Things are pretty awful right now. Let’s not underscore that.
A global pandemic is still raging and world is in turmoil because of it. Even with multiple vaccines available, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can honestly say it’s over.
As bad as that is, it’s still important to find some silver linings. You don’t want to undermine how bad things are, but you also want to embrace whatever positives you can. Even if they don’t warrant the suffering, they can help us process the overall impact.
To that end, I want to highlight something that’s easy to overlook in the midst of a raging pandemic. This disease we’re fighting is awful. It’s killing way too many people and our efforts to stop it have been mixed, at best. However, those efforts have brought other indirect benefits.
One of them has to do with the seasonal flu. Every year, it seems, some nasty bug seems to go around in certain areas. I’ve certainly experienced it. I’ve endured the flu before and most people agree. It’s not fun. It’s an experience we can all do without.
Now, due to the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the flu has been effectively kneecapped this season. According to some recent data from the Center for Disease Control, this has been the mildest flu season in years.
Following widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%). Data from Southern Hemisphere countries also indicate little influenza activity.
Again, and it’s worth belaboring, this silver lining does not make up for all the terrible things the COVID-19 pandemic has incurred. An overall decline in flu cases hardly makes up for all the suffering we’ve endured in this pandemic.
At the very least, it shows that there’s real merit in embracing these public safety measures. There’s real benefit to regularly washing your hands, wearing a mask, and not congregating in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
It has certainly changed how I look at public health. In the past, I’ve actually been sick and gone to class or work. I tried to endure the illness, not understanding just how much it affected others around me. This pandemic has changed that.
Now, when I’m sick, I’m making damn sure I stay home. I’m also washing my hands a lot more regularly and thoroughly. I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. These are all hard lessons that we’ve all paid a terrible price to learn. At the same time, we have that much more reason to endure and overcome this awful pandemic. Beyond simply beating this dreaded disease, emerging in a world where the flu is lesson common is definitely a more appealing world overall.
I know it’s 2020 and the holiday have been deeply affected by the overall awfulness of this past year, but it’s still here. It’s still something worth celebrating. So, in the name of sharing some special holiday cheer for such a uniquely awful year, I made this video to boost everyone’s spirit on this very special day. Enjoy!
However, I don’t want to spend Christmas Eve lamenting on how bad this year has gone. I’ve already doneplenty of that. Instead, I want offer some insight and hope.
Yes, Christmas this year is bound to be different, but the spirit and sentiments of the season aren’t completely muted. Even a pandemic can’t stop that.
Like so many other things this year, we just have to adapt. That may mean less travel, less parties, and even less presents for those who are enduring serious economic hardship. It’s sad and disappointing, but that doesn’t have to ruin Christmas. It just means we’ll have to do things differently.
For me, personally, that involves relying heavily on video chatting and Zoom meetings to connect with family. We can’t have the usual extended get-togethers, which often start on Christmas Eve and go on days after Christmas. It also means a less elaborate Christmas dinner.
At the same time, I’m not letting it dampen my holiday spirit. I’ve already made the effort to share that spirit from afar. Last week, I took many of the presents I’d previously wrapped and mailed them out to various family members who couldn’t travel. I ended up having to send multiple large boxes, which held up a long line at the UPS store.
To those people, I apologize. I promise it was for a good cause.
I already confirmed that many of those packages arrived. I intend to be with them via Zoom as they’re opened. I also intend to do the same while I open their presents. Granted, it’s not the same as being there with them, but it’s better than nothing. We’ll still be together in the ways that matter.
It’ll still be difficult. I know some relatives would much rather get together, join the family, and share in each others’ company for the holidays. It’s just not possible this year. I keep encouraging them to make up for it next year. However, we have to get through this one first. We can make that process easier by simply making the most of what we have now.
I encourage everyone to keep that perspective in mind as they celebrate the holidays. The world will heal. This pandemic will end. Those are hopes for tomorrow.
Today, it’s Christmas Eve.
Let’s cherish what we still have before we move forward with what lies ahead.
The holidays are a special time of year. Even in a year like this, we should appreciate that. If anything, a year like this should help us appreciate it even more. Even if we can’t have big Christmas parties or shop in crowded malls, the spirit of the season is something to cherish.
I certainly have a fondness for the holidays. I’ve made no secret of that. I think a year like this has inspired me to get more personal and share more holiday joy than usual. If it helps distract us from how awful 2020 has been, I’m happy to contribute.
To that end, I’d like to share a personal holiday memory that is near and dear to my heart. It’s also fairly recent, so I won’t rely on the kind of child-like excitement that comes with getting your first bike or video game console.
