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Photo: Karl Gehring/Denver Post via Getty Images
According to
Vice, the FCC needs to clarify whether libraries lose their subsidized rates during Covid-19 social distancing if they offer wifi away from their buildings.

Libraries, as usual in a crisis, are stepping up. Remember the critical role of the Ferguson Library during the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri? I’ve been following that library on social media since then, and I’m impressed with what it does for the community and how fast it responds to needs.

Now, during social distancing, libraries are offering wifi hotspots via bookmobiles. Karl Bode reports at Vice, “As millions of Americans hunker down to slow the spread of coronavirus, the lack of affordable broadband access has become a far more pressing problem.

“The FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report states that 21.3 million Americans lack access to any broadband whatsoever, be it cable, DSL, fiber, or wireless. Recent studies suggest that number is actually twice that thanks to inaccurate FCC broadband availability maps.

“It’s a problem that is notably worse in many low-income and minority communities, long-neglected by the nation’s incumbent broadband monopolies.

“For many Americans, the local library is their best and sometimes only opportunity to get online. But with many schools and libraries closing to protect public health, these users are losing access to a valuable resource in a time of crisis.

“In a letter to the FCC [March 19] the American Library Association (ALA) floated a solution: why not turn the nation’s 16,557 public libraries into free, communal broadband Wi-Fi hotspots, then extend that access into the broader communities that surround them?

“American libraries are subsidized by the FCC E-Rate program, which helps them obtain and deliver broadband access to bridge the digital divide. But the ALA said libraries were worried that the [current administration] —which has taken aim at the program in recent years — would penalize them for extending broadband access to users that are technically not on library property. …

“The ALA urged the FCC to waive E-rate restrictions so libraries could not only offer Wi-Fi access via local libraries, but could also provide broadband service to disconnected communities via bookmobiles and mobile hotspots without running afoul of FCC rules. …

“Former FCC lawyer Gigi Sohn told Motherboard that the FCC has more than $1 billion in available funding from the last round of E-rate subsidies, and could easily waive E-rate restrictions during a crisis. …

“On Monday the FCC issued a statement making it clear that libraries would not be penalized under E-Rate rules for extending Wi-Fi access beyond their property boundaries. …

“While the FCC said it was ok for libraries to leave their hotspots running during the pandemic, the agency simply ignored libraries’ questions as to whether they’d be penalized for extending access into the broader community. …

” ‘We are pleased that the FCC, in response to our request, has clarified that schools and libraries may leave their Wi-Fi networks on for community use without jeopardizing their E-rate funding,’ the The SHLB Coalition said in a statement. ‘The SHLB Coalition now encourages the FCC to take the next step and grant the Petition of the Boulder Valley School District to permit schools and libraries to extend their broadband services to surrounding residential consumers.’ ”

More at Vice, here.

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Poet Ross Gay celebrates life.

When Ross Gay read at our library, I liked his poems and his way of talking about them and I bought a book. Recently, I noticed that his writing and his joy in nature had come to the attention of both Maria Popova at Brainpickings and the environmental radio show Living on Earth.

From Living on Earth
“STEVE CURWOOD: In an endangered world, gratitude and appreciation are difficult to balance with practical and existential fears. … Poet Ross Gay took a moment almost every day for a year to write about something that delighted him and has published these observations in his latest volume, The Book of Delights. In this exercise, he found joy in everything from bumblebees to folding shirts at the laundromat and noticed beauty he had never seen before. Ross Gay spoke with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: What inspired you to take on this project?

“ROSS GAY: I was just in the middle of a [pleasant] walk. I was having a nice, delightful moment. And I thought, Oh, how neat. … It’d be interesting to write a book about something that delighted me every day for a year. …

“BASCOMB: You had a few rules of engagement for your project for writing about delight. Can you tell us about those? …

“GAY: I wanted to write it every day. I didn’t exactly get to that. But you know, pretty close. And I wanted to write them sort of quickly. And I wanted to write them by hand. …

“BASCOMB: Would you mind reading a passage for us? I’m thinking of an essay called Black Bumblebees. …

“GAY: There is a kind of flowering bush, new to me, that I’ve been studying on my walks in Marfa. On that bush, whose blooms exude a curtain of syrupy fragrance, a beckoning of it, there are always a few thumb-size all-black bumblebees. Their wings appear when the light hits them right, metallic blue-green. I have never seen anything so beautiful. Everything about them- their purr, their wobbly veering from bloom to bloom — is the same as their cousins, the tiger-striped variety that shows up in droves when the cup plants in my garden are in bloom, making the back corner of my yard sound like a Harley convention. I wonder how I can encourage these beauties.” More.

