Masks redux

There’s a growing movement to get people to wear masks at public events. The motivation? Maskless events post a risk to people with certain disabilities, and/or with chronic illnesses, and to their caregivers.

In other words, this is an issue of disabilities rights.

Of course, it’s not just masks. Ideally, all the events that we organize or participate in would be set up to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases. And it’s not just COVID. It’s also about influenza and RSV (and yikes, now there’s even a measles outbreak in Ohio).

Which brings us to “The Public Health Pledge: committing to safer and more inclusive events,” which reads like this:

“I am committed to diversity and inclusion, including people with disabilities, chronic illness, and caregivers, therefore I pledge to only participate in or organize events that have robust Health and Safety policies.

“Events must meet these criteria:
• The event has a Health and Safety policy, and if the policy changes it is only strengthened – never weakened – between the event’s announcement and the event itself.
• The event actively communicates this policy by including it on their website, in the registration flow, and speaker proposal process, discussing the policy regularly during events, and including it everywhere important announcements are shared.
• The event’s policy includes active measures designed to minimize the number of participants who are infected with transmissible diseases like COVID-19, as well as mitigate transmission between participants.”

You can “sign” the pledge online.

A good concrete way to strengthen disability rights.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

I didn’t know about this before — the United Nations has proclaimed that December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD). It’s also known as International Day of People with Disabilities (and I’m guessing that the discrepancy may be because the original UN resolution wasn’t in English, so there are translation differences). In the U.S., there’s a White House proclamation, which reads in part:

“On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize and celebrate the equal rights and dignity of disabled people everywhere and reaffirm our commitment to building a world where people with disabilities are afforded the opportunities, independence, and respect they deserve.”

I found out too late to do much about IDPwD this year. I’ll have to add it into next year’s calendar.

Casablanca with Link Hogthrob

Someone on Mastodon wondered what it would be like if Muppet characters took the place of a human actors in a romantic movie. Then she came up with a series of movie stills to show what it might have looked like.

So I began to think about my favorite movie, Casablanca, and how a Muppet character might fit in. Instead of Humphrey Bogart, what if Link Hogthrob played the part of Rick Blaine… and this is what my imagination came up with:

Muppet character Black and white photo of Link Hogthrob dressed in a white dinner jacket standing behind Ingrid Bergman.

Radical Bird Club

Some people in Scotland have started a Radical Bird Club. Here is part of their manifesto:

“RBC strives to be inclusive* to adults** of any age, class, sexuality, race & ability. you don’t even have to know anything about birds. it’s just walking, talking, observing, listening & being with other people who want to appreciate the natural bounty around us – whether you’ve been doing it for years or are just realising that it’s kind of your thing.
*does not include bigots, fascists, sexists, racists, homophobes or ableists
**must be okay with general sweariness, so not recommended for anyone under 16″

I like this idea. I’ve been shying away from joining local bird clubs because too many of them feel too competitive to me. The competition can include macho posturing around who has seen the most birds, to wealth posturing around who has the most expensive birding gear. A Radical Bird Club focused on “walking, talking, observing, listening & being with other people” seems like a good idea.

They want to turn this into a global phenomenon. RBCs around the world!

I haven’t time or energy to organize anything at this point in my life. But if someone else organizes an RB near me, I’d check it out.

Recent web browsing

Some links from my recent web browsing:

Are We Allies?

Foluke Ifejola Adebisi has an excellent blog post on “the concept of allyship against injustice.” In other words, what does it mean to be a “white ally,” or any other kind of ally? Adebisi makes an intersting disctintion between allyship as being, and allyship as doing:

“I think what is important is that we move away from thinking of allyship as something we are, but instead think of it as something we do, each time we do something. Each time we want to contribute to a particular struggle for justice, we must decide what must be done in the moment, irrespective of what we have done before or what type of person we think we are.”

I came away from this blog post thinking that if I hear someone saying they are an ally, this may not mean much. I’m going to watch what they do instead of listen to what they say they are.

Jew or Judean?

Marginalia hosts a scholarly debate on how to translate ioudaioi in texts from the last centuries BCE and the first few centuries CE. Does it mean Jew or Judean? While this may seem like a big argument over a trivial detail, the scholars involved claim the stakes are higher than you’d think.

For example, if you translate ioudaioi in the Gospel of John as “Jew,” then that could reinforce one of the foundations of Christian anti-Semitism. The ioudaioi, the Jews, killed Jesus. Whereas if you translate ioudaioi as “Judean,” someone from the land of Judea, maybe you can undermine that foundation of anti-Semitism.

But other scholars argue that in some texts, ioudaioi is better translated into modern English as “Jew,” sometimes as “Judean.” It all depends on the context. And we don’t want to inject anachronisms into translations.