That being said, I still rank my first Super Nintendo as the greatest Christmas gift of all time, but that’s a story for another time.
This particular story happened just last year, long before we knew 2020 was going to crush our spirits. It involves a very special gift that I received from my brother. I’m not sure if he reads this site regularly, but he knows better than anyone why this gift was so special.
To set the stage, I need to explain some of my family’s holiday traditions. Ours aren’t that unique. Me, my siblings, and their significant others all gather at my parents’ house. We all bring our gifts, put them under the tree, and make opening them this big shared event. It’s simple, but it hits all the right holiday tones.
Traditionally, my family knows what to get me long before Christmas. They know me well and they know my tastes are simple. Get me some comic books, some superhero apparel, or something related to football and I’m a happy guy. I like to think I’m fairly easy to shop for.
That didn’t stop my brother from going the extra mile this year. As it just so happened, his was one of the last gifts I’d opened. At that point, I was already a happy guy, swimming in new comics and clothes. This last gift, however, caught me by surprise in a very personal way.
I still remember holding the seemingly innocuous box. It didn’t look like anything elaborate. For all I knew, it was another comic or Blu-Ray movie. I just casually opened it. That’s when I saw it.
It was a framed picture.
Specifically, it was a picture of my grandmother, who had passed away just a few years ago.
Seeing her again, even in a picture, hit me in a way I didn’t respect. Even though she had been gone for years at that point, seeing her again reminded me of how much I missed her. It was somewhat jarring, but in a good way.
I just remember taking the picture out, holding it up, and looking at it for a good long while. I might have disrupted the overall jolly spirit of the room, but I think they understood why.
My brother, along with the rest of my family, knew how close I was to my grandmother. They also knew how hard it was for her during her final years. I visited her regularly and I watched as her health declined. It wasn’t easy, to say the least.
It helped that this particular picture that my brother framed was taken shortly before she fell ill. She was still smiling, as lively as any woman in her 90s could be at that point. Seeing that look on her face, even if it was just in a picture, was enough to make my heart skip a beat.
I almost broke down, but I managed to keep it together. It helped that my older sister came over and hugged me. She knew how much my grandmother meant to me, as well. It was a powerful moment, but one that made both that gift and that Christmas extra special.
That picture my brother gave me still has a prominent place on my shelf. As I write this, it’s right behind me. It still brings me comfort to this day, seeing my grandmother in that picture. For that, I’ll always be grateful to her and to my brother for giving me such a special gift.
Bro, if you’re reading this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for making that Christmas special and for going the extra mile in giving me that gift. You’re the best!
It’s almost over. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that with each passing day.
This historically horrible year is almost over. We’re in the home stretch with the holidays approaching. A new year is almost upon us and the bar for improvement for 2021 is laughably low compared to previous years.
The reason there’s hope now is we actually have a working vaccine. Thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists, doctors, and those who volunteered to test this unproven treatment, the key to ending this pandemic is upon us.
These aren’t folk remedies or something some shady health guru is trying to pawn for a quick buck. Contrary to what anti-vaxxers may claim, these vaccines will actually protect people. As of this writing, it’s being distributed to front line care workers and vulnerable populations.
Just this past week, the first individuals received the vaccine. It started with a British woman in Coventry. It continued with an ICU nurse in New York City. CNN even captured it in a live video feed.
A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York City, was administered the vaccine during a live video event at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday.
Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, delivered the shot.
“She has a good touch, and it didn’t feel any different than taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said immediately afterward.
This isn’t just a turning point in the fight against a deadly disease. This is something we should celebrate. Moreover, I believe this is the kind of celebrating we should learn from.
I admit I’ve celebrated some less-than-important things in my life. Hell, I celebrated the day when comics started coming out digitally the same day they came out in shops. I treated that like I won the Super Bowl.
People celebrate all sorts of events that they believe to be the most important thing in the world. Whether it’s their team winning a championship or a movie grossing $2 billion at the box office, we all have a different bar for what warrants celebrating.
For just once, let’s all re-think where we raise that bar. Let’s also let this be a prime example of something that’s truly worth celebrating and praising.
Make no mistake. Creating this vaccine this quickly is a remarkable achievement. We’ve endured pandemics in the past. Some of those pandemics have killed far more people. This disease could’ve definitely killed more. If we didn’t have this vaccine, or even if we had to wait a year to get it, thousands more would’ve died.
