So, As things return to normal (possibly)

It’s been so long since I’ve been here, I’ve been through so much in the last few years. I had to see when I last wrote and it’s been since August last year. Anyway, in the last year since Covid, things have been crazy, and one strange update. First, let’s discuss job hunting. As I previously mentioned back in 2016 I returned to school to become a drug counselor. I had a lot of problems (including being discriminated against) but finished in October 2018. While still in school, I pursued an online teaching certificate and completed the requirements in December 2019. In the meantime, I passed the state exam for the CADC in September 2019. Right after I did so, I was offered several jobs and was on track to finally work a full-time job but then along came Covid. Once that came, my interviewing has been poor, but the good thing is most of my interviews have been online so that’s been great. I am now fully vaccinated and have been since April so I feel better going out. I hear things are getting better in treatment centers so hopefully, that will be on an upswing.

I promised a strange twist and here it is. Many years ago I used to mention a man who someone coined “Fred A Stare” because he would sit and stare at me and would then giggle. It was the weirdest thing ever because I truly had no idea what he was doing. He would stare and do things like walk into walls. He told people he liked me but then never did anything. He then started drinking heavily, and for a few years, we didn’t speak as much. Plus with me being in school and sick for 6 months in 2017 I didn’t have time to talk much. He moved away in December 2019 around the time I was finishing up school and I thought that was the end of that. Nope, in fact, we’ve been texting and phoning more than we have in a long time. He is working and in recovery and doing better. He wants me to move to where he is and has been showing me jobs as drug counselors around him within a 20 miles radius. I am considering it not just because of him but I want a fresh start, especially if I find jobs. I started sending resumes to near where he lives to see what I find. The result? I have been getting calls and I am going to visit “Fred” (not his name) in July to see what I want to do. I personally am so sick of it here. I ran again as a library trustee and have been having issues with a group of moms in town who resent that someone without kids is a library trustee. I’m waiting to see what happens but am not happy about the interviews I get and this might be a chance to spread my wings. I still apply near me as well and even in other parts of the state (I have to work in this state for 2 years before I can go to another state apparently).

Vaxxed

Well, ‘waiting to vaccinate’ didn’t last long.

A week ago Saturday, my wife and I spotted a local news item: the city was setting up a walk-in vaccination site at a park that we commonly visit on Sundays.  They were offering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose and therefore no follow-up.

My wife decided it was time for her to get the shot.  She doesn’t like having to make reservations, and bristled at the idea of having to come back for a second dose, as required for the other vaccines.  And I, following what is perhaps the quaint notion that marriage includes sharing risks, felt I should join her.

So last Sunday, we went to the park.  They were pretty well-organized: it took us a half-hour, including sitting 15 minutes ‘just in case’ after the shot.  Since then, we’ve had no ill effects; neither my wife nor I have grown a tail (which would be fun, although we’d need to get new pants), no fever, no chills, no rashes, nothing.

And, just like that, I’ve been catapulted to the other side of the issue.  I no longer need to contemplate whether the vaccine is safe or not: for better or worse, I’ve already taken it.  I can go to baseball games, instead of maundering about how I can’t go because of Uncle Andy’s stupid rules.

OK, now that I’m vaccinated, and a week from now I’ll be ‘fully vaccinated,’ why should I have to wear a mask?

Because the alternative is far, far worse.

From almost the beginning, I’ve considered the mask as more of a social norm than as protective equipment.  It doesn’t really protect me; it may contain my emissions on the off case that I’m contagious but feeling OK.  And since I’ve been vaccinated, and I’m feeling OK right now, the ‘off case’ is becoming more and more remote by the day.

Still, I accept that I’ll have to wear a mask in public for now.

The most recent CDC rules posit that vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks unless on public transport or in settings like hospitals or jails.  OK, what about museums or movie theatres or gyms, where CDC rules no longer require masks for vaccinated individuals, but the non-vaccinated are still at risk?

If we say that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks, but unvaccinated people still need them, how do we tell them apart?