At Brainpickings, Popova starts her appreciation with a Hermann Hesse quotation: ” ‘My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys.’ …

“Each day, beginning on his forty-second birthday and ending on his forty-third, [poet Ross] Gay composed one miniature essay … about a particular delight encountered that day, swirled around his consciousness to extract its maximum sweetness. …

“One is reminded — almost with the shock of having forgotten — that delights are strewn about this world like quiet, inappreciable dew-drops, waiting for the sunshine of our attention to turn them into gold.

“He writes: ‘Patterns and themes and concerns show up… My mother is often on my mind. Racism is often on my mind. Kindness is often on my mind. Politics. Pop music. Books. Dreams. Public space. My garden is often on my mind. …

” ‘It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. …

“One of the readiest sources of daily delight comes — predictably, given the well documented physiological and psychological consolations of nature — from his beloved community garden. (Gay is as much a poet as he is a devoted gardener, though perhaps as Emily Dickinson well knew, the two are but a single occupation.)

“In an early-August essayette titled ‘Inefficiency,’ he writes: ‘I don’t know if it’s the time I’ve spent in the garden (spent an interesting word), which is somehow an exercise in supreme attentiveness — staring into the oregano blooms wending through the lowest branches of the goumi bush and the big vascular leaves of the rhubarb—and also an exercise in supreme inattention, or distraction, I should say, or fleeting intense attentions, I should say, or intense fleeting attentions — did I mention the hummingbird hovering there with its green-gold breast shimmering, slipping its needle nose in the zinnia, and zoom! Mention the pokeweed berries dangling like jewelry from a flapper mid-step. …

“[But his] transmutation of terror into transcendence haunts the book as a guiding spirit. ‘It astonishes me sometimes — no, often — how every person I get to know — everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything — lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. Fetus not okay.

” ‘Everyone, regardless, always, of everything. Not to mention the existential sorrow we all might be afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. Is this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness? Is sorrow the true wild? And if it is — and if we join them — your wild to mine — what’s that? For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.

‘What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. I’m saying: What if that is joy?’

More at Brainpickings, here. (Want to bypass Amazon? Buy the book from Algonquin Books or IndieBound, here.)

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Recently, returning from a sunny walk, I heard Three Little Pigs calling out, “Stay positive!”

Sometimes my town is like that.

Today’s photos show that in New England it can be both spring and winter on the same day, graveyards are peaceful for walking, the deCordova museum’s outdoor art is currently free, and a candle in the window can symbolize hope.

Let me know what needs more explanation. Probably the Andy Goldsworthy art at deCordova. It’s not a mausoleum despite the graveyard theme here. It’s a kind of sculpture that will do magical things when there’s a heavy rain. It’s called Watershed.

The glass milk bottles are from a farm that delivers a range of necessities. (I’m feeling grateful today to all the delivery people in America. Stay well!)

 

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Isaac Newton’s own first edition copy of his book
Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) with handwritten corrections for the second edition. The young Newton was self-distancing from plague when he had his inspiration about gravity.

Folks, I keep a pipeline of possible blog topics, but not all the curiosities I saved back in December, say, seem right for this moment in history. So in case you are online a lot and have already seen some of my picks from current headlines, I’ll do my best to come up with different angles.

Did you see this one about Isaac Newton during the plague? Maybe a few people self-distancing right now will make earthshaking discoveries, too.

I first read the Newton tidbit in a rare-book story at Hyperallergic: “Issac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and had an epiphany that would rewrite physics and the way we understand our universe. He later published his findings on the laws of motion in the 1687 book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Now, by sheer accident, a rare first-edition copy of this groundbreaking book was found in a library on the French island of Corsica.

(Fun fact before we continue: Newton made his discovery while ‘socially distancing’ himself during the Great Plague of London in 1665. He was a 20-something Trinity College student at the time.)

“Vannina Schirinsky-Schikhmatoff, director of conservation at the Fesch Public Heritage library in Ajaccio, was researching an index from the library’s founder Lucien Bonaparte — one of Napoleon’s brothers —when she discovered a copy of Newton’s 17th-century book.”  The Hyperallergic piece is here.

In a rather somber column at the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri adopts Newton’s discoveries as a metaphor for how we connect to others in this moment.

“There was a plague, so Isaac Newton went home,” Petri writes, “and for him it was an annus mirabilis, which in Latin is a ‘year of miracles.’ He discovered the theory of universal gravitation, began his study of optics and formalized what would become calculus. …

“I am told, at such a time, Isaac Newton sat at a country estate with an apple tree. His reflections upon the forces between distant bodies, propelling them together and apart, gave us gravity and enfolded the moon and the apple in a shared system of invisible laws.

