Dullsville

I find that I have very little interesting to say on the twenty-first day of our isolation. I know I’m not alone, but this is the longest I’ve ever gone in my adult life without some sort of social interaction. It’s…weird. Every day resembles the last, and the next. Wake up, get coffee, read, write, nap, then try to write some more. At five-ish we start cooking dinner and then we eat seven-ish. Then it’s a movie or a TV series and then off to bed. Rinse and repeat. And repeat.

I’m pretty well suited for this existence, being an introvert and moderately addicted to my laptop screen and Internet access. And writing a novel certainly helps pass the time. But even that is fading. After three solid weeks of progress, I’m stuck in the writing. I’ve got the entire story told and I’m tapped out at about 60,000 words. Modern, publishable novels should come in at 75-100K words, so I’m definitely on the short side. But just writing little vignettes to increase word count isn’t a good strategy, as my writer-wife warns me. So I think I’ll take a week, do some edits and tightening up, and I may call it a day for this first novel. We’ll see.

I’ve never been a marathoner, in any aspect of life. Always a sprinter, literally and figuratively. So the prospect of another month or more of this is daunting. But…I have little or no choice. If it must be a marathon, I’ll run it.

I know we are luckier than most. We’re both healthy at present. We don’t have to worry about paying the bills. When I retired 18 months ago I made certain that wouldn’t be an issue. (Though the market crash of the last month has made the end years a little less certain.) We have plenty of food and water. And we have five acres on which we can get out and walk around without feeling exposed or shamed. So I really have nothing to whine about.

One break every couple of days has been staying in touch with friends and family. Every call, chat or video session is great. The isolation sure makes it clear who you care about and why. I’m thankful that we have a rich set of friends and family, so we’re only isolated physically. We’re alone but not lonely.

The featured image at the top of this post is a view from our back deck. Another little thing to be thankful for.

Soundtrack for these days

I’ve been thinking about music that would be appropriate for the times we’re in. My first thought was one of my all time favorites, “Life During Wartime” by David Byrne and the Talking Heads. That song is a permanent earwig for me – I can hear it over and over and enjoy the shit out of it. Some of the lyrics are eerily relevant today. From the middle of the song:

“Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody see you up there
I got some groceries, some peanut butter,
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones,
Ain’t got no records to play
Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard,
I ain’t got time for that now”
All sung in David’s Byrne’s unmistakable manic pitchiness over a razor-sharp driving beat.
And then Jackson Browne dropped a new single today – “A Little Soon to Say” – that fits this time perfectly, all the way through. Here’s a little bit of it.
“I want to see you holding out your light
I want to see you find your way
Beyond the sirens in the broken night
Beyond the sickness of our day
And after all we’ve come to live with
I want to know if you’re OK
I have to think it’s  gonna be all right,
It’s just a little soon to say”
It brought tears to my eyes, partly just because of the song, and partly because of the news. Jackson Browne has COVID-19, and I sure hope he gets through it intact at age 71.
Jackson Browne is pretty much my spirit animal. I’ve listened to him constantly since I was seventeen years old. I’ve seen him live in every decade since then, and in the most recent decade Kathryn and I have seen him live in a couple of the best concert events ever. Front row at the beautiful Chateau Ste. Michelle outdoor venue in Woodinville, WA (featured picture above, 2009 with a crummy camera and an shaky/inebriated photographer). And front row in the tiny, tiny venue at Tim Robbin’s Actors Gang theater in Los Angeles (2017, picture below.)
We took no pictures of JB from that seat because he asked us not to. But here’s a bootleg video taken from a guy behind us of the last song in the set. You have to wait about 45vseconds for the guy to point the phone at the stage. You can also see the back of yours truly’s shiny head right in front of JB.
I’ll never forget those shows.
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So here’s to JB. May he get healthy, keep making music and keep improving the world. We need all of that we can get.

 

When the going gets tough…

…the tough get going. I find that have a lot of resolve these days, and I’m getting a lot done. I’m writing my novel (just passed 50K words), doing a new project for one of my companies, doing some very necessary financial re-planning, and trying to get started exercising. Oh, and I picked a terrible time to quit drinking. I decided a while back that I would have a “dry month” from early March to early April, and that’s going fine. But if there was ever a time to drink, this would be it. Go figure; my timing has always been crummy.

