Sunday, April 26, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #7

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

The bad thing about everything being the same every week ... okay, one of the bad things about everything being the same every week is that it doesn’t necessarily give you anything new to talk about in your weekly virus isolation report.  The weather has radically improved, and the kids have spent a lot of time in the pool, and are actually getting quite brown.  Other than that, almost nothing has changed.

So I’ll keep it brief.  The only new thing that’s disturbing me is an increased use in the from-home media of phrases such as “you don’t have the right to risk my life.”  I find that to be a dangerously hyperbolic way to represent the situation.  I understand that there are good intentions behind it, but I still don’t think that makes it okay.

First of all, at the risk of sounding like one of the crazies (about whom I was lamenting last week), it really is fair to point out that, by this logic, no one would ever be allowed to drive again.  Every time I get in my car, I’m risking your life ... just as, every time you get in your car, you’re risking mine.  Now, to be fair, it appears that, at least currently (and at least in the U.S.), your risk of dying from COVID-19 is greater than your risk of dying in a car accident.  (Although probably not as great as many of the numbers you’ve been hearing: you can read about the difference between case fatality rate and infection fatality rate in several places, and it’s not a bad idea to do that, as it’s a bit encouraging to find out the overall rate is lower than the media often quotes.)  But the point is: we already live in a world with known risks of fatality, even ones caused by other people.  But in no other circumstance do we use that to claim that people are risking our lives.  (And, yes, I know that idiots like Dr. Phil are also using this argument, and, yes, they’re idiots.  However, that doesn’t make this perspective incorrect.)

Secondly and probably more importantly, we seem to have forgotten what the point of this exercise was.  We’re not trying to keep everyone from gettting infected.  We’re trying to keep everyone from getting infected at once.  The chances that you’re never going to get this infection are pretty slim, overall.  But the point is, as long as your infection comes as late as possible, you have a much better chance of surviving.  That’s sensible.  But to act like getting infected is a death sentence: that’s wrong-headed if you’re a civilian, and downright irresponsible if you’re a media personality.  We needed to flatten the curve, and it appears we’ve been moderately successful in doing so.  People who insist on going out unnecessarily are indeed risking lives ... in the abstract, because they risk raising the infection rate and blowing the curve up again and straining an already overstrained healthcare system.  What they are not doing, however, is specifically risking the life of any one person.  This is oversimplification, and I think it does more harm than good.

Because the ultimate thing that bugs me about it is this: this is exactly what those conservatives who are dangerously fanatical do, and we liberals (rightly) hate it.  They say things which are not quiiiiite entirely untrue, just exaggerated to the point of incendiary language designed to get people up in arms about things which really aren’t as bad as they’re being made out to be.  And, while I understand the desire to fight fire with fire, I still don’t think this is a particularly good approach.

Again, I’m certainly not saying let’s all go outside.  I’m not saying we need to stop being cautious.  I’m just saying, let’s not blow things out of proportion while we’re staying safe.

And hopefully each of you are staying safe too.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #6

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

Okay, this shit is starting to get scary now.

Way back in week #1, I wrote:

Now, on the one hand, I find this somewhat silly.  It’s a cold, people.  Yes, it can be quite serious for some—mainly the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, etc.  I have a kid with a heart condition, so I’m not callous to that side of it.  But the chance of disease is always out there.  The flu (which is caused by a slightly different class of virus) can be fatal as well, and we have that every year.

You probably noticed that I’ve moderated my rhetoric over the last few weeks.  That’s not because I changed my mind so much as it is that, as the crisis wore on, I noticed that some of the things I was saying were being echoed by crazy old white politicians, mostly (but not all) men, mostly (but not all) Republicans.  As Twain once said about majorities, once you find yourself on the side of crazy old white Republicans, it is time to pause and reflect.

