CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Some thoughts on Riverside County’s descent into the purple, “Widespread” coronavirus tier:

• This will have a devastating impact on some local businesses. It means that within 72 hours, gyms and movie theaters must close all indoor operations. Places of worship can’t have indoor services. Restaurants can only operate outdoors—and, according to the county, it’ll be at LEAST three weeks before we can move back up into the red, “Substantial” tier. Make no mistake: This will result in some businesses closing for good.

• To those of you who look at this information and shout, “Lives are more important than businesses!” You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.

• While sliding backwards is very bad, the news is not ALL bad. First, the local weather is getting less-scorching, which means that businesses that have the wherewithal to move operations outdoors will probably have better luck doing so than they would have back in August.

• Also, the county’s numbers are trending in the right direction. The county’s positivity rate (5.2 percent), adjusted daily cases per 100,000 (9.1) and health-equity metric (which tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods; 6.9 percent) are all better this week than last, and two of those three numbers remain in the red, “Substantial” range. Unfortunately, the adjusted daily case rate is too high—and while the state gave Riverside County a reprieve last week, the state Department of Health declined to do so for a second week.

• While the purple, “Widespread” tier is the most restrictive, it’s actually not as restrictive as things once were: The state now allows hair and nail salons to remain open indoors in all of the tiers.

• We should ALL take this as a call to be as safe and responsible as possible. That means wearing masks around others, washing hands, cooperating with contact tracers, getting tested and, in general, behaving like responsible adults. Our numbers are not great, but they’re waaaay better than they were a couple of short months ago. While much of the rest of the country is surging, we are not—and we all need to work to keep it that way.

More news:

College of the Desert announced today that instruction would remain almost entirely online for the winter intersession and spring semester. Read the details here.

• The state has, at long last, announced reopening guidelines for theme parks—and Disney officials are NOT happy with them. As the Los Angeles Times explains: “The protocols announced Tuesday allow a large park to reopen once coronavirus transmission in its home county has fallen enough for the county to reach Tier 4—the state’s least restrictive designation. A small park, meanwhile, can welcome guests once its home county reaches Tier 3, the second-least-restrictive level.

The state also announced that a limited number of fans can attend live sporting events—but only at outdoor stadiums; only in counties in one of the two least-restrictive tiers; and only if local health officials give the OK. As the San Jose Mercury News explains, all of this means fans won’t be attending games in California anytime soon.

• Here’s the latest weekly Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and rural-ish points eastward.) The news is mostly decent, with cases and hospitalizations holding steady—and the weekly positivity rate is down to 4.7 percent. However, COVID-19 claimed the lives of two of our neighbors last week.

• I’ll let this lede from The New York Times explain the big national news of the day: “The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.” Read more here.

People are voting early in record numbers. The Washington Post breaks it down.

• Some reassuring news: ProPublica is reporting that Dr. Anthony Fauci will play an important role in checking the results of various vaccine studiesalbeit with one big exception.

• Related and also reassuring: The state of California also plans on reviewing any vaccines before giving the OK for them to be distributed.

• Related and not reassuring: The president yesterday referred to Fauci as a “disaster” who “got it wrong” on the coronavirus.

• Sort of related and, well, sort of bonkers: Several media experts, writing for The Conversation, say that Russian media sources are starting to refer to President Trump in less-than-glowing language. Key quote: “Russian outlets tended to chastise Trump’s unwillingness to avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing or wear a mask, all of which violated his administration’s basic health guidelines. Likewise, Russian reports criticized Trump’s post-diagnosis behavior–like tweeting video messages while at the hospital and violating quarantine with his public appearances–as ‘publicity stunts’ that jeopardized the safety of his Secret Service detail and supporters.

A human challenge study—in which people are willingly exposed to SARS-CoV-2—is taking place in the United Kingdom. According to The Associated Press: “Imperial College London and a group of researchers said Tuesday that they are preparing to infect 90 healthy young volunteers with the virus, becoming the first to announce plans to use the technique to study COVID-19 and potentially speed up development of a vaccine that could help end the pandemic.

• As mentioned above, coronavirus cases are surging in much of the country—however, as The New York Times explains, the news is not all that dire. For starters, case numbers are up in part because testing is up, too—and deaths are holding fairly steady, in part, because we’re getting better at treating this darned disease.

Health departments across the Upper Midwest are reporting that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally played a rather large role in the surge in COVID-19 cases. Sigh.

Also sorta related comes this headline from CNN: “Minnesota traces outbreak of 20 COVID-19 cases to September Trump rally events.” Bleh.