Another point comes up: Is it anachronistic to talk about Judaism as a religion in this era? Was Judaism more of an ethnic identity than a religion? (In a related story, Haaretz reports on archaelogist Yonatan Adler’s new book that advances the claim that the archaelogical record does not show evidence for Jusdaism as a religion before the 2nd century BCE.)

Dare You Fight?

Editor Neal caren is creating an online collection of W. E. B. DuBois’s articles for The Crisis. These articles were written between 1914 and 1934, and many have not been collected previously.

DuBois’s essays are fascinating to read. His articles for The Crisis sounds radical even by today’s standards.


Australian librarian Hugh Rundle writes about the exodus of people from Twitter to Mastodon. He titles his blog post “Home invasion: Mastodon’s Eternal September begins.” As a Mastodon user of fairly long standing, he describes how he has experienced the influx of Twitterers:

“It’s not entirely the Twitter people’s fault. They’ve been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago…. To the Mastodon locals it feels like a busload of Kontiki tourists just arrived, blundering around yelling at each other and complaining that they don’t know how to order room service.”

Although I’m most emphatically not a Twitter user (I left Twitter in 2014, not in 2022), I am a new Mastodon user. I hope the Mastodon users don’t see me as behaving badly….

Halloween costume

Our cross-country move isn’t over yet. We’re still unpacking — and if this move is anything like past moves, we’ll still be unpacking cardboard boxes for a year to come. Today the box I happened to unpack turned out to have a costume for a stuffed animal in it.

During the pandemic, I did a series of weekly videos, many of which focused on stuffed animal characters. Sometimes the stuffed animals wore costumes. But when we moved, I packed away all the stuffies and got rid of all the costumes — or so I thought. For here was one of the costumes.

I had no intention of doing anything for Halloween this year. But if it’s Hallowe’en and you find a costume on Halloween, you might as well use it.

This was the extent of my Halloween celebration — five minutes of dressing a stuffie in costume, and taking a photo.

Then I went back to work unpacking boxes.

Fifth shot

I got my fifth COVID shot today, the so-called bivalent booster.

Getting a COVID shot is boring now. But it didn’t used to be.

We got our first shots the day after our age group was eligible. We had to drive an hour to find an appointment. There was an elaborate check-in process. After getting the Pfizer shot, we had to sit down for fifteen minutes until they were certain we weren’t going to pass out or go into anaphylactic shock. Four weeks later, we got the second dose at the same drugstore, going through the same elaborate process. I was ill for two days after the second shot. Then it became a big topic of conversation for the next month: Did you get vaccinated yet? Which vaccine did you get? How long were you sick for afterwards?

We felt invincible for about four months, until the Delta variant hit. Then at last we were eligible for our first booster. This time, we got an appointment at a mass vaccination clinic, held at the San Mateo Event Center, formerly called the county fairgrounds. We waited in a long line of cars while volunteers in fluorescent yellow vests directed us into a big barn. Did we want Pfizer or Moderna? We had heard that you should get the one you didn’t get the first time. So we got Moderna. Then we had to drive into a big parking area while they monitored us to make sure we didn’t pass out. Once again, it was all very dramatic. And I was ill for a day after I got the booster.

For the second booster, I went to the Redwood City medical center where my primary care physician had her office. It was just like getting my annual flu shot. A nurse told me I shouldn’t worry about sitting in the waiting area after getting the shot. I got the shot, left the building, and drove home. My arm hurt for the rest of the day, but I didn’t feel ill.

Today I drove to Braintree to get both my annual flu shot and my third COVID booster. My appointment was at an older, somewhat dingy pharmacy. This time I remembered to wear a short-sleeved shirt. After I got my shot, the pharmacist told me to sit and wait fifteen minutes. I heard the man talking to the pharmacist as he got his shot. “Another shot, I can’t believe it! We’re going to be doing this forever,” he said, in his high querulous tenor voice. She murmured something soothing. “I guess it’s like getting your flu shot every year, isn’t it. And these people who don’t get shots. Can you believe them?!” Another soothing murmur. By this time I had waited five minutes. I decided I wasn’t going to pass out and walked out of the store. There was nothing exciting about any of it.

I still worry a little when I hear about people I know getting COVID. But getting your COVID shot is no longer exciting. It’s just part of the annual routine.

What Franklin Graham says

We have a post box for our mail, so sometimes we receive mail sent to previous holders of that box number. Today we received the October issue of “Decision” magazine, published by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.