Every day these days is an “interesting” day, in the Chinese curse sense of the word. Kind of gives a whole new take on that cliche. We do indeed live in interesting times.

The worldwide confirmed C19 cases count just passed 400K today. It’s going up about 100K per day now. The US’s “number of new infections last 24 hours” has been the highest in the world the last couple of days – it’s 9000+ for the most recent 24 hours, and no other country is even close. The worldwide mortality rate is now 4.5%, a number that’s been trending up for a week or so. Italy, Spain and Iran are the drivers behind that high and climbing mortality rate. So worldwide curves are still going up, and the US curves most of all. I’d say we’re still 2-3 months away from peak C19 in the US, and that’s if we continue to keep the clamps down on people. If Trump has his way and reopens the country for business soon (inasmuch as he can), all bets are off. (C19 statistics from COVID19info).

Update. Just as I was writing this, Dear Leader has now placed a timeline on reopening the country for business – Easter Sunday, April 12th, two and a half weeks from now. If that happens, we’ll end up with multiple waves of virus infections beyond the one we’re in right now. I would very much prefer the federal government listened to health leadership on this topic, but I suspect the decision will be economy over safety. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in for people going back to work and collecting a paycheck. Just not together in offices, stores, airplanes and such. Not yet.

 

A post-COVID world

I find myself thinking more and more lately of what things will be like after COVID-19. Certainly there will be fewer of us than expected – just how many fewer remains to be seen, but tens of millions fewer worldwide is looking possible. Big picture that doesn’t change much, unless you happen to be one of those tens of millions.

The disruptions of climate change will still be with us, and most likely our short attention spans will have moved on to healthcare system shortfalls and readiness for the next pandemic. Both are important, but I doubt that we have the stomach for more than one existential crisis at a time. Climate change will likely take a back seat until cities start drowning.

One thing I hope for is a Manhattan-style project to retool and repair our calcified health care system.  We’ve gotten caught up in the logic trap of Medicare for all versus status quo, and the truth is that no matter where you look there’s room for improvement. Looks like we’re going to spend hundreds of billions on healthcare damage control in the short term, but beyond that we can do so much better. Regulating the cost of prescription drugs. Finding a way to prop up the dying rural and regional hospitals across America. Investment in viral and gene therapies, strategic stockpiles of what we fell short of for COVID-19, much, much better governance in the health management sector. It can all be done if we’d just quit arguing about it.

Without belaboring the obvious, I also hope for a new President and Cabinet at the Federal level. To any of my Republican friends, sorry, but this administration is horrific. Americans need to trust their leaders, and right now we simply can’t.

The problems of immigration and border control will still be with us after COVID-19, and I expect that the hard lines (walls, actually) favored by the current administration will gain more approval. We’ll want someone to blame for the bad things that are about to happen, and immigrants will be convenient for that.

I think socially the 2020s in America will resemble the roaring 20s (exhilaration at having survived WW1) and the psychedelic, obnoxious 1970s (thank you Vietnam War). I guess we can call it the Roaring 20s part two. It may be a crazy decade filled with excess, new and wild behaviors and social upheaval.

Right now I believe the financial markets will return to normal by Q3 2020 and return to steady growth in 2021, after the fall Presidential election uncertainty resolves. I have to believe that things stabilize and return to growth, as a retiree who has lost about 30% of net worth in two weeks. Otherwise, it could be a tough dotage for yours truly and many others.

Technologically, post-COVID, things could change very rapidly. Automation and AI are at a cusp of changing the world anyway, COVID or not. Many, many jobs are about to become obsolete or very minimized – for example, the 3.5 million truck driving jobs in the US are ripe for replacement by automation. There are many other examples, and this is why Andrew Yang was touting a universal basic income. There are going to be millions of people we simply have no jobs for, and some large percentage of those will not retrain themselves. Talk about a ripe environment for social unrest!

Finally, I think there will be a lot of traumatized, damaged people after COVID-19. The few life and death events I’ve lived through showed me that we are all changed by that experience. Religion will probably get a boost and counseling will be needed across America. Every cold and every flu will cause people to think “this might be the end”. If I had more years ahead, I might get qualified as a counselor. It’s a job I can do sitting down and staying calm, a behavior I’m training for right now.