“He saw a spider’s web of formulas spinning across untold space, in which the stars hung like dewdrops, and from them beams of light pierced his own seclusion. All kinds of lofty things entered the brain of Isaac Newton, some of them traveling great distances, and when he emerged, science was permanently different. Such was the life of Isaac Newton during the plague year.

“I am secluded, too. Perhaps, for a proper miracle, I should go look at a tree. I go for a quiet walk six feet away from everyone I encounter. … Other people pass along, distantly together in this space. We nod at one another. How far is too far? How close is too close? The force that propels us together in ordinary moments is currently propelling us apart. …

“I wanted to see my parents. I happen to be fond of them, which I realize is a symptom of luck. But I do not know what I may be bringing with me. I am terrified I will get too close. Thus, I take a telescoping metal stick for roasting marshmallows and brandish it at the end of my extended arm, to mark out six feet. So armed, I go for a walk with my dad, swinging it between us on the sidewalk, trying to trace an arc of safety. Is this funny? It feels almost funny, but for some reason, I am crying. …

See your family, without hugging? Please, we are of Scandinavian extraction! We have been training for this moment our entire lives! …

“This must be a year of miracles — not the common miracles we only see after they vanish, the miracles of people in a restaurant or a room or a theater together. No, other miracles: the shield we build for one another by briefly deserting those places. The connections that persist across distances, the formulas that make a familiar face appear in glowing pixels on a screen. Who would have thought that our old enemy the conference call would be an ally, in the end? Who would have thought that phone calls, long disdained, would come to the rescue? This is an advantage we possess over Newton.

“I cannot see anything easier than inventing gravity during a time of plague. How can you think of anything during such a time but bodies and the distances and forces between bodies. I feel nothing now but the pull of distant bodies too far away to touch. I feel nothing but the invisible ties that bind us across spaces, the imperceptible, far-off vibrations in the web that signal: Yes, there is someone here.”

More by Petri.

There may be a firewall, but you can get a month free at this newspaper, and it sure is good to have it during our the Covid-19 plague. Very reliable journalism.

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Photo: TheTakeMagazine
Drive-in theater. When? My husband says he can tell by the cars that the photo is circa 1950. (Homeschool history project: Research drive-in-movie theaters in your state.)

Everything old is new again under quarantine. People are suddenly getting an urge to bake their grandmother’s traditional recipes while stuck at home. Drive-in movies are back in vogue. Fancy a flic for a birthday party, all friends in different cars?

Speaking of birthday parties at drive-in theaters, I wonder if Carole remembers her party, when we saw the seafaring tale Two Years Before the Mast. How old were we? I don’t remember the plot, but talk about social distancing! I definitely wouldn’t want to be on a ship for two years like the crew in the film. For one thing, people get sick. In the old days, they didn’t get coronavirus like folks on today’s cruises, but scurvy, for sure. I do remember one sailor in the film got scurvy from lack of citrus.

I got a kick from Jake Coyle’s Associated Press (AP) report on folks lucky enough to find a drive-in today.

“The drive-in theater,” he write, “long a dwindling nostalgia act in a multiplex world, is experiencing a momentary return to prominence. With nearly all of the nation’s movie theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some drive-in owners think they’re in a unique position to give moviegoers a chance to do something out of the house while keeping distance from others. …

“The Showboat Drive-In Theater in Hockley, Texas, about a 30-minute drive outside Houston, normally sees ticket sales go down about 40% on a weekend when they don’t have any new movies. Last weekend, they saw a 40% increase, says the theater’s owner, Andrew Thomas. Usually open weekends, Thomas has kept screenings going through the week.

‘Obviously this isn’t the way you’d want it to occur, but I’m excited for the idea that there may be a new generation of people that will get to experience going to a drive-in theater and — I was going to say catch the bug,’ said Thomas, laughing. ‘Maybe some other turn of phrase.’

“There are just over 300 drive-ins left in the country. They constitute a small, oft-forgotten flicker in today’s movie ecosystem that hardly competes with the megawatt glare of the megaplex and the nation’s 5,500 indoor theaters. But through decades of disruption and change in American life, they have managed to survive. …

“In certain parts of the country, [they’re] one of the only remaining refuges of public entertainment — of getting out the house to do something while still staying inside your car.

“At the Paramount Drive-in near Los Angeles, Forrest and Erin McBride figured a drive-in movie was one of the only ways they could responsibly celebrate their anniversary.

