I’m sitting here at my computer and out the window the world is covered in a fresh six-inch coating of snow. The COVID numbers are up but we do have a vaccine that will likely help in the long run.

The Georgia Senate run-off races are tomorrow, and it at least appears that the Democrats have a shot at winning, though I’m certainly not holding my breath considering how utterly corrupt their governor is.

We have a new administration gearing up to enter the White House in just 16 days while the current crop is burning the place down as fast as they can light matches, file lawsuits, threaten election officials, and just generally wreck our democracy.

So, will 2021 be an improvement over 2020, a year most folks (except billionaires) would suggest was the worst year in history?

I think that 2021 probably will be better. Once the spring and summer hit, and the vaccine gets widely administered, we’ll probably start to see some actual improvement in the pandemic. We also have a competent administration to look forward to, which will bring in actual professionals, listen to experts, and let folks like Dr. Fauci do their jobs without meddling for political purposes.

I foresee a government made up of people who actually want to do a good job and help people, not just wreck things, steal money, and play golf while thousands die and millions suffer.

If, Goddess willing, the Dems win in Georgia and Mitch McConnell loses his iron grip on power, then I feel real progress can be made in our country. Moscow Mitch has been holding progress back since 2008 and he shows no signs of changing his stripes (or shell).

However, I’m also realistic. He and his party will do everything in their power to cheat in Georgia and the only defense we have is the fact that there is so much scrutiny, they’ll be hard-pressed to pull anything really nasty off.

Even if he does keep his claws sunk into the throat of progress, he won’t be quite as effective with a Democrat in the White House. Also, people are getting sick and tired of Mitch, so being that he’s not stupid and already quite rich, he may start to see things differently. Who knows?

I think what truly gives me hope, politics aside, is that life goes on despite all the craziness. Most people want to have decent lives. They want a job, a place to live, and to take care of their families. Most people don’t want to go around in a constant state of fear or rage, it’s just not healthy.

Most people are decent and more than willing to try and help one another out. We see that here in Altamont all the time. And most people, despite health issues, financial issues, worries, fears and just life, keep on going; it’s how we’re built. And of course, we are, as the phrase goes, NY Tough, even if we don’t live down in The City.

In my not terribly long life, I’ve lived through at least four wars I can think of, endless financial uncertainty, technological upheaval, climate change, health issues, and a ton of lousy TV. And yet, I’m still here and not ready to throw in the towel. I still find joy each day in all sorts of ways that make it quite plain that life, for all its trials, beats the alternative.

We now have a total of seven grandchildren (two new ones came in November and December). When I’m holding Winston, age six weeks, and he looks up at me with his tiny face and just sort of blinks and yawns and smiles, well, I do think we’ll be OK. We have to be, for his sake.

When I walk through the winter landscape and take in the sounds, smells and feel of winter, seeing birds still doing their thing while squirrels look for food and play chicken with trucks, I feel like it’s going to be OK eventually. Riding my bike when the weather permits still feels pretty good as long as I manage not to crash too often and sometimes yields some really cool sights and experiences.

Hanging out with my wife of almost 30 years is an endless positive and a fun adventure. Staying in touch with family, even at a distance, is still a good thing too. And of course, friends are still friends and it’s always a pleasure to just say hi and catch up, even from six feet away.

Nothing, even COVID, lasts forever. Neither do evil politicians, greedy billionaires, and corrupt people. We all are born, live, and eventually move on to the next plane of existence, whatever that might be.

Sometimes I think we forget that simple fact when we’re being endlessly reminded of all the dire news, health threats, bad weather reports, the next Beiber album, and so on. But spring is coming, the days are getting longer already (we’re picking up about seven to 10 minutes of fresh daylight each week) and the vaccine is rolling out, albeit much too slowly due to federal incompetence. So, there is light at the end of what feels like a really long tunnel.

We need to hang on just a little longer and we need to do it for ourselves and for Winston and the rest of the tiny humans among us. Someday we’ll tell them scary stories about 2020 and marvel at how far we’ve come.

For now, we just need to know that they need us to keep going and working to make it all better for them. That’s our job now. Not to worry about what party is in power or what stupid lawn sign is out front. No, it’s time to think about real things and the futures of our kids and grandbabies are as real as it gets.

Do it for your Winston.
 

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg describes himself as a veteran grandfather, cyclist, writer, husband, troublemaker, parent, and survivor. He says he has every intention of continuing that endeavor.

 

As I write this, most world leaders, the media, state election officials across the country, and the majority of American voters now agree that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election by a clear margin. Joe is now acting more presidential almost two months from his inauguration than the orange menace has in four years

 But beyond the obvious, who else has come out of this strange election in a better or worse place? In other words, who really won? In a word, the oligarchs, 1-percenters, or billionaires, choose your label. Just look at how much money they’ve raked in during our mismanaged pandemic ($10.2 trillion worldwide).

Many people saw this election and the Trump presidency as the main problem and the only solution to what ailed America. Wrong. Trump is just a very orange, very visible symbol but by no means the cause.

Systemic racism has always been here; he just made the racists comfortable enough to come out in the open. Income inequality is now at world-beating levels. But that’s just an acceleration of what Reagan started.

