Our Coronavirus Situation: A Recap and Some Speculation

Reboot -From a Google Image Search – World Science Festival

On the one hand we have the virus, a very nasty bug, almost the pandemic we have worried about for so long, but probably not the pandemic to end all pandemics. This virus got away from us. It was not isolated and squashed as happened with Zika and Ebola, Mers, Sars and H1N1. Perhaps it was able to infect many people who showed no symptoms and this helped it become more prevalent. The response of our Federal government and the President, who insists that he is all-powerful, clearly played an enormous role in the path of destruction that the novel coronavirus has cut through America. Although it affected every country more or less, President Trump had more advance warning than most other nations. 

We had already dealt with several potential pandemics and there were structures designed to deal with any microbial disaster that might arise. But these structures were dismantled. Some of the conditions that favor oddball viruses and microbes seem to have arisen because we live in a more global world where people without immunities are exposed to germs or bugs they would rarely have met up with before travel became so popular, and before so many consumers were so flush with money to spend abroad. There is also evidence to suggest that lab research on infectious diseases may have run amuck and several oops-moments may have loosed these tough invaders on an unsuspecting world. 

Of course the Federal government could not be to blame for the disease even if a lab accident caused it. But what the Federal government does get the blame for is botching the treatment of the disease. Getting this government to move at all was difficult at first because a President focused on the economy could see the ruin ahead and he thought denial and just bulling his way through might serve. When that assumption proved to be incorrect and the disease took over the news cycle you would think the President would have switched gears and pitched in to help in whatever ways he (in his infinite power) could. But it was like he was operating in a time warp which made him always out of sync with the facts on the ground. Denial works for small government crises which are often protected by real or imagined national security concerns, but you cannot deny an epidemic this widespread. Our leader did try though and his refusal to accept reality most likely made the effects of the virus worse.

On the other hand we have the economy. America cannot remain closed, even though it is not completely closed. The entire American economy is based on sellers and buyers, in other words, Capitalism. Now that the discussion about opening things up has begun to reach critical mass it is only a matter of time before we are operating full-tilt once again. Because this virus is not conquered, life will, most likely, still be strange. How many businesses will come back? Will cities be full of boarded up shops of bankrupted businesses? The coronavirus seems to be mutating with the new attacks on younger people and the strokes and the blood clots. Will that trend continue? We seem close to a vaccine which would solve many immediate problems but much could happen before we have a reliable vaccine. 

There are many speculations. Will the virus dictate the changes in our economy? Will we use this moment of a pause in commerce, which may never happen again, to contemplate a different path for the future? Would it be possible to choose a sort of Capitalism Lite, and keep some of this time for families? I know families are under pressure from too much enforced proximity, but I can’t help thinking that parents and children will wish for some of this time back if the normal rat race returns; running to work, picking children up from afterschool activities, dropping them off at clubs, lessons, play dates, racing through the days. Do we have any control at all over what economy we get or is all that in the hands of the top 1% or even the top 10%? 

Paul Krugman in the NYT says we will never pay off this deficit and we don’t need to. I found that comforting, although no Conservative will ever agree with it. They will begin to talk of cuts because of the deficit any minute now. For all their love of Capitalism they do not understand it. Healthy Capitalism does not work without buyers. Buyers cannot buy without income, money. If you starve all your buyers, all your consumers, will the 10% at the top generate enough consumption to keep Capitalism booming? If we could design the reboot of the economy what would it look like? If we don’t design it what will we get? Can we get off the ride, slow the roll given the current wins Capitalism has experienced; all the regulations undone, all the environmental protections thrown on the rising heaps of global garbage? The people who want to reopen, who insist that we just go, open the faucet all the way, are unlikely to accept anything that slows down the return of the old economy. They would be happy if it was raging tomorrow. If we can’t ease into a calmer economy, an economy that offers room for leisure (Conservative anathema) then will this virus come roaring back and force the issue? So many things we do not know, cannot answer.

