Future shock

Predicting the future is risky, tricky business. For example, go back 60 days and who would have predicted the situation we’re all in? But in spite of that trickiness, here are a few predictions I’ll make about 2020. We can look back at these in December and either laugh about how silly they were or cry about how optimistic they were. Meanwhile, you may need a drink after reading this. See picture above.

  1. The final US death toll from COVID-19 is very hard to predict, but one thing that isn’t hard to predict is the new minimum number.  We’re at about 70,000 today, and I sure don’t think we’re at a peak. IF we were at peak, we’d see about the same number of deaths coming down the curve as we saw going up. So given that and given that many states are now relaxing restrictions, I’d put the minimum 2020 death toll at 150K-250K. The minimum.
  2. Most people won’t feel safe and start traveling via airline again until late in the year – say November/December.
  3. The roads this summer will be packed. Absolutely packed with people wanting to travel but deciding to drive rather than fly.
  4. Trump will use every tool in the Trumpian toolbox to attack the integrity of the 2020 elections. He will ultimately lose, but it will be a bloody fight. The two months between the election of a new President and his actually leaving office will be a crazy, dangerous period.
  5. Most of the country will be back to work in July. No amount of concern over illness will keep workers from reclaiming their paychecks and trying to reclaim a normal life. The 30 million currently out of work may nick down to 10-15 million over the summer. It’s fatalistic, but it’s inevitable.
  6. Food is going to get expensive. Real expensive. With Trump’s continued attacks on migrant workers, the toll of the virus on the same workers, the disruption of supply chains and the extant problems in the meat industry, expect to pay about double what you used to for the same basket of goods. Pretty good year to go on a diet.
  7. Expect taxes to go up. Maybe a lot. With the huge debts that federal and state governments are taking on, plus with the loss of billions of payroll taxes, the government beast is going to be hungry. It’ll be perfect timing for the R’s to blame the new taxes on the D’s, but that’s just normal. But…it occurs to me that offshore retirement might be advantageous after all.
  8. Commercial real estate will permanently contract by 10-20% overall. Now that it’s proven that many, many jobs can be done remotely, there won’t be as much need for permanent office space.
  9. The stock market will take another huge plunge once a second wave of the virus happens. We’re about 20% down from the Q1 peak now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up 40-45% down from that mark of 29,000 for the Dow. It will be ugly.

That’s about it for now. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

Happy Friday

Well, it’s Derby weekend. But instead of horse racing in KY, we’re still in Socal trying to stay safe. Some bad news on that “stay safe” front:

  1. My Covid antibody tests came back negative. Bummer. I was pretty sure K and I had suffered through it in Jan-Feb. I know the test isn’t absolute, positive or negative, but it’s one data point.
  2. And staying safe here isn’t always simple. Just look who I had to deal with today.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_cd6b.jpg

It was about a three foot rattler that scared the crap out of me. I almost stepped on it. And now I have to completely move and clean around all my backyard BBQ equipment. He took shelter under there, and now I can’t relax until I move everything and check for other snakes.

What might have been

Headline picture above is a sad-looking dog named Derby. I thought it appropriate.

This week Kathryn and I were supposed to be in Kentucky for two big events. One, The Derby and all the associated celebrations for the week. And two, the birth of grandson number two, scheduled for May 14. We planned three weeks of visit there with two nice AirBnB locations.

I held on to the reservations as long as I could, but cancelled them a couple of weeks ago. It breaks my heart to think that I’ll miss the birth. But with Emily’s already-delicate maternity status, a definite hospital stay for her and the crazy infectious situation, there’s just no way to get there and be with them safely. That’s the most important thing that the pandemic has taken from our lives – the chance to be together at a crucial time.

What’s new?

In the fight against Groundhog Day, some new things this week.