The true winners right now are the super wealthy. The eight individuals (and others we never hear about) who now hold more wealth than the next billion folks on the planet. That group. The shadowy folks who fund the right-wing think tanks, Fox News, Breitbart, the Federalist Society, One America News, and so on.

This crew, folks like the Kochs, the Walton family, Betsy Devos and her brother Eric Prince of Darkness have been funneling money and buying influence for decades all in hopes of ultimately taking over everything. In their world, our only purpose is as replaceable wage slaves whose lives are devoted to making them ever wealthier.

The level of division in our country now and in many other countries, is a direct result of their influence played out over mainstream media, social media, and general propaganda channels. The more divided the populace is and the more divided government is, the less likely it is that the oligarchs will be encumbered by irritants like higher taxes, environmental regulations, strong unions, and strong governments. Make no mistake, we are at war with the 1-percent and they are winning in many places.

One of the big things to come out of the disaster that is/was the Trump presidency is the widespread recognition of the incredible racism that rules our country. And why did it finally come to such a head? Was it just Trump and his dog whistles and overtures to the Ku Klux Klan? Was it police violence against people of color?

Trump and his father before him were avowed racists. To have a racist in the Oval Office was a David Duke wet dream.

Now we see much more clearly just what our Black and brown neighbors have been dealing with for a couple of centuries and just how far we are from true equality. Folks, there’s a ton of work still left to do.

But keep in mind that the oligarchs are behind a lot of the racism in terms of funding and messaging. Again, it keeps us divided.

And let’s not forget the constant attacks on women and their rights by the Rapist in Chief and the right wing of our society led by rabid evangelicals and demagogues of all sorts. But the right-to-life folks (forced-birth people) have always been in it to control women, not save lives.

If they truly cared about lives, they’d do away with the death penalty, fund social programs, and come out strongly for gun control. Never happen. These are gun-toting, bloodthirsty misogynist bigots hiding behind the Bible and the flag.

And again, these folks are funded in large part by dark money funneled through fronts and fake charities directly from the coffers of the oligarchs. It’s just another way to keep the culture wars going and keep us divided.

Look at every divisive issue in our society and you will find wealthy people funding the divide to keep us from paying attention as they rape and pillage the planet. Bernie Sanders has been saying all this for the past 30-plus years and only recently have people picked up on it.

But for now, there is some light. Joe and Kamala are two real people with our interests first and foremost, and that gives me hope. But don’t kid yourselves, they are imperfect and their efforts will be compromised by our broken government. Moscow Mitch McConnell has already gone public saying he would not allow Joe to appoint just anyone to his cabinet and approve them if they’re too radically left for his tastes. Of course, Mitch may be on shaky ground if he loses the two contested Senate seats in Georgia.

It’s nice to look forward to four years during which it is unlikely our leaders will be a daily embarrassment on the world stage and a living menace to our rights and our democracy. I think Joe and Kamala will govern much like Obama did, with class, humility, professionalism, and a commitment to doing the right thing whenever possible.

Their opposition is secretive, well-funded, dug-in, and willing to break any laws or norms to stay on top. That is our fight now.

Never forget that the wealthy are typically apolitical, amoral, areligious, and sociopathic. They worship the twin gods of money and power and that’s it. But it also makes them vulnerable and obvious after a fashion and we’ve seen the naked depravity, greed, and violence they wielded in the past four years.

Let’s keep that in mind, folks. Your enemy isn’t the guy in the MAGA hat or the person with the Biden sign on the lawn. Your enemy is the guy who pays Moscow Mitch to load the courts with unqualified political hacks who will reliably rule against unions, women’s rights, the environment, clean air, clean water, equality and public education. The people who would clear-cut the Amazon rainforest for profit while we all choke on dirty air and the seas rise.

That’s public enemy number one and with Joe and Kamala on top, maybe, just maybe, we can get these folks where they live: tax them hard and regulate their criminal behavior. If they win, we all lose because our country and our planet are doomed.

Michael Seinberg is a columnist, social critic, and professional cynic. But he says he’s sharpening his word processor and making new protest signs as the fight is just getting interesting.

I saw a very interesting political cartoon recently. It showed two lines of people marching in opposite directions and each person was holding up a sign with a single word on it. The people in the line labeled GOP were holding signs that said “Me.” The people in the Democratic line were holding signs that said “Us.”

I’ve been rolling that over in my mind and then something else popped up. Back in the far distant past of 2016, someone I know who works in a very public-facing business described something he’d noticed. He said the people who came into his shop who supported Trump were all very selfish people, based on his observation of their behavior.

Fast forward to our current situation with 26 million people out of work, over 200,000 dead and growing due to the “fake” pandemic (anti-masking, hydroxychloroquine, injecting disinfectant), the West on fire, and the economy in a tizzy.

The Me crowd staged a Trump boat parade because, well, when the world is going to hell, why not? But, the folks in the big boats began revving things up, creating huge wakes and sinking their fellows in smaller boats. When they saw what they’d done, did they stop to help? Nope, they just went faster and left the mess to first responders who probably had better things to do that day than rescue idiots. This was according to eyewitness reports.