Articles talk about changes already occurring in the environment, even from this short reprieve. Animals are wandering into spaces temporarily abandoned by humans. Smog and dirty air, unbreathable air, has disappeared over manufacturing centers. Crowded nations have had time to clean streets and let the works of man shine. Although if the works of man shine for no one, who is there to appreciate them. People do need to return to this equation, but will we have a new respect for our surroundings? This is a time of grief and loss, and it is  also a time of opportunity. I think it is an opportunity we will miss because the drumbeat of commerce is the most insistent music of our times and the most powerful, the wealthiest, will not allow us time to lick our wounds and think our thoughts and see our way through to a new day. It will be a shame to waste the sorrowful lessons of these tiny organisms who would not mind surviving even as they the kill their hosts. How can so many big brains be so clueless?

American Children Need Computers

From a Google image Search: Getty Image via Vox

We have many students in America who live in poor neighborhoods and do not have access to broadband, or even dial-up, and they do not have laptops. It is also a fact that their parent/s most likely still have to go out to work every day. Who is able to homeschool these children? Fortunately the child in this photo is not one of these children who cannot do assignments on their computers because they don’t have any, or whose parent has to come home from a long day at work and patiently homeschool their child. But not having access to a computer is a situation that puts already at-risk kids at even greater risk of growing up without an adequate education. It further limits the opportunities of those whose life options we have historically limited (to our shame.) 

We have found ways to hook people up with cheap and practically indestructible computers and satellite internet connections in Sub Saharan Africa. Why doesn’t every American child have access to a computer and to the internet in the time of novel coronavirus when all schools are closed and there is only one way to access schoolwork? Perhaps teachers in inner city and rural schools have, once again, gone over and beyond to deliver and collect worksheets and assignments in books. I have not seen any stories on the news about this. Today I finally saw Stephanie Ruhle cover this on MSNBC.

I wrote my representatives in NYS and in Federal government about this several weeks ago but they are not really in session and are very busy trying to plug up holes in the economy. Big brush items are so important now that they are pushing aside the smaller issues. But I do not want to see another generation of children have to struggle against their more-well-to-do contemporaries to provide a good life for themselves and the children they will have one day. When you short change our poorest children who we already punish for their skin pigmentation, or their immigration status, the damage is generational. We could and should solve these particular inequalities right here and now. Even if losing a year of school will be difficult to remediate the effort must be made. I am hoping one of our philanthropic billionaires will take this on as a project and keep working at it until no child in America is without a computer and the knowledge of how to use it.

The Profound Experience of this Deadly Virus

Yesterday I may have gone for the ridiculous with my dreams of a future full of robots, inspired by a world that is too crowded, that seems too full of people in a time of a possibly deadly contagion.

But last night and today have brought me the more profound expression of the isolation, fear, grief, loss, heroism, and the intimations of mortality we are living with. The videos of empty cities are poignant enough, offering thoughts of the apocalypse we have often imagined where the world and all the works of man continue to exist after humans have faced extinction. But then someone thought to put Andrea Bocelli in front of the Duomo in Milan signing Amazing Grace and it allows us to mourn and hope at one and the same time. In case you didn’t see it or would like to see it again here is the link

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Then, just to prolong the realization of the terrible significance of what we are going through in this time of COVID19, this appeared on my Facebook page this morning and brought it all home to me once again. Mourning is just as valid as hope right now and giving way to one helps you express the other, on and on. So here is another link that might touch your heart and get in touch with deeper veins of human emotion.

This experience is beyond anything I ever imagined and it offers us lessons about preparing for the future if we will heed them or can decode them. Stay safe.

Robot Love

Tech in Asia

We really could have used an army of talented robots in these days of the novel coronavirus. Some medical procedures could have been performed by units that could be sanitized regularly. Lots of routine cleaning tasks performed by these welcome little helpers would have helped make for shorter shifts and less exposure for human health care workers.

