COVID’s moving front line

The COVID19 pandemic has thrust some people, some positions, onto the front lines. These positions, such as shelf-stocker, usually required a minimal amount of social interaction. Traditionally the term front line workers referred to doctors, nurses, indeed most medical workers, police, firefighters and, other life-and-death professionals. Now, because the front line itself has been moved in an effort to thwart the virus, and given that no longer does someone have to be present at an emergency to be in danger, other, less perilous jobs are deemed front line. I’m thinking primarily of teachers who in non-pandemic situations, face relatively little physical danger (this, of course, depends on the school and students). However, with the arrival of COVID19 teachers find themselves encountering, on a daily basis, potential infection.

The evidently indispensable task that falls to these newly deputized front-liners is to make absolutely certain no one gets in without a squirt of hand sanitizer.

Most of the teachers I know, including my wife and many of her colleagues, are weathering the recent return to in-class teaching quite well. Certainly, appropriate personal protective equipment is a must, yet the threat of contracting COVID19 from one of the little super-spreaders in the classroom is in the back of most teaching minds. Yet, this newfound role for teachers has not gone to their heads. Trying to keep young ones in place is tough at the best of times, add a requirement for masks and you’ve got an herculean task on your hands.

Speaking of hands, and things going to heads, a position that has given many people a sense of authority that they probably would not have enjoyed had there not been a pandemic, is the ‘hand-sanitizer-police” (HSP) agent. These are employees of supermarkets, restaurants, big-box stores, sports venues and, shopping centres. The evidently indispensable task that falls to these newly deputized front-liners is to make absolutely certain no one gets in without a squirt of hand sanitizer.

Because of the volume of sanitizer required, most places rely on cheap, alcohol-based slop. This is not a L’Oréal product. One of the many ironies of the pandemic is that I can recall medical professionals, before the need to sanitize hands constantly, advising against using too much alcohol sanitizer as it tends to dry skin and strip it of natural oils.

I was immediately reminded of those old Cold War movies in which something goes wrong at Checkpoint Charlie, resulting in lights and sirens and shouting

The other day I entered a shopping mall, I nodded to the HSP agent, and obediently stepped on the pedal. I managed to catch the handful of sanitizer or at least most of it. I applied it and, put my hands directly into my pockets. Upon arrival at the supermarket in the mall, I made the egregious error of walking by the dispenser, pondering why I would put more of that shit on my skin, I haven’t touched anything at all since the last application. I was immediately reminded of those old Cold War movies in which something goes wrong at Checkpoint Charlie, resulting in lights and sirens and shouting. In honesty, there were no lights nor sirens, but the HSP agent made it clear he wanted me to go back and spritz.

The incident was a lesson for me, one through which I learned not to try to explain to someone why you did what you did, or in my case didn’t do what I didn’t do. As I tried to explain that my hands were as pure as the driven snow from my first encounter with an HSP officer mere seconds earlier I could see his eyes glaze over. He clearly had been tasked with making every single person sanitize their hands, no logic to be applied, just squirt, squirt, squirt.

He clearly had been tasked with making every single person sanitize their hands, no logic to be applied, just squirt, squirt, squirt

What makes this whole endeavor even more inane is the recent elimination of the second step in the process; the sterilizing of the used shopping carts. No longer does this particular supermarket, nor others I have visited, bother to spray down the shopping carts. At one time pre-COVID19, if you put your hands on a grocery cart and it was wet it was nothing short of disgusting and led to, ironically, much hand-washing. Then along came the pandemic and that same sensation of a wet trolley handle, gave one a small sense of security, believing the cart had been purified. They don’t seem to do that now. So after slopping the cleaner crap on your hands, they still insist you take a cart, even if you only want one item, as it helps with social distancing. But said cart has often just been placed at the doorway by its previous user and not wiped down. How is this logical?

What’s the Big Deal About a Few Missed Classes?

There has been much discussion and debate recently regarding the importance of children being in classrooms instead of online learning from home. This is, of course, due to the COVID19 pandemic, under normal circumstances, there is no issue. With the exception of some home-schoolers, it seems to be clear that a child benefits from being in a learning environment, interacting with others, as opposed to being at home.