The proper adult answer is that each of us should assess the risk, decide for ourselves whether a mask is needed, and it shouldn’t be a rule to wear a mask or not.  Alas, the proper adults have left our leadership some time ago.

If we’re going to maintain the notion that masks are necessary for public health, but only for the unvaccinated, there needs to be a foolproof, obvious way to tell the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.

Like tattoos, say, or insignia worn on one’s clothing?

DON’T.  GO.  THERE.

Vaccines: Do I Have To?

Last week, people my age became eligible in New York State to receive the Covid vaccine.  Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t bother with it: I don’t get seasonal flu shots, and as far as I can tell, while Covid is a few ticks more severe than the Hong Kong flu of my childhood, it’s a few ticks less severe than the Kansas (aka Spanish) flu of a century ago, which we overcame without the benefit of genetically-engineered vaccines.

In brief, I’m not pining to take the shot.

Nevertheless, if my wife and I have the opportunity to travel internationally, and the government at our destination requires proof of vaccination to go there, yes, I’d consider getting the shot.  It’s their country, their government, their rules.

But I resent a vaccine requirement closer to home.

One of the things I missed last year was live baseball.  I really enjoyed seeing the Brooklyn Cyclones at Coney Island, and I was looking forward to going back this year.  I was even contemplating season tickets.  But under Uncle Andy’s latest rules, to attend a live event like a baseball game, I must either present evidence of having been vaccinated, or having had a Covid test (but not just any test!) within the last three days.

On closer inspection, it gets worse.

New York State has unveiled something called the Excelsior Pass.  You register at the state Web site, and then if you get a Covid test or a vaccine, you can get the result encoded as a QR code to be scanned to enter a sports venue or location subject to Covid restrictions.  You can print the QR code or display it through an app on your phone.

But the pass for the antigen test (the ‘quickie’ test that returns a result in a half-hour) is only valid for six hours!  If you get a test in the morning, it won’t be valid for an evening baseball game. (And if the six hours run out before the seventh-inning stretch, will you be ejected from the park at that point?  Will there be automated catapults under the seats for that purpose?)

The pass for a PCR test is valid for three days.  But when last I checked, the PCR test requires 3-5 days to return a result: you’re beaten before you start.

Unless I want to take the shot, no live baseball for me.

All right, then: is there a reason I shouldn’t get vaccinated?

Some of the right-wing Web sites describe the Covid vaccine as, ‘gene therapy, not a vaccine.’  That’s true in the sense that a screw-in LED lamp is not a light bulb.  All vaccines are a way to get foreign protein into your body so that your immune system can learn about it and defend against it.  The Covid vaccine is different in that it carries the script for the virus’s spike protein, not the virus itself.

The icky part is that vaccines like this have been contemplated in the past, and gotten as far as animal testing.  Initially, it looked great: the vaccine initially triggered a strong immune response and protected the animal against whatever it was meant to protect against.  But when the animal was exposed to a variant of the virus some time later, the animal had an excessive immune response and did not do well.  I’m sure that if that happens among humans vaccinated against Covid, the answer will be yet another shot.  If I get vaccinated now, I may be locking myself into getting vaccinated yet again every few months for the rest of my life.

I think I’ll pass on that.

OK, then: at this point, left to my own devices, I’ll wait a year from when the Covid vaccines were first made available to the public.  If this December, there are no widespread reports of adverse reactions, or a panic and a new version of the vaccine, I’ll take the shot.  I can enjoy live baseball next year.

It will be interesting to see if I am indeed left to my own devices.

Acknowledging the Steal

To the group:  It appears that several of you are having trouble logging in.  If you’re still having trouble, please drop me a note at bklynguy .at. harderworld.com.  (Use a real ‘@’ sign.)  

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Time magazine recently published an article, ‘The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,’ that essentially acknowledges that the election was finagled to ‘fortify’ it.

I believe we can all agree that voter suppression—making it overly difficult for some groups of people to vote—is wrong.  We passed a Voting Rights Act years ago to address it, and in general, we’ve overcome it.  But making it overly easy for some groups of people to vote is just as much of a finagle, even though it may be legal.

