Sitting in the office, alone again, naturally. The white noise. The occasional sound of the door opening - the custodian on her rounds to water the plants, or perhaps another reporter getting something from the supply cabinet, or something from their desk. It being five above, not many people have decided to come back for a chance of pace and place. It’s warmer at home. And, of course, safer.

But! The new mask law says you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re alone at the office. Temporary removal of the mask is permitted if one “is alone in an enclosed work area, including an office, room, cubicle with walls higher than face level when social distancing is maintained.”

The key word, I suppose, is “temporary.” From the rest of the statute, I gather that means a brief removal is permitted, but sitting in an empty room without a mask is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100.

Come and get me, copper.

I was pleased to see that the vending machine had been restocked. Peanuts and candy again! I wondered what things looked like upstairs in the main dining area; perhaps there were sandwiches again, as in the old times.

Everything has been removed. New signs have been put up, one on each cooler door:

These were put up by Hormel, which made the sandwiches that used to fill the coolers. I don't know what's worse: the design, or the superfluity of the exhortation.

I think we get that by now, yes? And who is the message intended to chastise? There's no one here. Anyone who does visit this spot notes that it is uncontaminated by cheese or chips or anything else, and doesn't go back. I used to go there to buy a certain brand of spicy chip. Even in the lean times, there were some bags. They have been removed for the greater good, because every day has to have some minor diminution, just to make sure you're paying attention.

Great news everyone:

Well, everyone will certainly be on board with that. Back in your holes! Grubhub your sustenance! Only visit the grocery store wearing a deep-sea diving suit! Cancel the State Fair again! Weld shut the schools!

Same day I saw this plea:

I too wear a mask and use hand sanitizer, but it’s rote caution and habit, not fear. Of course I wear it in the lobby of the building, but not because I think the place is suffused with microscopic British Variants (new memo: nomenclature according to geological origin is okay again) but because I'm pretty sure security, which watches the cameras, will use the PA system to tell me to put it on.

I'm serious. Once I had a cigar in a spot that used to be okay, until they decided it wasn't, and a voice from the secuity camera told me to go elsewhere.

These days they don't seem to care about that, as there is no one around to complain about wafting cigar perfumes. But I think they'd activate the speakers if one person wasn't wearing a mask, here:

That is the lobby of one of the largest office towers between Chicago and the West Coast.

The person quoted above would be relieved by all this, because it's quite clear people are staying away from people. And people should stay away from people.

Post-Superbowl, this tweet popped up in my feed:


You wonder if these people hear a ding-ding-ding sound as they imagine their virtue credits added to the board, like pledges during the Jerry Lewis Telethon. She got palpitations from seeing so many people in one place, but I presume it's because the purpose did not have significant social utility.

"Unsafe" is the new "unclean," if you're a believer.


Anyway. Back to the person who wanted the reassurance of random people on Twitter. The replies were mostly supportive, as you can imagine; it's like asking if you did a good thing by not jumping your car on the sidewalk and running over a puppy. All the people who were being extra super cautious weren’t living in fear, either; it was perfectly sensible not to leave the house for nine months.

My favorite, for two reasons.

Uh actually you’re more at risk now because of your cracks and u should be worried about that now

I am willing to bet that the number of people who have suffered any Covid problems because they got it in a crack on their hands is a very small number, somewhere between -1 and 1. I would also suspect that she doesn't get many looks when she uses hand sanitizer. I always take a dab on the way out. No one cares.

Into the replies popped that famous journalist who went around the bend about four years ago:

He seems quite sure of his numbers. He’s been on this for a while: people who don’t wear masks are sociopathic murderers.

The 40% figure comes from Fauci; a South Korean study, based on 300 people, says 30%. The studies are all over the map, it seems. Does it matter? Yes. The assumption of 100% infection among everyone you meet , and the assumption of the fatal contamination of any public space, are two factors that have changed the way people look at the world. Ayear’s worth of reinforcement of those ideas has hideous effects on society - on those who believe it, and on those who chafe at the expectation that they must believe it.