But things are far from ideal as the Omicron variant wreaks havoc as it spreads like wildfire. The local provincial government is determined to get kids back into classrooms, while many parents and teachers are still skeptical about the return, even with strict pandemic protocols in place.

As I look back on my years in school, I can’t really understand what the fuss is all about. Staying home was always better than going to school, hands down. I can’t recall any kid ever saying, perhaps during a teachers’ strike, that they missed being at school. Even long before online learning was an option, missing a few days of school was not big deal for most of us.

As I look back on my years in school, I can’t really understand what the fuss is all about. Staying home was always better than going to school

In grade school and high school (ELHI for crossword lovers) kids were often hauled out of school to accommodate family travel plans. I can’t think of any student who suffered in the long run for these missed days. “Sorry Al, we’d like to see you move up in the company, but you missed a couple of weeks in grade four when the family went skiing”. Mind you, teachers used to teach directly from the book in those days, theoretically, a student could catch up. I had a teacher, Mr. Vass, a veteran high school history teacher who could, and often did, tell a student from memory, at what point and on what page in the textbook a certain fact was printed: “The Battle of Hastings, 1066, page 184 about halfway down”. Obviously, he had used the same textbook for years if not decades – come on, it’s history, it doesn’t change!

When I was in university I could have been the poster boy for the process of learning by osmosis. According to an interview with a faculty member conducted by the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning of the University of Saskatchewan, “Lecturing while students passively listen is like letting the difference in osmotic pressure between the students’ brain and the instructor’s brain (or the classroom air) be the driving force to promote transport or diffusion of knowledge.” Yes indeed, sign me up.

When I was at McGill University in the late seventies and early eighties, undergraduate classes were essentially limitless in terms of enrollment. Most were held in large auditoriums (auditoria?) and attended by well over a hundred students. There were usually three one-hour lectures a week as well as what was called conferences (some professors dropped one lecture to accommodate the conference). These were smaller, break-away sessions that were led by teaching assistants, most commonly graduate students in a related field. Many students chose not to attend the conferences, relying solely on the lectures.

Some students brought tape recorders to lectures and placed them on the rostrum in front of the professor. I always wondered why once they had positioned the recorder they remained in class. Surely there were better things to do with their time. It wasn’t like they could ask questions as it was usually made clear during the first class that questions were limited to conferences. If you absolutely had to ask the professor, you could make an appointment.

I always wondered why, once they had positioned the recorder they remained in class. Surely there were better things to do with their time

This arrangement was just Jim Dandy with me. You lecture, I’ll take notes, you assign a term paper and create a couple of exams, and I’ll do my best to retain information long enough to spew it back to you. Deal? No presentations (you’re the teacher, not me, I’m paying tuition for your expertise, not my fellow students), no class participation (don’t take up the professor’s time please), and, of course, no taking of attendance.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some of the professors, usually those with a smaller group, would, from time to time, finish their lecture early and enquire as to whether there were any questions. These situations stick with me as there was always that person, often, for some inexplicable reason, a continuing education student, who just had to ask a question and thereby cause us all to stay in class. The professor would open the floor to a limited number of questions and all eyes would focus on that person, knowing they could not give up a chance to hold us all back.

How Do Costa Rican Motorcyclists Survive?

During my second trip to Costa Rica to visit in-laws over the holidays, I could not help but consider yet again how it can be possible that any motorcycle riders survive the roads and traffic. Those of us who are used to more recent urbanization, including streets set out in a grid formation, are at a loss to navigate the streets of Costa Rica. Fortunately, my Costa Rican brother-in-law, as well as his wife, are old hands at getting around this beautiful country.

During my second trip to Costa Rica … I could not help but consider yet again how it can be possible that any motorcycle riders survive the roads and traffic.

Most of the roads outside of the capital San Jose were originally built to accommodate ox-drawn carts that transported various crops, especially the world-famous coffee, from point to point. They are all winding and narrow. Other than a few modern highways, I am convinced there are no straight roads in the country.

Over the years these roadways have, of course, been paved and widened – a bit. But for the most part, two cars, one in each direction, can just about fit. However, there are also numerous little bridges and overpasses that, given their original construction, cannot be widened without a major bit of construction and inconvenience.