• You may have heard about the New York Post’s big scoop regarding Hunter Biden’s hard drive. Well … the story’s principal writer refused to have his byline on the piece, because he had questions about its credibility, according to The New York Times.

• Yikes: Someone apparently set the contents of a ballot drop box in Los Angeles County ablaze Sunday night.

• From the Independent: A new Coachella Valley organization called Desert Support for Asylum Seekers is working to make sure refugees in the area—specifically LGBTQ refugees—get the help that they need. They’re focusing much of their efforts on people being detained at or released from the Imperial Regional Detention Center in Calexico. Key quote, from founder Ubaldo Boido: “The detention center was dropping people at the downtown Calexico Greyhound station. Even after the station was closed, (Border Patrol was) leaving them to fend for themselves. So we started this coordinator group to pick up people and get them on a bus, or get them here to Palm Springs where we could get them on a flight.

• Three scientists—who are increasingly getting the ear of the Trump administration—have been advocating against lockdowns in favor of herd immunity ever since the pandemic started. MedPage today looks at their backgrounds and their possible motivations.

• CNBC examines Joe Biden’s tax plan. Key quote: “While Americans earning less than $400,000 would, on average, receive tax cuts under Biden’s plan, the highest earners would face double-digit increases in their official tax rates, according to nonpartisan analyses. In California, New Jersey and New York City, taxpayers earning more than $400,000 a year could face combined state and local statutory income tax rates of more than 60 percent.” However, as the story explains, almost nobody winds up paying the statutory tax rate.

• So, uh, the phrase “Zoom dick” was trending on Twitter yesterday, because Jeffrey Toobin, of The New Yorker and CNN, apparently decided to have a wank in the middle of a Zoom call with colleagues. Read the sordid details here.

• And finally, because the news in outer space is far less horrifying than the news here on planet Earth, take a few moments to learn about what’s happening with a NASA mission called OSIRIS-Rex, which is attempting to gather “loose rubble” from an asteroid.

That’s enough for today. Be safe. Hang in there. Check in on a loved one. Oh, and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the financial means, so we can keep producing quality journalism. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Riverside County seems poised to move into the second part of the state’s Stage 2 reopening process—meaning people may soon be able to shop in stores, and dine in at restaurants.

This news comes as a result of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement today that he’s revised the state’s somewhat odd reopening criteria—and that “roughly” 53 of the state’s 58 counties would soon qualify.

Of course, he did not announce which of the 53 or so counties qualify. So I checked the state’s county-variance website for updates throughout the afternoon to see if Riverside County had qualified, and I got excited when the page with the list of counties crashed for about an hour. I thought maybe it was being updated … but that was not the case. Boo!

Anyway, this afternoon, Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in a Facebook video that he was confident the county would meet Newsom’s revised criteria. So … ready or not, here we probably go, maybe!

More news from the day:

Joshua Tree National Park reopened over the weekend. The Los Angeles Times has the details.

• The county has opened yet another free testing site in the Coachella Valley, this one at the Cathedral City Library.

• Some very, very promising news on the vaccine front: The volunteers who participated in a study for biotech company Moderna’s vaccine developed antibodies, and the vaccine caused no harm to the participants. You all know the rule about rushed studies these days—they need to be taken with that gigantic figurative grain of salt—but the news could not have been any more encouraging. CNN has the news on that.

More vaccine news, from the San Francisco Chronicle: One potential vaccine, being designed by a Northern California company, is actually administered via a patch. Science!

• Other news from Gov. Newsom from today and over the weekend: He’s asked the state’s casinos to reconsider their opening plans for now. And in something of a surprise, he said pro sports will probably be able to return to the state—in empty stadiums—come June. Also possibly coming in a couple of weeks: Haircuts!

Highly recommended: Fareed Zakaria’s “take” from his Sunday CNN show. He powerfully makes the case that the reopening debate has its roots in class and income. This is a must-watch—especially if you’re a college-educated person who is still employed and who has no doubts whatsoever that the reopening process is being rushed across the country.

Yes, we really are living in the worst timeline: So the president came out today and said he’s been taking a disproven, dangerous drug to prevent COVID-19. Then the speaker of the House criticized him for doing so, in part because the president is, in her words, “morbidly obese.” Ladies and gentlemen, your federal government!

• From the Independent: Our resident sommelier, Katie Finn, has been holding wine tastings via Zoom—and they’ve been a blessing. But they can’t replace the real thing.

What is the future of restaurants? The San Francisco Chronicle takes a multimedia look at what to expect when we’re allowed to finally dine in.