” ‘We were like, what can we do? Everything’s closed,’ said Forrest before a showing of ‘Onward’ on Thursday night. ‘We were like, “Well, a drive-in theater is kind of like a self-quarantined movie date.” ‘…

“Drive-ins aren’t without their own virus concerns. Concessions and restrooms, in particular, still pose issues. All owners interviewed for this article said they were spacing out cars, reworking how customers could order food (sometimes via text messages) and limiting restroom occupancy.

“Chris Curtis, owner of the Blue Moon Drive-in in Guin, Alabama, said he was doing something that has long been anathema to drive-ins: allowing outside food and drink in. ‘In fact, we suggest it,’ reads the Blue Moon’s Facebook page. Like indoor theaters, drive-ins make their money almost entirely by concessions.

“ ‘We’re just trying to pay the power bill and the water bill and get through this, and give the community something to do at a time when there’s not a whole lot to do,’ said Curtis. …

“To keep the Blue Moon uncrowded, Curtis launched online ticketing for the first time. ‘I don’t want people driving from long distances just to see that we’re sold out,’ he said

“There are few movies left for drive-ins to play. For now, they can still screen recent releases like ‘Onward’ and ‘The Hunt,’ but those movies are already available on various digital platforms as studios have funneled their films to homes due to the virus. Earlier this week, all of the nation’s movie chains shuttered following federal guidelines that urged against gatherings of more than 10 people. The studios have cleared out their release calendars into May.

“Those postponements have extended all the way to major summer releases, including Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ (previously slated for May 1). Eating into spring releases will be hard enough for drive-ins, but summer is when they sell most of their tickets. Owners say that if they manage to remain open in the coming weeks, they could potentially play older films (though those cost almost as much as new releases to play). …

“Drive-ins could also improvise in other ways. Lisa Boaz, who with her husband has operated the Monetta Drive-in in Monetta, South Carolina, since 1999, said they’ve been contacted by churches interested in using the drive-in for Sunday services. Parishioners would listen to sermons from their cars through the drive-in’s FM-radio transmitters. …

“So long as it’s safe, Boaz appreciates the irony that in the year 2020, the best — and in many cases only — way to see a movie outside the house is at the drive-in. The pandemic hasn’t proven the supremacy of streaming as much as it’s shown how indomitable the urge is to spend a night at the movies. …

“Said Boaz, ‘The old ways are the best ways.’ ”

More at AP, here.

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Photo: Tom Gralish / Inquirer Staff Photographer
A friend wrote on Facebook about listening to a Covid-19 Philadelphia Orchestra concert March 12.

At first when I read her Facebook post, I thought a friend I’ve known since I was in nursery school had gotten inside the hall to hear this concert. But I see the staff kicked almost everyone out. I guess she listened on the radio.

Hannah posted: “I was touched by the Philadelphia Orchestra playing a concert to an empty hall on Thursday. They did Beethoven’s 6th, a good choice for this strange time in our history. The acoustic was different, of course, and lent a crispness to the sound. It was their last performance until whenever. Available for streaming on WRTI. Thanks, orchestra!”

Looking up more info, I found an article by David Patrick Stearns at the Inquirer.

“The Philadelphia Orchestra was never meant for an audience of one — or few. That’s why the Philadelphia Orchestra’s audience-less Thursday concert felt like a parallel universe.

“You had the familiar orchestra musicians in full concert dress, music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and the beloved Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6. Except different. On Thursday afternoon, the Philadelphia Orchestra canceled all of its events through March 23. ….

“The concert’s Plan B, which fell into place that same day, had the performance going forward to a nearly empty house, streamed on the orchestra’s website (though a snafu put it in Facebook Live) and recorded for WRTI radio broadcasts. …

“For those who were there, it was confounding to have the orchestra standing to receive phantom applause that wasn’t there. This was not a dress rehearsal, but the real deal. And it was also a reminder of the gravity of the situation.

“The atmosphere, though, was hardly grave. … For all of its magisterial image, the Philadelphia Orchestra isn’t easily unnerved, thanks to history of foreign touring under highly changeable circumstances. …

“Of all the composers, it’s Beethoven who has been there for the public through centuries of hardship, Nézet-Séguin said in a spoken introduction to the concert: ‘And we’re still inspired.’

“ ‘We rehearsed the program … we were gearing up to play it,’ first associate concertmaster Juliette Kang told me at intermission after playing Beethoven’s 5th.
‘We had to play it. It was an artistic imperative from the inside,’ Kang said. ‘The emotional whirlwind everybody’s in, it came through in the piece. It did for me. I could feel that struggle in the Beethoven.’

‘Though the hall was empty, I could feel trembling inside of me,’ said concertmaster David Kim. …

“Internet chatter praised the orchestra for maintaining its presence — along with criticisms that the musicians were at risk just from being together. There’s an edge of covert panic out there, and you can almost feel the struggle between people’s sense of hope and fear.

“On the hope front … On Twitter, pianist Igor Levit (@igorpianist) vowed to stream performance videos from his home every day at 7 p.m. Central European Time. The Berlin Philharmonic played a streamed concert from an audience-less hall on Thursday afternoon, including Berio’s Sinfonia, whose choral contingent embeds the words ‘Martin Luther King’ into the orchestral texture. …

“In Philadelphia [Beethoven’s Fifth] was not the kind of end-of-the-world Beethoven heard from European radio archives when empires were crumbling during World War II. Nor was there the hopelessness felt at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s post 9/11 concert at the Mann Center in 2001.

“The current adversary is an invisible virus, not a fallen hero or an act of war. Thursday’s concert had exceptional momentum, as if to say, ‘We will get through this.’

“Beethoven’s usually genial Symphony No. 6 (‘Pastoral’) had higher peaks of tension and release than usual, with an aggression in the third-movement peasant dances that led more logically than usual into the storm scene that followed — as if Nézet-Séguin conducted it as an opera without words.” More from the Inquirer critic here.

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Photo: Elias Marcou/Reuters
Migrants from the Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece, use their skills to sew protective masks.

A friend posted on Facebook a Patch.com request for people with sewing machines who might be willing to make surgical masks. This particular call to arms is local to Massachusetts (read), but you might find a similar opportunity near you. All Hands on Deck!

In Greek refugee camps, residents who have already known a ton of hardship are on the case: they know that they’re not likely to get much protection from outside.

Katy Fallon has the story at the Guardian: “In some of the most dangerously overcrowded Greek refugee camps, it has become a race against time to raise awareness about Covid-19 and ensure an outbreak does not spread among an already vulnerable population.

“In the infamous Moria camp on the island of Lesbos close to 20,000 people live in a space designed for just under 3,000. There is is already limited access to running water in the camp, and toilets and showers regularly block due to overuse. The first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on the island last week when a Greek woman from the town of Plomari tested positive. So far [March 18] this the only confirmed case on the island.

“There is an increasing sense of urgency in Moria about hygiene and handwashing. In the absence of support from the Greek authorities, residents are taking matters into their own hands.

 ‘The conditions were out of control and so we knew that we needed to do something by ourselves,’ said Deen Mohammad Alizadah, 30, originally from Afghanistan.

“The members of the team are a snapshot of the diverse population of Moria, heralding from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and the Congo region, each dispensing advice to their own communities. …

“Due to high demand, face masks are currently in short supply in pharmacies in the local town of Mytilene, and since there is no current mass distribution of masks to the camp, industrious Moria residents have come up with their own solution.

“In a small building around a kilometre from Moria, a group of four Afghan women have volunteered their time to sew face masks for the camp’s population. Stand By Me Lesvos, a Greek NGO, realised that they could make use of the sewing machines from a previous project.

‘It was set up within six hours on Friday,’ said Mixalis Avialotis from Stand By Me Lesvos. ‘One of the Afghan women used to be a tailor in Kabul and said she’d have no problem managing the operation.’

“The women are working at a rapid rate and in their first day made approximately 500 masks, which are fashioned from cotton fabric bought from local shops. The masks are then packaged into plastic wrappers purchased from the local Lidl supermarket and boxed to be brought to the camp. The masks, which will be given out for free, will initially only be distributed to camp residents who start to feel unwell or exhibit symptoms of the virus, such as a cough. …

“On the island of Samos where the refugee camp hosts nearly 7,500 people in a space designed for 648, conditions are similarly cramped. … Guilia Cicoli, co-founder of Still I Rise NGO, which runs a youth centre for children living in [camp], told the Guardian that they had spent a lot of time speaking to the children about Covid-19. The children have also produced posters about hand washing and hygiene in class.

“ ‘Most of us are Italians so we took it very seriously and started awareness raising before Greece even had any confirmed cases,’ she said. ‘Before we had to close last week we had already replaced handshakes with elbow or feet bumps.’ More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile in the US, some hospitals feel like they are on their own, too: “Medical staff in one of the nation’s epicenters of the novel coronavirus outbreak have resorted to creating makeshift masks to care for patients, Bloomberg News reported.

“Washington state hospital workers, part of Providence St. Joseph Health system, are improvising protective wear by crafting masks out of marine-grade vinyl, industrial tape, foam and elastic bought from craft stores and Home Depot, the outlet reported.

“Washington state has the highest death total from covid-19 and the second highest total of confirmed cases.” Read this.

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