This brings about what I call the Costa Rican Yield. Drivers hurtling along these winding roads are regularly confronted with one of these bridges that only allow for one vehicle to pass at a time. One side of the bridge has a yield – Ceda – sign and road markings. It is incumbent upon this driver to look ahead and if there is a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, where there is no such yield sign, come to a full stop and give the other driver the right of way.

In North America, the concept of yielding the right of way is either misunderstood or just plain ignored by many drivers. Thankfully here these situations tend not to be life and death in nature. Yet in Costa Rica, the system works just hunk-dory.

In North America, the concept of yielding the right of way is either misunderstood or just plain ignored by many drivers

So, the majority of Costa Rican roads are winding, narrow, and often hilly. Throw into that mix a great number of motorcyclists as well as roadside (and often mid-road) vendors hawking everything from produce to toys, and you have a recipe for disaster. Yet, somehow it all works.

Section C-21-1, Paragraph 321 of The Quebec Highway Code states the following: ‘on a two-way roadway with two lanes or over, the driver of a road vehicle must use the right-hand lane of the roadway’. In other words, passing on the right is verboten and likely to result in a fine, and perhaps damage to your car. This regulation would never fly in Costa Rica, where motorcyclists run rampant, darting in and out of cars, zipping along the shoulder, or passing cars in traffic by zigzagging along.

To the uninitiated North American this willy-nilly approach to driving is by stages frightening and unbelievable. How can there not be high numbers of fatalities among these motorcyclists? Well, in fact, there are, indeed, an escalating number of deaths about which the authorities are concerned. In 2015 there were 150 motorcycle-related deaths.

Even slow-moving traffic poses no problem for the two-wheeled, as they zip by

These bikers appear from out of nowhere and from all directions. Cars that are stopped in traffic are constantly being overtaken by motorcycles. Even slow-moving traffic poses no problem for the two-wheeled, as they zip by. Interestingly in the time I have spent in Costa Rica, I have often noted the lack of bicycles. Not that there are none, but when compared to the growing number of cyclists in North American and European cities they are conspicuous by their absence. Although I can’t say it surprises me, given the hectic traffic conditions and efforts to avoid delays by drivers a cyclist’s life would be in constant jeopardy.

If you’ve got a bit of Evel Knievel in you then by all means give motorcycling in Costa Rica a go. If not, I suggest you stick to safer means of transportation.

Roosters Need Snooze Buttons

When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m a-travelin’ on
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

-BOB DYLAN, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

While in Costa Rica recently we stayed in a semi-rural area called San Josecito de San Isidro de Heredia. Don’t let the length of the name fool you, this is not a big town, yet nor is it rural. Rather there is a pleasant meeting of the two. On the same street, manual workers and government ministers, lovely estates and shanty houses share the same beautiful view of San Jose City itself. Chickens, feral cats and dogs share the roads and fields with geckos and brightly coloured butterflies. Sassy school children and various birds live, dare I say, cheek by fowl!

As a city boy born and raised I was tickled pink to be awakened each morning by the crowing of at least one neighbourhood rooster

One of the many pleasant aspects of this area is the early morning sounds of locals getting ready to do their thing. Perhaps it was because I was on vacation, and therefore not under any time constraint that I enjoyed hearing others’ starting off their daily routines all around me. Whether watching folks stroll along to jobs in the nearby coffee fields, or others driving into town to jobs in banks and offices, all share the roads.

As a city boy born and raised I was tickled pink to be awakened each morning by the crowing of at least one neighbourhood rooster. These are the things of books and, more to the point, childhood stories. A little cliche no doubt, but to be awakened by a rooster’s call is something to add to one’s bucket list.

Even Bob Dylan took the opportunity to write about the early-morning avian alert system. However, what Zimmy and, frankly, all references that I am familiar with neglect to point out is that once that rooster crows, it keeps on doing so. City lad that I am, I figured the bird crowed, wakened the farmer, then, having done his schtick went back to sleep. After all, it crows at a God-awful early hour. You’d think it would welcome a return to its coop for a few more hours of sleep. I know I sure as hell did!

Once they discharge the day’s first volley, they seem to just keep at it until the day is done. In honesty, this has lowered the renowned rooster in my estimate.

