18 March 2020 – Wednesday – #3

Yesterday I became a hamster, walking 5,000 steps on the terrace. It was boring, but I have to admit it felt great. During my walk, I waved to my neighbor who was also becoming a hamster on her terrace across the street. She said something encouraging in Spanish that I didn’t understand. I yelled back in my best Spanish, “Sí, sí, sí.”  Brad says if I take a video every day of my exercise routine, my video collection will be in MoMA by the end of the year. I’m not so sure. Frederick suggested climbing the eight floors of stairs for exercise. It violates the physical seal of the apartment against Covid-19, but I might do it anyway, if only for a change of venue.

There are a few cars, buses, and pedestrians on the streets. Nothing close to normal. Here’s a video of the neighbors applauding at 8p local last night, the daily ritual. It usually lasts about five minutes. Except for my quick conversation with the neighbor, that was my main live interaction yesterday. The building super accidently pushed the entry buzzer and showed up on the video monitor. I’m not sure that counts.

Others in Barcelona are more lucky. If you live in Begoña Alberdi’s neighborhood, you get free opera recitals. If you’re looking for ways to entertain yourself at home, the Italians are providing  plenty of ideas online. I even found a fantasy about going out of the apartment for the first time. There are also vast treasures of art online to view. My friend Jamie turned me on to the Covid-19 of the Spanish art world, José Manuel Ballester. Ballester photoshops all the people out of iconic artwork, like this:

If you feel like you haven’t been productive while in confinement, take a cue from Avi Schiffmann, a 17-yo from the Seattle area. In December, Avi noticed something going on in China (too bad the president didn’t!) and started a website with the catchy name ncov2019. The site scrapes Covid-19 reporting sites from around the world and updates worldwide stats every second or so. The accuracy depends, of course, on the local reporting accuracy. 35 million people are following the site now.

As I write this:


That puts mortality at 7.9%, 4.5%, and 1.7% respectively. I don’t believe the US statistics because testing is so poor. I’m guessing the difference between Italian and Spanish mortality is largely a function of Italy’s healthcare system being inundated.

The site also provides a map of locations with Covid-19 infections. Here’s this morning’s snapshot of the map:

This would seem to indicate that the virus doesn’t do as well in warmer climes (note fewer infections south of the equator where it’s the end of summer). I wouldn’t get hopes up too high. Australia probably has the best reporting, and there are infections in all its major cities. Anecdotally, I understand that Brazil isn’t testing yet and I know of two cases in Sao Paulo (not shown on this map!). I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of South America and Africa are more infected than the data here suggest. So, as much as I want to believe Covid-19 will attenuate during the summer, I can’t draw that conclusion from this information.

A tiny bit of good news from Italy in this useful Twitter thread on demographics of Covid-19 mortality. Jenn Dowd says, “We find some real-world evidence of ‘flattening the curve’ in the province of Lodi where harsh movement restrictions were enacted quickly (Feb 23rd) vs later in Bergamo (March 8th)”

In other words, even though Italy’s overall numbers are still bad, the parts of Italy that acted early are doing better than the parts that acted late. In other words, absent high volume testing, the sooner people lockdown, the better.

Two other Covid tidbits. One is that travel is unpredictable right now. My friend Frederick told me last night that his Polish friend got one of the last possible flights to the US for foreign nationals. Then Frederick told me about the nightmare after his flight from Germany to the US on Sunday. Customs took everyone’s passports and herded them into a room where hundreds were packed together. And then the officer, apparently realizing that the passengers were so tightly packed that he might get infected, ordered everyone to stand away from him. Frederick is now in 14-day quarantine at his remote place in Connecticut. As far as I can tell, there’s no enforcement of his quarantine.

Speaking of Connecticut, the other tidbit is that lack of Covid testing has sidelined 200 nurses at a Danbury, CT hospital. It is the first US hospital I’ve heard of that is operating at capacity and a sign of healthcare capacity constraints coming to other parts of the US in the next few days.