  1. I’m finally finished with a business proposal that took me most of a month. During that month I got a lot of good work done for one of my Board companies, but I also got nothing done on my novel. And I’m having a hard time getting restarted. Serious writer’s block.
  2. The world hit 3M and the US 1M confirmed COVID cases. No end in sight.
  3. I paid for an antibody test from a reputable lab. I should get the results today. If they’re positive, as I suspect, I’ll relax a little. The results either way won’t change much in the short term; it’s just data.
  4. Turns out UFOs are real and the US Navy admits it. No aliens yet, but a lot of unexplainable flying objects. In any other year this would be big news, but right now…meh. I’ll get excited if the aliens land and offer some pandemic help.
  5. I’m allowing myself to get drawn into contentious discussions on blogs and a few local social media platforms (not Facebook; I vacated that godawful platform years ago). Public platforms allow people to say really stupid shit and to feed off each other’s nonsense. I should know better than to respond, but with all this free time, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

Overall I’m finding that my work ethic is suffering in this time we’re in. When time was precious and crowded and scheduled, I was productive. Now that it’s all pretty much “free time”, I’m not productive. So I’m scheduling myself daily tasks and goals, hoping to get out of this funk.

And I miss photography. I need to take some solo trips out and capture some photons. Meanwhile, here’s a Hudson picture (title photo, above). He looks relaxed.

The answer is 42

I can’t believe it’s Friday again. Another week has flown by with us in isolation. I would have predicted the exact opposite, that it would feel like time passed slowly. But not so  – I suppose Groundhog Days are short.

Today is Day 42 of our isolation, an auspicious day for us Hitchhiker’s Guide aficianados. The US has reached 50,000 Covid-related deaths, by far the largest number in the world. So much for American exceptionalism.

In better news my daughter let me know about a cool online learning service, Masterclass. After looking at their classes and teachers, I signed up. I’m looking forward to cooking lessons from Thomas Keller and writing lessons from James Patterson. What better way to spend one’s days at home? (Beats the shit out of cleaning the garage.)

The strange wet and cool spring we’ve had in Socal has finally ended, and today we’re getting an early taste of summer. Will be 90+ degrees F here. Good day to stay inside and read/write/learn.

Things I miss these days. Golf with my golf buddies, and the short pub session afterward. Getting together with family and friends for cookouts and dinners. Traveling to see our family in other states. Going out to dinner or breakfast with K. International travel with K. That’s not a long list, but everything on it is/was/will be important to me.

Unicorns edge ahead

After some further research and consultation with experts, I’ll amend my dystopian projection from a couple of days ago. Based on all the evidence available, let’s estimate the virus’ mortality rate at more like 0.5-1%, rather then the 5-7% currently showing up on worldwide scoreboards. This change assumes a rather extreme undercounting (15-20x low, it seems) of current cases, a likely proposition.

Everything else in my previous post remains the same, but that would indicate that somewhere between one and two million people will eventually succumb to COVID-19 in the US. Short of a miracle. That’s still horrible, but an order of magnitude less horrible than the previous calculation.

Again, short of an extremely effective treatment appearing, the only future I can see is one where 80% of the population (basically, everyone under the age of 60 and reasonably healthy) is encouraged to get back out there and resume life and the economy. That will lead to several waves of re-infection and breakouts, but the mortality among that more robust 80% of everyone will be low. Meanwhile, those of us in the higher-risk 60+ group will remain isolated until treatments or vaccines appear.

That’s my prediction, not my wish. But I see no way that the US can keep the economy shut down for another 6-9 months and survive, not just as an economy but as a nation of any kind. Heartless as it feels, it seems the only answer. We’ll see how long it takes others to come to this conclusion, and/or if the unicorn team suddenly surges across the finish line with miracle drugs.

A shitshow, or rainbows and unicorns

I realize that pretty much all my blog posts the last month have been about isolation and the Coronavirus. Apologies for that, and I’ll try to do better starting Real Soon Now.

Before that, I do want to make some predictions about the rest of 2020. There are two possibilities – a continuing shitshow, or, rainbows and unicorns. Unfortunately the shitshow is most likely. A very intelligent SF author from Great Britain, Charles Stross, has laid out the coming shitshow pretty bluntly. It won’t be fun.

Note: the picture above is my representation of the rainbows/unicorn scenario. I don’t have a good picture of a rainbow. Beautiful KY redbud from Emily’s yard will have to do.

The less-likely alternate future of rainbows and unicorns has two possible sources. One, extremely effective treatments for C19 becoming widely available. For example, if remdesivir proves to be better than even hoped and Gilead Pharmaceutical doesn’t charge a crazy amount for it. That would make catching the virus no worse than getting a bacterial infection, as in “Take these pills, check in with me in week. You’ll be fine…”.

