Doubts…

Maryland’s governor started out a few weeks ago cautioning residents about the virus. Over the last several weeks, those advisories took on ever increasing urgency as it because clear that politely asking people to stay at home wasn’t working – as they continued to congregate at beaches, parks, and bars. Then he ordered those places shuttered… and people found other ways to gather. This morning he announced a wide reaching “stay at home” order, providing criminal penalties for for doing those things we were previously advised to avoid.

Aside from my own instinctive chafing at government so dramatically curtailing the scope of our collective liberty (even in the name of a good cause), I have serious doubts about the average citizen’s ability or willingness to comply with what are currently open ended orders to stay put. Americans have a long and storied history of going where the government of the day tells them not to go. It’s in no small part the story of our nation’s westward expansion… although I don’t think the desire to move the family west to homestead Nebraska is going to be the issue in the here and now.

I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life being utterly happy staying home. That’s not true for most people. It’s even less true when you can’t tell them how long they’ll be expected to stay put. Many of us are starting week 2 or 3 of this new normal and despite the gallows humor that suffuses social media, there’s a decided undercurrent of fear and worry out there too. How long my fellow citizens are willing to sit in their homes with those two companions remains to be seen. 

I’ve got my doubts that “indefinitely” is going to be an answer some, or even many, will accept as the weeks continue to stretch on, even if that means going about against the best medical advice and in violation of our newly instituted executive orders. 

Taking it on the chin…

A few months ago I, somewhat tongue in cheek, told a coworker the best thing that could happen for my hopes of eventual retirement would be a few years of a bear market to suppress prices and let me “back up the truck” to buy shares at deep discount prices. As long as I can keep working and manage not to drop dead of the Andromeda Strain or whatever the appropriate name for this bug is, I suppose I’m technically not wrong… but boy is it a great big case of be careful what you fucking ask for.

The US economy is currently suffering through a system-level shock the likes of which almost no one alive has personally experienced. For those of us above a certain age, the closest we’ve come is listening to grandparents or family elders tell their stories – and wonder uncomprehending about why all those years later they still saved their soap slivers in a mason jar or insisted on getting three cups of tea out of each bag.

I like to think this isn’t the start of Great Depression 2.0. The fact that the economy was roaring along at breakneck speeds just a couple of weeks ago gives me enormous faith that it can be resuscitated… eventually. Once they’ve exhausted all other options, Congress will push through bailout plans to pour trillions of dollars through the front door of the Treasury. The Federal Reserve has committed to buying government debt with reckless abandon.

Even with herculean efforts, a host of businesses will fail. No economic recover package ever passed through government can prevent that. Cash flow is the life’s blood of business and with that flow stopped, even temporarily, many won’t have the deep reserves it will take to emerge once we’ve arrived at the new normal. The best we can manage in the moment is likely following a “harm reduction” strategy – of propping up what we can and finding as soft a landing as possible for those in the workforce who are displaced.

It seems that President Trump is determined to take a short cut through the amount of time science says we need to keep the clamps on the economy. That’s a foolish and stupid take, but in some ways, I can understand the instinct. Even those who get through the pandemic with little or no ill effects will feel the unnatural consequences of an economy gone to hell in a handbag.

There’s a point where declaring business as usual will make sense. I don’t think that’s this week. I don’t think it will be next week. If you believe science, and you should, it’s not even likely to be in the next month.

As you know, I despise the media obsession with calling this the “war against COVID-19.” Even so, I take a degree of comfort in knowing that historically, the United States almost always loses the first battle of every war we’ve ever been in. We take a punch right to the chin, get knocked down, and then get up off the ground angry and looking for payback.

Today we’re still on the ground, but we’re going to get up, and when we do, we’re going to be collectively pissed the hell off and ready to do what needs to be done.

Morality and ethics aside…

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have deep misgivings about what appears to be the exercise of increasingly unchecked power by both the federal and state governments. That’s especially true when the discussion turns to the he power of the state to “lock down” people within entire geographic areas or perhaps the entire country. Where it makes perfect sense from a medical or harm reduction standpoint, it creates ponderous questions about due process rights, false imprisonment, and the Constitutional protections Americans enjoy against arbitrary government action. Where government reasonably can require a contagious person into quarantine, does that power also extend to people who aren’t sick? Should it?

I guess you can go ahead and add constitutional scholar and medical ethicist to the long list of things that I’m not.