In essence one of the many things I have learned from my time in Costa Rica is that roosters don’t have snooze buttons – but they sure should. Once they discharge the day’s first bed-shaking volley, they seem to just keep at it until the day is done. In honesty, this has lowered the renowned rooster in my estimate. Believing the finely combed birds actually performed a vital day-starting service as opposed to just doing what they do all frigging day-long has dimmed some of the allure of the time-honoured task for this city boy.

Feature photo courtesy Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Online Banking: Kafka Meets Catch 22

In my last post, I wrote about my experience of being robbed by an ATM while visiting family in Costa Rica. This had nothing to do with my own bank, in fact, I am currently relying on them to help me get my money back. However, I discovered another glitch in the banking system as a result of this incident.

Upon returning to my in-law’s place after the highway – supermarket? – robbery, I immediately checked my account to see what I hoped would be a lack of debit. I got out my tablet and set to the task of signing in to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) online banking site. Given the Costa Rican IP address, it was evident I was not at my usual place of sign-in. No problem, in fact, a sign of security on the part of CIBC as they would not let me sign on without verifying I was who I am.

So there I was trying to verify that, like Popeye, I am who I am and that’s all what I am.

They gave me two options: they could send me a one-time verification code by email or text. Fine and dandy. In an effort to avoid exorbitant roaming fees I keep my iPhone on airplane mode while in Costa Rica. This means no text from the bank was received, assuming once again a Costa Rican IP address. No problem, I’ll use the email option.

Upon selecting this means of verifying myself, I ask for the code to be sent to the email address I have associated with my account. It’s a Yahoo Mail address. The bank app showed that they will no longer use free, unencrypted mail servers for verification. Oops….

So there I was trying to verify that, like Popeye, I am who I am and that’s all what I am. But to no avail.

I called the free customer service number and spoke with a friendly fellow. I explained my plight and he said it could be fixed by using the second email address attached to the account. However, and this is where things get Kafkaesque, my other email is with my server Videotron, and many banks, evidently including mine, will not use them due to security breaches.

So, I needed to change the email associated with my bank account, but couldn’t do that without verifying, via a code to the old email, that I’m me. Talk about a Catch-22!

So, I needed to change the email associated with my bank account, but couldn’t do that without verifying, via a code to the old email, that I’m me. Talk about a Catch-22!

By now I have been passed to Natasha, the call centre manager. She understands the situation I’m in and suggests I open a Protonmail encrypted email account, with which the CIBC is comfortable. I do so but still can’t understand how I can get it attached to my banking account. Here’s where Natasha does her magic and, after confirming that I’m me by way of emails, she adds it to my profile.

Within minutes I’m up and running again. On the one hand, this was a most frustrating undertaking, yet in the end, it all worked out because a person, an actual human being, Natasha, was able to override the system and fix the problem. Bravo, Natasha!

Robbed by a Canadian Bank at ATM Point in Costa Rica

My wife and I spent the holiday season in Costa Rica visiting her family. It was my second time there and it is a beautiful country at the best of times, and even during a pandemic, they seem to be able to handle things. I’ll write more on this in a subsequent post.

In a nutshell – I was robbed by a bank. Not a Costa Rican bank, but a Canadian bank – Scotiabank.

While the experience was grand, to say the least, there was one irksome snag: I got robbed. Now before you go thinking I was a Gringo victim of some Latino gang that preys on tourists, or perhaps a less organized random act of theft, allow me to explain.

In a nutshell – I was robbed by a bank. Not a Costa Rican bank, but a Canadian bank – Scotiabank.

On my second day in Costa Rica, I used a Scotiabank ATM, not my bank, located in a MasXMenos supermarket – a Walmart company – to withdraw some local currency. I entered my card and PIN with no problem. I requested a withdrawal of 60,000 colónes, about $130 Canadian dollars. The machine started to grumble and grunt, yet no cash was forthcoming. I waited patiently but still nada. My wife, whose first language is Spanish, spoke with a supermarket employee who came over, pushed the cancel transaction button, and gave me back my card. No cash, no record of the transaction. I went back to the ATM after a moment and there was now no noise, nor cash, and still no record.

Alas, when I returned to my in-laws’ and checked my bank website there was, indeed, a debit for the $130! I had no cash and no proof of having canceled the transaction.

Alas, when I returned to my in-laws’ and checked my bank website there was, indeed, a debit for the $130! I had no cash and no proof of having canceled the transaction.

My wife called the local Scotiabank number and was told that it was up to my bank, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, to pursue the matter as the folks at Scotiabank don’t know me from Adam, or Pedro. I have since been in touch with my bank agent who informs me that it may take up to two months for an international investigation to be completed. Frankly, I think I’m just shit out of luck. I imagine some technician at some point came to service the machine and found my money stuck in the works. I hope they spend it wisely!

But never did I think it would be a bank from my own country that would rip me off!!

Traveling in parts of Latin America can be dangerous for those not familiar with the area, as is probably true of any tourist attraction, even if Costa Rica is one of the safest places in the region. But never did I think it would be a bank from my own country that would rip me off!!

UPDATED: Montreal’s free parking not so free when using the app

UPDATE: I believe in the concept of credit where credit is due, so I am posting this update. In response to my post last week, the parking authorities have contacted me to ‘own their error’, apologize for it and assure me that all who paid will be reimbursed. Just when you thought customer service was dead,

What the current mayor of Montreal, Valerie Plante, has in store for the downtown core is not a vision I share. A vast reduction in the number of parking spaces, wider sidewalks, and narrower streets, all lead to people going elsewhere to do their shopping. Malls that provide ample free parking will be the big winners.

However, Ms. Plante has recently announced that once again this holiday season, starting on Friday, December 3, 2021, in an effort to draw people to stores …

However, Ms. Plante has recently announced that once again this holiday season, starting on Friday, December 3, 2021, in an effort to draw people to stores and restaurants, parking in the downtown borough of Ville-Marie will be free evenings and weekends. Wonderful idea,

Last weekend was the first featuring free parking; I completely forgot. On Sunday afternoon I found a parking spot on Cresent Street in the Ville-Marie borough, no mean task. I pulled in, took my iPhone in hand, and opened the P$ Mobile Service app. I entered the information and dutifully paid for two hours. The princely sum of $7.07 was charged to my credit card.

Evidently, when you use the parking meters and pay at the various kiosks, payment will not be accepted. A message informs would-be payers that their parking is free. Yet, no such message appeared on my iPhone!

Once I arrived at my destination, the topic of the mayor’s free parking scheme was brought up, and I was confused. Evidently, when you use the parking meters and pay at the various kiosks, payment will not be accepted. A message informs would-be payers that their parking is free. Yet, no such message appeared on my iPhone!

Above is the email clearly informing me that I had paid for two hours of parking, but just as clearly indicating that those two hours fall well within the free parking period. My hunch is that while the City has adjusted the payment kiosks, the third-party parking application had not done so, and therefore was still accepting payments.

I figure if they can process the payments so fast, even those that should not have been accepted, certainly they can provide a refund within a reasonable period of time. Then again, as I have learned, you just can’t fight City Hall.

I have informed the good folks at the P$ Mobile Service app, complete with documentation (had we been living in the time of Arlo Guthrie I would have included circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back). I figure if they can process the payments so fast, even those that should not have been accepted, certainly they can provide a refund within a reasonable period of time. Then again, as I have learned, you just can’t fight City Hall. I wonder how many other people made the same mistake.

Stay tuned.

George Carlin had his list of words – now the CBC has theirs

In 1972, the late great George Carlin introduced his list of the Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV. Clearly, George was talking about a time before cable and specialty stations because many of the seven words are heard often now. I’ll not list the words but will suggest you have a look at this link if you are not familiar with the list.

This past week Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, released a list of Words and phrases you may want to think twice about using. Not to be confused with Carlin’s septet of curse words, the CBC’s list is made up of everyday sayings. So why should we think twice about using them? It all has to do with the origin of the word or phrase, and sometimes these origins are pretty obscure.

How can a person with no knowledge of the etymology of the word possibly know it may be hurtful to others?