Featured image above is my beautiful wife a few years ago on a springtime visit to Palm Springs. I’m a lucky guy.

For anyone left who thinks this isn’t serious

The featured picture above is from the best COVID-19 website I’ve seen. It’s updated multiple times per day and is sourced from reliable international data sources.

This isn’t just the flu, I’m sorry to say. This comparison of H1N1, SARS and COVID-19 70 days since each virus was discovered is compelling and frightening. Stay home and stay safe.

And…just to balance things out a bit, here’s some encouraging news from an expert. Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist who experienced the WA state outbreak directly, has this to say about how we get through this best/fastest in the US.

“The upshot: The only way we’re really going to flatten the curve is:

a) a massive at-home testing effort

b) using cell phone location data to tell people who may have been exposed to self-isolate

c) allowing people who have known immunity (from having had it) back into the workforce once we know via blood test that they can’t get it or spread it anymore. That way, they can keep everything running while others fall sick. “

This makes total sense to me. Combine this with massive stimulus in the right economic sectors and we optimize our chances of national recovery. If only this guy was in charge…

Socially distanced

The featured image above is from yesterday (3/17), showing grandson Hudson modeling perfect social distancing behavior. I really miss that little guy right now.

My friend Robert over at Blue Heron Blast challenged his readers to write an essay of their thoughts during this weird, scary time of the virus. Here’s mine.

The outlook for the US is rather bleak, mostly due to the lack of widespread testing. It’s a federal leadership failure of the first order. You had one job, Federal Gov, just one job – keep your citizens safe. And you blew it. When all this is over, I trust there will be hell to pay.

My wife and I have been self-quarantined for ten days now. We started sooner than most, because (a) I decided early on that this was likely to be bad, plus (b) we’re in a bad age bracket for this risk, and (c) we pretty much stay home anyway other than travel and special events. So social distancing isn’t a big lifestyle change for us. We live in a rural area, we’re very self-sufficient (in the short term), we have plenty of food and water. So this is just a more extreme/extended version of what we call normal life.

However, I am crushed by the fact that several of our family and loved ones have to go out every day to work right now and face the virus head-on. They work in health care. My brother Mark, sister-in-law Deeanne, daughter Emily, cousin Donnie, sister-in-law Jill, our great friend Tania – they all have to go out into the world and risk their health to help others. I get it and I admire them, but I’m worried sick for them.

I’ll have to say, if I did believe in god I’d be praying hard. But I believe that there’s no hand of any supreme being in this, just like there’s no intervention in a million other small and large evils every day. I’ll admit that my parietal cortex is lighting up hard right now – that part of the brain that wants to believe in religion grabs onto something like this and says “See! This is what happens when you <choose one or all of the following> ignore god’s law, destroy the environment, overpopulate, etc.

On a less bleak and existential plain, this shelter-in-place existence is giving me the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to for decades – write a complete novel. I have nothing but time, and I’m using a lot of that to drive forward and finish one. I’m doing pretty well, and should be finished with a first good draft by mid-May. So there’s that.

Final thought is that this event will likely define us as a nation and perhaps a world for decades to come. 9/11 was a small wave compared to this tsunami. So assuming I’m around to see the world on the other side of this, it will be interesting.

 

Hunkered down

It’s Sunday March 15th, and I can’t think of anything witty to say about the situation we’re all in. I’m one of those people who think the US COVID-19 outbreak is going to get pretty bad, so we’re hunkered down for the next couple of weeks. No contact with anyone is the plan. Only upside is plenty of time to read and write.

The news from Europe is pretty grim, with France and Spain now shut down much like Italy. The only somewhat good news is that infection and death totals are definitely leveling off or falling in the original outbreak sites of China and Taiwan. That’s 7-8 weeks from inception and is a good indicator of what might happen here if things go well.

The CDC’s US status page  isn’t yet alarming, but you have to take those stats with a grain of salt due to the lack of testing in the US. It’s criminal how little testing we’ve done both in absolute terms and in comparison with other countries. Our federal government has let us down in a big way, where China, Korea, Taiwan and even Mexico are better prepared with tests than we are. Hard to believe, but there’s a lot of that going around right now.

