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Long Read of the Day: Lileks, James on the Monitors

The Door Guard that will never go away fromLILEKS (James) :: The Bleat 2020 WEDNESDAY

When I entered the office the other day I saw this . . . this thing.

The screen shows an abstraction of a camera lens, looking, searching for something to see and grab. When it wakes, it turns on a bright light and displays a human shape, so you can fit yourself into its contours for evaluation.

It takes your temp. Okay. Question: let’s say you wake, in November of 2020, the Plague Year, and you’re a bit achy and hot. You have two options: work from home, as you’ve been doing since March, or drag yourself to the office. Who’s going to do the latter? I mean, I think I could beg off a Zoom call because I felt a little feverish.

But let’s say you’re a hard-charging sort who just has to go to the office and be a world-beater, bark orders, shove around subordinates. Push! Push! Push! And you’re a bit hot. Do you stop at this thing to get evaluated? No, because you’re important and have things to do. You’re fine and you’re wearing a mask and everyone else is wearing a mask, and besides, there’s not more than six people in this part of the office, because everyone’s working from home.

Will that happen? That will not happen.

It’s there just in case. A reminder. A tool. An assistant. What’s the problem? No problem. Except that it’s off-putting in a way I can’t describe. It’s like a judgment device. A purity monitor. It suggests that it somehow has authority. It presumes I need interrogating. I don’t think it’s connected to the office security database that logs my card-beep on the entrance pad, but why wouldn’t it, some day? Wouldn’t that make sense? Wouldn’t that help with tracking and DEFEATING COVID?

Why wouldn’t you put your face in that thing every time you entered the area?

What’s wrong with you that you’d react with anything but relief and gratitude?

It’s this: I don’t think that thing is ever going to go away. I can’t see a point where building management says “oh, we don’t need those anymore.” Someone pipes up: it’s flu season. You’re right, best keep them there.

At some point in a pandemic, the suspicion of infection morphs into the presumption of infection. That’s smart if it’s bad and widespread and raging. Hospitals overwhelmed, the sick hacking on every street, clinic corridors jammed with the rheumy victims, cordwood stacked like bodies in the morgue, or something. But this is not that. What’s more, this was never that. It was apparent months ago that this is not that. It’s not mild flu, but it’s not that.

The presumption of infection in a situation where A) it’s not the case, and B) the consequences for infection are statistically nominal, well, this is injurious to society, and every incremental introduction of something that bolsters the accumulated paranoia makes it more difficult to surpass the sense of constant suspicion.

These devices become talismans of safety. You start to distrust places that don’t have them. You resent the suggestion that you submit to them, but you go along – it’s anti-social to do otherwise. It just becomes part of life: standing in front of the device and fitting your shoulders to the contours of the anonymous human shape on the screen.

So the casual rote submission is a loyalty oath, of sorts. It’s not some part of a grand scheme. Doesn’t work like that. Doesn’t have to. It’s a series of assumptions and well-intentioned ideas and precautions that nevertheless have the effect of shaping how you feel about the world outside your door.

We’ll get used to it. And then we’ll get used to the next thing.

Note: today I noticed that the secondary entrance to the office has been closed, channeling everyone to the Purity Monitor. This means that a six-elevator bank has been closed, pushing everyone to a four-elevator bank which will pack more people into a confined space.

So no one can use this door? What the hell?

That was today. Tomorrow, I’ll be used to it.

RTWT AT LILEKS (James) :: The Bleat 2020 WEDNESDAY

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • PubliusII October 23, 2020, 6:26 PM

    Minneapolis. Big corporate employer. He’s probably right, for now, with regard to them.

    The big unanswered question for all of us is — How to the masked panickers get themselves down off the high ledge they’re talked themselves out onto? When is it, like, over?

  • ghostsniper October 23, 2020, 7:11 PM

    This sort of thing will become mandatory at places that you can’t avoid, you know, like gov’t buildings. For stuff like required licenses, forms, permission slips, etc. Then after a couple years they’ll have most people in the database, so why not install them everywhere else? I mean, you’re already in the system, so what’s the prob?

  • Auntie Analogue October 23, 2020, 8:20 PM

    In the past surveillance was a state function, presumably “for our own good.” Today state surveillance is rivalled, and is often exceeded, by that of the “Woke” Globo-Corporatocracy and it is anything but for “our own good.” And how quickly, or slowly, do you like your frog boiled?

    The counterculture of the past is . . . not the counterculture of today because today the Left/Woke” are “The Man.” Here are the opening lyrics from a song on the first (1970) Jefferson Starship album:

    “A Child Is Coming”

    Last electric Sunday mornin’ waitin’ in the park for the dawn
    Listenin’ to all the animals in the Park and in the city beyond
    Flashin’ with my lady. sky goin’ black to blue
    She said I got a surprise for you

    A child is coming
    A child is coming
    A child is coming to you

    What are we gonna do when Uncle Samuel comes around
    Askin’ for the young one’s name
    And lookin’ for the print of his hand for the files in their numbers game
    I don’t want his chances for freedom to ever be that slim
    Let’s not tell ’em about him


    Hear the track . . . : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyFIBEvNXbM

  • Jay Solo October 24, 2020, 3:28 AM

    I work at a relatively small location of an very large company. By the employee entrance we have an infrared device hooked to a computer. It attempts to evaluate that thing coming through the door and decide it’s a person, and there’s their face, and captures the temperature in a series of snapshots from infrared video. If it’s over 100, an alarm audible only right there sounds and the person is not supposed to proceed. Except somehow the alarm got disabled, but it flashed a box in the lower right of the screen and saves the picture on the right, along with any cups of hot coffee it has flagged as needing to quarantine. The thing works… sketchily. Usually it’s on the low side of what has to be normal. In summer it would flag people who spent time outside in a hat that absorbed enough heat before coming in. Ironically, it has trouble catching a temp from people well covered with a mask plus a hat somewhat low plus, even more so, glasses.

    All well and good, but who’s to stop anyone from just going past? After an incident where a couple of contractors with 102 temps wandered freely about the building, me. Due diligence was required! Better known as covering your ass. So for a few hours at the peak of when contractors arrive, someone sits there and monitors it. Me, five days a week. Ugh! Employees don’t get actively monitored, except the 3-4 who come in during that time. MOST of the contractors go around and come in other doors. Which is apparently fine because it’s just due diligence. But then it comes down to making me tell people to put on masks over by the door. I’m one of the LAST people interested in doing that! I can barely manage a mask. Wearing them too long per day makes me sick. I can’t wear them if I’m exerting myself to any degree. In 8-9 hours I wear a mask as little as just over the 3 hours by the door, sitting still. I’m supposed to be excited by a subset contractors walking into the building maskless?

    The only plus is it guarantees I get some of the longer hours without it beating me up as much as such a physical job can, since I also come in an hour early each day to prep things. Worse, it may not be temporary. Not even temporary like until spring and after a year maybe we’ve figured out it was overblown.

  • Jeff Brokaw October 24, 2020, 6:48 AM

    James Lileks and I are on the same wavelength here. And as Publius II said above, and I’ve been saying for months to others I discuss this with, be careful building yourself a prison with metrics unless you also define the metrics you require to know you can let yourself out.

    Anything less is not rational and seems like a form of mental illness. You need to think like a CEO, not like a pawn who lets others order you around. Risk is all around us every day, so we take reasonable precautions to mitigate it and then we move on with our day, and this is no different.

    The sad truth, unfortunately, is that most people are not good enough with assessing risk to themselves as individuals, much less as a matter of policy for the population, to make use of any of the statistics and metrics thrown at us every day. It’s like giving matches to a toddler.

  • Annie Rose October 24, 2020, 8:34 AM

    The idiocy of the safety practices is what blows my mind.

    I ate at a local restaurant the other day where there are drink dispensers that you can use. I want to support my local businesses that are holding onto their livelihoods by the skin of their teeth. If you want a refill on your drink, you must ask an employee for help. The potentially covid infected employee took my used (potentially COVID contaminated) cup in his potentially COVID contaminated gloved hand- the one he was using on the potentially covid infected cash register, touching covid money with, and passing out clean (but really potentially covid infected) cups and covid infected trays of food with—thus potentially transferring new COVID germs onto my (already lethally infected) cup.

    I removed my lid/straw, (teaming with covid infection and God knows what)—all within a foot of each other while masked (air borne COVID transmission). He pushed the germ-infested cup lip onto the germ-infested dispenser bar—more possible COVID transmission- capturing the soda water/syrup combo (which may have been sneezed on with COVID germs at any point in its process from manufacturing to distribution).

    I hovered a foot away so I could tell him what I wanted, breathing my potential covid germs onto him. He then handed me my cup and returned to his register where he-wait for it—touched his register thus potentially transferring my COVID germs from my cup to his keypad and to any money/cups/food trays handed out to all the next customers, including door dash / Uber drivers bringing covid entrees to various homes in my community.

    How in the name of all that is holy does that protect anyone? But it is the mandated rules for restaurants in our county and state.

    Dare I mention that I needed to breathe potentially infected air into and out of my lungs in the poorly ventilated potentially COVID infected space of this tiny establishment that is required to block off 75% of its seats and where everyone must be masked unless eating?

    I returned to my car where I touched the infected handle, a germ-laden lid to an infested compartment, and my bottle of hand sanitizer in that compartment (that is seething with potential covid germs from previous contact), and squeezed out the life-saving goo, vigorously rubbing my hands together like a surgeon. I then re-contaminated my hands by touching the germ-laden bottle to put it back into the compartment and put on my infested seat belt and drove home, where I brought the Black Death into my sterile (haha) home on the bottoms of my shoes and inside my breath and on my skin and clothing.

    This entire safety protocol is a joke and its purpose is to condition us into feeling hopeless and taking orders from our rulers.

  • captflee October 24, 2020, 2:53 PM

    Toward the end of another morning of subtracting footsore miles from 1175, as I am wont to do when this date rolls ’round, I tried to put myself in the mindset of that band of sick and weary men slogging toward Calais some eight centuries ago. The past months have been illuminating, to be sure. In my more pessimistic moments, I suspect that while WE may not have enjoyed 2020, there are many others who have had the times of their lives, and see no point in their party ever ending, and this type usually locates itself as close to the levers of power as one can get. Heaven only knows what frighteningly high percentage of our populace would shred those precious few freedoms remaining after the left’s 200+ year jihad against the Republic for scanty and dubious protection from the plague of the day. Reason will not prevail over this unholy alliance of self interest and dervish intensity obeisance to their new godless religion; those people (to paraphrase Marse Robert) will have to be fought, hard, on every front, and to the end.

    As the bard, writing four centuries after that incredible Pas de Calais morning, a sliver of time a little smaller than the gulf separating Elizabethan London from us today, has Henry, facing overwhelming odds against him, pray,

    O God of battles! steel my soldiers’ hearts;
    Possess them not with fear; take from them now
    The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers
    Pluck their hearts from them. Not to-day, O Lord,
    O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
    My father made in compassing the crown!
    I Richard’s body have interred anew;
    And on it have bestow’d more contrite tears
    Than from it issued forced drops of blood:
    Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
    Who twice a-day their wither’d hands hold up
    Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
    Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests
    Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do;
    Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
    Since that my penitence comes after all,
    Imploring pardon.

  • captflee October 24, 2020, 2:55 PM

    Sorry folks, that’s six centuries…long day

  • Gordon Scott October 24, 2020, 4:35 PM

    Well, I’m sitting in an inexpensive hotel in Bloomington, MN, about four miles as the loon flies from James Lilek’s house. My house is north of that in Minneapolis. I’m not at home because . . . I got the fever!

    Yesterday I was feeling that way one feels when feverish; a bit groggy and worn. I checked my temperature, and sure enough, elevated. My blood pressure was up also. I called in to the VA, and they said they would call back in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, I warned my wife, working from her dining room table workplace, and warned her to stay away, just in case I had not infected her before that moment.

    I spent the two hours checking for Covid testing locations near me. Now that it’s cold, that’s less popular for the mask and gown crowd. Perhaps they’ll buy some area heaters. Restaurants here have installed them inside lathe and plywood and clear film patio shelters, to try to extend the outdoor season, before they lose those tables.

    The VA calls me half an hour early. The only real symptom I have is the fever, but the blood pressure is a worry also. That’s referred to my primary care doctor. The thing is, my wife is fairly vulnerable. She has more than one comorbidity, and so really avoids contact. The VA wants her to go to a hotel, since our place isn’t large enough for me to isolate. But she’s got a ton of work to do and has all of her equipment right there, so I pack my bag.

    A trip across town takes me to the VA emergency entrance. I pull into the garage unloading area, which conveniently avoids the chill factor. After about five minutes someone masked and gowned asks my name and last four, and then brings the swab. He warns that it will not be pleasant. It isn’t. He tells me to swallow. I can, barely, suppressing the reactions one has when a stranger puts a stick up your nose and moves it around, a lot. After what seems like five minutes, but was probably 25 seconds, it’s out. I leave and head for my penitential cell in the Quality Inn.

    I did bring some chow from home, and risked a masked and gloved trip through Aldi to get some more. And now I’m holed up. The room is fairly inexpensive, as travel has cut the business way back. My wife just stopped by with biscuits and gravy, her signature breakfast, since the hotel has suspended the free breakfast due to the convenient excuse. She left it outside my door and retreated.

    Tomorrow is Sunday, and I might know my result then. Perhaps on Monday instead. The room is paid through Tuesday morning. I still have a fever, although I feel fine. The blood pressure is down, some. My boss asks, do you know where you got it? I don’t, other than I’ve been in 30 Walgreens stores this week. No sick people in drugstores, eh? And yes, I was masked in all of them.

  • Gordon Scott October 24, 2020, 4:46 PM

    And I am quite sure that Harry Five and his band would have been thrilled to have a night, during that long cold hike, at a Quality Inn, even if they didn’t get a free breakfast.

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
    For he that sits in the hot tub with me today
    shall be my brother, be he ne’er so drunk,
    this night shall give him time to sober.
    And gentlemen (and trans men) now abed in Minneapolis
    shall think themselves accursed they were not here
    and hold their, um, hoods cheap whiles any speaks
    that fought with us on this Saint Covid’s day!

  • captflee October 24, 2020, 8:18 PM


    That there is some world class febrile playwriting. Who knows…once old Will gets his dead white male comeuppance your rendition may live on into the next millennium.
    Prayers for your rapid recovery!

  • Gordon Scott October 25, 2020, 4:31 PM

    Thanks, captflee. But I’m just bending words around his frame. I’ve tried to write a sonnet. It is freaking hard, and I’m fairly good with words. Will published 154. They’re all good. And he wrote sonnets inside Romeo and Juliet. In dialogue!

  • Gordon Scott October 26, 2020, 10:48 AM

    AAAnnnd…the test is negative. It’s the PCR test, which is not as precise or as accurate as the serum test, but I’m heading back to work. There are other reasons people have a fever, and I’ve really had no other symptoms.