 

Big Bang

Sheldon Cooper had a virtual presence device on The Big Bang Theory. If we all had one in real life this would be a very helpful thing for all of us, especially if it could drive a car. It could do all our shopping. Imagine the luxury of looking for your toilet paper in as many different locations as necessary without any danger of exposure to the tiny bugs of the day. 

A Starship Delivery robot rolls along at Ole Miss, in Oxford, Miss. on Wednesday, January 22, 2020. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle)

In addition, your virtual presence device could have a handy-dandy robot assistant of its own to carry packages, open doors and such. The car might actually drive itself and then these two high tech family members could interface with a robot salesforce in a shop and your two new friends could bring home the bacon. Perhaps several families could share a robot pair, although sharing is not one of our strong points.

We could dine at a restaurant via our virtual presence device, visit with our friends at table and then dine on the takeout our electronic buddies bring home to us. We could be social without getting all germy. We could send our virtual presence devices off to conferences and meet and greets. Selling and buying houses would be biologically safe. And we wouldn’t be bored, because we would be there too, right along with our beloved machines. We might get to like it as much as cats like riding Roombas.

Vac Expert

Speaking Truth to Power

From a Google Image Search – theIndependent.co.uk

It’s no secret that I have never exactly been a fan of the Old Coot-in Chief. Perhaps he is an acquired taste, but I think a person’s reaction to him is more a matter of love-at-first-sight, or get-out-of-my-sight. Watching 45 handle a pandemic, a National Emergency, life or death in America has not done a thing to move him up in my regard. Donald J. has had some difficulties accepting that one novel coronavirus could appear out of nowhere and stop his fine economy in its tracks. He was counting on that economy to get him elected. He has been unable to hide his shock and disappointment. He is used to finding a way around tough obstacles, or bulldozing his way through them, and, since he feels no need to observe the usual niceties, a muscular approach has often worked for him, although not always. 

But there was absolutely no way around COVID-19, no shortcuts, nothing to negotiate, although Trump tried. By the time he acknowledged it the only way out was to go through it, and in a way that seemed to require a process that has been systematic and deliberate, not the normal MO for our chief. It was a choice between the physical health of the nation or the economic health of the nation. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this would be an easy choice for anyone to make. The choice the President wanted to make became clearer every day, and it became clearer every day that he might not be able to win his way through this one quickly and easily. His inner struggles had consequences for the entire nation. He wanted to collect his accolades without doing his due diligence.

What has been so frustrating about watching how the President has been dealing with this virus is that he is always hampered by his pathologies, and therefore, so are we the people. First he tried to sweep the whole thing under the rug. If he had only realized that he was making things worse instead of better. 

I remember how we reacted to one woman’s experience when she was forced to isolate herself in what was basically a bubble tent. She was not ill. I am thinking this was during the Ebola scare. They were watching her through the incubation period to see if she got sick. Some people were aghast that such a thing could happen in the land of the free. But Ebola got nipped in the bud quickly and never became the pandemic officials feared it would be. 

The previous administration did what Trump did not, which was tackle the thing early and head-on. I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to upset the old man. You know how he gets when you mention a certain person. It’s like waving a red cape in front of a bull. But if instead of retribution the President had been able to emulate a successful strategy and take this virus seriously from the very first case perhaps we wouldn’t have had to go through all this. 

Did Trump’s inability to accept an attack from a totally unexpected direction and deal with it doom Americans to social distancing and death? Did his inability to stop campaigning and accept that the economy might be less than perfect for a while cause the free fall that he (and we) have been faced with? Did his allegiance to small government make logistics a nightmare? Perhaps it is too cruel to blame all of this on one stubborn old man, who doesn’t realize that true genius is knowing how to harness the talents of other geniuses to make you look good. But he does not play well with others.