The editor-in-chief, Franklin Graham, wrote the lead article in this issue, titled “We Can Still Turn Back.” Franklin Graham says, in part:

“On Nov. 8, tens of millions of voters will head to polls across America in the most crucial midterm elections in recent history. To say that much is at stake is a gross understatement. It isn’t just control of Congress; it may be our last chance to stop the immoral and ungodly policies that have brought our national to the moral brink of disaster.”

What are the “immoral and ungodly policies” to which he refers? About what you’d expect: same sex marriage, abortion rights, and “transgenderism.”

In his article, Franklin Graham concludes, “That’s why it is so critical that you go to the polls on Nov. 8 and vote from the candidates who best align with godly, Biblical principles.”

But which Biblical principles? Franklin Graham’s net worth is estimated to be on the order of $10 million, and he has an annual income on the order of $600,000. Yet in Matthew 19:16-21, we hear this story:

“Then someone came to [Jesus] and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’…” [NRSV; emphasis added]

Franklin Graham contributes to good in the world through the global charity he heads, Samaritan’s Purse. But I do not see Franklin Graham actually following this teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:16-21, to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Sadly, this makes it look like he picks Bible passages that confirm his biases while passing over Bible passages that cause him discomfort.

Which makes him appear hypocritical.

No wonder young people are leaving organized religion in droves.

Anxiety screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a draft recommendation statement on Tuesday, suggesting that everyone under age 65 might benefit from screening for anxiety disorder.

Before you jump to conclusions, you need to know a few things.

First, this is still a draft statement. The USPSTF has released this draft for public comment. After the public comment period ends on October 17, the USPSTF will prepare the final statement.

Second, despite its impressive title, the USPSTF is not a government agency. It is “an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine.”

Third, this report appears to rely on data published before the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, this is not a response to the widely-reported rise in anxiety disorder during and following the pandemic.

But even after reading this draft statement carefully, and even if we don’t jump to conclusions about the effects of the pandemic, I think this is still important. As the draft recommendation points out: “According to U.S. data collected from 2001 to 2002, the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in adults was 26.4% for men and 40.4% for women.” In other words, anxiety disorders were widespread before the present alleged post-pandemic rise in anxiety disorders. This is a serious public health issue.

Anxiety is also obviously a serious issue for women. With over 40% of women developing anxiety disorder, this is indeed a serious public health issue. And in fact the USPSTF reports that “the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative [already] recommends that screening for anxiety should include all female patients age 13 years or older not currently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, including pregnant and postpartum women.”

The USPSTF draft recommendation also points out how anxiety correlates with age and stage of life: “The natural history of anxiety disorders typically begins in childhood and early adulthood, and symptoms appear to decline with age. Some community-based epidemiology studies indicate that rates of anxiety disorders are lowest in adults ages 65 to 79 years, but these data are outdated.” So this becomes an important concern for parents, educators, and anyone in the helping professions who works with young people.

Also of interest: the USPSTF notes that screening tools to help medical professionals identify persons who may have anxiety disorder are widely available. Mind you, these are screening tools, not diagnostic tools. But as screening tools, they can cue medical professionals to schedule a follow-up diagnostic assessment. I found one of these screening tools online on the University of Washington website, and it takes only a few minutes to complete. So you can see how this screening tool could be added to routine examinations by primary care physicians.

Now that we’re not going to jump to conclusions, we can go on to speculation.

If there really has been a rise in anxiety disorder during and following the pandemic — and I suspect there has — then it may prove to be even more important to screen for anxiety.

And there are implications for those of us who are ministers. We’re not mental health professionals, but tend to be on the front lines of mental health care because of the people we see during formal and informal pastoral care and counseling. We often suggest that people seek out mental health care. This report suggests that we may want to become more aware of anxiety disorders.

The mood in England

JB, a friend from high school, has been living in London for a number of years. His essay titled “The Mood in London” helps explain to us Yanks what it’s like to be in England right now. More interesting to me was his account of what it was like to stand in line to view the Queen lying in state. Like this ritual that he witnessed:

“Rather than a walk-past (when visiting the Crown Jewels you’re actually standing on a moving conveyor belt), each person was allowed a moment or so to contemplate or bow, as many people did. It was just as I was paying my respects that I was asked to move on, to make way for the changing of the guard. This was an extraordinary spectacle with a new team of sentinels marching to the catafalque (the platform that held the coffin), and positioning themselves directly behind the waxworks. Then, by clockwork, the petrified figures displayed their sentience, seeming to lurch alive and step forward, as their replacements took their positions and powered down to a fugue state. The rescued team then marched, like wind-up soldiers, to a stone staircase, which they ascended in military precision and before disappearing through a door. This ceremony was repeated every 20 minutes, and whatever its origins, it was a remarkable sight.”