And, don’t get me wrong: I have come around a bit more to the common line of reasoning.  The explanation that, if too many people get sick all at once, our medical system (in the U.S., I mean) couldn’t handle the strain, thus causing more people to die than would otherwise, is a very rational and sensible argument.  (It says some disturbing things about our medical system, of course, which the conservatives are always assuring us is “the best in the world” whenever they’re explaining to us why everyone can’t be allowed to have it, but that’s a separate issue.)  But, as I’ve noted several times, treating this issue like we either all stay home or all go out at once is a logcial fallacy (specifically, the fallacy of false dilemma).  So I think there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had, but, honestly, I’ve avoided it, because “nuanced discussion” and “the Internet” go together like anchovies and ice cream.  If I say I have issues with this continued state of lockdown, most readers are likely going to lump me with people like this idiot (from a recent Huntington Beach protest) or like the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, one of the main Republicans responsible for not delaying their primary, who infamously told voters it was “incredibly safe” to go out and vote while dressed in full protective gear.  Even worse, I could get lumped in with the multiple (and remarkably dangerous) idiots, mostly from or appearing on FOX “news,” who keep on saying that it’s okay if some people die as long as we keep the economy going (if you’d like a montage of such idiots made as humourous as possible given the subject matter, The Daily Show has got you covered).

So, no, I don’t want to be lumped in with the idiots, especially not the dangerous ones.  But ... I have to talk about this anyway.  Because a few things have come up that I find pretty disturbing.

First off, there was the announcement that Google and Apple were going to get together and start tracking infected people via their phones.  I don’t know that I was as disturbed by the announcement itself—although, any time Google and Apple want to work together, you should already be suspicious—as by the media reaction, which was, from what I could tell, “hey, that’s neat ... technology! am I right?”  Obviously what it should have been was, “holy fuck! 1984 much??”  And, yes, supposedly it will be voluntary, and supposedly there will be all these controls in place to protect privacy, but, honestly, any time a concept like this comes up and people actually think it’s a good idea, I get worried.

There’s also my lovely governor Gavin Newsom saying that, even once the lockdown order is lifted, restaurants might be taking my temperature before I can come in.  What the fuck?  How is that even a thing that people are considering?  Also, he said that all menus might have to be disposable.  Well, why not plastic utensils too?  Yay.  We’ll be safe from viruses and drowning in garbage.  Maybe we’ll finally get the plastic straws back.

I already talked about governor Newsom saying he expected my neighbors to put “social pressure” on me if they see me out and about for anything other than “essential purposes.”  Now New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has announced that wearing masks in public is mandatory, and gave essentially the same response when asked how such an order would be enforced:

People will enforce it. They’ll say to you, if they’re standing next to you on a street corner, “Where’s your mask, buddy?” in a nice New York kinda way.

Again: don’t get me wrong.  Cuomo is certainly one of the heroes of this crisis.  But I can’t help but feel that people in our country don’t need more excuses to get in each other’s business.  Is it really okay to encourage this kind of public friction?

Still, I understand that, if I really am saying that I fear this solution may be doing more harm than good, I absolutely sound like one of the crazy people I described above, many of whom have used that exact phrase.  So allow me to very explicitly differentiate my position from theirs in two important ways:

1) I am not in any way advocating for immediately “reopening the country.”  Not even advocating reopening it any time soon.  Again, I have to stress: there are other options.  There are partial measures.  We can still be safe without becoming completely paranoid.  There is a better balance we can strike.

2) I have no desire to “protect the economy.”  Fuck the economy.  I could care less about the economy, at least on a macro scale.  I do care that restaurants and specialty shops (such as my local aquarium store, which I just visited today) are having a tough time.  I care that many people are out of work right now.  But I absolutely do not care that rich people are losing money in the stock market and large corporations are going to make smaller profits, and let’s be honest: when some idiot on FOX “news” talks about the economy, that’s what they’re really talking about.

So what do I care about?  Well, aside from my worry about people who may be losing their jobs and/or their small businesses, I’m honestly mostly concerned about everyone’s mental health right now.  We have a very good idea of how many people are dying from the virus, but almost no information on what “social distancing” could be doing to suicide rates.  How about the increase in domestic violence?  And it doesn’t even have to be that serious to be concerning: the mental stress is easy enough to see on the faces of those folks who are doing their best to keep us entertained, and those are the people making us laugh.  For those who are under no such obligation, the strain is even more obvious (for instance, check out how hard it is for Liam O’Brien to stay upbeat in the first “unplugged” episode of All Work No Play).

But I needn’t go out to the Internet to see depression setting in: there are signs here in my own house.  Irritability is on the rise.  There’s lots of sleeping at odd hours ... because, why the fuck not?  My eldest dropped their classes because online learning just doesn’t work for them, so now they really don’t have much to do other than sleep.  The Mother can plan no more field trips, nor park days, nor outings to DojoBoom for our younger two children, so even though homeschooling our kids is something she was already doing anyway, it’s still become difficult and frustrating for her.  I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I can do just as well from home as I can from the office, and yet ... it’s been very hard to maintain focus, and seeing your coworkers inside a box on the computer screen isn’t the same as going to out to lunch with them.  I absolutely dread weekly trips to the grocery store (in fact, we skipped last week altogether), which I used to vaguely enjoy.  Look, I don’t need everything to go back to normal all at once.  I just need things to get ... better.

One a more positive note, the experts are telling us that all this staying at home is having a positive effect, and that the computer models are showing not as many deaths as they had originally predicted.  Of course, the cynical side of me wants to point out that computer models were significant contributors to the 2008 financial crisis, so we probably shouldn’t just blindly trust them, but I suppose even cynical old me has to count that as good news.  Still ... I worry that we’ll take it too far.  I said privately at the beginning of all this that I feared we were in the midst of the first dangerous mass panic caused by smart people.  Because, you know, normally panics are caused by people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.  In this case, the people making most of the decisions are absolutely right in their understanding and their reasoning ... and, yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making the best decisions for us all.

Everyone out there: take care of yourselves.  Not just physically, with your handwashing and your masks—I mean, do that too, but don’t forget to take care of your mental self.  Stay sane, and stay as happy as you can manage.  And here’s hoping that we see some positive changes in our situation sooner rather than later.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #5

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

This week didn’t get a whole lot better.  But primarily I blame that on the return of the rain.

You may recall me whining about the rain before.  On March 10th, which was a Tuesday (if this is week 5, that would have been week 1 ... the week that I actually made it to the office one day), it started to rain.  It was supposed to rain for 8 days; it did rain, off and on (but more on than off) straight through to the end of week 2 (so closer to 13 days, although maybe there were one or two days in there when it only drizzled or something).  Again, it may seem to some of you that I whine over trivialities: were I back in DC, for instance, it would have nothing unusual in the least to see rain for the better part of 2 weeks.  But I don’t live in DC.  I live in southern California.  You know why I moved to southern California?  To get away from the damned rain.  (Okay, there were many other reasons too, but let’s not ignore that one.)

Week 3 was dry, but still overcast and unseasonably cold.  Week 4 it started to warm up, and we actually got some decent swim time in.  I actually did some laps in the pool, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about laying around the house all week.  Then on Sunday it started raining again (as I noted last week), and it racked up another 6 days: it was still coming down pretty hard Friday night when I went to bed.  Yesterday and today have been a bit brighter, granted, but I just don’t feel inclined to trust the weather at this point.

Tendency toward depression is only compounded by dreary days when you can’t really go outside, even moreso than usual these days.  There’s a lot of sleeping odd hours in my house these days, and I’m starting to worry about people, myself not least of all.  I’m mostly staying focussed on work ... mostly.  The Mother declared it to be “spring break,” so no homeschooling this week.  This gave her time to concentrate on the fact that her baby sister was having her own baby (her first, even) in the midst of all this (life goes on, as they say), and the younger two kids have mostly spent the time digging out old videogames (and entire game systems—the PS/3 has been hooked up again, the Wii was out, and I won’t be surprised to see the Gamecube next) and rediscovering old classics.  My putative sister-in-law did deliver her girl, by the way: over 24 hours’ labor and over 9 pounds, but completely healthy and not seeming to notice that she has entered the world at a somewhat ... challenging time.

Grocery shopping is not getting any better; after a surprising uptick in week 2, it’s been constantly devolving into a queasy soup of restrictions and paranoia.  The first couple of weeks there was a bit of a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow shoppers ... a touch of “hey, we’re all in this together.”  There seemed to be precious little of that left when The Mother and I went out on Wednesday.  We specifically set out to get 2 weeks’ worth of groceries so that we can skip it altogether in week 6.  The Mother may have to do one more Costco run, and I’m sure she’s not looking forward to that, but the online delivery service reports that it’s already all booked up for the week.  So I fear we may be stuck with it.  Maybe they’ll have toilet paper.

Sorry.  Bad joke.

The one bright spot for me—not so much for The Mother, granted, but she has a new neice to long-distance-dote on—was another installment of the Family Campaign.  So far, we’ve done “flashbackstories” for everyone, and we had the initial “you all meet in a tavern” session (I put as much of a twist on that as I could, but it’s a standard trope for a reason), but this is the first actual “let’s travel together and start to get to know one another” type session.  It was a lot of fun, and I didn’t get nearly as far as I’d hoped, so we’re going to do another one next week (and then we’ll go back to doing some other campaigns to give me time to gen up some exciting bits for the next leg of their quest).  This was a nicely balanced session, I thought: some shopping, some fireside chats, some revealing character moments, some traveling-can-be-uncomfortable moments, and finally a good old-fashioned ambushed-by-bandits encounter (only this one was on a river barge, adding the extra danger of possibly falling off the boat into the strong current).  It was fun, but there’s more to be done before they get on the ship for the month-long journey that will take them to their final destination.  So I’m looking forward to next week, and hopefully the 3 of them are as well.

Enh, that’s enough for this week.  This was supposed to be the worst week of the crisis, so it’s all downhill from here, I guess?  We shall see.

[Update: It’s now Sunday night and it’s started raining again.  Shit.]

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #4

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

This week was surprisingly difficult.  You would think by week friggin’ four I would have gotten used to the whole thing, but somehow it just took this long for me to crack.  Or something.

First of all, the days are really starting to run together, as The Daily Show recently pointed out.  There’s little incentive to go to bed at a certain time, or to get up at a certain time for that matter.  I thought the return of those shows that I consider my window onto the world would be helpful—and they’re all back, at this point—but of course the world that they’re windowing is not so much one I want to hear about.  Surely there must be some other things going on in the world ... right?  Even John Krasinski’s quite welcome new YouTube Some Good News show is good news ... about the ongoing pandemic.  Better good news than bad news, I suppose, but you know what would better still?  Other news.  Non-virus-related news.  News about something ... else.

Okay, how about I make a list of all the advantages of being stuck at home?

  • I only have to do laundry every other week now.
  • I haven’t been to the gas station in about a month.
  • I’m saving a butt-ton in lunch money.
  • My house key has always been a bit flakey—I think it just wasn’t cut properly in the first place.  But now I don’t need to use it any more.  It is literally never the case that I come home when no one else is there to let me in any more.
  • I’m starting to get a little sun on my shoulders from sitting out by the pool with the kids.

No, I don’t think that’s helping.  I could almost get excited about starting summer early ... but it just started raining again.  I hear it’s supposed to rain until Thursday this time.

So overall a hard week.  I had to cut my middle child’s hair for him.  I had to keep The Mother from freaking out that our eldest child had booked a flight to New Jersey—because, hey, flights are really cheap now!  (Happily, the flight was cancelled.  Unsurprisingly.)  I had to cook a little more than usual, I had to go out for food a little more than usual, I almost had to bag my own groceries, but the checkers at my local Trader Joe’s said they didn’t care if they had to touch my bags, so I lucked out there.  I had to talk to my parents for the second week in a row to make sure they hadn’t caught pneumonia and died, and I reckon I’ll have to call again next week, and if that’s not depressing, I don’t know what is.  I had to keep on working in a vacuum and hope I’m making sufficient progress.  I had to buy a new CPAP mask because my old one developed a leak.

On the other hand, I also had to play videogames with my baby girl—because she’s going just as stir-crazy as I am—and that wasn’t all that bad.  It was pretty nice, actually.  I got to play D&D again, but I’m actually locked in with my gaming group, and we all agreed that we’re going to play before dinner as well as after dinner from now on ... because, what the fuck: time has no meaning, so why not spend more of it playing games?  I had to go through 13 pages of games on Target’s web site because The Mother had the idea that we’d also start playing board games more often, and that was actually kinda fun too.  I’m trying to find some bright spots, but it isn’t always easy.  Hopefully this is a temporary dip, and next week I’ll be on the upswing again.

Till then.