The second rainbow/unicorn scenario is if it turns out the virus is much more pervasive and infectious than is thought today. “Reliable” stats on C19 show about 2.3M confirmed cases worldwide today (4/18/2020), with about 700K cases in the US. Many folks including me think that count is very low. If, for example, the virus has already infected 5% of the US population (that would be about sixteen million people), then the actual death rate is much lower than we calculate right now, and, we’re a lot closer to herd immunity.

That’s great news if you’re one of the 16M who’ve already been infected and didn’t know it. The bad news in this scenario is that the entire country will ultimately get the virus after waves and waves of reinfections and something like 10.5 million Americans will die over the next 12-18 months (That’s a staggering number, but the math is pretty straightforward. That’s 328M people, with 80% infected yielding herd immunity, and a 4% mortality rate among those infected – 328M x 0.8 x .04 = 10.5M.) And for those of you in the lucky 96% survivor group, the economy will still be crushed. Yikes.

Sooo…with this essay I guess I’ve convinced myself that there are only two scenarios after all. The only way out of said massive shitshow is an effective treatment or vaccine, soon. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.

And on that happy thought I’ll go back to my morning routine. Or I might just go shopping for that truck I’ve been thinking about. Why wait?

Thirty-nine days in isolation

Song for the day: REM, “End of the World”, 1987.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

It’s now been 39 days that K and I have kept to ourselves at home. It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure feels like it. I have to break that isolation today to go see my dentist (a tooth cap that has become dislodged). If it really were the end of the world, this would be the start of my steady and too-quick decline. Lack of prescription meds would be the end.

Amazingly prescient quote for the day:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
H.L. Mencken, 1920

Statistic for the day: Confirmed COVID-19 cases just surpassed 2,000,000 worldwide. (That means the likely true count is 4-10M cases.)

Thought for the day: Defunding the WHO during this pandemic is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. Incomprehensible. Sure, insist on more results and transparency on WHO’s part, changes in governance, but dealing them a blow like this when the world is reeling from a single disease? A new low from a President who defines new lows.

 

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

I’ve spent most of my time this week doing four things:

  1. Adding to my work-in-progress novel
  2. Working on a proposal for a company I am affiliated with
  3. Working on a CEO transition for another company
  4. Pouring over COVID-19 stories, facts and statistics

It’s that last activity that is the main theme of this little essay. There’s something about the ongoing C19 worldwide statistics that has been bothering me. The mortality rate. It’s been climbing steadily for a month, and I’ve wondered why. It started at 2-4% when the China stats were all that were available. Since then, it has climbed steadily to today’s rate of 6.1% (see Covid19info.live). Is the mortality rate really 60 times greater than standard influenza?

The only logical reason I can come up with is that we’ve got the denominator wrong. The mortality rate is M = (# deaths / # confirmed cases). If we’ve really miscounted the number of cases, then the death rate could be a lot lower. Integrating everything I’ve read, I’d say the worldwide count is somewhere between 2x and 5x low. Not enough testing, unreliable testing, many countries not even having reliable statistics overall…itr all adds up to a suspicion that the world and the US likely has many, many more cases of C19 than we’re including in the “official” statistics.

That would actually be a best case scenario.  If in fact hundreds of thousands or millions of people have already had the virus and are uncounted, then we’re much, much farther along toward herd immunity than expected. And we could get back to something resembling normal sooner than expected. The fact that this is a best case scenario makes me suspicious of it, but…we’ll see. A Good Friday wish: let’s hope that a lot of us have already had C19 and chalked it up to a bad cold, and that we’ll then be able to walk back out into the world unafraid.

Hello in There, John

I should be working on my novel this morning, but I’ve spent hours listening to my favorite John Prine songs and just thinking about them. John Prine’s music is for some an acquired taste, but from the very first time I heard a Prine song it struck me between the eyes. And in the heart. I’m fortunate enough to have discovered John Prine decades ago while in college. Others may have gravitated toward Dylan for their meaningful, heart and soul-wrenching folk music, but for me it was always Prine. Dylan and Prine share a couple of features – sheer poetry in many of their song lyrics, memorable music, and atypical voices that demand your attention.

