11 October 2020 – Sunday – #116

With so few tourists around, film crews are taking advantage of Barcelona’s quiet streets for exterior shots. Brad caught a crew shooting in the Born district.

Film crew in the Born district. Credit; Brad.

I post this to assure friends and family that, in spite of reports that Spain’s second wave of Covid-19 is the worst in Europe, Barcelona is not a seething cauldron of Covid-19 at the moment. That seething cauldron would be Madrid, where Spain’s central government has declared a state of alarm over objections of the regional government.

As I mentioned last week, Madrid’s regional premier, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, is prioritizing Madrid’s economy at the peril of Madrileños’ health. This makes me mad for three reasons.

First, it’s becoming more and more clear that the best way to fix an economy during the Covid-19 pandemic is to contain Covid-19. I tweeted last week about a study that shows how consumer spending dips as Covid-19 increases, even in the absence of lockdowns.

Worse, though, Madrid’s high Covid-19 rate hurts not only Madrid’s economy, but Spain’s economy. Empty Barcelona’s streets are easy to film in right now not because Covid-19 rates are high here, but because Madrid’s high numbers are scaring away tourists from traveling anywhere in Spain.

Second, while Madrid is about three hours by train from Barcelona, it’s a transportation hub and chances for cross-infection between cities increase as Madrid approaches a 1% active infection rate. Ayuso’s preference to risk lives to improve Madrid’s economy adds to the infection risk of me and other Barcelonians. Regional Covid-19 political decisions have national consequences.

Third, and this is personal, my PrEP order has been stuck in Madrid for over three weeks. I’m going to blame Ayuso because why not. Maybe it’s DHL’s responsibility, but I’ll bet that DHL is experiencing distribution issues in no small part because of Madrid’s Covid-19 crisis.

My PreEP order stuck in Madrid since 16 September 2020.

As my pill supply dwindled last week, I scrambled and found a Spanish PrEP provider at higher price whose reputation I can’t confirm. I should be okay with an order scheduled next week. I’m just growing tired of people who rationalize their inability to change their habits by claiming the economy is more important than taking simple precautions like social distancing and masking. If gay men figured out how to put on condoms to avoid HIV infections forty years ago, it boggles my mind that wearing a mask requires anything more than a brief explanation of Covid-19 aerosol transmission.

Madrid’s Covid-19 idiocy is helping me understand the Catalonian point of view about independence. And it is idiocy. Why do I say that? Arizona reduced Covid-19 cases by 75% by mandating masks. Wisconsin, on the other hand, where Republican legislators have fought their Democratic governor’s Covid-19 restrictions as hard as Ayuso is fighting Sánchez, has leapt ahead of all the other US states in per-capita Covid-19 cases.

Be smart. Be like Arizona and wear masks. Don’t be like Wisconsin and fight masks.

Even as I come to understand the dynamics of Spain’s central and regional governments, I have to admit I still have lots to learn about Spain and Spanish politics. Last week, U.b. came over to Casa Solar for dinner. I served my first Samfaina, a Catalonian ragout, and I gotta say it was delish. Pretty sure it’s the dash of sweet paprika at the end that makes the recipe work. Anyway, U.b. and his husband moved here from San Francisco 13 years ago, so U.b. understands US and Spanish political systems. He made two observations that, on the surface, don’t seem that important.

One observation is that cars here don’t have bumper stickers. That hadn’t registered with me before. As U.b. noted, it’s nice to drive to a store and not get worked up about abortion rights or gun rights on the trip.

The other observation is that door buzzers on buildings here display unit numbers, not residents’ names. Again, something I hadn’t noticed. Most modern US apartment buildings present a scrolling list of names that enable a call to an occupant for entry.

These are artifacts, it turns out, of Franco’s authoritarian regime. Su Excelencia el Jefe del Estado Generalísimo Francisco Franco, as he is formally known, ruled Spain for almost forty years, from 1936 to 1975. During that time, any Spaniard with wayward political views revealed those views at risk of life, so no bumper stickers. Also, obviously, there was no advantage letting Franco know where to arrest you, so no residents’ names outside buildings.

If you’ve been wondering what a few more years of a Trump White House might look like, these are two informative observations about the subtle ways authoritarianism manifests itself.

Luckily, 3-1/2 weeks before the election it looks like the Trump White House will end in January, before Trump assumes the title Su Excelencia el Jefe del Estado Generalísimo Trump.

Five Thirty Eight predicts that Biden wins the 2020 election. Source: projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-election-forecast/

Trump still can win. As Nate Silver notes, a Trump win is about as likely now as Truman beating Dewey in 1948. My ballot is still somewhere between Spain and the US.

Parenthetically, it seems like social media disinformation plays a smaller role in Spanish politics. My hunch is that scale works against the US in this regard. The US is about 330 million people who speak predominantly one language and participate in one election. The ROI on social media disinformation is higher in the US than in the EU because an effective EU disinformation campaign requires knowledge of many local languages and dialects, not to mention political systems. To create a fake social media account in Spain, first decide if the account is in Castilian, Catalan, Basque, Galician, or one of the dozen or so other Spanish languages and dialects.

In addition to U.b.’s two multicultural observations, I have one more, this one directly related to Covid-19. I was pleased to find BCN Checkpoint when I visited Barcelona last year, not because I was in need of their services, but because it reminded me of Magnet in San Francisco. Both BCN Checkpoint and Magnet offer public health services targeted to gay men. That may not seem important and most cities don’t provide separate public health services for gays. As a gay man, though, it is profoundly significant to have professionals figuring out how to make my life safer, especially with programs to eradicate HIV.

My observation is that both Barcelona and San Francisco not only have public health for gay men, but also they have had remarkably good Covid-19 responses. I realize this is too small a data set for a correlation between public health programs targeted to gay men and good Covid-19 responses to be meaningful, but I did mention this to my friend Mike who’s in a healthcare PhD program in Cleveland. Mike, it turns out, has been interviewing hospital CXOs around the US. Not surprisingly, he told me that Covid-19 responses seem to be better in cities with better public health systems.

So, my takeaway is that if you’re moving to a new city, besides looking for a post- rather than a pre-authoritarian city, also look for a city that has a public health program targeted to gay men. It’s a sign that city is investing enough in public health that when the next Covid-19 comes around (and it will), its public health response is likely to be up to snuff.

Madrid, beware! The US rejection of Trump in the election is due in large part to his Covid-19 policies, his prioritization of the economy over public health. The strange saga of his Covid-19 hospitalization bought him no sympathy support in the polls. He’s all but banned masks in the White House. He’s turned freedom from masks into a Republican party rallying cry. Masks have become the Republican symbol of smothering the economy. This infographic of Covid-19 cases per million by US state shows how red state pro-economy, anti-masking policy has fostered increases in Covid-19 cases.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 surge in red states is pushing the US case numbers up just as flu season starts. New US Covid-19 cases have surpassed 50,000 per day, the highest number since August.

Covid-19 cases going up again in the US.

The cynic in me thinks Trump wants cases going up to suppress voter turnout.

Covid-19 bits.

As Biden says, election chicanery looks like the only thing that can stop him from winning the election. This Lincoln Project video captures how many Americans feel.

Last of all, following up from last week’s post, both C. and Trump have recovered from Covid-19. I believe C. I don’t believe Trump.


P.s. – this tweet came up just after I published.

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