• If you want to break the rules, you rebel you, and see your friends despite the continuing stay-at-home order, the Los Angeles Times breaks down the risks you’ll be facing.

• NBC News looks at how COVID-19 patients are helping each other in ways that medical professionals cannot.

• NERDS! I say that with tons of love, even though we Stanford folks are trained to dislike anything UC Berkeley: After the college’s graduation ceremony was cancelled, students wound up replicating the campus and having a virtual ceremony via Minecraft.

• A unique idea from a Maryland bar to make sure customers maintain social distancing guidelines when it’s time to reopen: Everyone wears innertubes on wheels!

That’s certainly enough for today, no? Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you leave the house, because more and more science is coming out showing that it drastically cuts down on virus transmission. If you own a local business, or want to support a local business, check out our $199 advertising special. If you can afford to support local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

I have kids, so I therefore watch a lot of Disney movies. In the movie WALL-E, the Earth has been destroyed by pollution, so all the humans have been put on a spaceship and blasted out to a far-away galaxy. They all sit in their own private floating chairs, watching their personal little TVs, eating and drinking to their heart's content. They are, for the most part, completely unaware of the people around them. On a side note, they also become tragically obese and barely able to walk.

Geez, Disney.

When I’m curled up on the couch and watching movies like this with my kids, I have these moments when I think everything is OK. I’m busy at work. People come into the wine shop, and I pour them a little something I have open. I get to chat with wine-sales reps and interact with customers and my co-worker. Aside from the whole mask-wearing thing, it feels a lot like business as usual. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Then I have moments of sheer panic. I begin to think about WALL-E and our society, and how we are disconnecting from each other. I think about social gatherings—and more specifically, my wine tastings—becoming plagued with trepidation and fear. “Did he just cough?” “She sneezed near my wine!” Check, please!

Luckily, for now, we have found a new way to look at one another while we sip our wine du jour—and that webcam is giving us some solace. It’s a convenient and simple way to feel like we’re engaged, and makes the distance between us a little more palatable.

But for me, the Zoom wine parties, while an acceptable substitute for now, will never compensate for actual human interaction. I crave the energy at wine events that people give off when they are looking you in the eye and telling you a story. I love eavesdropping on the side conversations that break out when people who just met are making a connection—a connection that was formed through a mutual appreciation of wine (or whatever!) and a desire to be surrounded by other warm and friendly strangers.

I’ve seen the most beautiful friendships form at the wine bar during our weekly tastings—between people who may never have crossed paths had it not been for these little social events during the week. It is so important to me that these bonds not be broken that I began our own Zoom wine get-togethers. Much to my surprise, they are a blast! It’s undeniably fun to play with technology in a new way and create conversations through an unexpected medium. Even with all the kinks and quirks, we manage to make it work.

Imagine if I told you three months ago that the only way you would be able to have a glass of wine with friends soon would be through the computer. You might have politely laughed, or worse, assumed I’d gone off the deep end and sent me directly to Betty Ford. But here we are, clamoring for socialization to the point that staring into a little black dot is giving us just enough hope to carry on. But I’m not gonna lie—sometimes, it makes me sad.

Is this going to be the new normal? Is this the point where we throw our hands up and say, “Oh, well, I’ll just pour myself a glass of wine, get in my jammies and FaceTime with my BFF. I mean, who wants to get all dressed up and go out when I can sit on my couch and not waste gas or risk getting a DUI?”

I would like to think I’m being overly hyperbolic, but when I think back—well before this isolation occurred—I clearly remember that you could walk into any restaurant, and somewhere, seated at a table, were two people. These two people consciously made an effort to get dressed, get in their cars, and drive to a public place in order to physically spend time with one another. And those same two people were spending the entire time together looking at their phones, barely speaking to each other—no pandemic needed.

It seems we had already begun our path to social distancing.

It’s a little-known fun fact that the reason we clink glasses before we take a sip is so we can involve every one of our senses during the tasting experience: The clink happens so we can also engage our ears. This concept got me thinking about drinking wine socially with another person versus drinking by yourself. Isn’t there an old adage that warns of the dangers of drinking alone? I wonder if the danger is the potential for the drink to mean more than the company, or maybe the concern was that without others present, it was no longer a social experience, but a necessary outlet. Is Zoom giving us permission to drink alone? Was there an underlying motive to clink our glasses so we were sure to be in the company of others when we were drinking?