Now, going into 2021, countless lives will be saved because of this. It’s a testament to the power of science, hard work, and human ingenuity. It’s as heroic as we can be without the aid of superpowers or magic wands. As someone who loves superhero media, I say that’s a beautiful thing indeed. So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate and celebrate this achievement. I also fully intend to get this vaccine, once it’s available. When that day comes, I’ll gladly share that moment and encourage others to do the same.
As you get older, you come to treasure certain memories more than most. It’s a natural thing. If you’ve conducted yourself a certain way, it can be a beautiful thing. It’s not always a pleasant process, especially as you encounter major life challenges and inevitable hardships. That doesn’t make it any less meaningful.
The holidays are a time during which we form many such memories. I certainly have. Some of my most cherished memories occurred over the holidays. Some were on Christmas and some were on Thanksgiving. This year, with so many friends and family still isolated due to the pandemic, I find myself contemplating those memories more than usual.
I doubt I’m alone. There’s just no getting around it. For Thanksgiving, especially, we just can’t do things the way we normally do in 2020. That’s just the reality of a deadly pandemic. We can’t travel, get together, or casually share used forks. It’s sad and frustrating, but that’s just the way things have to be for this year.
For me and my family, that’s especially difficult. That’s because every year, my parents make it a point to make their house, the same one I grew up in, the epicenter of all things Thanksgiving. Every year, family from all over traveled to our part of the country to get together, have a giant meal, and just enjoy each other’s company.
These gatherings were often the biggest family gatherings of the year. It wasn’t unusual for there to be at least 20 people crammed into that house. It was big and rowdy, but we all loved it. I certainly did. We had so much fun, sharing in the joys of food, family, and football. I’m really going to miss that this year.
Rather than dwell on that, though, I’d like to share a quick personal story that I hope will get others through this pandemic-hit holiday. It just happens to be one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories of all time and one that perfectly defines what makes my family so awesome.
This particular memory unfolded when I was fairly young. I was still in elementary school at the time and much of my extended family wasn’t that much older. Once again, my parents made their house the central focus of Thanksgiving festivities and we attracted quite a crowd. I remember aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends joining in, some of which I hadn’t seen in years.
In addition to the usual gathering and feasting, the weather this year was just perfect. It was unusually warm for late November. A number of cousins and friends wore shorts and a T-shirt. It was just that nice out. As a result, we hung around outside a lot more than usual. It’s here where this Thanksgiving memory really takes hold.
Shortly after we ate, a bunch of cousins and extended family gathered in the backyard and started throwing around a football, as many are inclined to do on Thanksgiving. It started as a simple game of catch between a few cousins. It then evolved into a full-fledged game, complete with route running, elaborate plays, and touchdown dances.
We didn’t plan it.
We didn’t keep score.
We didn’t even set clear rules and time limits.
We all just came together as friends and family to play a football game in the backyard. It felt so natural and organic. It was a perfect manifestation of everything we loved about Thanksgiving get-togethers.
If that weren’t memorable enough, some clouds rolled in near sunset and it started raining suddenly. However, not one person in the backyard ran inside. If anything, it just made everyone more excited to play. The game kept going. We kept running around, tackling each other, and just had an all-around great time.
Being a kid with a belly full of Thanksgiving dinner, I honestly didn’t want it to end. I wanted to just hang out back there and play football until the sun went down. Even as some friends and family had to leave, we kept going for as long as we could. When it finally ended, I knew on some levels that this had been a special Thanksgiving.
Time has only proven that sentiment right. To date, it’s one of my most cherished Thanksgiving memories. I’ll likely cherish it even more as I endure a Thanksgiving without that big family gathering I’ve come to love and appreciate. I know many in my family feel the same way.
Thanksgiving this year may be disappointing in its scope, but I would encourage them and everyone who shares that feeling to think back to those memories. More importantly, use them as inspiration, as well as motivation, to make Thanksgiving in 2021 even more special.
I hope this little story has boosted your holiday spirits. I also hope everyone finds a way to enjoy Thanksgiving this year, however tempered it might be. The holidays are here. Let’s not allow a pandemic to dampen our spirits.
Sometimes, it takes a terrible global crisis to spurn huge leaps in technology. World War II was arguably the greatest crisis of the modern era, but it helps advance some of the greatest technological leaps in history. We can argue whether those advances were worth all the death and destruction, but there’s no denying that our world wouldn’t be the same without them.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t on the same level as World War II, but it is, by most measures, the greatest crisis the world has faced in the past 50 years. It hasn’t just caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable amounts of suffering. It has completely disrupted this big, interconnected world that we’ve come to depend on.
