Saturday, March 14, 2020

Life during plaguetime

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, 'You are mad; you are not like us.' 
– St. Anthony the Great

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. It's THE END OF THE WORLD. Again. Hit me, baby, one more time. And, like so many ends of the world past and those still to come, it isn't. I'm not yet 60 and I've survived apocalypse after apocalypse that Those Who Know™ predicted would be curtains for us all: Malthusianism, global cooling, global warming, swine flu (H1N1), bird flu (H5N1), SARS, mad cow disease, Legionnaires Disease, Y2K, HIV/AIDS, Ebola virus, West Nile virus, the oil crisis, DDT, nuclear holocaust, the banking crisis, World War III (many instances), the cancelation of Firefly, disco, Ronald Reagan, etc. I and the world are still standing, as I expect will be the case for me for many years to come and for the world many, many years beyond that.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 
– Matthew 24:6

I'm not making light of COVID-19, a.k.a. the Coronavirus (or the Wuhan Virus—if you're a racist, so we're told). It's certainly serious, but the panic being generated is out of all proportion to the threat. The swine flu of 2009-2010 was much more serious. In the US there were more than 60 million infected, hundreds of thousands hospitalized, and more than 12,000 deaths. Worldwide, nearly half a million people died. At that time, there was relatively little panic. Life went on. The NCAA championship (a different March Madness than we're experiencing now) wasn't canceled. Instead, the press was ga-ga over Barack Obama's brackets, which he seemed to care about much more than responding to a pandemic.

Estimates for the 2019-2020 flu season aren't complete, but the US may have seen as many as 51 million infected, 670,000 hospitalized, and 55,000 deaths—and flu is an annual event. Every year results in tens of thousands of deaths. The 2018-2019 flu season had 61,000 estimated deaths. COVID-19 has a long, long way to go to reach those numbers.

Whether swine flu, bird flu, or annual flu, the responses were measured and reasonable. Businesses weren't shut down, public gatherings weren't canceled, travel wasn't forbidden.

Perhaps those measures would have limited the spread, perhaps not, but there was no panic, no insanity. I look at Obama publicising his NCAA brackets while thousands were dying less like Nero fiddling while Rome burned than like Drake finishing his game of bowling after the Armada was sighted. Calm amid the storm is never a bad option (besides, Drake had to wait for the tide anyway). The tendency to panic and then to attack anyone not panicking with you is just crazy.

We must carry on. We need that now, but it's not to be. The press is whipping reasonable concern into frenzied hysteria and the politicians are one-upping each other to be most responsive—or at least to avoid accusations of non-responsiveness—as well as to accuse others of inaction and establish "I told you so" rights in the aftermath. Most of it is pure posturing.

For the first time since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, public celebration of the Catholic Mass in numerous places around the world has been canceled until further notice. It may turn out to be just a few weeks, but the Seattle Archdiocese, where I live, is scrambling for alternative ways to continue administering the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, after the governor has banned large gatherings of all kinds, including church attendance.

Panic adds to panic and snowballs from there. One unprecedented response makes people think they need to do more, which leads to further unprecedented responses. Reasonable precautions give way to paranoia like the runs on banks during the Great Depression, a textbook example of people fearing fear itself, which only ever makes a bad situation worse.

Nothing epitomizes the absurdity of the present panic like the run on toilet paper. Toilet paper. At stores all over the US (and in other countries as well) toilet paper is selling out. Instead of the usual cornucopia of absorbent options, the shelves are empty because people are afraid they'll be quarantined with an insufficient amount of bog-roll to get them through. It's silly, but panic like that is infectious and normally sane people start to worry that they better get TP right now rather than wait until they're out because with everyone buying as much as they can, there may not be any left when they need it. Thus, there is none at all.

Travel is in upheaval. My nephew was due to fly to Chile on Monday to start a job teaching ESL. That got canceled because Chile is warning people flying in that they will be quarantined for several weeks on arrival. Friends who've flown in recent days have shared pics of empty airports. No one is traveling, either they've canceled because they're afraid or their destination has canceled on them.

There is also the compulsive need for every business that has your email address in its database to send you unsolicited emails explaining how they're addressing the virus crisis.

So far, all the restaurants and grocery stores are open and crowded, but businesses have made their workers telecommute until the end of March just to be safe. Some retail stores have shut down. I had a new customized Mac that I was to pick up at the Apple store near me on Tuesday. I was just notified that Apple is shutting all its stores outside of China until March 27. I'll have to creep along with my tired old Mac for another few weeks.

I was supposed to start a new job on Monday and left my old one on Thursday. Now the new job start is delayed due to chaos because of the virus. I have a week (or two) to kill before I start getting a paycheck again. People forced into telecommuting are also having to homeschool their kids because all the schools have closed. Microsoft gave telecommuting parents a week of paid leave to sort it all out.