This is not to say I think Zoom or FaceTime will replace real-life human interaction. It won’t. And for that, I’m also grateful. But I don’t want complacency. I don’t want people to choose comfort over connection. I don’t want this situation to change our mindset where we focus more on disconnecting and separating than we do on embracing friends and community. I don’t want to become a society where instead of it being just one table with two people cut off from conscious interaction, it’s the whole damn place.

At the end of WALL-E, two chairs accidentally bump into each other, causing the occupants to break their trance and actually notice one another. Incidentally, they also fall on the floor and roll around like barrels, unable to get up. In spite of that, it’s actually a pretty touching moment. They realize they’ve wasted all this time, so close and yet so far apart.

When all this is over, please choose togetherness. Please choose joy and human connection. Choose glass-clinking, good food and wine, and laughter, and conversations that don’t require buffering or Wi-Fi.

Be well, and I’ll see you soon.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Education is a big deal in my family. My grandmother was a teacher; my mom is a teacher; my aunt is a teacher; and my brother is on his way to becoming a teacher.

Of course, modern teachers have never had to deal with anything like this before. California school buildings are closed through at least the end of this school year—and instead, teachers are doing their best to educate students online. Because of these unusual circumstances, I decided to talk to some teachers in my life—my mom, an old high school teacher and a couple of my college professors—via email or online chat (except for my mom) about what it’s like to be a teacher during a pandemic.

“Theoretically, the quality of the learning should not be changed, but I can’t help but assume it has been diminished drastically,” said Corbyn Voyu, an assistant professor of English at College of the Desert. I am currently enrolled in her English 2 class, and Prof. Voyu has been putting a ton of effort into re-creating the same fun learning environment from her classroom in our Zoom video conferences.

“I worry about the students who specifically chose to take courses in-person rather than online,” Voyu said. “I cannot imagine their quality of learning is remaining the same. Usually at this point in the semester, there is an effort slump, which impacts the quality of reading and writing I see from students. That perpetual phenomenon, coinciding with the stay-at-home order, is making my assessment of student work more ambiguous than usual. I am constantly wondering: Is this the normal midterm decline, or the new medium of learning that’s causing students to not participate? I am not sure I will ever find a concrete answer.”

Prof. Voyu explained how she is working extra hard to keep her teaching interesting.

“I am resorting to more educational gimmicks like Kahoot! (an online quiz game), to varying degrees of success,” Voyu said. “I am culling work down to the most-essential pieces, because I know an interminable Zoom session is no fun for anyone. I am lessening the rigor of my standards by recording lectures, carrying the brunt of discussion, and extending deadlines. Mostly, I find I am trying to operate on ideals of compassion. … My students deserve to learn and, I believe, need to learn about literature, so I want to provide them the space to do that. I am really trying to follow where my students lead; I want this time to work for them rather than for me. Basically, if my students have an idea that might make their learning better, I’d do it if I can. In a regular class setting, I cannot say I am that flexible.”

I am also in adjunct teacher Steven Fuchs’ Intro to Government class. Compared to Prof. Voyu’s more free-flowing class, Prof. Fuchs’ class is primarily lecture-based. He said he appreciated the technology of the Zoom application and online discussion boards.

“I find them extremely useful, especially since I can now associate a name with a face,” Fuchs said. “This is always an issue when instructors teach large survey courses. So, in some respects, it adds a level of intimacy to the class. I will absolutely encourage students to interact via Zoom and discussions in future classes. … Except for some startup issues, I'm very pleased with the transition. I’ve been using online quizzes and papers for over five years, and taught a fully online class during winter intersession, so I think my students are lucky to have a relatively easy transition.

“Also, students are often shy about speaking up in public, so the text-only discussions I have been implementing have given them a chance to more fully express themselves and their academic abilities.”

To see how things were going at the high school level, I reached out to my old film teacher, Monica Perez, the head of the Digital Design and Production Academy at Coachella Valley High School in Thermal. She has always been tech-forward with her teachings.

“Most students are only familiar with online classes as a form of credit recovery; there has always been a brick-and-mortar classroom where kids are given multiple scaffolds and retaught if they don’t understand,” Ms. Perez said. “In this online-only setting, it is harder to gauge who needs help, because a student has to be more proactive in their learning. The quality of learning is there, because the curriculum stays the same; it is the way a student chooses to digest that learning that comes into play. There are many videos and guides that can be used to facilitate learning; kids know how to Google answers, so that concept isn’t new. (Education success) is more of a motivational factor now more than anything.”

Ms. Perez said she’s needed to allocate more time to check in with her students.

“One of the biggest differences in my teachings is my form of communication with my students,” Ms. Perez said. “I get a lot more phone calls and text messages now. Students just need to know that you care and miss them. I miss them dearly, so hearing them on the phone is a big positive difference.