Who is this maskless asymptomatic carrier infecting, by the way? Certainly not people with masks. They’re safe, because masks. So they’re infecting the non-masked. You wonder if Kurt’s hatred for the unmasked spreader is matched by his hatred for the unmasked victims, or whether they have been cast into the dark pits of boiling pitch and deserve no pity.

Anyway. So what? you say. This is nothing new. No. But it will provide wind to fill the sails of a movement perfectly suited for the people who fuss and preen about their precautions and their withered, diminished lives. It’s called Zero Covid. To sum it up: can’t do anything “normal” until there is no Covid. Anywhere.

The campaigners are, for the most part, an impressive, sincere and eloquent group. Many of them are young, telegenic and skilled communicators. But there was a mood — a unanimity of world view — that was unsettling; a fusion of overt progressive-Left politics with an ironclad certainty about their interpretation of the science. They referred to people who disagreed with them as needing to be “educated”: “deniers”, “right-wingers”, “conspiracy theorists”, or, perhaps lowest of all, “herd immunity apologists.”

That’s a big surprise, isn’t it. So: No return to “normal” until there’s no Covid, anywhere. The concept of “anywhere” seems a bit elastic - within a country? Within a continent? On the globe?

Ideally, the last one, but people will balk. You really can’t expect people to wear a mask until the infection rate in the Congo or Peru or Siberia goes to zero. So you have to couch these things in other terms: mutations, sensible restrictions, safety, and so on. The threat has to evolve while remaining familiar. If your freedom of movement is curtailed, it’s a small cost. If your freedom of expression is curtailed, it’s a small cost.

What we’ve learned in the last year is quite stark: all the things we believe are essential for a free society are not essential at all, it turns out. Everyone accepted the lockdowns and shutdowns and diminutions and emergency laws, because there was something larger at stake: slowing the spread and flattening the curve and not overwhelming the hospitals, and so on. Our good-faith effort was repaid with endless reiterations of the same conditions, with restrictions that waxed and waned, giving us the illusion of progress and the certainty of regression. It wasn’t because the OVERLORDS! wanted to keep us off balance; they were making it up as they went along, erring on the side of restrictions. Something must be done, and what’s done rarely expands liberty. The politicians comes up with a reasonable, sensible modification of liberty, for the common good, which is defined as something so obvious only mulish morons would object.

What has surprised me the most - and I suppose it shouldn’t have - were the post-vaccine messages. The quick replacement of hope with stifling caveats. The haste with which some people seem determined to smother your hope of living a normal life again. The quiet happiness that the old normal might be stored away like decorations for a holiday that really shouldn't be celebrated anymore. They won't say that last part out loud, but as time goes on, and Important Voices express the idea, it'll be the only sensible position, really.

Better the coolers are empty and have a warning. If the coolers are full and there's no sign to tell you to mask up and distance . . . that feels unsafe.



It’s 1889.

Can’t do those 20s papers forever, even though it’s the most interesting decade, paper-wise. Well, the 20s and 30s. What news could one find in 1889?

We’re in the White Earth Agency. The Progress’ motto: “A higher Civilization: The Maintenance of Law and Order.”

  The masthead has some Chippewa, if that’s what it is.

Let’s see what’s in the news today:

Ha ha, suds everywhere! Also four dead.

The good old days:

How peculiar! The boy was shaking his head over the unlikelihood of this sequence of events for days.

A reminder that the Danube empties into the Black Sea.

This is one of the earliest national ads I’ve seen in papers. Wonder how much they paid.



I’ve been to Aitkin many times. This doesn’t happen anymore.

What a ghastly story, and a reminder: it was wild out there.


  An appeal for relief for the locals.

It ran on the back page.

That'll do. See you tomorrow.




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