The morality and ethics aside, I’m wondering at what point people begin to reject medical advice in favor of “living their best life” and rolling the dice. Having spent a lifetime watching people, and Americans in particular, I hope you’ll forgive me if I doubt the average person will be perfectly willing to live under a regime of social distancing, isolation, closures, and economic armageddon for as long as the 18 months or more that Imperial College is speculating it may take for COVID-19 to run its course

You’ll be glad you did…

You can’t miss the funny, funny toilet paper memes. I got it. Large numbers of people pummeling each other in the grocery store isles is good humor, I don’t deny it.

I’ll be the first to agree with you that panic buying is stupid. With that said, I think it’s stupid for reasons different than “coronavirus doesn’t cause you to die of shitting yourself.” For me, the rolling of eyes is triggered more by looking at people who don’t already have a “safety stock” of items essential to keeping a household running for a few days, a few weeks, months, a year or more depending on what your risk tolerance and budget will support.

I know some real, honest to God end of the world prepper types. I’m not even close to being in their league. I’ve got no interest in taking it to that level. They’re legitimately trying to be prepared for the collapse of civilization. It’s not out of the realm of the possible, but I’m not entirely convinced I want to hang around for that party. My personal cognitive bias tends towards the belief that over time, things will trend towards that status quo… that tomorrow will be more or less the same as yesterday. I could also be 100% wrong about that assumption.

I’m extremely comforted in knowing that if, for some reason, I needed to button up Fortress Jeff for a period of a few weeks or a month or two, I could get along without any significant impact on my standard of living. We could probably hold out a bit longer than that if I did a little rationing. It’s the level of insurance and peace of mind that I’m comfortable with maintaining over the long term.

Because I’ve done a little advance planning and bought extras a few items at a time, there’s no need for panic buying. My regular shopping trips involve simply replacing what I’ve used from week to week to maintain the baseline – usually a few canned goods, some fresh mean and vegetables, dog or cat food, and so on. Keeping a bit of extra on hand just makes good sense. When everyone else is panicking and buying up 54-packs of Charmin, you can smile, make another cup of coffee, and get on with your day.

Next time you make your weekly grocery list, add a few extra items that are good for long term storage. Buy stuff you know you’ll use anyway. Try having a little bit of a plan that extends beyond the next three to five days. At some point, because of flood, fire, snow, or pandemic, you’ll be glad you did.

Peak bureaucrating…

So this week I’m engaged in something of a thought exercise. In one file, I’m continuing to develop, refine, and otherwise prepare a program of events suitable to feed and entertain 800-1000 guests. In another folder, I’m starting to build a list of what would go in to turning the whole thing off with little to no notice.

I’m planning for the success and demise of this particular product simultaneously. It’s like trying to hold two mutually exclusive thoughts in your head at the same time. It’s possible that I’m starting to smell colors and see music. It’s like I’m dangerously close to reaching Peak Bureaucrat… or possibly having a stroke. I won’t rule out either option at this point.

In any case, I’m now officially rooting for COVID-19 and the collapse of civilization. We had a good run, but it’s time to go.

Against the tyranny of the cubicle…

I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.

Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.

Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.

What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.

In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.

Less than fine…

There’s no way to put it that isn’t disgusting on some level, so I’ll just say it – I woke up puking my guts out on Sunday morning. By noon, I was feeling fine and even managed to have an egg and some toast for dinner with no ill effects.

Although I spent yesterday feeling more or less ok – no fever or chills, not really feeling sick in any way, my stomach was what you might describe as “in a delicate state.” A shot of Maalox every few hours and two antacid tablets an hour were managing to hold everything together.

By this morning I was feeling good enough that I dispensed with the Maalox and had some actual breakfast. Therein is where I made a terrible mistake – a detail that my body chose not to make central planning aware of until I was walking to my truck at lunchtime and promptly doubled over right there beside the back tire.

I remember a million years ago as a young student, nerves would occasionally get the better of me. As stress, whatever that was to a prepubescent Jeff, ramped up I could almost count on the arrival of an upset stomach – although back then it never showed itself as vomiting. I had the marvelous ability to worry myself sick. Maybe history is repeating itself and I’m headed for whatever the 41 year old equivalent for my childhood nemesis is. Then again, maybe I’ve just come down with the Great Chinese Flu of 2020. Either way, something is working on my digestive system at the moment.

If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not feeling great – not really feeling sick – just less than fine. I should probably be more concerned than I am, but right now it just seems like more of an occasional inconvenience than an existential threat. We’ll see what the morning looks like and go from there.