“Kids don’t need to know about existentialism if they’re living it, so we (teachers) can approach these topics a little differently. I have ditched some bell/busy-work activities for more online conversation and debate. I am going to limit the craze of Zoom for only necessary times. I prefer pre-recorded material anyway; live Zoom could be used for quick Q&A sessions.”

While Ms. Perez said video conferences are useful, they can’t and shouldn’t fully replace the physical classroom.

“Video conferences are a double-edged sword, because not all students have access to connectivity,” Ms. Perez said. “They are a strong tool for students who need the ‘live’ interaction with their peers and teachers, as online classes by themselves require a lot of discipline and individual effort. I see it as any other tool. It is a fad right now because of our pandemic circumstances, but there are multiple modes of teaching and learning. … In the future, yes, I do see many riding the video-conference train, but I also see many students and teachers alike missing the organized chaos of the brick-and-mortar classroom. A perfect storm, in the end, would be an equal balance of the two mediums.”

Ms. Perez said she’s heartbroken that the class of 2020 won’t be able to fully experience their senior years.

“Many of us are very saddened that we don’t get to be with our kids for the end of the 2019-2020 school year,” Ms. Perez said. “I miss all my children, from those who make me want to pull my hair out, to those who make me a proud ‘cat mom’ everyday, to those crazy combination students who flip a coin and keep me guessing.

“If anything, this pandemic has shown the importance of education and the need to reinvent the ‘old traditional’ ways of learning to a fusion of old and new. In order for kids to thrive, we can’t teach like we taught 50 or even 10 years, ago. We have to evolve.”

Finally, I spoke to my mom about how teaching is continuing at the elementary-school level. Maureen King is a teacher at Palm Academy in Indio, and she is doing her best to make sure the learning never ceases in her third-, fourth- and fifth-grade combo class.

“We do a mandatory check-in every day with our students via video conference or email,” King said. “Every student went home with their school-issued Chromebook and a paper packet encompassing three weeks’ worth of school work. However, that was back in mid-March, so our daily check-ins have been utilizing our system of online video lessons in order to further their education. Many programs that we used in regular class are being used for distance learning, and I am able to assign specific lessons for student reinforcement when needed. Once a week, the entire class meets virtually to see one another, play some games and check on their social and emotional well-being. I also have office hours if students need one-on-one tutoring.”

King is proud of the measures being taken to continue connecting to her students, but she admitted there are some obstacles between younger students and technology.

“I find that younger students are needing more help at home to login and share assignments with their teacher,” King said. “Internet connectivity is not a given in our school population, so I am working on providing additional written packets for students who have been unable to join virtually.

“Per my school guidelines, teachers should be providing four hours of work per day, focusing on reading and writing, math and personalized passion projects. We are also stressing the importance of physical activity and the well-being of the students.”

No matter the education level, local teachers are working hard to do the best they can under the stressful circumstances.

Prof. Voyu summed up her motivations in this way: “These are unprecedented times, but I have too much respect for my students and for my subject to just allow the semester to be considered a wash.”

Published in Local Issues

I’ll never forget the moment I turned off the Coachella Valley Independent’s online events calendar.

It was on March 17. A Tuesday. I’d taken a break from editing copy to apply for a grant application, and I went to our website to get a link I needed for the application. My eye went immediately to the calendar module.

All of the events listed there had had been cancelled.

Palm Springs had just followed San Francisco’s lead in issuing a shelter-in-place order; it was expected the state would soon follow suit. That’s when it truly sunk in for me that no in-person events—plays, concerts, library story times, etc.—would be happening in my beloved Coachella Valley anytime soon.

I’ve been in the newspaper biz for about 2 1/2 decades. I had my first byline in an alternative newspaper, my hometown Reno News & Review, in 1996. For much of my time in newspapers, our backbone has been the events calendar—something to which we’d dedicate many hours of time, and many pages of print, because people depended on our listings to plan their social lives.

Of course, Google, social media and other online options changed that. The calendar, as part of a newspaper, became less and less important—so much so that when we launched the Independent in late 2012, we didn’t even have a calendar at first, mostly because we didn’t have the resources we needed to do one properly.

However, I am an old-school newspaper soul, and I must admit the Independent never felt complete to me without an events calendar. That’s why several years in, I decided to sign up with the CitySpark events-calendar platform—giving the Independent a good online events calendar.

Then came that Tuesday, and the realization of the magnitude of what we were all facing. I’ll never forget the sickening weirdness I felt when I turned off the calendar—and even removed the calendar from the main menu.

