videos in places like the Ozarks and Florida and Texas beaches where people are crowded together like nothing was out of the ordinary. Is there any reason to believe that we won't be at 150,000-200,000 deaths by the November election or that the economy will dramatically improve? So if we didn't make America great again over the last 3.5 years, how are we now supposed to re-elect the current leader and believe that we're going to "Transition to Greatness" after November?

While Joe Biden is not my first (or second or third) choice to be President, my hope is that this country will elect him, so that we can have a grown-up in charge. Someone with empathy. Not someone who urges governors to use force against unruly protesters. We don't need a Tiananmen Square in America! Not someone who will pick fights with anyone who disagrees with him or yell LAW & ORDER or CHINA on Twitter. The only time where it's appropriate to use phrases like this on Twitter is while watching a sporting event and tweeting GOAL or TOUCHDOWN STEELERS! Seriously, if one of your friends or parents did this, you would think they were crazy and probably unfollow them.

I have no grand conclusion here. Our country needs to be better. To care more for each other and to demand justice when needed and necessary.