There are lots of good homages to Prine already published today, for example over at Lawyers, Guns and Money and the Blue Heron Blast. I won’t try to replicate those, but instead share some personal thoughts.

I always thought of Prine as a Kentucky boy, but he was born in Illinois. His parents have deep KY roots but they moved to Illinois in the 1940’s to chase factory jobs. Prine’s parents were from Paradise, KY, a middle-of-nowhere coal town that John made the title and setting of one of his more famous songs, Paradise. The chorus from Paradise is instantly recognizable:

“And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away”

Some of Prine’s songs have stayed with me my entire adult life. His impossibly-sad Hello In There has brought me to tears many times (this link takes you to a beautifully filmed and recorded live rendition of Hello in There). This one hits me hard because my paternal Grandmother, Vada McPeak Nichols, spent the last 10-15 years of her life stricken with Alzheimers, not knowing where she was or who was visiting her. A broken mind trapped in a healthy body. Every time I hear these lyrics, all the fear, sadness and anger I felt as a young man, trying to be strong and visit a grandmother who didn’t know me or remember the years we had spent together, comes rushing back to me.

“Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

 

The “hollow ancient eyes” description gets me every time. Prine was only 25 when he released his first album with Hello in There as one of the tracks – where does a 25-year-old get the wisdom to write something like that?

Other unforgettable lyrics include the entirety of Sam Stone, Prine’s tragic song-story about the plight of returning Vietnam War veterans:

“Sam Stone came home,
To the wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knees.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.
There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.
Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long.
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And soon he took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold roared…”

 

Talk about a story all told in one line – “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes” – what an image.

Prine’s songs weren’t all sad – The Accident (Things Could be Worse) from his Sweet Revenge album, comes to mind. Funny and weird, just classic Prine. Every time I pull up at a four-way stop I smile and remember these lyrics about “the yield” going round and round:

It was a four way stop dilemma
We all arrived the same time
I yielded to the man to the right of me
And he yielded it right back to mine
Well, the yield went around and around and around
Till Pamela finally tried
Just then the man in the light blue sedan
Hit Pamela’s passenger side

 

I could go on and on. Prine wrote and performed over 20 record albums and 100s of songs. But that’s it. Game over. We won’t get to hear any more, any new, John Prine lyrics. His threescore and ten (plus a little bit) has come and gone. And we’re definitely the lesser for it.

A lost month

Well, it’s been a month since we started hunkering down because of C19. A month! We were about a week ahead of most people in our area. Call me conservative (for the first time ever).

A month feels like a long time, but I just read about a WWII survivor who sheltered in hiding for two years, alone. So we’re not exactly setting human endurance records here. With that perspective set, it still feels significant. This is the longest I’ve stayed away from work or social contacts in my life. No golf, no happy hours, no dinner parties, no cookouts. And there’s likely another solid 6-8 weeks coming.

But in truth, we have nothing to complain about. We have everything we need, and most of all, we have our health and each other.

I’ve read quite a bit about folks gaining weight while shut in. I certainly get that, as I’m fighting off the snack impulse morning, noon and night. I’ve never been a snack person, but right now if it’s in the house I’m going to consume it. Some are calling their in-progress weight gain the “COVID 19” or the “2020 virus 20”, as opposed to the freshman 15. I certainly hope it’s not a +19 after all this.

I keep trying to be productive during our isolation, and I’m having moderate success. I made great progress on my novel for a couple of weeks, but lately I’ve had to shift over to some proposal work for one of my companies. I needed to set the book aside anyway; I was stuck. When I get back to it I hope my subconscious will have solved all those roadblocking problems. We’ll see.

Somewhat less productively, I have watched a shit-ton of movies this month, mostly in the middle of the night. I’m sleeping poorly but catching up on films. Probably not wise, but I don’t have much control over my insomnia lately.

So has it really been a lost month, as the post title declares? I guess what’s “lost” is normalcy. All those things, trivial or crucial, that we used to do when we had choices about going out into the world. Ask me again in another month if it makes sense to go back to that old, pre-COVID normal. We’ll see…