Well, yesterday, I turned the Coachella Valley Independent’s events calendar back on, after a 22-day hiatus. This was not as momentous of an occasion as it was to turn it off; after all, we’re still weeks and probably months way from the return of in-person events. However, it did feel good, because the fact that I was able to turn it back on shows we’re adjusting to this new, temporary reality.

CitySpark changed the calendar software so it defaults to what are now called “virtual events,” aka online events—plays, concerts, library story times, etc. Right now, the only things listed are events originating from elsewhere—in part, because anyone can attend online events from anywhere, and in part, because our part of the calendar was shut off for three weeks.

So, Coachella Valley: If you have a “virtual event” taking place, please add it to the calendar. It can be a music show or a class or a support group or an ongoing art show or anything. It’s free and easy; just go to our calendar, and click on “Add Event.” I hope that, with your help, we can turn the calendar into an excellent resource for the local virtual events we’re doing via Facebook, Zoom, Twitter, etc.

Thank you for your help. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re all in this together.

Today’s links:

• The latest installment in the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series doesn’t have directly to do with the virus; instead, it’s a fantastic, if bittersweet, story brought to us by Valerie-Jean Hume, about her husband, Ted—the only person she can do an in-person interview with right now. Here’s the tale of how the clarinet saved Ted Pethes’ life.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/zoom-videocast with John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. Per usual, we checked in with the incredible Dr. Laura Rush about the status of COVID-19 in the Coachella Valley, before talking to Davey Wavey and David Powell.

• Yet another bit of frustrating evidence about the haphazard, sloppy federal effort to fight the spread of COVID-19: The federal government’s support for many coronavirus testing sites will end tomorrow. While the idea was that the states would take over these sites, that is not necessarily happening.

• Yet more evidence that many government systems, in general, are terrible: Are you an old-school computer programmer who knows COBOL? If so, states including New Jersey and Kansas need your help, because their mainframes still run on this language that was widely used in the ’60s through the’80s, and they are being overwhelmed by things like a whole lot of unemployment claims.

• The Los Angeles Times offers this good-news, bad-news update on California unemployment benefits. Bad news: It’s still hard to get through and apply due to the depressingly large number of people applying. Good news: Extra money is coming.

• Here’s an update from The New York Times on the efforts Zoom is making to fix security and privacy issues on its now-ubiquitous teleconferencing software.

• Speaking of Zoom: Even though Zoom meeting backgrounds are generally terrible things that don’t work very well, the Palm Springs tourism folks have created some locally themed Zoom backgrounds for your consideration.

• A sliver of hope: Dr. Fauci says summer vacations remain a possibility for Americans. Maybe.

• Like so many other awful things, COVID-19 is disproportionately harming Black and poor communities. The Conversation looks at the systemic problems that are making this happen.

• If you missed the city of Palm Springs’ COVID-19 webinar that took place earlier today, never fear; here’s the video of it on YouTube. (Pro tip: It doesn’t start, for some reason, until around the 9-minute mark.)

• The Greater Palm Springs Tourism Foundation has launched a fund to help families of people who work in tourism or hospitality. To contribute or to ask for help, head here.

• It’s good this is happening, but depressing that it needs to happen: A coalition of Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups have created an online portal where people can report COVID-19-related racist incidents.

Will Congress come to the aid of struggling newspapers and other local media? Some Democratic senators hope so.

• Eater offers an update on the big-name push to get the federal government to force (or help) insurance companies pay restaurants who have business-interruption insurance.

Saturday Night Live will be back on, duh, Saturday, with all the cast members working remotely. How in the heck will that work? We’ll just have to watch and see.

• Are you familiar with comedian Laura Clery’s “Help Helen Smash” videos? If not, you should know they’re crass and juvenile and definitely not safe for work, as her character, a square-faced Helen, tries to pick up a dude named Steven (Clery’s real-life husband). Well, Helen’s back with a coronavirus-themed series of pickup lines—and I will admit to laughing loudly.

• Healthcare workers: Please enjoy this … um … unique and certainly special tribute, presented in GIF form.

That’s plenty for today. Hey, the deadline for our special coloring book project is tomorrow; artists, get us your submissions! We’ve gotten some fantastic ones so far, but we need more! If you’re fortunate enough to have a few bucks to spare, and you value independent, quality local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you go out. #flattenthecurve. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Debra Ann Mumm is one of my favorite people in the entire Coachella Valley.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Debra in a variety of ways over the years. Way back when we launched our monthly print edition in 2013, her then-store Venus Studio Art Supply sponsored our launch party, with Ryan Campbell creating a mural-sized artwork live. I served with her on the Desert Business Association board of directors. I’m also proud to call her my friend.