UPDATE: A good friend just sent me what I think is a great resource for facts/stats about COVID-19. Check it out.

I intend to spend part of today reaching our to friends and family and seeing how they’re doing. Physical isolation is good right now; emotional isolation not so much.

The featured image above is from better time, July 2009 to be precise. We were at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (I refuse to call it whatever god-forsaken name they’ve changed it to) on a fun day. Here’s looking ahead to more times like that.

Hard Times

Featured image above is from a 2008 air show I attended at Miramar Naval Air Station. It’s a good image/analogy for what’s happening in financial markets this week.

We’re in a moment in time I never thought I’d see – a worldwide pandemic driving a worldwide economic crash. It appears to me that the world is getting ready to shut down for the next 60-90 days, and things will never be quite the same. For one we’re going to lose a lot of the elderly generation a bit sooner than expected. Demographics of companies, families and governments will change slightly as COVID-19 burns through each country’s populace. There’s a surreal, science-fictiony quality to all this.

As a retired person planning to live off savings for the next 25+ years, the financial news has been hard to take. And it’s going to get worse. I’m predicting our personal net worth will decrease 35-40% in 2020 and then recover over time. I’ve done the long-term analysis and we’ll be fine, albeit a lot less comfortable than before. But that means I can mostly ignore the dramatic financial market news and focus on what I should anyway – the health and well-being of our family and circle of friends. To that end, here’s some solid information from the CDC on how things are progressing in the US. The COVID-19 story is unfortunately playing out pretty much as I thought a month ago, when I wondered if the disease’s progression would be linear or geometric. It’s geometric, so it’s bad news all around.

In more mundane news, yesterday I spent nine hours installing a new microwave link connecting our house’s Internet service to our guest house. Nine hours! And the vast majority of that time was spent trying to contact technical support (three hours) and then chatting online with technical support (three and a half hours). It was a patience-testing day, to say the least.

First, yes I recognize that this is definitely a first world problem – most people don’t have a guest house. Privilege admitted. But the relevant issue here is a good product surrounded by horrificly inaccurate documentation and technical support. If the product had accurate documentation, it could be installed in less than an hour. I’m reasonably savvy with digital products, having spent forty years trying to make them (and people) work in corporations. But it took pretty much all my experience and stubbornness to get through this installation. Almost everything in their installation procedure was wrong, so I was totally dependent on their technical support to configure the devices properly. Someone less experienced and less stubborn would have no chance.

Finally, we’re having a much-needed rainy week here in Socal. Our annual rainfall totals (measured from July 1 2019 to June 30 2020) are still low – about 10 inches so far this year, as opposed to our historical average of 12.5 at this time. This latest rain is an interesting one – it’s a tropical air mass from the south, and it’s the warmest rain I think I’ve ever experienced in Socal. So there’s that.

March notes

It’s hard not to get caught up in the news right now, with the two big topics of (1) COVID-19, and (2) the messy process of choosing a Democratic challenger to Trump.

On the first item, it looks to me like we’re seeing geometric growth in the virus in the US. That is, every week or so the infected and death counts are doubling or more. That’s a scary scenario. We’ll know in about a month if that’s true, or if awareness and precautions start to slow the growth. Meanwhile, this chart is definitely bad news for us baby boomers. Chances of dying due to COVID-19 if you’re under age 50 are essentially zero. For ages 60+, the mortality rates are pretty scary. I have travel plans in April and I’m watching the situation closely. If geometric growth continues, I’ll probably reschedule.

On the Democratic presidential primary, I’m not all that surprised that Biden is showing so strongly. He’s the safe, moderate, experienced choice. Those are adjectives that I think most of the country wants to hear, and that’s showing up in the vote. After thinking it all through, I think Biden would do well to select Amy Klobuchar as his VP nominee, checking the boxes of younger, female, Midwest, personable and yes, also safe, moderate and experienced. We’ll see – Biden has a plethora of good choices.

Finally. looking back exactly a year ago this week, we experienced a superbloom in the CA deserts and foothills. Pictures from a 3/9/19 outing near Corona CA below and in the post featured image.

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