I’m not qualified after 2-½ months living in Spain to say much about Spanish or European politics. The Brexit Prime Minister pivoted on his Covid-19 plan two days ago after he discovered it would sow seeds of destruction in the UK. Now the UK is following much the same lockdown strategy as its European neighbors. Perhaps Johnson will pivot on Brexit, too, as he discovers the seeds of destruction from that debacle.

The political divisiveness that the US president has exacerbated to his political advantage may come back to bite the country’s Covid ass. Having divided the country, the president is not trying very hard to reunite it. Fox News, which coordinates closely with the White House, has changed its tune on the virus. This week Fox viewers have watched the virus mutate from hoax to something terrible. According to the president, who always finds someone to blame for his failures, not just from hoax to something terrible, but something terrible from China:

Cuomo wants “all states to be treated the same.” But all states aren’t the same. Some are being hit hard by the Chinese Virus, some are being hit practically not at all. New York is a very big “hotspot”, West Virginia has, thus far, zero cases. Andrew, keep politics out of it….

Do I need to point out that viruses don’t carry passports?

The real enemy the president has created is the militant right wing that, in the name of gun rights, is interfering with government officials protecting residents from the virus. There are reports of lines around the block for gun stores, suggesting that in America guns are even more necessary than toilet paper during a pandemic. The president has stoked a paranoia in the right that anyone who claims authority (other than the president himself, of course) is there to steal constitutional rights. Stealing constitutional rights is code for taking away guns. In his tweets he discounts the authority of not only Governor Cuomo, but also of other governors who, in trying to help their states, ignore or contradict the president.

I’m sure my friends on the right see this differently. I was heartened to read Newt Gingrich’s plea from the Vatican to take Covid-19 seriously. Covid-19 is non-partisan and it will take a non-partisan response to minimize mortality. It didn’t take long, though, after he penned his Op-ed for Gingrich to step back into the right wing echo chamber:

A reporter asked me today why conservatives were initially so skeptical of the threat of the coronavirus. I tried to explain that one of the dangerous consequences of having a totally dishonest left wing news media was that most Americans discounted their hysteria as phony.

Newt Gingrich

I try hard to look at Covid-19 objectively, but it’s hard to square the Fox News clip above with this statement from Gingrich. It’s too easy to tear apart Gingrich’s assertion. Republicans don’t seem to be able to cope with facts. I hate writing that. Democrats have been giving Republicans all the help they can with facts. The Obama administration briefed the incoming Trump administration on the dangers of a pandemic. Due to the absurdly high turnover in the Trump administration, only 1/3rd of the briefing attendees still work for the Trump administration and none of them seem to influence the president.

Trump himself claims he was unaware that the NSC pandemic response team was shuttered in 2018, but video shows him explaining that he didn’t want to retain these experts on staff because, like any good businessman, he could hire them as needed. He implies scientists and public health experts can be hired for pandemics like cleaners and caterers for a party at one of his resorts. For his part, Trump appears to have resigned himself to MCing press conferences where he parades the experts and then provides Reality TV answers to reporters’ questions. He looks like a country club manager stuck at a banquet who can’t wait to play a few holes.

While Mitch McConnell hurriedly continues to pack the courts in the midst of a pandemic (this speaks louder than anything about McConnell’s prioritization of pure power over everything else), Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are the actual power brokers in Washington right now. Unfortunately, the $850B bailout package probably won’t keep the world from a deep recession, if not depression.

One bad economic signal: Brad has received no offers to buy his house in San Francisco. The good news is that his place is staged like a movie set, so he’ll have a glamorous lockdown. The bad news is, well, who knows when he’ll return to Spain. Brad and I have a spare bedroom for a while if anyone in Barcelona is looking. Several spare bedrooms, actually. An abundance.

My personal loss of power yesterday was my computer monitor. I don’t think the monitor itself failed. It’s more likely the graphics driver in my 3 year old Chromebook that’s on the fritz. I haven’t found any good tools to diagnose, let alone repair the problem. I’m not sure I can get a new monitor shipped. I have other orders in transit that haven’t arrived yet. It’s a reminder of the fragility of lockdown life. There’s not a good backup if my entire Chromebook crashes. There’s not a good backup for most things in the apartment, myself included.

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