Today, Debra runs the CREATE Center for the Arts, a Palm Desert arts nonprofit that is doing amazing things. Despite the obvious challenges, the pandemic hasn’t stopped Debra and CREATE from doing amazing things; in fact, they’ve stepped up to fill a community need: The CREATE Center has mobilized its 3-D printing capabilities—and those of others—to make personal protective equipment for the local medical community.

Wow.

Anyway … a week or so ago, I was inspired by an idea that originated by the Chicago Reader and The Pitch newspaper in Kansas City. I called Debra and asked if she wanted to partner up to do it, and she agreed.

Ladies and gentleman: It’s time to announce the Coachella Valley Independent Coloring Book.

This is a quick turnaround project … and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. We’re inviting local artists and designers to participate by drawing a page—locally themed, if possible--of the coloring book. The proceeds will be split between the Independent, the CREATE Center and the group of artists that participate.

Take note: The deadline for art is 1 p.m., Friday, April 10. That’s a week from today! The details can be found here. Enjoy!

And now, the news:

• Sad news: The Purple Room’s last night of takeout/curbside food and drink will be Saturday. Inspiring news: The space will be turned into two assembly lines for the CV Mask Project, which is trying to meet the need of 45,000 disposable gowns for Eisenhower Medical Center in the coming weeks. Good news: Michael Holmes and co. will continue doing their fantastic live shows via Facebook on Wednesday and Saturday. See Michael Holmes’ explanation here.

• From the Independent, via our partners at High Country News: It’s important to get outside during these trying times—but it’s important to do so ethically and responsibly.

The city of Palm Springs has told some businesses that have boarded up their windows that they need to take the boards down. This, understandably, has ticked off said business owners. Anyway, here’s the city’s explanation.

• Dammit, can’t we have ANYTHING nice right now? Turns out Zoom, the platform everyone’s using for online meetings and whatnot, is the subject of some nasty hacking—and an FBI warning.

• Some smart people from UC Riverside explain why stay-at-home orders need to last at least six weeks. Bleh.

• Depressingly related: Some countries that had made progress in fighting back COVID-19 are shutting some things down again as the virus makes a comeback.

• A group from Washington state is suing Fox News for calling the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax.

• In other lawsuit news, businesses around the country are suing local and state governments for shutting them down, because … freedom?

• So, are we going to war with Canada now, because the feds are trying to stop US companies from sending medical equipment there? (Just kidding about the war part … maybe?)

• If you don’t mind reading scientific writing, this piece from Nature Medicine explains why wearing a mask is a good idea.

• Goodness gracious, that’s a lot of depressing news. Let’s change gears to happier things, and talk about “Virtual Hugs,” thanks to the LGBT Center of the Desert and Destination PSP. It’s actually a fundraiser: Destination PSP is selling a line of “Virtual Hugs” T-shirts and caps, with the proceeds going to The Center and its vital work. Learn more here from The Center here, and buy the T-shirts here.

• Vulture.com did an amazingly wonderful thing: It asked more than 35 TV showrunners and writers what their famous characters would do in this pandemic. The results are splendid. My favorite: Veep’s Selina Meyer would have handled this crisis … brilliantly?

• The cancelled SXSW’s film festival portion will live on online, thanks to help from Amazon. 

• NASA has a wonderful resource packed with information and lessons for kids and families. It’s called NASA at Home.

• Wanna learn more about Japanese cooking? Our friends at Wabi Sabi Japan Living are offering the latest in their series of Facebook Live classes tomorrow.

• Google has developed a website with downloadable data on states and countries’ mobility trends during the pandemic, using anonymous location data.

Tomorrow’s my unplug-for-the-sake-of-sanity day, so we’ll be back Sunday. In the meantime, if you’re an artist, get us your coloring book submissions. Support our efforts to continue to do great local journalism if you can. Oh, and wash your hands.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s April 1, no’ foolin. That means one of the most insanely awful months in American history is finally behind us.

How long was March? The obvious, mathematical answer is 31 days. But, man, were those a looooong 31 days.

Here’s how long March was: Remember Pete Buttigieg? When March started, he was still a presidential candidate. Yep: He dropped out on March 1, two days before Joe Biden’s decisive Super Tuesday wins.

Back then, most of us had no idea what in the hell was coming—or if we had any clue, we couldn’t fathom what it all meant.

