Archive | March 2020

Looking at Probable Realities

Things are starting to get ugly across the country. Things are changing and it is hard to imagine what the new normal will look like.

Conservative governors are going to destroy their citizens and voting bases. All of the governors that refuse to issue shelter-in-place orders are Republican. They are going to destroy their own science-rejecting, reality-denying constituents. Karma is such a bitch. As a human and a Buddhist, my heart breaks for the unnecessary bullshit suffering. As a Democrat, I say, “Fabulous. Let them kill themselves and each other.” The problem? Their refusal to follow common sense guidelines imperils every single American to some degree. Like it or not, we are all in this together. I am avoiding everyone to protect them, not me. How could I not have been exposed?

Here’s the problem. We are extraordinarily late to the testing game. I suspect Trump is preventing testing to keep the numbers artificially low. Everyone knows about “flattening the curve,” where the increase in the number of cases slows and the graph starts to level off. By preventing people from being tested, the graph can level off. Flattening the curve will have been achieved–even as the actual number of cases and deaths is still accelerating. Who is being prevented from getting tested? Just about everyone that is not in the healthcare system or presenting with a ridiculously specific set of symptoms. I haven’t been tested. If people don’t get tested before they die, because they already have COPD, the number of coronavirus deaths will be bizarrely under-reported.

Here is something I have heard and desperately hope is not true. I saw some scientists comparing the coronavirus to the Spanish flu of 1918. Things were bad in the spring, improved a little during the summer, and came back even more deadly in the fall. If this is how it plays out, we are so screwed. But guessing is all we can do at this point, that and test, test, test. We can compare this outbreak with previous viruses. Have you heard the virus referred to as “novel”? I have. I have never heard that designation in my life, but it scares me.  I so hope they are wrong.

I am trying to prepare for the autumn possibility of recurrence. But I suck. My motivation to do anything is close to zero. I have run into a wall of resistance. I feel like, “What the hell is wrong with me? This time off is the greatest opportunity ever!”

What do I think will really happen in this country? People will go stir crazy and start disregarding the guidelines. We will go back to work. Staying home indefinitely is just not practical for an entire nation. The states with the stricter guidelines will see an eventual decline in cases. States without such guidelines (or even forbid common sense measures, such as Mississippi) will increase their caseload and cases from those states will be shipped to states that have slowed the pandemic. It is already happening on a micro scale in Michigan. Detroit is overloaded and is now shipping some of their cases to Lansing. The pandemic is like water, seeping everywhere and soaking all of us. It affects everything and everyone.

Test First, Then Work

I just came from Meijer and am happy because I was able to buy toilet paper. Yea. The lady behind me was an 80-year-old Trump supporter. I know this because we talked. I told her that I believe that we do need to get back to work, after everyone gets tested for the virus and those that test positive are set apart from the elderly and sick. She was clearly concerned about getting it, but what I said shut her up instantly. Common sense will do that to denial.

As I have said previously, Americans are not going to respond well to being expected to stay at home for months on end. We do need to get back to work. However, to do so without knowing who has the virus will only spread it.

Trump is worried about the economy. So am I. But Trump is a moron. Trump’s base is precisely those people that are most likely to croak from the virus: elderly white people who don’t believe in science. Killing off his own base will not help his re-election chances. Duh.

If Americans starting dying off, how is that going to help the economy? When your market dies, how do you stay in business? Trump’s assumptions are ridiculously false. Not slightly off, but laughably unintelligent.

This is where we start to realize that there is no us and them. There is only us and we all have to survive. If the workers die, so do the company’s profits. If people can’t make their house payments, everyone’s property values go down. How do conservatives not understand this? Imagine millions of Americans suddenly being homeless. What would that do to our healthcare system? Can people in homeless shelters maintain social distancing? I can’t imagine so.

Wealthy people simply do not understand, on any level, just how profoundly dependent they are on their low-wage workers. But they are about to find out.

Breaking Habits

Today, Governor Whitmer ordered all of us to “shelter in place.” Thank goodness I have a friend that is an “essential worker” who can go to work and buy toilet paper for me.

Staying home is interesting. I know that, eventually, Goodwill will have to re-open. With people dying, donations will increase. And with people being poorer than usual, second-hand goods will be in more demand than ever in my lifetime. It is all quite ghoulish. But that is eventually.