President Trump could still redeem himself by acing the recovery. He could stop his stubborn insistence, which none of us can understand, that there will be no testing. Clearly if would  shorten the recovery time, but he must think it would lengthen it. Your genius may be leading you astray on this one, sir. He could facilitate tests to see who is recovered and who has antibodies. He could facilitate testing to see who needs to still shelter in place. Testing is one area where a change of heart would be welcome. Why doesn’t he see that this is the path back to a workable economy?

Why doesn’t the President back voting by mail? Why does he plant his feet and insist that voting by mail would allow for big time election fraud? There is no reason to believe that Americans cheat in elections. In fact, that’s insulting. We respect the right to vote. It leaves us free to conclude that 45 fears that too many Democrats would get to vote if mail-in ballots were an option. It leaves us to believe that Donald J Trump does not believe he can get elected if we have a fair and free 2020 election that also takes coronavirus risks into account. Settling this issue would also help us get back to the economy he thinks will send him back to the Oval Office.

The third thing that our President could do that would help him and us would be to let the doctors do what doctors do and let the Federal government do what Federal governments do. A true genius accepts his limitations. You can stop favoring big corporations who have already received million and billions in bailouts. I think they can weather this storm. You do not value your middle class citizens enough, your small business folks. You do not value the struggling families who keep America running on minimum wages.

The bailout you gave to Americans was not big enough and it was not targeted at those who will have the hardest time recovering from this massive economic time out. I know it goes against everything that you (Trump) and the Republicans believe, but going against your instincts at this particular moment will get you back to where you want to be faster than your way will. Your way could cause this virus, for which we have no cure, to fire up anew and tank the economy all over again. Do all these things and do them well and then you can collect those accolades.

Note to Millennials

From a Google image Search – Medium.com

Now I think I have heard Millennials say that the way the world does Capitalism is a tad bit arrogant, excessive, rapacious, and exclusionary. It’s possible that Millennials are impatient to get on with saving the planet, a goal that seems to retreat with every reactionary act aging politicians pass, with every oil or gas well horizontally drilled in the random pristine spaces left to us. Millennials tend to be progressive. They know that there is no time to waste on fat cats who have been stockpiling wealth. They know you can’t eat money or gold and that even rich dudes eventually die. The trouble is that the Greatest Generation was made up of some very long-lived people, toughened up in a World War and a Great Depression. And the Boomers, the self-indulgent Boomers, some who also went to war, are not that old yet, and there are a lot of them. Waiting for these people to let go of power, waiting for them to die, waiting to inherit power to do what must be done, finds Millennials getting older and perhaps losing that idealism that drives change. Getting into the ‘capitalist games’ may be looking like a necessity these day.

Well, except for the dying part, I think we, the Boomers, ought to go off on a tour of all the national parks, or form one of those RV parks out in the desert under the stars, or in the UK go explore the northern reaches, and let the Millennials try their hands at running the country. In the meantime, it might be good to found a Millennial Think Tank, meet on Zoom, and lay your plans. Boomers are not any happier than you are that everyone is sort of tanking the economy on their behalf,  and, yes, you are getting gypped again. Maybe the fault is in the stars (are those words now under copyright). You all could start coming up with your priorities for saving our democracies, planning healthy economies with built-in opportunities for you and your children, and for saving the planet. The ‘old guard’ cannot offer us a plan that is progressive enough (except Bernie, who can be your guru) So please feel free to find a way to relieve the old folks of the power they have abused so badly. They won’t give it to you, you will have to take it. Peacefully if you can.

If you want a simpler, less competitive, less consumption-oriented reality, this moment with the economy in a virally suspended state, is a moment when it might be possible to invent a new future for all of us, less work ethic, more bucolic. You are like a force that has been suppressed by tradition, greed, and history, which could be released with all the momentum that has been stored up during your years of obstruction; like a energetic river held back by a long unopened dam. Think it through, find your leaders, don’t be too radical, but rock the world.