A story in the print version of the March 1 edition of The New York Times had the headline: “Readiness of U.S. for an Epidemic Raises Fears About Shortages.” It’s worth noting that this story, while on the front page, was below the fold.

The online version of the story had a more search-term-friendly headline and sub-headline: “How Prepared Is the U.S. for a Coronavirus Outbreak?” The subheadline: “The country is better positioned than most but could still face critical shortages of respirators and masks. Hospitals have triage plans in place. State and local governments have broad powers to quarantine.”

Uh … well … yep?

The local BNP Paribas Open was cancelled on March 8, the day before it was supposed to start in earnest. Coachella and Stagecoach were postponed on March 10. The NBA kept playing until a March 11, when a player tested positive, halting a game in Oklahoma City just before tip-off.

That was just three weeks ago. Yeesh.

Now, it’s April … and we’re looking down the barrel of a month virtually none of us could have imagined in our worst nightmares just 31 days ago.

Yet, there are reasons for optimism. We’ve linked to stories in previous days that indicate we’re having success in #flatteningthecurve here in California. And every day means we are one day closer to the end of this, whatever that may mean.

Stay home as much as possible. If you’re one of the “essential workers” who can’t stay at home, God bless you, and be as safe as you can. Enjoy this time, as bonkers as it is, as much as possible.

Oh, yeah, and 1) stop flushing wipes down the toilet, and 2) wash your hands.

On a personal note: Thank you so very much to the 30-plus people who became or maintained being Supporters of the Independent in March (plus today). Whether you gave us $10 or you gave us $500, your support means so much to us.

To Jill Arnold, Morgan James, Ken Alterwitz, Elizabeth McGarry, Alex McCune, Miho Suma, Gustavo Arellano, Howard Goldberg, Richard Fluechtling, Cactus Hugs/Casey Dolan, Debby Anspach, Scott Phipps, John Delaney, Leonard Woods, Michael Herzfeld, Kenneth Theriault, Lynn Hammond/Lynn Hammond Catering, Jeffrey Davied, Harvey Lewis, Vicky Harrison, Joanne Bosher, George Bullis, Joshua Friedman, Darrell Tucci, Scott Balson, Elizabeth Wexler, Deidre Pike, Marsha Pare, Jeffrey Norman, David Ponsar, Lea Goodsell, John de Dios and Anthony Gangloff … thanks for helping us continue to do what we do in these unbelievably tough times.

If you have the ability to join these generous people in helping us continue covering the Coachella Valley with quality journalism, go here for more details … and thank you.

Now, for today’s news links:

If you fear you may be sick: Call Eisenhower at 760-837-8988 or the Desert AIDS Project at 760-992-0407 before you go anywhere.

• I will again be joining Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr tomorrow on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast with Dr. Laura Rush. If you have any questions about this damn virus and whatnot for the good doctor, send them to me before 8 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

• If you need help, the amazing people at FIND Food Bank are heading to a local town near you to help with its mobile pantry. Get the details and the schedule here.

SiriusXM is offering free streaming through May 15.

• Independent TV columnist Bill Frost points out that a whole lot of the streaming services you normally need to pay for are offering programming for free right now—and he also has information on a dozen streaming services that are ALWAYS free.

• Also from the Independent: What better time is there to go outside and enjoy the stars and planets (as long as everyone is social distancing and stuff)? The Independent’s Robert Victor has the scoop on what to watch for in the heavens in April.

• Related: The Rancho Mirage Public Library and Observatory has moved its Swoon at the Moon program online, starting at 7:30 p.m. tonight!

• Yet another excellent scholarly article from The Conversation offers a silver lining in all of this: Could COVID-19 end the world’s illicit wildlife trade?

• In this era of Zoom meetings, be careful with the filters you have on your phone, lest you wind up becoming a potato.

Being a brand-new parent in the age of the coronavirus leads to a whole bunch of surprising worries, as this story from friend of the Independent Gustavo Arellano illustrates.

Why is Dolly Parton a national freaking treasure, besides, you know, the obvious? Is it because of her amazing generosity? Or is it because she’s going to start reading bedtime stories to us all every Thursday? You decide.

• Another, albeit very different national treasure, Samuel L. Jackson, encourages you to Stay the F**k at Home.

• Need some quick, relatable laughs? Make sure you’re following Leslie Jordan on Instagram.

• LGBT folks and allies, take note: A whole bunch of pride-festival organizers, including Greater Palm Springs Pride’s amazing Ron deHarte, will be hosting an online Global Pride on June 27.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Reach out to a loved one. Tomorrow’s a new day. Now go wash your hands again. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest