Unless You Prefer 'Zoombomb' to Zumba
Or Enjoy Being Added to Calls without Your Knowledge
A New York chef I've never met in person but have followed on Facebook for several years recently posted this to her stories page: "No pedicures, no haircuts, no makeup. The world is about to get ugly (smiley face)...But people can still be beautiful in all the ways that matter. We can still smile, we can still pray, and we can still contact one another to let them know how much we care, how much we love them, and how grateful we are to have them in our lives."
During these times of adversity, many of us have turned to video-conferencing platforms like Zoom to do just that. It's been a lifeline for schools, businesses, family members, and friends who want to reach out to one another. Connect.
From the standpoint of technology, Zoom is user-friendly, stable and reliable. It has connected us with doctors, family members, friends and coworkers. Even shrinks and therapists are using it to talk their clients through mental health issues that arise when social-distancing threatens to become social isolation. Or worse, when you're quarantined with someone you're not especially fond of.
Unfortunately, bad actors have entered the virtual landscape, disrupting our attempts to connect during the current storm. These intruders are hackers who exploit Zoom's vulnerabilities in order to shout racist, homophobic messages or interject pornography into video-conferenced classrooms, prayer meetings, and family gatherings. The phenomenon has added a new word to the 21st century lexicon: "zoombomb."
The problem is serious enough that both the FBI and the New York Attorney General have launched investigations into Zoom's privacy safeguards, following several instances of "zoombombing" now that millions have come to rely on the platform during the coronavirus pandemic.
So before you jump in to the Zoom ecosphere (or even if you already have), here are a few things I've found via the BBC, which may help you maintain your cool, your privacy and your security while using Zoom:
Which Do You Want First, the Good News or the Bad?
No, I'm not talking to YOU. The greeting on this post is from an email I received shortly after the indispensable Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that it's the elderly—people in their 60s, 70s and 80s—who are most at risk for serious illness and death due to COVID-19.
The email was from a college buddy who lives in Greenwich Village. Back in the day, I knew him by nicknames that no longer apply, most of which referred to his Beatle-esque mop of brow-covering red hair. A fine mane if ever a mane there was. His appearance has changed over the years (bye-bye boyish bangs), but his curmudgeonly sense of humor has not abandoned him altogether. Not even after a worthy career on the frontlines of education. "I hope you survive the plague," he wrote. And with that his email came to an end.
Although it's always good to hear from college pals, I was surprised to find myself on the distribution list for such a message. After all, I'm not elderly. How could I be? I look in the mirror and see a man in the prime of life. Which I suppose is exactly how the subjects of Tom Hussey's famous "Reflections" see themselves. That's the photography series where people of advanced years gaze into a looking-glass seeing only younger versions staring back. But surely I'm different from those folks. I really am in my prime, even though I have passed Miss Jean Brodie chronologically
Nevertheless, I trust Dr. Fauci more than anyone on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And it turns out that I really do fall within the purview of COVID-19's hit list. Dr. Fauci is 79 years old and runs 3.5 miles a day. Proof enough that age is just a number. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is a poor mathematician. It slices and dices at will. And it does not discriminate.
It's not as if you can challenge COVID-19 to a chess match like the late Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal. This sucker don't play no games.
That's the bad news. ..
Sure It's Unconstitutional & Bloomberg Is Out, But the Subject Proves Unavoidable Even in the Galapagos Islands
The best part about Ecuador is when I forget myself. I am in a gondola high above the Mashpi Reserve when that happens. We have just completed a three-kilometer hike through the rainforest, down a steep slope toward a waterfall, then on through the shin-high current of the river for another kilometer or so.
My companions and our guide are spread out before me. But there’s enough distance between us that I see them against the towering green landscape. Man in proportion to nature. The clean clear river encircling my feet, eddying around smooth wet stones, splashing against my Wellies. A few hundred steps above the river, we board the gondola and travel the long distance between the cloud forest and the rainforest. The air is alive with the songs of Mashpi’s native birds, the high-pitched call of its frogs and the rushing river far below. You cannot get to know God unless you’re not there –is a quote I’ve seen on a refrigerator magnet. Now I begin to sense what that means. There is more to life than me.
Two Homers, Three Helens and a Sailboat on Blue Water
It may be true that there is no hunting like the hunting of men. But that is a small thing compared to the hunting of one’s ghosts. Or the hunt for one’s self, which is harder still.
I first thought seriously about the hunting of men during the search for newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. I was very young and very green, and I covered the story for the CBS television station in San Francisco. We were all interested in the hunt for Patty and her kidnappers back then. At the time, it was called the story of the century, having surpassed the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 in the public mind. That is what happens when four decades pass between notorious events. The public mind shifts. Hardly anyone remembers the past. Fewer still learn from it.
It was not up to me to find the heiress or her abductors. My job was to wear nice clothes and wait in an RV parked outside the Hearst mansion in Hillsborough, California. Sooner or later, the people who were hunting for Patty—the FBI and the police—would find her, dead or alive, and make some kind of statement in front of the family home. All I had to do was appear on camera each night and say something—anything—to keep the story alive.
Except for the extra income and attention that came from an assignment like this, it was the occupational equivalent of a quarantine. One afternoon, in order to pass the time, I picked up a magazine and read a reprint of “On the Blue Water,” Ernest Hemingway’s Gulf Stream Letter of April, 1936. That’s where he talks about the hunting of men. And how once you get a taste for it, you never really care for anything else thereafter.
You have to admire the piece, whether you like this kind of talk or not, because this particular Gulf Stream Letter contains a nugget of something greater than itself, the anecdote that eventually became The Old Man and the Sea.
And if you are a young reporter writing piffle about a rich white girl when hundreds of black and brown girls get raped or go missing every day with nary a thought for their whereabouts or well-being, you realize reading Hemingway that you are wasting your time. And if you don’t do something to change your life, you may wind up with a fair amount of money some day—but no soul.
Oglethorpe University's 'Spring Awakening' Carries 'Mature Content' Warning & Pushes Boundaries Where They Need Pushing Most
A few years ago, I was sure I’d never set foot on Atlanta’s beautiful Oglethorpe University campus again. That’s because Georgia Shakespeare, which staged its productions at the university’s Conant Performing Arts Center, finally gave up the ghost in 2006 after nearly three decades.
This was not the fault of Oglethorpe by any means. But without Georgia Shakespeare, there seemed no reason to return to the campus. The end of those fine productions was a great loss to the city’s cultural landscape, and I kept hoping it might rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix like Atlanta itself. So far that has not happened. But last weekend I found myself making the familiar turn off Peachtree Road onto the school's Brookhaven campus for a decidedly non-Shakespearean production of the Tony-Award-winning musical Spring Awakening.
If I’d taken the time to investigate further, I probably wouldn’t have driven through Saturday’s horrible rainstorm for what turned out to be a student production. Purchasing the tickets online was a knee-jerk decision. I clicked “buy” only because veteran actor and director Richard Garner, co-founder of Georgia Shakespeare, was listed as director. I’d seen plenty of his work on the university campus, most of it featuring Equity actors, and that’s all it took to clinch the deal.
When you hear what I have to say about what happened at the courthouse that day, you may decide that I'm racist. After all, it's not the kind of charge one can easily deny these days. Not even if you're the least racist person in the world. But the truth is, there's no way to relate what happened without brining race into it. In a way, the whole thing was about race. And it all began before the jury was selected. Before the defendant was even arrested.
The place is Georgia. The month, August. It’s hot, and we’ve been stuck here since 8:00 AM. For most of that time, it’s been impossible to ignore a young white woman who’s been flitting about, laughing and chatting since we got here. Her laugh is infectious. She’s added a certain levity to the day. A lift even the espresso I got from a vendor couldn’t quite compete with. Then near the end of the day, she says this:
“Oh my God, I think I might have bought drugs from this guy back in high school.”
Recently, I finally got around to checking out the celebrated British TV series, Foyle’s War — and found it impossible to ignore the way this echo from the past foreshadowed two news events that occurred the same day.
The first was Donald Trump’s visits to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the aftermath of last weekend’s mass shootings. The second was the mass arrest of 678 undocumented immigrants at seven agricultural-processing plants across Mississippi, the largest raid of its kind in American history, topping the previous record of 595 in 2008.
You know that old saying about how there’s 20/20 vision with hindsight? And the one that says those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them? Well, that’s why my first viewing of the Foyle franchise keeps rattling around in my brain.
Did Agatha Christie Steal from Another Writer?
If you were to ask any ten people if they knew who wrote Orient Express, all ten would likely say, "Why Agatha Christie, of course." And they'd be wrong.
That's because two years after Graham Greene published Orient Express, the novel that put him on the map in 1932, Christie published a far more popular novel with a similar name. In the UK, there'd have been no confusion over the two. The original title of Greene's book was Stamboul Train. It was only when his novel was published in the United States that its title was changed in 1934.
I've owned Orient Express for several years but only just got around to reading it. Still in brand new condition, it practically leapt off the shelf demanding to be read. This is one of the nice things about having actual books around. They say things as you pass by to gather dishes or switch off the lamp.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my eBooks in part because I can carry ten or twenty of them on a jet without having to pay extra for another bag. It's also nice to look up an unfamiliar word by placing your finger on it. I mean, that's cool. But once an eBook is stored away inside your eReader, it's out of sight and mostly out of mind. It doesn't jump off the shelf, reminding you of the day you made the purchase. The things that were going on in your life at the time. The reason you chose it in the first place. What you hoped to find between its covers. Demanding to be read if not now, when?
Since Greene's book was published first, I wondered if Christie had taken a rib from his novel to create her own. Did she believe, as Picasso did, that it's alright to steal from another artist if you think you can do it better?
There is, for instance, a significant snow delay in both. Each involves a murder. Both include a diverse ensemble of characters. And there is a shared interest in foreign police to one degree or another as the train penetrates the east European hinterland.
But beyond those similarities—and the fact that both stories take place aboard a train—the two books are as unalike as Ice-T and Ice Cube.
Although some would argue that one of these Orient Express novels is superior to the other, I am not here to play that game. My purpose is to say simply that I was deeply affected by Greene's novel. And I want to tell you why.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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