The markets are freaking out, less from the virus than from the havoc of disrupted business. A market downturn could cause a lot of economic hardship for a lot of people if it continues for long. Which brings up the seedy politics of the virus. Some Democrats are eager for the economy to tank so they can unseat the Bad Orange Man and replace him with either a bad-tempered guy who often forgets who he is and what he's doing or a bad-tempered guy who thinks bread lines are fantastic, is offended by the variety of underarm deodorant available in a market economy, and is incredulous that people have bad opinions about Fidel Castro. One is demented, the other is crazy (or evil). That's the best they have to offer.

Maybe it is THE END OF THE WORLD. Given the fear-mongering, mindlessness, and low politicization of a situation that ought to pull us together for the common good, maybe that's for the best. It can only go downhill from here. Whatever comes will come, but for now, I feel fine—frustrated and a bit angry, but fine.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Drumbeat MMXX

We held Drumbeat 2020 on February 22, George Washington's birthday. It was also the 76th birthday of Dick Larsen, who founded the Drumbeat game day event 13 years ago (it seems longer). Dick's idea was to have a mid-Winter event to prime the Northwest Historical Miniature Gamers Society (NHMGS) members for our annual Enfilade! convention in May. I've been coordinating things for it the last few years since Dick's health has prevented him from maintaining an ongoing active role. It kind of runs itself, so it's a perfect gig for someone as lazy as I.

Attendance has fluctuated and costs have risen over the years, which may imperil its continuation. This year we had 13 games with almost 70 attendees. We're open to the public, so we operate on a donation basis for funding. We also provide space for a bring 'n' buy for which NHMGS takes a 10% cut of the sales. In all, we managed to come in at a mere loss of $55.00—a big improvement on last year's loss. Our attendance was higher and the bring 'n' buy sales were greater. It's not certain that we can maintain that going forward. We'll have to have the membership vote on whether we continue at the Lake City Community Center. We're looking into options for other venues, but LCCC has been a pretty good place for the last several years.

Game 1: The Englishman's Lament

I ran two games this year. The first was a replay of my Cnoc Uí Chinnéide scenario for The Pikeman's Lament. I'll be running this game at Enfilade! in May, so I'm fiddling with it to make it work right. The English got their hats handed to them this time after I reduced their firepower. I'm painting more English calivermen now and I've got some English cavalry I can add in as well. I may need another playtest in April or early May.

Game 2: Run faster

My second game was a joint venture with Kevin Smyth. Kevin came up with a scenario for Rebels and Patriots based on the race for the Dan river, which was a prelude to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. He and I played it ourselves in the week before Drumbeat and we've been tweaking it since with, I think, more tweaks to come, although the game at Drumbeat played out pretty well.

The Americans have to get their forces over a ford in the Dan river without suffering a loss of more than one unit. If they lose two, it's over for them. Losses inflicted on the British don't factor in, so they pretty much have to make a running fight to get away. In the game at Drumbeat, the Americans seemed well along to winning, having wiped out all the British cavalry and one of their light infantry units. They got some units over the Dan, but still had most on the wrong side when they lost two units to the remainder of the British forces, which amounted to one light infantry, one skirmisher (Hessian jägers), two line infantry, and a light gun. I'm not sure if it's a winnable game for the Americans given the severe victory conditions.

Dice fetish update (Aus Deutschland mit Liebe)

Longtime readers of this blog will know I have a sickness when it comes to dice. I mentioned in a previous post that the antique bone dice I've been using for activations have a tendency to roll snake-eyes. For Rebels and Patriots and The Pikeman's Lament, that's bad, very bad. To see if I could get another set of unique-ish dice to use for more favorable activation/morale, I ordered a set of three from a German craft store on Etsy. They're about 1/2", definitely—though not precisely—cuboid, and handcrafted from laminated bone.

Sadly, I haven't had a change to test them yet. I figure that rolling any two of the three will randomize things a bit more than just rolling the same two every time.

Other games

I was so busy setting up, running, and taking down my games that I managed only a cursory look at other games. Kevin ran a big Lion Rampant game in the morning. Despite my tunnel vision, there were a lot of great games going on around me. I'm very happy with the strong response to the call for game hosts.

Filthy lucre

It was kind of spur of the moment, but I brought a fair bit of stuff to sell at the bring 'n' buy. I have a lot of debris from long-forgotten projects collecting dust in my garage—a lot of dust, actually, because I spray white primer on my figures in the garage and that dust settles everywhere and builds over time. A lot of what I was selling were unpainted 15mm ancients and WW2. At one time, they were a going concern, now they're just concerning. When the dust settled, I walked away with $100.00+ bucks in my pocket. I have a lot more of which to divest myself. That'll be a project for Enfilade!

Dick Larsen

A very poignant aspect of the day was knowing that Dick, the man who founded Drumbeat and was the prime mover behind starting our regional gaming group NHMGS (Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society) back in the 80s, is ailing quickly. Dick suffered a stroke three years ago on the same day that Phil Bardsley died. He'd been recovering slowly, but has been wheelchair bound for more than a year. He made an appearance last year, but now he's in home hospice. In addition to his stroke effects, he has liver cancer. Bill Stewart and I visited him a week before Drumbeat and spent about 40 minutes with him. Bill has been to see him multiple times since.