COVID-19 and Paradoxes

From a Google Image Search – Cherry Blossoms, Flickr.com

COVID-19 and Paradoxes

These are such strange days. We all learn that, although we may be alone, we are in no way an island.  Without our nurses, doctors, and hospital staffs we would lose people who we are not ready to lose. Every day we know our highly trained caregivers risk getting the COVID-19 virus and many of them have been infected. Fortunately the virus doesn’t kill all its hosts. Many people barely realize they have it. But without hospitals and first responders, our loved ones could die at home or in a nursing home gasping for breath while we stood by helpless. Most of us do not have access to oxygen, and almost none of us can access a ventilator. If you catch the virus you put yourself in danger. The disease makes life and death a gamble, seemingly based on genetics and bad habits.

Without our truckers and our essential industries where workers take a chance every day and go to work (probably without paid-sick-leave) our grocery stores and drug stores would be emptier than they are. So we are not an island. And we are not all making the same sacrifices, which is difficult for some of us to accept, that almost the only ways we can help are to stay home, order in, and donate to a few hard-pressed causes. Lately, on Facebook, the folks who bought out all the toilet paper and left our store shelves empty, and bought up masks needed at hospitals have been putting up ads to sell their ill-gotten merchandise and charging exorbitant rates ($35 for 10 rolls of toilet paper and they had all the popular brands; $65 for a box of masks). Tempting, but we know we should not buy at these prices and encourage price gouging. 

It’s spring. Our senses are blossoming. There is more light, days are getting long. We can go out and see our lakes and rivers and oceans, but we can’t meet our family in these places unless we stay 6 feet apart. Now they are saying that the very air we breathe can spread this disease so don’t even walk in someone’s draft. But we are thinking of soft summer evenings and gardens, flowers and smiles, music and conversation. And yet our reality is on display each day. There are refrigerated trucks, long semis collecting bodies in New York City and these lives are left uncelebrated by all but closest family. This shocks me, these long white trucks. It is almost as if someone actually did kill people on Fifth Avenue, and I cannot help blaming the very person who said that he could do this and still get elected.

Speaking of elections; we should be drowning in unwatchable political ads, and voting in primaries and our candidates should be stumping all over America. How can we get rid of a President who fired so many civil servants and changed so many rules that govern national emergencies if the only 2020 candidate we see day after day is the Bumbler? How can we hope to vote out the miserable GOP when half the country, for some inexplicable reason, sees this entire bumbling administration as somehow efficient and effective at handling this national emergency? Half of America follows religiously Trump’s every utterance, regardless of the whiplash engendered by decisions that change moment to moment, that are given and retracted day to day. Despite the white semis lined up in New York to receive the dead.

There have been such touching stories. The brides who go in their wedding dresses to visit a grandparent through a nursing home window and the new moms who make the same trip with their babies. The mom and dad who almost lost their 29-year-old son for no apparent health reason. The reporter who spent 49 days away from her child because she kept having to go into quarantine and the joyful reunion with her little son. All the American children taping hearts in their windows for passers-by to collect. And then the reality hits us once again as someone hears that a loved one has died and they were not even there when it happened. 

People are losing their businesses, which made our lives seem full of elegance, friendship, light and love. All the restaurants where we love to linger at table and just chat. All the sidewalk cafes and fresh air dining. Days spent shopping with friends and speaking of bargains and fashion and decorating. Will our restaurants and shops come back. All the unemployed with no resources to get them through the anxious days. If only the whole unemployment process was better equipped to get money to workers-without-work right away. Will jobs come back? I cannot recall a time when the entire global economy basically had to take a time out and neither can anyone else or we would have some strategies for dealing, even if the best strategy of all was just to do nothing. This is different from even the Great Depression. We cannot have a WPA in times that require social distancing. There is no way to discuss in one small essay all the many, many areas of our lives that have been affected. And although I read an article which said that life returned to normal very quickly after the influenza in 1918, it is difficult to believe that is possible this time.

These are very strange days indeed, surreal even, these days of novel coronavirus. The paradoxes are ripping us apart and putting us back together each and every hour of every day. We have to be strong. We have to make it through with as much grace as we can muster.