And now we have a bunch of Me senators who are hellbent on replacing a respected Supreme Court judge with a party hack and religious nutjob, before the judge’s body is even cold. Ironic in the extreme since Moscow Mitch said four years ago that it was the people’s choice and thus, they would not confirm Obama’s nomination to the court. Merrick Garland was a moderate and highly qualified judge, but since Obama’s term was nearing its end (the nomination was made in March), it was a no go.

Their zeal is driven by a desire to pack the court with conservatives who will rule in their favor on a variety of issues, including outlawing abortion, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act and keeping Trump in office no matter what the election results are. Basically, they are going to change the face of our country because of their own Me values. This, despite the fact that most Americans want women to have control of their own bodies, we all want free and fair elections, and the ACA has been mostly successful, albeit imperfect.

Since the start of the current administration, every move has been guided by jealousy, anger, self-interest, sadism (according to some psychologists), and greed. The GOP has gone along with all of it, every step of the way and basically sold any sort of moral standing along with their souls and of course a huge tax cut for the rich resulting in a record $4 trillion deficit.

This is the behavior of a group of angry, old white men who see their future, and they’ll do anything to maintain their control, even if it means destroying the country in the process. Look up the term Pyrrhic victory, for those of you who want to improve your vocabulary.

The basic truth of our current situation is that most Americans want competent government that represents their interests. They don’t mind reasonable taxes if they feel they’re getting something for them, like clean air, clean water, decent schools, a competent system of courts and cops, and overall fairness in the system.

We all want decent jobs, safe homes, and to be able to retire while we’re still young enough to enjoy it. I can’t think of too many people who want to work two to four badly paid jobs just to make ends meet while they get no benefits and the folks at the top just keep getting richer. News reports indicate that most billionaires have enjoyed record profits since the pandemic began.

This election is all about that. The folks at the top want to stay rich and will sit back and let Trump and his cronies do whatever they want as long as they’re left free to continue raping the planet and pillaging the economy. If we elect Democrats up and down the ticket, take back the state legislatures, the Senate and consolidate our gains in the House, then our country may yet survive and return to a better place.

I’m in no way suggesting that the Democrats are perfect or without fault, but they are far better than Tiny Hands Donnie and Moscow Mitch. They recognize climate change as real and that science should be our guide in dealing with a pandemic, not political whims. They also respect women far more, and are in favor of public education, not enriching the billionaires (like Betsy DeVos) behind substandard charter schools.

The current administration is being driven by a man in fear for his life and livelihood. He has already allowed thousands of Americans to die needlessly.

If he loses the election and actually leaves office willingly (he won’t) he will, in all likelihood, be indicted, convicted and jailed for the rest of his life for any number of crimes including tax fraud, obstruction of justice, treason, and aiding a foreign government as well as sexual assault and rape.

He is scared to death of ending up in jail and we’re watching the result. So how do you think he and his supporters are voting?

His answer is a wholehearted ME in cheap gold-plated neon. I vote for US. How about you?

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is a lifelong cynic and registered Democrat but he’s not naïve and, if the Dems win, he says, we’ll be holding their feet to the fire to get what WE all need.

 

The one thing you can say about 2020 is that it’s been an unusual year in almost all ways. From a global pandemic to an impeachment trial and the most unusual and unprecedented presidential campaign in the history of this country.

But on a more mundane level, things have been odd too. For instance, discarded masks and gloves now litter the landscape instead of candy wrappers and beer cans. The garage-sales season, of all things, was impacted to such a degree that people have resorted to giving things away on an almost daily basis. It’s become the year of the freebie.

Starting in late March and early April, folks began to leave stuff at the curb with “free” signs. It ranged from single items to whole tables and piles of things. Clothes, toys, houseware, electronics, books, movies, bikes, you name it; and somebody was giving it away.

As serious garage-sale folks, my wife and I took a keen interest in this phenomenon. We have discussed it quite a bit and have theorized that the reason for all this sudden largesse was due to several factors.

The biggest issue was the fact that people were stuck at home for almost two months and so had more than enough time to notice how cluttered their homes were. That led to a gathering phase that left them feeling better with neater spaces but then left them with things that needed to find new homes.

With garage sales a non-starter until late April or May, when the governor approved them, folks began to take to social media to announce the availability of their unwanted stuff. Some, of course, was up for sale, but many things were free.

We found ourselves wandering the village and sometimes further afield and finding things for the house, the grand babies, the kids, family, and friends. And we’ve also dabbled ourselves, getting rid of bikes, a couch, magazines, books, DVDs, and other stuff I’ve already forgotten.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Once garage sales started up again, the freebies didn’t stop. In fact, we were at one garage sale where everything, but one pile of clothes, was totally free.

I think that many people have found that amid the Dumpster fire that is 2020, there have been many opportunities to help others. And, surprise, that makes most people feel pretty good.

While you can’t do much about being laid off, having to teach your kids from home, or having to work from home, you can make your space feel better. There’s nothing like that lightness you get from clearing up a previously cluttered space.

Then add to that, the pleasure you get giving your formerly useless stuff to someone who really can use it. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario.

Plus, just to add a bit of environmentalism, you’ve kept a bunch of stuff out of the waste stream. It also adds to the message that things do not create happiness, no matter what the marketers keep telling you. Ironically, owning fewer things seems to have that effect.