For now, all my normal habits are broken. And so are everyone else’s. What are people thinking about right now? We will not know until we see whatever it is that has massive pent-up demands when the quarantines are all over. I suspect that many people will divorce. Some people will go back to their old jobs, grateful to have them. Some will quit and go into other industries.

People have time to think, people that have been working two or three jobs and haven’t had time to string together two coherent thoughts in years.

I know I’ve told this story previously, but this is what I am talking about. I read an article a few years ago about a woman that desperately wanted a promotion. She tried repeatedly at her company with no success. So she decided to observe her company. What did all of the successful promotion-seekers have in common? They acted like they didn’t give a rat’s ass whether they got promoted or not. So she tried it. Successfully. She was thrilled beyond belief–for a few months. Then it hit her: Why on earth would she even want to work for a company that only promoted people that acted like they don’t give a damn? So she left the company. My point is simple, that you cannot think deeply about what you are doing without simultaneously examining why you are doing it.

Now multiply this story by the over 200 million adults stuck at home indefinitely. “Do I really want to still be married to this person this time next year?” “Wow, my job is meaningless.” “Huh. I sure am drinking a lot since the quarantine. Maybe I have a problem.” “Has that window always been loose?” When virtually all of one’s habits have been broken, even if involuntarily, an unprecedented level of clarity can happen to people. And like I said before, there is simply no possibility of examining what one is doing without simultaneously questioning the why. This is the hazard of mindfulness that corporations generally don’t comprehend. Consciousness spreads and nobody is in charge of where it goes. Advertisers try to control it, with an amazing degree of success.

However, people now have something they haven’t had, maybe ever–time on their hands.

Things are going to change. And we have no idea which way things will head.

Denial and the New World

I talked to my mom yesterday. She told me that the corona virus might disappear by the end of April. OMG. She believes Trump’s scientific ignorance over real-life expertise. This is not the flu! This is the great irony of the situation: Trumpers, like my parents, are going to perish from their own lack of taking the situation seriously. I have come to peace with the situation, actually. It’s been a rough week, emotionally-speaking.

Sometime in the next few days, I will need to purchase toilet paper. Wish me luck. Massive hoarding has eliminated local supplies. I don’t want to leave home, but will have little choice.

Here is the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Liberals, like myself, came out of denial at an earlier date than conservatives, who are still protected emotionally from the reality of the situation. When reality breaks through, they are going to be pissed. They may not even make it through the remaining stages before they die. This is where denial is lethal.

Here is my relatively short-term prediction of what will happen. A week off from work is nice–at first. The second week is okay. Then people start getting itchy. This is spring. People have been cooped up all winter. They already have cabin fever, especially those of us in cooler climes. People will simply start disregarding warnings. Americans are not the same as Chinese people. We are not inherently compliant. Our basic attitude, starting with the British, has always been “F*** you!” And the virus will rebound. Our numbers are artificially low due to lack of testing. Here is some viral reality. Viruses don’t go away. If you had chicken pox as a child, fifty years later, under sufficient stress, you can come down with shingles. People like my parents are doomed. Believing Trump is the golden road to an early death. Not believing science doesn’t make it any less true. Reality is unchanged by their refusal to deal with it.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are all cooped up and grieving.

People Panicking

I went to Meijer, the local grocery store, today. They are out of milk. I am 52 years old and this is the first time ever I have seen that. But they did have the unsweetened soy milk I like and are often out of. The corona virus is freaking people out.

Here is the reality: We don’t know what we are dealing with until everyone is tested. Period. And testing today is not a guarantee that tomorrow will not have a positive result.

Here is what I have heard: 80% of people that get the virus will either not get sick or will get sick and recover fully, 15% will get sick and not fully recover (they will have after-effects), and 5% will die. Note the fact that 95% will not die.

We are not China. We cannot shut down Seattle or Boston. America does not work like that. So what can we do?

Here is what has to happen: 1) Everyone must be tested, 2) Those who test positive must be isolated from vulnerable populations (like the elderly and those with serious medical issues already), and 3) Everyone needs to up their immune system. Anything less and we are simply delusional in our response.

The problem is this thing called “the latency period.” The latency period is when a person contracts a virus and before they get symptoms and meanwhile they are spreading the virus everywhere. If you see someone coughing and hacking, you will keep your distance. The sick people are not the primary problem; the healthy people with the virus are. Shutting down the schools and municipalities while not testing everyone only postpones the inevitable and solves nothing. Life will go on for the majority of us. Stocking up on milk and toilet paper only accomplishes so much.

