Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Truths We Now Hold as More Clearly Self Evident

We're learning so much from this virus, about the world and about ourselves. Here's a list of things I hope we take away from it all. These are things we already know, but now we know with a little more certainty and more clearly.

* Life is unpredictable. Our calendars and to-do-lists make it seem like we have some predictability in life, but it's still largely a crap shoot. It always has been.

* Some politicians and governments are willing to let you die to save their stock portfolio. This isn't new, but now it's very clear, hopefully to everybody. We need this knowledge to sink in if we hope to change anything. Capitalism, particularly neo-liberal capitalism, sucks.

* We need Universal Basic Income right now. People can't be saved with one time cheques or discounts or food bank donations. We need everyone to have their basic needs met, for sure, all the time.

* Air B&B was a disaster waiting to happen. Now that everyone is cancelling their bookings, the people renting places to cash out on them are left holding an un-payable bill. It was always a scam that caused more harm than good.

* Living off of renting property to people too poor to own their own property is, in itself, a problem. Yup, Marx was right.

* Retail workers aren't paid nearly enough for dealing with the shit they have to put up with.

* Alcoholism is a huge issue that we largely ignore. The fact that liquor stores are considered an essential service in Ontario, and forced to remain open during this, speaks volumes to the concerns about people going without during the isolation.

* We all need to acknowledge the effect we have on each other more. aka Maybe people shouldn't let their dogs bark all flippin' day in their back yards!! It is possible to train dogs to stop barking.

* Imprisoning any non-violent offenders is barbaric and, in times like this, potentially lethal.

* Music, art, film, dance, books, and games keep us going. They are vital to our lives and should be acknowledged as such.

* You really can eat the same food a few days in a row. We've been trained to have a wide variety of food options at every meal, but food waste is unconscionable.

* We don't need to travel or go to all those meetings. We're figuring out what's really necessary, and, in the process, possibly saving lives in the final analysis: “the lives saved due to the pollution reductions are roughly 20x the number of lives that have been directly lost to the virus.”

* Hubris can be fatal. People who think they're tough for not being afraid to go to public places, and for refusing to let a little virus slow them down are learning some difficult lessons - hopefully learning them. Paul Rand comes to mind, for going to the gym after testing positive for the virus. W.T.F. It's not strong or courageous or cool to be flippant about taking life-saving precautions, especially if it's just your own life you're worried about. It's just plain ignorant.

* It is humbling to be reminded of the short time we have here and the lack of control we have over our lives and over the world. We like to think we're at the top of the food chain, but we're just one little part of it all.

* Everything's relative. My youngest gets out of room quarantine today - grounded for 2-weeks for going to Mexico - and it's exciting that she gets to be in ALL of the house now! And I'm happy that I no longer have to wait on her and scrub everything she touches in our shared bathroom. It could always be so much worse than we have it now.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On Expectation

How we see our lives and how we expect things to go for us is life or death right now, sanity or madness. This has been an emotionally exhausting week! Not knowing is difficult, and there's so much up in the air right now.

It reminds me of when I was first pregnant and past my due date. Every little spasm in my belly set off alarms. Now it's not my belly any more, but higher. A little tickle in the throat, a cough from the dust, a twinge in the chest all have me super hyper-focused on my body: Is it here?? Is it time??

We have to take precautions, absolutely. We're happy introverts in my home, comfortably hunkering down, but then necessary grocery shopping is like running across the trenches to deliver a message. Get in and out as fast as possible! Check down each aisle before turning a corner! Wash all the produce as soon as we get home from the store! Okay, apparently some of these precautions are ones other people have always taken. But miss wiping a corner of a box of cereal with a Lysol wipe, and it could mean the end of us. The cashier (Praise be!) might inadvertently cough as she bags the groceries, spraying us with invisible bullets. I'm not looking forward to the next trip. Hopefully we can make it two weeks with this load.

But once we're home and scrubbed clean yet again, we have to create an ideal little nest as much as possible, with music and baking and creating things and some good conversations. For those of us with the luxury of a job we can do from home, and the tremendous luxury of reasonably good company in the home, we have to imagine the weeks ahead of us as a respite from the noise of the world. Imagine the games and days on the porch or garden and the bike rides and just time to be lost in thought. Pay attention to the people who are sharing and helping like never before. We give our world the colour of our thoughts. If we start to worry about how long and how hard and how small the house is and every little irritation that's bound to arise, then we will have painted our days with jarring contrasts and muddy tones. 

There are other precautions to take that people aren't discussing, like teaching the kids how to access emergency funds in case I succumb so they don't lose the house. What do you want done with your things? With your body? Garbage day is Tuesday. There have been a few of those conversations too.

During that first extended pregnancy, my midwives told me to enjoy the time. Everything's easier with the baby on the inside, they warned. I scoffed then too! How can I enjoy my time with this event looming over everything I do? Their advice holds as well today as it did way back then: eat well, sleep well, go for lots of long walks, and finish that book you've been meaning to read! It happens when it happens, and we all just hope everyone's healthy on the other side.

Before the baby was due, a few well-meaning friends warned me their deliveries took over 36 hours, so I prepared mentally for the long haul. Two weeks later, when the labour pains were finally real, I watched the clock through the breathing and paced myself. It ended after only 12 hours, which felt like nothing compared to what I was expecting. Tonight I told my kids to expect this to end in July, and maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised in May! We just have to get our heads around it all in the right kind of way to make these next few months manageable. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The New Normal

Politico has a very thorough run down of life as we'll soon come to know it from a variety of people. Here are my favourite bits. It's all pretty hopeful:

We know now that touching things, being with other people and breathing the air in an enclosed space can be risky. How quickly that awareness recedes will be different for different people, but it can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year. . . . Maybe the de-militarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess. . . . Societal shocks can break different ways, making things better or worse. But given our current levels of tension, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse. . . . It may—one might hope—return Americans to a new seriousness, or at least move them back toward the idea that government is a matter for serious people. . . . When this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services. I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked. . . . The hype around online education will be abandoned, as a generation of young people forced into seclusion will reshape the culture around a contrarian appreciation for communal life.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What are the Chances We'll Learn Anything from This?

It's fascinating to watch behaviours now that we're stuck together in limbo. In my little house, we are all perfectly healthy; we're just more together. This should be a piece of cake!

My kids shopped last Friday night, very late, and, since the stores were packed with everyone else who had the same idea, went again on Saturday. Since then I'm noticing how much we all want to just pop into the store for one more thing. We have everything here. On Monday I had to put my foot down with an offer to just get... We have ALL THE FOOD we could possibly need. And toilet paper. My kids came home with two packs, and we haven't even opened one yet. We already had toilet paper! It's just a habit that's provoking us towards the main destination of all of our walks. We have to remember we can walk to the park and to through neighbourhoods with beautiful homes. It's such a strong habit to break, though. And going to the store feels like a little piece of normal, to see familiar faces and nod to our neighbours there. I think we can make it at least until Monday.

When I was a kid, mum and dad did the shopping every Saturday morning and at no other time. I managed that for a while. When the kids were little, we sat at Harmony Lunch once a week and planned out meals, then hit the store on the way home, each of us with a knapsack full of food. It was a nice routine. But once they got older, and realized all the food options available to them, it fell apart. We want what we feel like having RIGHT NOW! We have to break that immediacy habit too. We don't need that much variety in our meals. And I'm also noticing I've apparently become addicted to junk food. Why didn't we buy more treats?!? Apparently because the cart was full of toilet paper. That is some weird psychological phenomenon! Perceived scarcity makes us want what we don't actually need. We have to rise above that. Piece of cake indeed. Mmmm... cake.

I'm hoping we all break many habits. We're seeing that we can manage without as much travel around the city, without getting every little thing we think we need all the time, and the results are breathtaking. Pollution is dramatically down and animals are coming out of hiding, and there are flippin' dolphins (literally - ETA but not really) in the crystal clean water of the canals in Venice!! It reminds me of one line in George Monbiot's Heat: "I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel.” But it doesn't mean, as some suggest, that we're a virus in need of containment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Everything is F*cked: a Book Critique

I read this book last summer, but people are suddenly talking about it (and his earlier book) all over the place for some reason - maybe because we're just seeing that things are really messed up. Even my youngest asked to borrow it, so it's time to revisit. I give it mixed reviews.

Here's the problem: It's a bit sloppy with the use of studies and with the philosophy. He names drops a whole host of philosophers, and gets a few general ideas right (and some really wrong), but the details are often watered down or at least somewhat inaccurate, which drives me nuts! He's got a degree in international business, but he means well.

He's also sloppy with terms. He uses many words ambiguously as if they can be used to mean a couple things at once in order to further his arguments, or they're used in a way that they aren't used in the fields of study discussed, or they're conflated with one another. Of particular concern is his use of these words: hope, feelings, emotions, narcissism, values, and faith.

I found this book maddening in places, BUT the ideas, if followed by the masses, will benefit people (because it's mainly Stoicism/CBT)! So, yes, read this book and do the things he suggests even though they're not necessarily backed up by arguments he presents, and just keep in mind that you don't now understand many of the philosophers he discusses. Unless, perhaps, you keep scrolling down.

Monday, March 16, 2020

On Pandemics and the Climate

Everyone staying at home might buy us a bit more time to finalize policies that will actually mitigate climate change, if we actually care to do save even more lives. Juan Cole explains the connection between pandemics and climate change in this Truthdig article:
There is an exact analogy between Trump’s treatment of Covid-19 and his treatment of the climate emergency. In both cases, he and his surrogates attacked the science and took pride in giving the finger to reality. Trump actually promotes coal and petroleum, the dirtiest fossil fuels, as though he is impatient to see the lower floors of his Trump Tower in Manhattan under water. Likewise, he takes pride in holding infectious rallies and shaking hands. . . . People who don’t believe in science might have difficulty accepting this, but the climate emergency is deeply connected to disease and the potential for epidemics, according to the scientists at the World Health Organization. That’s right. The high end threat of one-point-seven million dead Americans is only the beginning if we go on burning coal, petroleum and other hydrocarbons. . . . 
Poor lung health is a serious risk factor for dying of Covid-19, and people who live near coal power plants or along highways or in cities with car- and power-plant-polluted air typically have poor lung health. Breathing air polluted by burning hydrocarbons produces the lung disease of emphysema the same way smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years would. It is worth noting that Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, is China’s 14th most air-polluted city. . . . The climate emergency is going to set bats, pangolins and many other animals in motion, fleeing as their food dies out in mass extinctions, and their habitats heat up, or dry out, or burn down or are flooded. The resultant mass migration of animals will put them in direct contact with human populations, hugely expanding the chance that pathogens will leap from them to humans. . . . . 
The tragedy is that we already have the solution. It is cheaper to build and run new wind and solar farms than just to try to go on operating a coal plant. . . . We don’t have to put ourselves and the next generations through hell. It is a matter of political will.

Maybe we'll be different on the other side of all this: more worldly, more humble, more conscious of the effects of our actions on one another, more willing to sing in the streets together.


ETA - this TEDTalk just out about the link between the virus and climate that was uploaded five days ago. She explains that this is not the last outbreak we'll see due to the level of contact we are having with wildlife on an unprecedented scale. She also cautions that people can carry Covid-19 without symptoms for up to 24 days - ten days longer than any other predictions. Our best option in future is to dramatically improve health care worldwide. This virus is showing us our interconnectedness. It's not enough for our country to have everything we need; we will only manage if every country has excellent health care and if we have worldwide, science-based protocols to follow everywhere. We're all in this together, folks!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Can Public School Teachers Teach from Home?

Last Thursday, after getting a series of emails from the school board and OSSTF about concerns with many students travelling over the March Break and returning with an incubating virus that could infect each school, we suddenly found out from the CBC that we're shutting down for the two weeks following the break throughout Ontario. I think that's a very good idea, and I haven't seen any opposition to the decision. But now what should teachers do? So far, we've gotten zero instruction or guidance about what we can or cannot do. I want to set up online lessons pro-actively, but because of current labour disputes, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that. Nobody has the answers. So, what should the answer be?

Three ideas have come out of the fray: do nothing now, but work into July; do nothing now, but extend the school day to compensate and have longer classes; and do something now, i.e. teach from home. I prefer the last option. I think I'm in the minority on this, though, because, in Ontario, we're specifically fighting against Ford's mandatory e-learning. Can we work online without promoting Ford's evil plan? Will teaching from home work against everything the union's been doing for us??

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

COVID 19 and Pascal

Kevin Patterson at The Walrus has a great piece on the coronavirus. It's different than the flu, faster, and our high-density living spaces aren't helping contain it:
"Famine and war routinely bring civilizations low, but though he trots closely beside those two, the horseman who carries off the most has always been pestilence. . . . Many familiar pathogens are lethal on a broad scale . . . Seasonal influenza . . . It is monitored carefully and understood well enough that vaccines may be prepared that are usually effective at reducing disease incidence and severity. . . . While the best-case scenario for influenza each year includes many deaths, we also have an idea of what the worst-case scenario is. The downside risk is not infinite. With novel pathogens, this is not true. The worst-case scenario is undefined . . . some of them do prove to be catastrophic—and doctors don’t know, when one emerges, what course it’s going to take. . . .  
The story of this pandemic is, in many ways, a story about speed . . . the rapidity with which it was observed to leap to humans and the rate at which it was seen to disseminate among us has almost no parallel in modern medicine. . . . In the intensive care unit where I work as a critical care physician . . . even a handful of extra patients requiring high-level care can put unsustainable pressure on the system. . . . In retrospect, after 2009 H1N1—as well as after SARS and the other recent near misses, to say nothing of the fifteen-century history of pandemics—the surprising thing is how little was done subsequently to prepare for the next disastrous outbreak. . . .  
 One point that needs more emphasis is that epidemics have diminished in much of the Global North for good reason. . . . A large part of this is due to affluence and, to a qualified and recently diminishing degree, justice. . . . Tuberculosis in most of Canada is almost gone. But, in Nunavut, which has Canada’s highest poverty rate, the incidence was recently comparable to Somalia’s. . . . But the reasons for anxiety are compelling too. A vaccine is at least a year away. . . . We live, worldwide, mostly in cities and now in densities that make us profoundly vulnerable. . . . We must now contemplate how much we need one another. The instinct to recoil would be the worst possible response because doing so would ensure that the most vulnerable among us are consumed. . . . Rarely is the argument for mutual devotion so easily made."
And Tomas Pueyo explained, in a Medium article, with many graphs and math, how absolutely vital it is for cities to shut down at the first signs of confirmed illnesses. It's like cockroaches: Once one illness is confirmed, it's likely there are about 800 others unconfirmed and spreading exponentially. Pueyo worries about politicians afraid to take action, restrained by concerns for the economy,
"But in 2–4 weeks, when the entire world is in lockdown, when the few precious days of social distancing you will have enabled will have saved lives, people won’t criticize you anymore: They will thank you for making the right decision."
Martin Makary, MD, says, in MedPage Today, warns about discounting the threat because we're healthier or more advanced on this side of the pond,
And even though other countries have enacted very strict quarantine practices, including martial law and a shutdown of schools, there is a misleading perception that the U.S. would have less community transmission because of a better health care system and better hygiene. Another barrier has been the exaggerated notion that COVID-19 is only a danger to old people and that young people are entirely resilient. . . . Based on the current trajectory of the pandemic, all U.S. schools are at risk and may need to be closed, public gatherings like NCAA tournament games may need to be postponed, businesses should have their employees work from home whenever possible, and hospitals should staff up. I don’t like it, but that’s what the data are telling us to do. , , , It’s time we dispel the notion that this virus is somehow contained. It is at large.

If we use Pascal's wager to decide what to do, it looks like this: We can shut down a city after just one confirmed case and, if we're wrong and there's no spread, then we have to apologize for costing some businesses money and causing massive headaches for many citizens. But if we're right, and we find out there were 800 cases we didn't know about until partway through that 2-week shut down - the length of the incubation period - then we're heroes for stopping the spread!!  But if we don't shut down a city after just one confirmed case and, if we're right and there's no spread, then no harm no foul. But if we're wrong, and 800 people have all infected colleagues and friends and conference attendees and other fans of the same concerts, then we're screwed!

I don't know about you, but I'd rather risk embarrassment and potentially save many of my citizens, than go with the status quo and risk allowing a spread of a virus that, while it only kills a small percentage of people, also ends up putting many more in the hospital, which sucks up resources from all other medical needs. This thread on the experience of doctors in Italy explains the ramifications of one disease taking all the time and resources from doctors and nurses throughout the hospital. Now experts are saying Italy shut down way too late.