I have no idea where we’ll be at this point next year. Neither does anyone else except maybe the space aliens who are orbiting in stealth mode and watching us flail around like it’s a weekly sitcom.

By this time next year, we may have a new president, a COVID vaccine, and an overall improvement in the basic situation we all find ourselves in. Or not.

But whatever happens, 2020 can be thought of as the year of the freebie. Not just the year of COVID, or the collapse of the world economy, or the end of democracy in the United States, or the death of the restaurant.

I hope 2021 is better than 2020 in all ways. And if the freebies continue, that would be really cool too. Less is more, folks.
 

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he and his wife have been avid garage-sale goers, beachcombers, and users of found objects for decades; it’ll take more than a pandemic to stop that.

Have you heard this refrain recently? People complaining that no matter what subject they bring up, it gets political? Is that an exaggeration? Or have things gotten very political while we were all busy trying to stay healthy amid an unmanaged global pandemic?

See there? I got political. I called the COVID-19 pandemic unmanaged.

Certain people out there of a certain political bent would suggest that I was taking a shot at the current administration’s murderous efforts to manage a virus by lying about it, hiding statistics, holding equipment and money hostage, profiting illegally, and just generally doing a Keystone Cops level job of managing a public health crisis. But I have no strong feelings on that.

Meanwhile, other first-world nations have gotten things quickly under control by actually following the advice of experts, infectious-disease specialists, and practicing common courtesy. They do this by masking up, keeping their distance, and not throwing public hissy fits when someone suggests they wear a mask to help their fellow Earth people.

In mostly sane countries, wearing a mask is not political. Only here, in ’Murica has it been made political by a person who is happy for thousands to die as long as he keeps his job. And that, folks, is why everything has gotten political. The people currently in power will do anything to keep that power and so they have taken common-sense issues and made them political.

We’re told we need to cut public spending on food stamps, unemployment, Medicare, and Social Security because we’ve run up a huge budget deficit. Of course the deficit was hugely inflated due to a world record trillion-dollar giveaway to corporations and billionaires. So now the social safety net has become ever more politicized.

Education should be a pretty simple issue. People would like their children to receive a decent education at their local public schools. Right?

Well no. You see, rich folks like education secretary Betsy DeVos (who never attended a public school in her life) have a vested financial interest in private schools, charter schools, and defunding public education.

Right-wing ideologues want diminished public education because an educated populace is hard to control and harder to lie to. And of course, the religious right hates public education due to wavering but still mildly intact separation of church and state that prohibits religious education in public schools.

OK, so how about health care? Should be a no-brainer, right? All Americans want access to decent health care, at a reasonable price, and yet we pay more per capita than any other western nation and get far less.

Why? Money and politics.

Highly paid lobbyists have bought most members of Congress who now routinely pass or block legislation that only works for big pharma, health maintenance organizations, doctors, hospitals, and so on. We pay too much for medication because big pharma would lose profits if prices were controlled by the federal government as they are in most other nations.

And, while we can easily afford a military budget that dwarfs the next six countries put together, the idea of universal health care is fought by the GOP and big money with the same level of hatred and vengeance they once unleashed on the Nazis in World War II (the United States was the original antifa).

Hmm, we’re running out of issues. How about Social Security?

You pay in during your working life and then you get a steady, albeit small payback after you retire and until you die. Seems simple. But no, the GOP wants to do away with it, and hand it over to their buddies on Wall Street to “manage.”

Then they can plunder the remainder of the fund and line their pockets. This is why they keep lumping Social Security in with Medicare; Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the Home Energy Assistance Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; and other social programs funded by the government through our taxes.

They keep calling Social Security an entitlement when that’s an utter lie. An entitlement is not something you pay into your entire working life.

So when you get down to it, everything has become political because the folks holding power have no interest in helping the people they were elected to represent. Thanks to the Citizens United decision by the U. S. Supreme Court, unending amounts of dark money now flow into political coffers from shadowy places, and the pols who are being paid do as they’re told.

Our government is truly for sale to the highest bidder and the wealthy and powerful one-percenters who pull all these strings like it this way. They want us squabbling amongst ourselves, blaming anyone and everyone for our troubles while they sit back on their yachts and in their mansions and laugh at us.

The last time they got really nervous was during the Occupy Wall Street period back around 2008. People were really starting to pick up the message that our real and true enemy was the one percent and support was growing fast.

So what did they do? They started a media campaign, got the FBI to infiltrate the movement, treated it like a terrorist organization, and broke it up. And the proud sheeple of the U.S. just baahed and accepted it as dished out by the mainstream media.

I could go on and on, but the real issue is very clear. Things are political because we are being used, manipulated, lied to and killed off so a small group of people can hold onto power. It’s not a new story and has taken place over and over again down through history.

The real question now is what we’re going to do about it. Argue on Facebook or take to the streets and take our country back. Your choice.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has been to more protests in the past three-and-a-half years than in the previous 50. He and his wife are not planning on stopping anytime soon, he says, unless of course they’re grabbed off the street by federal stormtroopers in unmarked uniforms.