I work at a Goodwill second-hand store. We cater to a lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. I cannot state that I do not have the virus. How would I know? Neither I nor anyone else I know has been tested. I believe that if I got the virus, I would get sick and fully recover. I am less certain of the store’s customer base.

And I have a brother that drives a city bus for a living. He is dealing with the same vulnerable population, in close quarters, forty hours a week. He has heart disease and probably cirrhosis. He smokes and drinks. If he gets the virus (and it is truly hard to imagine him not doing so), he is a goner. I have no doubt about it.

What about people with asthma and COPD? Imagine waking up, not feeling great, using your inhaler, feeling better and going about your day as normal. How are these people supposed to know if anything more than normal is amiss? I am prone to colds. If my nose runs, I will probably not think, “OMG. I bet I have the corona virus.”

You can only socially distance yourself so much. Even the Unabomber had to go to town occasionally to get supplies. Let’s get real, take the necessary steps, and take care of ourselves and each other as safely as possible.



The Corona Virus and the Election

Last night, Iwas walking to my mother. It was a Sunday evening. My mother is freaking out about the Corona Virus. My parents are currently in Florida, “God’s waiting room,” according to my dad.

Why is she freaking out? In part, because my brother Bob is in Florida and his son Nick is coming down and wanting to go to Disney World. Ma thinks that is a terrible idea because of all the tourists there. Bob has cirrhosis, heart disease, cancer, and some strange genetic mutation. In other words, he is compromised immunity-wise. Are her fears reality-based? Definitely. I suggested he carry around a pack of disinfectant wipes.

After I was done talking to her, I wondered why she was panicking so badly. I hadn’t seen anyone go that off-the-rails since the whole Y2K fiasco. I knew people back then that were absolutely certain that the world would go into full-blown crisis on 01/01/2000.

This morning, I saw that three people tested positive for the virus at a Trump event.

The dots got connected instantly. Who are the people most vulnerable to the virus? The elderly and the immunity-compromised. In other words, Trumpers. Twenty-something Sanders-supporters would likely get sick and recover fully, unlike their conservative parents and grandparents.

Perhaps nothing noteworthy will happen. Or it could be a determining factor in the election. How ironic would it be if so many conservatives died that the Democrat easily won? It would be due solely to the Trump administration’s inept handling of the crisis and the complete dismantling of the very resources needed to adequately address such a crisis.

Ma is right to be concerned. But if Bob isn’t worried about his well-being, there isn’t much she can do. And, frankly, I can think of much worse ways to go than by going to Disney World.

Promoting Mindlessness?

Reading the latest issue of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine, I saw an article that made want to laugh and cringe and the same time.

It’s all about public schools doing mindfulness training and getting sued by the evangelical christian group the ACLJ. The gist of the article is that this group, started by televangelist Pat Robertson and represented by Jay Sekulow (the attorney that sacrificed his integrity to serve as the personal attorney for the most corrupt President in American history) was saying that having kids practice mindfulness in schools was pushing Buddhism onto Christian children unwillingly and violating their religious freedom. Wow. It’s funny how evangelicals only want religious freedom for themselves and no one else.

But the joke is on them. Mindfulness is a basic human capacity, not the sole property of Buddhism. Learning to stop and notice one’s internal and external environments is something that improves learning, lowers blood pressure, and develops self-control (increasing the time gap between having a feeling and acting on it). To protest mindfulness is to make one’s motives suspicious. Why are Christians promoting mindlessness? Why are they so afraid of people stopping and noticing their thoughts and feelings?

To make the practice more secular, only bits and pieces of religious language were eliminated. Problem solved.

All the litigation accomplished was to provide free publicity for a practice that helps people be more sane in a crazy world.

I think Christians are viscerally threatened by children thinking for themselves. As an ex-Christian, I can tell you that independent thought and obedience are mutually exclusive. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Every Nazi at the Nuremburg trials had the exact same pathetic defense: “I was just obeying orders.” I’ve gone to enough churches to know that obedience is the name of the game.

The antidote to mindless obedience? Mindfulness and independent thought. Churches are scared. I can see why. Be afraid. Be very afraid.