One example is the phrase grandfathered in. This is a common term to refer to one’s ability to do something banned based on the fact they come by it prior to it being deemed verboten. Or as the CBC explains a” business being exempt from new rules and (that) continues operating as is”. Again, according to the CBC’s article, this dates back to a 19th-century policy called the “grandfather clause,” which indirectly stopped Black Americans from voting by limiting eligibility to only those whose ancestors could vote.

“There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions, and wooooords”.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what the CBC piece neglects to take into consideration, is the concept of intention. How can a person with no knowledge of the etymology of the word possibly know it may be hurtful to others? To once again cite George Carlin, a self-professed lover of words, “There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions, and wooooords”.

One person mentioned in the CBC article is Julie Cashman, a member of the disability community and co-chair of the Consumer Action Committee, which advocates for individuals with disabilities. Her gripe is the word brainstorm that could be insensitive to those who have brain injuries or are neurodiverse, C’mon…really?

… the word brainstorm that could be insensitive to those who have brain injuries or are neurodiverse, C’mon…really?

But my favourite bugaboo – hope that doesn’t offend any mosquitos – is the word gyp. My grandfather was a veteran of the First World War. Like many soldiers, he returned with several shards of shrapnel in his leg. Often this would cause him a twinge of pain or discomfort causing him to say “my leg is giving me some gyp today”. According to Merriam-Webster, the origin is “British, informalto cause (someone) pain”. The folks at the CBC would have us believe the word actually comes from Gypsy and is therefore potentially offensive to Roma.

It’s time to take Carlin’s advice and consider the intent of the person using the word, not merely the word.

Supply chain woes and blood donations

I am a big proponent of donating blood. I’m a coward when it comes to essentially all things medical but I can assure you that the process is painless, and not even terribly wooz-inducing. I’m up to thirty donations now and my only regret is that I didn’t start earlier.

During the preparation for one of my donations – temperature, blood pressure, hemoglobin check, a whole bunch of very personal questions – while looking over my file the nurse exclaimed “Oh my goodness”. Being a bit of a Negative-Norman I immediately assumed she had found something on my chart indicating some sort of rare disorder that will cause my blood to solidify in my veins by age seventy or some other hideous affliction.

… she had found that not only is my blood type RH O Negative, making me a Universal Donor … but I am also CMV negative.

But no; what she told me was that she had found that not only is my blood type RH O Negative, making me a Universal Donor – Everybody Loves DC or maybe Donovan Leach will re-record the Universal Soldier, but updated to Donor – but I am also CMV negative.

My wild hoots of relief came to an abrupt end when I realized I had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that CMV is a virus that about half the adults in the world have. It poses no health problem unless you are a newborn in need of a transfusion, then you’d be wanting CMV-free blood. As the New York Blood Centre puts it: CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a common virus found in the environment. It can be spread through body fluids, including blood transfusions. About 50% of the general population is infected. It is not a serious infection, except for people who are already in compromised health conditions, such as newborn babies or pregnant women. In these cases, the CMV virus could cause birth defects.

About 50% of the general population is infected. It is not a serious infection, except for people who are already in compromised health conditions, such as newborn babies or pregnant women

Yep, I’m a baby saver!

No cape, no ability to leap tall buildings – not even short ones come to think of it, and I get claustrophobic in elevators – just about ten pints of baby-saving blood flowing through the maze of my veins.

The fact that I am both CMV Negative and O Negative puts me in a very small group; about 1.4% of the world’s population. It seems to me that we baby-saving double negatives should be treated in a royal manner. Perhaps we should be housed in large elegant mansions, with a veritable army of staff to see to our needs. Provided with only the best food and drink prepared by world-class chefs, first-rate exercise equipment, and superior sound systems. Thus ensuring we make certain our rare but baby-saving blood is ready for harvesting every 56 days.

More than just monetary loss results when the supply chain problem is applied to the process of blood transfusions. Please consider donating.

We continue to struggle with the COVID19 pandemic that seems to show signs of abating one day only to come roaring back the next. Retailers and restaurants, bars, and car dealerships are all bemoaning the economic effect of the pandemic on their businesses. One often hears the reference to ‘supple chain’ problems, the inability to provide products or services because they are not available. More than just monetary loss results when the supply chain problem is applied to the process of blood transfusions. Please consider donating.