My wife and I had to go out the other day to pick up a couple of things. Nothing crazy, mind you, just groceries. We donned our masks, made sure we had a wallet, our phones, and car keys, and headed into the store. 

Right off, stores are less crowded on most days than they once were. Most of the folks I saw were doing the distancing thing to the best of their abilities and all were masked and some gloved. It was like a congregation of surgeons on the way to the O.R., but the spousal unit called in a shopping list.

We used to find shopping a very relaxing experience, but now we find it tense and disturbing. You now think about every surface and item you touch as a possible disease vector, though the experts are suggesting that’s less of a worry than they first thought. You would use a public bathroom these days, but only in an emergency. Shopping carts should have the handle wiped down before touching. Items on shelves are still a little suspect no matter how clean and shiny they look.

Dealing with people is now more fraught too. With everyone having their faces covered, it’s hard to know who and what you’re dealing with in terms of emotional states. In the old, pre-pandemic days, you could always tell if someone was having a rough day and either avoid them or try to help, depending on how crazed they looked.

Now everyone looks sad, scared, and furtive. We dodge around one another like kids playing Marco Polo in a dark room.

We try to be extra courteous since we’re all in this wonderful Dumpster fire together and yet you still see human nature’s darker side winning out at times. People can be short, angry, and touchy for no discernable reason.

Some folks look very scared, especially older folks. The young can be silly and arrogant as if none of this applies to them. And the kids all look a little shell-shocked and wary. The only ones who seem oblivious are babies, who just seem to float on through being babies.

I feel for the folks who are working in stores these days. My wife and I have always been very courteous to people in stores because we’re polite people. We try very hard to respect everyone no matter what job they hold.

Well, that’s not totally true. I have little or no respect for politicians, bureaucrats, wealthy people, trial lawyers (the type that sue for a living), stockbrokers, and bankers. But I digress.

When I do speak to folks who work in stores, I always try very hard to be pleasant and polite. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to go to work every day for minimum or barely-above-minimum wage, little or no benefits, and no sick pay or leave. And yet they do it because they have to, in order to pay the rent and feed their families.

When this is all over, I truly hope these folks unionize and can force their greedy masters to treat them with respect, pay them fairly, and give them the benefits that all working people deserve. After all, if we’re giving a piece of human waste like Mitch McConnell a six-figure salary, a lifetime pension, top quality health benefits, and endless perks and sick days, then people who do real work deserve exactly the same.

But back to shopping. I find wearing masks very difficult as I find it hard to breathe in them. It makes me even more tense and, when I finally get back to the car, I can’t wait to pull it off and breathe again. The gloves, when I do wear them, don’t really bother me as I’ve used them for years in my work as a bicycle mechanic and jeweler.

Certain very dirty jobs are really done better with gloves and so we always keep a box around. When we load up the car, return our cart and get ready to drive away, there’s the ritual removal of the gloves in the prescribed fashion and then the quick spritz of hand cleaner before firing up the car and heading home.

When we get home, unload the groceries, put them all away, plug in the car to charge, and re-stash the shopping bags back in the car for the next trip, it’s time for a final hand wash. We don’t wash the groceries since the experts we tend to listen to have deemed it unnecessary unless you have special circumstances.

Then we can finally sit down and take a deep breath. We have ventured out into the infected world, taken precautions to protect ourselves and others, and made it back, hopefully still healthy.

I know this won’t last forever. Testing will ramp up to what we truly need, contact tracking will go into practice, and better treatments and ultimately a vaccine will emerge. We will make it through this, but the world really won’t ever be the same.

I hope someday shopping becomes relaxing again for us and I hope the folks in the stores can get what they need too. I want us to emerge from this mess better people living in a better world. That would be nice.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he and his wife used to consider shopping a date-night type thing; they hope to get back to that some day.

In the long-ago year of 2012, I wrote a column called The Altamont Wave. In it, I noted that, here in Altamont, we tend to wave to one another because we’re a real community and it’s good to acknowledge one another.

I further added that, if more people out in the world waved and recognized one another as people, it would make for a better world. Well, here we are in the year 2020 and things have changed quite a bit.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The country is being led by a mentally ill criminal. Our allies are laughing at our government’s failing efforts and people are literally dying every day of the week.

So, what does this have to do with waving? More than you think.

When lockdowns and quarantines began in other parts of the world, people quickly realized how much they missed and needed their neighbors, friends, and families. In Italy, folks began to play instruments, sing, and talk every day from their balconies.

In New York City, folks gather every day at a certain hour to applaud and cheer for first responders and front-line folks still working to keep us safe and keep the country functioning. And here in Altamont, we still wave but now, it’s progressed to a check-in.

On certain streets, folks come out at 5 p.m. every day, beat drums, sound gongs, and connect with neighbors. They talk, laugh, share news, and just let each other know that life, despite the insanity of our situation, does go on, all from six feet away, of course.

One of the things I’ve noticed most is that we’re all getting to know one another better. We’re asking one another how it’s going and actually listening to the answer.

People are taking being neighbors to a new level and actually exchanging names, email, and phone numbers, just in case. People are helping each other through this and that’s what, ultimately, being part of a community is really about.

We’ve gone from waving and acknowledging one another to actually having conversations and checking to see how we’re all doing. I’ve seen folks giving things out, sharing recipes, making and giving away masks, and offering tips on where to find things.

We’re very lucky as we live in a quiet little corner of the state with a low population density and a relatively low incidence of cases. We’re not immune, by any means, but our chances are far better than those who live in cities.

We’re also, largely, a community of reasonably intelligent, educated people who take the news in and try and act in a responsible manner. One of the things our governor keeps trying to get across is that human life is the sacred thing, not profit and business.

We live in a blue state and, except for red patches, New York is a pretty forward-thinking place. We wear our masks and keep our distance to help one another, not due to a government conspiracy. We listen to Dr. Fauci and the CDC, not Trump and McConnell who are far more interested in killing people to stay in power.

Here in little old Altamont, there has always been a sense of community and a fair bit of involvement. The current situation has, for the most part, brought that out in a wonderful way.

I really like taking the grandbabies for a walk nowadays. People wave, smile at the little drool monsters, and ask how they’re doing. You know how seeing a cute puppy makes a lot of people kind of go gooey? Well, seeing the twins has the same effect on many folks and our other little ones, who are a bit older, are equally pleasant company.

This is what being part of a village is all about. You come here, have kids, raise them, and then they have kids and we all help raise them. It does, indeed, take a village.

Now, during a global pandemic, the life we create in our village means far more day-to-day, than what some nutjob in Washington says. I can rely on my neighbors to be there if something goes wrong. And they can count on me to help as best I can. You can’t say that about politicians, bureaucrats, and cronies who care only about holding onto power and lying to do it.

Altamont will survive as will, hopefully, most of us. I think it will always be a good place to live because people who live here want to be part of a community. And that spirit is what we are now seeing, perhaps more than we have in a long time. It’s what will keep us sane and healthy until things get better.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has lived in Altamont for about 28 years, his wife, for 60 years. They’re not moving.

Location:

When I started writing this column back in January or February, things were, shall we say, a little different. But, as I opened this up more recently and reread it, an awful lot of my original thoughts still make sense. Well to me, anyway.

With more folks at home, the number of people out walking every day has grown tremendously, and that’s a wonderful thing amid all the current stress and insanity. However, my original intent was to point out that all is not exactly perfect for walkers in our little corner of the world. So, hear me out and see what you think.

We live in a village where people walk. You see people walking with friends, family, dogs, babies, children, and so on. My wife and I walk frequently. We walk six to 10 miles each day year-round and the only days we miss are when conditions are seriously too dangerous (ice, freezing rain, pouring rain, thunder, wild bands of marauding chipmunks). That being said, when you put in the miles, you notice things that you might want to change.

First on the list would be to instruct drivers on the meaning of a double yellow line. While they taught us in drivers’ ed that it means one doesn’t pass in that zone, they also taught us that, when you come upon a person pushing a twin stroller filled with, you know, twins, you do have to give them room.

You can cross that sacred set of lines for the sake of pedestrian safety as long as nobody is barreling down on you in the opposite direction. In fact, you can actually slow down or stop if someone is coming at you to give the pedestrians a fighting chance and then cross the sacred golden lines once the other person has passed. It’s just common sense and good manners but, then again, those are not always in general use.

Another issue in the village is the use of crosswalks. You know the white lines they actually put on the street to show where humans can legally cross the street?

In other states, the law has been on the books longer and drivers are better trained. In Massachusetts, I’ve had drivers stop for me if I even looked at the crosswalk and was considering crossing the street. It was like telepathy! Here in New York, the law is newer and also not very well enforced, so things are different.

My understanding is that drivers must stop at a crosswalk and allow a human to cross if they are already in the crosswalk. That seems logical as it would likely result in many injuries if drivers just kept going if you were already in the crosswalk.

Personally, I would like to see more drivers stop if they see you clearly intent on using the crosswalk. I wish I had a nickel for every SUV that blew right through as my wife and I stood at the side of the crosswalk with a stroller filled with grandbabies waiting to cross. Just a thought, folks. Again, good manners.

Another issue in our fair village is speed. The village proper has a very clearly marked 30-mile-per-hour speed limit that our fine Altamont Police Department actually attempts to enforce now and again. But, since it’s a part-time group of folks, people know they are free to speed at certain hours.

For instance, folks coming down off the hill on Western or Bozenkill in the early morning have a tendency to go just below Mach 2 a lot of the time. I realize gravity pulling those huge pickup trucks and large four-wheel-drive vehicles does tax one’s brakes but, then again, you’d actually have to use the brakes to know that.

Another issue is the safety of various surfaces for walking on. During the warmer months, all two of them, it’s generally safe to walk wherever you want.

But, during the cold months, all 10 of them, it can get dicey fast. The worst place to walk in the cold is on the sidewalks. For some reason, they tend to get icy very fast no matter how much the village sends the lawn destroyer, I mean little snowplow/blower, to clean them up.

I think it would probably help if the sidewalks got salted like the roads, but I have no idea about the logistics and cost of such a thing. Suffice it to say the roads are less icy in winter thanks to the liberal use of salt and extensive plowing by the village, county, and state.

On roads with no sidewalks, the shoulder is where you’re forced to go but, in reality, that can also be a real issue due to the condition of many of said shoulders. On the boulevard, the shoulder on the left heading out of the village is excellent and actually has sidewalks till just past Altamont Oaks. Past that, it’s small, but not bad most of the way down to Brandle.

But on many roads, the shoulder is a mess of broken pavement, car parts, broken glass, garbage, and dirt that makes for a less-than-safe surface to walk on. Thus, drivers need to cut walkers a bit of slack. Most do, but some larger vehicles seem almost too big to fit in the lane and be able to go wide for walkers without killing someone or running off the road. Well, that’s how they’re driven, anyway.

I know many drivers have a problem with sharing the road but, in the current situation, they have to, since so many of our walkers are newbies. Also, if the world does choose to end, a la Mad Max, then there will be far more walkers than giant modified hell vehicles. I won’t even get into the treatment of bicycles and motorcycles except to say they’re largely in the same boat as walkers.

As we all work our way through the pandemic, working from home, schooling from home, and enduring just general nuttiness, I think this is a great time for drivers to really rethink how they act on the road with regards to other users. We really all can peacefully coexist, and we really should work toward that.

After all, if the zombies or the hell vehicles come marching up Main Street one day, we’ll need our friends and neighbors more than ever. How is that going to work if they’ve all been run over by pickup trucks, SUVs, and little sports cars? 

And getting away from hyperbole; once things settle (and they will), people will still want to walk in Altamont and we should all work toward making that a safe and happy pastime, as it should be.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg and his wife have collectively logged an estimated 137,000 walking miles in the past 27 years. They have every intention of continuing.

Location:

When you live with three cats with wildly diverse personalities, and then add in four babies of different ages and personalities, you get something akin to a barely contained chemical reaction. The best part though, is how much both species actually have in common.

For instance, the 2-year old granddaughter likes to knock things over, throw things, kick things, and generally cause mayhem, just like our cats. If I build a tower of blocks, Audri will grin widely and promptly send it flying to great guffaws.

Then, without batting an eye, she’ll pick up blocks, hand them to me and suggest I build another tower. Quickly! She doesn’t have all day!

The cats prefer to knock things off counters, desks, and other flat surfaces usually in the middle of the night or in direct proportion to cost or breakability. I think they smile when doing it too.

The handling of food is also quite interesting. The cats will prowl about, meow loudly, and make every effort to trip you as you serve them food. The toddler will repeatedly say, “Snack!” and lead you by the finger to the kitchen and cry uncontrollably if she doesn’t get the correct food in under 1.6 seconds.

The 7-month-old twins are a bit easier as they mostly just eat formula. Of course, if Mila gets hungrier than she likes, she will howl at a volume that has been known to peel paint off walls and send cats scattering faster than using a vacuum.

Miles, Mila’s twin brother, is a little mellower but will get vocal too, just at a lower volume. And their cousin, Sullivan, at 1 year is a very quiet fella but able to empty a jar of baby food in nothing flat.

So both species want food and will let you know it, in roughly the same manner.

Playtime for both species is quite an event. Our cat Romeo will jump halfway up the wall if he sees light bouncing off my watch and reflecting on the wall.

The twins will bounce up and down in a bouncy seat with great panache and Sully has turned the Jolly Jumper into a gymnastic event. Toys elicit similar reactions with Sully attempting to eat or at least taste any and all toys.

The cats just prefer to bat things all over the house until, without fail, the toys end up under the stove. Audri will carry toys all over the house and leave them in seemingly random places. I mean it’s great to find blocks in the couch, puzzle pieces in plants, and small plastic people under furniture.

Of course, one issue that does come up during playtime is when the kids see the cats and want to play with them. The cats do not see the fun in this and generally disappear in ways that would make Houdini proud.

Sylvie can go from asleep on the couch to under our bed upstairs so fast you start looking for a time machine or transporter. Romeo just turns 180 degrees as soon as a baby approaches him. But, to be fair, he has allowed the kids to pet him on occasion. If I’m holding them and I sedate him. Nibbler, our tiny half-feral calico, simply leaves the ZIP code if she spies a tiny human.

Outdoor time is a big hit for both species. The cats love to be outdoors, killing small animals, lying in the sun, and leaving various organs and body parts for us to find. They also enjoy walking up and down the street and hoping someone will feed them.

The kids are all about outdoors too. Sully will attempt to consume any and all objects within his reach be they animal, vegetable, or mineral. The twins just enjoy staring wide-eyed at everything and looking cute. And Audri is queen of all she surveys from the playground on Maple Avenue to our backyard and every muddy puddle, snow drift, or interesting object she encounters. And of course, she also enjoys chasing the cats all over the yard.

And the final area of inter-species agreement is sleep. The cats can and do nap anywhere and anytime it suits them. The babies, well, they do sleep but rather randomly.

Audri is usually good for a solid post-lunch nap as is Sully, but only for us, less so for his mommy. The twins sleep whenever, usually after a meal or a long run in the bouncy chair.

Mila is the worst with an infant case of FOMO (fear of missing out) despite the fact that she’s not even clear on what she might be missing. Miles is a little better, but both twins will fight sleep usually when their parents are the most exhausted.

Oh, I forgot. Our son also has two cats: twins called Fester and Gomez that live on his side of the house and revel in tearing up his apartment, running around the neighborhood, and getting into it with our three.

So, there you have it. Four grandbabies, five cats and a 140-year-old house. It’s never boring on Lincoln Avenue.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he takes time out of the daily madness to feed his Betta fish, Bruce, who seems unbothered by the chaos around him. So far.

Location:

By now, you’re probably aware that later this year, we’ll be having a national election that will decide who occupies the White House, who controls the Senate and House, and who gets to address our current issues (world strife, huge deficits, climate change, political polarization, domestic terrorism, racism, financial inequality, healthcare reform, educational funding, the war on women).

But, you ask, what does that have to do with me and my desire to remain sane and not rip my ears off and tear out my eyeballs? Glad you asked.

The current 24/7 news cycle makes it very difficult to stay informed in an even-handed way while maintaining sanity. When I was young and first in the news business, the idea of 24-hour news was just getting started with CNN.

In those days, you got a morning or afternoon daily newspaper, listened to news on the radio or watched the six o’clock news after work, or caught up at 11 p.m. as you were nodding off. Most news was fairly even-keeled and objectivity was in fashion for most news professionals.

What that really meant was that you were not bombarded constantly with information of dubious quality, by hyper-partisan sources with agendas that had nothing to do with objective journalism. So how do you manage to stay informed with today’s spewing fire-hose of daily media insanity? Well, it’s possible with a couple of simple steps.

Step one: Decide if you’re interested in actual facts or you just want your current world view reinforced.

Step two: Choose a news source or sources that, by the standards of most sane people, achieve that goal. If you’re happy with the world as it is, stay tuned to Fox News (an oxymoron for a foreign-owned propaganda organization). If you’re upset or frankly scared poopless, then go for CNN, BBC, CBC, NPR, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, CBS, or maybe The Altamont Enterprise.

If you notice that I included two foreign news sources, you’re paying attention. The reason is that both organizations are historically pretty objective and also have no vested interest in skewing news about the United States, which to them is a foreign country.

Step three: Take small doses. Read no more than a story or two at a time or view no more than 30 to 40 minutes of a broadcast. Afterwards, think quietly about what you just learned and take many deep breaths.

Ask questions. If you’re still in the dark on an issue, try researching it on the internet, but again, watch your sources and don’t spend more than 30 to 40 minutes at a time online; it can rot your brain pretty fast.

Step four (final step): Form a tentative opinion based on what you learned. But, be prepared to possibly modify that opinion, as things do tend to change as stories develop and issues become more fully explored.

Congratulations. You have now gathered information, thought about it, and formed an opinion. This is what people did in the old days before people shouted at them 24 hours a day and told them what to think.

This set of steps, repeated over the coming months will allow you to remain reasonably sane (though medication might also be in order for some). By the time the actual election comes, it will allow you to vote in an informed and conscious manner. A few other tips are in order though.

First, ignore all campaign advertising, even from candidates you think you might want to support at the voting booth or, Goddess forgive, financially. All campaign rhetoric is suspect as it is meant to further ambition, not truth.

The problem is that there is no such thing as an honest politician. No matter their party affiliation, sex, orientation, color or flavor, they are interested in winning at any cost.

I realize that’s a harsh and cynical stance, but I’ve been in the journalism business in one way or another since the 1980s and can honestly say no politician I have studied, has ever been truly honest. Many have been decent people (Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, FDR, Ike, Ted Kennedy to name a few) but even they had many flaws and faults, and made lots of mistakes. Sadly, all politicians share a common trait: They’re human.

Next tip. If a story comes out, or a photo or video surfaces that is just startling, shocking, or hard to believe, chances are it’s been faked or taken out of context. Examples of these stories (look into the term “deep fakes”) and images, are already popping up and being debunked on a daily basis.

Be prepared for a lot of propaganda from all sides and especially from sources that actually originate outside this country. Make no mistake, we have enemies in the world, and they are waging war on us via social media and regular media.

They did in 2016 and it has never stopped. So, as we approach the next major election, foreign influence will be a real issue and the current administration has done little to stop it, and some say, much to encourage it.

Final tip. Keep your eyes on the prize. Distraction is a major weapon of anyone who would keep people from the truth.

Don’t get distracted by the silly stories that always pop up about a candidate that have little or nothing to do with the current state of things. Be wary of stories that ignore real issues or that smell of a set-up.

Much of what was printed and broadcast in 2016 about Hilary Clinton was based on distraction. Here we are, four years later, and nothing she was accused of ever came out as true or real. Keep that in mind as this election moves forward.

The only truth I can give you is this: 2020 is going to be a truly historic election and a truly challenging one. Many forces are at play here; more than usual, and it will make our job as media consumers and more importantly, as voters, very tricky. Just stick to basics, sip at the media fire hose and for the sake of all that is still good in this world, do one thing: VOTE.

Editor's note: Michael Seinberg notes he is a trained journalist, award-winning columnist, ex-newspaper editor and photographer, and all-around professional cynic. He also votes. Every. Damn. Time.

Location:

Pages