We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Beyond the loved ones who have perished, our entire sense of security and hope has been shattered. We now realize just how vulnerable we were and how inevitable this was. As bad as it is, there is some good coming out of it.
Usually, a crisis like this helps break down the barriers that divided us and hindered progress, technological or otherwise. Never before has the world been more united or engaged in a singular effort. Before 2020, we probably didn’t know much about vaccines or vaccine research. We just knew that Jenny McCarthy tried to be relevant again by protesting them.
Then, we got an even greater glimmer of hope from the other vaccine front-runner by Moderna. Not only is their vaccine in the final phase of testing, like Pfizer. It’s even more effective and promises to be easier to store and distribute.
The Moderna vaccine is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to early data released Monday by the company, making it the second vaccine in the United States to have a stunningly high success rate.
“These are obviously very exciting results,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”
Moderna heard its results on a call Sunday afternoon with members of the Data Safety and Monitoring Board, an independent panel analyzing Moderna’s clinical trial data.
This is objectively great news in a year when we’ve had precious little of it. These two vaccines may very well be the one-two punch we need to end the COVID-19 pandemic and return to some semblance of normalcy. I would still like to go to a movie theater or baseball game at some point in 2021. These vaccines may make that possible.
However, I’d like to take a moment to speculate beyond this terrible pandemic that has uprooted so many lives. I know that’s not easy to do when the crisis is still very relevant and inflicting plenty of suffering. I still think it’s worth attempting, if only to imagine the better world that emerges from this mess.
That’s because both these vaccines aren’t like your typical flu shots. For one, flu shots aren’t nearly as effective as what Pfizer and Moderna reported. According to the CDC, you’re average flu shot is between 40 and 60 percent effective. That’s still important because the flu can be deadly. Anything you do to reduce it can only further public health, in general.
The problem is that vaccines are notoriously hard to develop. They take a long time to test and an even longer time to approve. Until this pandemic, there just wasn’t much incentive to improve on that process. Now, after these past 8 months, the incentive couldn’t have been greater.
That’s what sped up the development of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind both Pfizer and Moderna. It was reported on as far back as 2018. While this technology isn’t completely new, it has never been developed beyond a certain point. There just wasn’t any incentive to do so. A global crisis changed that.
Very simply, an mRNA vaccine does one better on traditional vaccines by using RNA to develop immunity. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To develop that immunity, it has encode itself with just the right antigen. That way, the antibodies it creates can attack the desired pathogen.
In the case of COVID-19, the mRNA vaccine attacks the distinct spike protein the virus uses to attach to host cells. It’s like a missile targeting a specific individual in a large crowd by locking onto the distinct hat they wear.
This approach has the potential to be much more effective at generating immunity to a particular disease. Instead of trying to mimic a virus, it just gives the immune system the necessary software it needs to do the work. It could potentially revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases.
For years, certain viruses like the flu and HIV have confounded efforts to develop a vaccine. Beyond the problems I listed earlier with regards to testing, the difficulty of creating a particular immune response to a particular antigen is very difficult. These viruses mutate and change all the time. With COVID, vaccines do have an advantage because they have a distinct feature.
The challenge for future vaccines against future pandemics is quickly uncovering a particular antigen that the mRNA can be coded for. In theory, all you would have to do is find the one key antigen that’s common to every strain of the virus. While viruses like the flu are notoriously diverse, they can only change so much.
It’s akin to trying to identify an army of spies in a large crowd. They may all look different on the outside, but if they all have the same socks, then that’s what you code for. With some refinements, an mRNA vaccine can stop a pandemic in its tracks before it ever gets beyond a certain point.
That assumes we’ll continue to refine this technology after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. I certainly hope that’s the case. This year has traumatized entire generations with how much pain and suffering it has inflicted. I sincerely hope that gives plenty of motivation to develop technology like this. That way, we never have to endure a disruption like this again.
To all those who helped develop this technology and these two vaccines, I hope you appreciate the impact you’ll make with this technology. The number of lives they could save is incalculable. Future generations may not remember your names, but they will be forever grateful for this wondrous gift you’ve given them.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. As I’ve done before in previous years, I go out of my way to acknowledge the sacrifice and service those who have served in the military. It’s one of the few issues that transcends ideology, politics, and debate. Those who have served deserve our utmost admiration and respect.
There’s a personal element for me, as well. I have many close family members who have served in the United States Military. I have grandparents who served in World War II. I have an uncle who served in Vietnam. They know what it means to serve their country in times of war and peace.
I know it is often used as a platitude by politicians and pundits, supporting the troops. That doesn’t make it any less deserving of such support. I certainly offer my thanks and my respect to our veterans, especially on days like Veterans Day. I also encourage others to do so and to support various veterans charities.
Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t reveal my uncle’s name or which branch he served. I’ll just state that he has been very involved in supporting veterans since he got out of the service many years ago. He’s actively involved with churches and organizations. He’s the kind of man who will go above and beyond for a fellow veteran.
This particular story he shared took place at a local church. For years, a group of World War II veterans would meet there around a certain date. They’d catch up, drink, and laugh in all the ways you’d expect of old friends. It was a tradition they all cherished.
However, in recent years, that group’s numbers have been dwindling. Even though millions served in World War II, there are only an estimated 300,000 left alive. That may sound like a lot, but in a small group like this, they noticed when many of their friends began dying. It got to a point where the group was small, so much so that there was little to catch up on.
This is where my uncle comes in. At one particular gathering at a church, he met up with this old guy wearing the distinct World War II veteran attire most recognize. He was sitting alone and not in the best shape, health-wise. He didn’t look sad, but you could tell he was among the last of the friends he served with.
My uncle, being the wonderful man he is, sat down and talked to the man. They got along well. In doing so, my uncle found out that this old man was the last surviving member of his platoon. They’d been close for many years, but now he was the last one. Given his age, it wouldn’t be long before his entire platoon joined the many others who made the ultimate sacrifice.
It struck my uncle because he knew that, once this man passed, too many of his stories would pass with him. That just couldn’t stand. My uncle sat with that man and just listened to him reminisce. I don’t know how long they chatted, but my uncle made it a point to hear his story, knowing those who could tell them were dwindling fast.
It’s a special kind of way to honor a veteran. You can help them in many ways, but I like to think just listening to them and their story goes a long way. War and combat has consumed entire generations. They leave lasting marks, including many scars.
That’s why it’s important to remember and honor them. There are memories worth preserving, full of lessons worth learning. Times may change. Warfare often changes with it. The one constant is the strength it takes to fight, serve, and sacrifice.
I hope this story from my uncle gets that point across. I also hope it inspires others to help and honor our veterans in their own special way.
Thank you and to all those who are serving now or have served, I hope you feel the love and support you deserve on Veterans Day this year.
Every now and then, we need something simple, uplifting, and wholesome to boost our spirits. Whether you’re a child, an adult, or a teenager struggling through the rigors of puberty, we just need something positive to cling to, if only briefly.
I certainly need that from time to time. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. The world can be a chaotic, ugly place. It’s easier than ever to focus on the bad and overlook the good. However, that good is still out there and, in the spirit of sharing that good, I’d like to present a small comic strip that always brings a smile to my face.
I’ll give everyone a minute to wipe the tears from their face or manage their “allergies.”
Yes, that was a comic strip featuring Thor and Fred Rogers.
Like many, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ show. In recent years, I’ve rediscovered his remarkable story and his amazing acts of humility. When you need something uplifting to boost your spirits, those stories just find a way to touch my heart on a profound level.
This comic strip doesn’t just reaffirm that. It makes a perfect case that, regardless of how you define worthiness, Mr. Rogers shows just how far true humility will take you. It’s a message I think we can all appreciate right now.
As I write these words, I’m still basking in the utter sports bliss that was the start of the NFL season. I know I’ve made a bigger deal of it than usual. I will not apologize for that. Cut me some slack. This year has sucked on so many levels. Indulging in my love of football made it suck a little bit less. I hope others feel the same.
While I cherished every last bit of the action in week 1, there was one other bonus I wanted to note. That’s Patriot’s quarterback Cam Newton’s suit. I know. It’s not the most important issue facing this world today, but just look at it. Take a single moment out of your day to appreciate this incredible feat of men’s fashion.
I want to put it into words. I just can’t. There’s no way my writing skills can do justice to this look. Between the bow tie, the yellow coloring, the hat, and the shoes, I don’t think Shakespeare himself could articulate how amazing this is.
When I saw this, I just couldn’t stop smiling. I also know this isn’t the first time Cam Newton’s fashion sense has raised some eyebrows. This is what he wore to a serious press conference one day.
Again, I have no words. That ridiculous, colorful style that seems so outlandish to the rest of us? Hell, that’s just Tuesday for Cam Newton. I, for one, thank him for that. Say what you will about his skills as an NFL quarterback. The man has style.
I know it’s not exactly the most salient issue facing the world in 2020, but come on. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate this.
Mr. Newton, as someone who appreciates men’s fashion as much as the next guy, I sincerely thank you. This year sucks just a little bit less because of you.