That’s it: I’m done.  There isn’t anything more I can usefully say.  I shan’t write about the 2020 election again, other than to acknowledge it as a signpost on the road to oblivion.

Biden Won

Special to Dude: You’ve apparently lost your password and are no longer reachable at the e-mail address you used to register for the site. Please send me a note from your new e-mail address (include your old address) and I’ll get you fixed up. Send it to bklynguy .at. harderworld.com. (If one uses the ‘@’ sign in an email address on a public Web page, the bots will get it and send piles of spam.)

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I’ve considered it one of my duties as a citizen to stay informed.  I try to get a balance of media, and one element of that has been the NBC evening news.  I try to watch even when I don’t agree with them, but I’ll shut it off when it becomes overly tiresome.

This spring and summer, though, I found myself wanting to throw something through the TV screen.  And for a month and half after Election Day, I simply stopped watching.  I found myself disagreeing not with the facts they presented, but their interpretation, which was presented as if it were fact.  If you disagree that Mount Rushmore is evil because it was built on stolen land, and Trump is evil for speaking there, as we were told around Independence Day, then you yourself must be evil.

More recently, we’ve been told about President Trump’s baseless accusations of election fraud.  The word ‘baseless’ is never omitted, as if we’re forbidden to consider what happened.

Let’s consider it, shall we?  Since the mainstream media won’t even hint that the elections were anything other than squeaky clean, I’ll have to use my alternative news feeds and gut instincts.

  • Was there election fraud in the 2020 Presidential election?  Almost certainly.  It was run by humans, wasn’t it?
  • Was there election fraud sufficient to turn a state from one candidate to the other?  I think so.  I was sure that Pennsylvania would go for Trump, but it didn’t happen, and there were reports of ballots appearing in the middle of the night, and poll watchers denied access.  There are reports of similar events in other swing states.
  • Can you prove it?  Every murderer on Columbo dares the detective to prove he did it, although they don’t say that out loud.  But Lieutenant Columbo is trying to unravel a relatively simple personal crime, has all the time in the world, and has a compelling interest in getting to the bottom of things.  In this case, we have something far more complicated, which must be resolved in the eleven weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and there’s a compelling interest in sweeping it all under the rug.  I’m not an election official: it isn’t my job.  But there’s plenty of anecdotal and statistical evidence that something was afoot.
  • If you can’t prove it, that means it didn’t happen!  That’s what’s presumed in a criminal trial.  If a person is tried for murder and acquitted, the rest of society must presume the defendant was innocent.  Absent extraordinary circumstances, the police and prosecutor can’t go after the defendant again.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the murder happened, and the reality of who the perpetrator might have been.  In the case of the elections, it’s more than fair to keep questioning and keep looking.  That President Trump’s partisans did not prevail on court does not mean that nothing untoward happened.  It only means they couldn’t develop adequate proof in the available time.
  • OK, then: who did win the election?  If I had superpowers, and I could count all the votes, excluding the finagled ones, that would be easy.  But all I can do is speculate, the same as everyone else.  I can’t say for sure that Trump would have won if only the valid votes were counted, and were counted accurately.  So I’ll default to the official result, and acknowledge that Biden won.
  • If you acknowledge that Biden won fair and square, what are you yammering about?  I didn’t say that Biden won fair and square.  There are other ways besides fraud and vote-count shenanigans to manipulate an election.  Some of them are even legal.  That doesn’t make them right.

And while Joe Biden won the election and is now the President-Elect, Joe Biden the candidate didn’t win: it was, for lack of a better term, Joe Biden the movement.  But even that doesn’t quite capture it, because, as far as I can tell, Joe Biden himself had very little to do with it.  We need to understand that, and come to terms with what it means.

We now come to the events of 6 January, when Congress’s efforts to finalize the election results were delayed by what has been described as a riot or an insurrection, when some number ‘breached’ the Capitol and interfered with Congress’s deliberations.  Five died in the events: one woman was shot by a Capitol Police officer; a Capitol Police officer died from injuries resulting from getting hit by a fire extinguisher; two died from medical conditions; and one death hasn’t been further described in the media.  If someone had been killed by an armed private citizen, commonly referred to as a ‘gun nut,’ I’m sure we would have heard about it.

President Trump has been impeached yet again for his remarks that day. The news media have all been presenting this as a dastardly effort by Trump to subvert the will of the American people, not to be considered as anything else.  So, once again, off we go:

  • Was it an insurrection?  No.  An ‘insurrection’ presumes a plan by its leaders to wrest control from lawful authority and do something.  There’s no evidence of a plan beyond making noise and breaking things.  (If there were a serious plan, we’d never hear the end of it!)
  • Was it a riot?  I think that’s a fair characterization, although as riots go, on a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 3.  The property damage, compared to the riots last spring, was minimal, and Congress got back to business after a few hours.
  • Did Trump incite the crowd?  Incitement to riot is a well-defined crime.  It must be well-defined because it exists alongside the First Amendment right to free speech.  By that measure, no, Trump did not incite the crowd.   But then again, anything that Trump would have said apart from an abject admission of defeat (and even then!) would have been considered incitement by the opposition.
  • How many participated?  That’s the real question.  Tens of thousands were there for what was almost certainly President Trump’s last rally, and to protest the election results, but how many were there to make trouble?  Some fraction of those who ‘breached’ the Capitol were in fact admitted as visitors (Trump regalia and all!) by the Capitol Police.  There weren’t very many actual rioters, and a little mayhem goes a long way.  The US attorney for the District of Columbia noted that ‘at least 170 people’ were suspect.  That seems a more realistic figure.  What’s galling is that the news media are perfectly happy, if not eager, to conflate the handful of troublemakers with the vast majority who were peaceful and entirely within their rights.
  • Was it appropriate to protest that day?  Absolutely.  Perhaps the Trump partisans are misguided in their beliefs, but that doesn’t diminish their rights.  The Democrats protested Trump’s election and inauguration: sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

It seems pointless to impeach a President who will be out of office anyway later in the month.  It remains to be seen whether the Senate will continue the process to remove a President who will have already left office.  The intent seems to be to pound Trump into the ground, perhaps to prevent him from running again in 2024 (at which point, he’ll be older than Biden is now, and if Trump is the only alternative to the Democrats at that point, we’ve got other problems), but more as a grim warning: this is what happens if you don’t govern the way the cool kids think you ought to govern.

An Update on my life

Plumbing.

Well it’s a New Year—2021, and so I am giving an update on my life. To begin with, I had to buy a new handle for my outside-faucet. The plumber supplied it, and the price was $72 for a basic plastic knob to turn on the water. My original faucet-handle was stolen, and so I was forced to pay this amount. I could not just use a standard faucet handle because, well—it’s a specialty product, I suppose. I can’t imagine it cost more than two dollars to make, and so the company that makes it made a good profit on me—thanks to the creepy neighbor who stole my faucet handle. The plumber had to come and service some two-other-things, and so I divided the plumbing-service-call by three. One of those other things was that the plumber had to replace a part inside the faucet because it had been damaged by the painter—who came out to power-wash the house. The amount that the power-washing cost will have the amount of plumbing-service-call, and the replacement part for the faucet-interior-part, subtracted from the total power-washing bill. I should note that the power-washing needs to be redone because it was not done properly. UGH! I also had a new ‘flapper’ installed in the toilet in the main-bathroom, but the problem may be that the fill-valve is sticking. I will have to monitor the situation. The kitchen faucet is dripping, but I will have to order the parts. The plumber wrote down the parts-numbers on the bill. He will come back, minus the trip-charge, to install them.

“Thanksgiving”, “Christmas“, And “NewYear’s Day“.

I FaceTimed My sister and brother-in-law and nephew for Thanksgiving. For Christmas they came to my house, but on Wednesday, 12/23/2020. This was because of poor weather predicted for Friday, 12/25/2020. It was again my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who celebrated Christmas with me. We had roast beef, and mashed potatoes— but no Yorkshire puddings because my sister forgot to pack ‘the mix‘ before they came up. On Friday they made the Yorkshire puddings, and they turned out well. I was able to FaceTime them to observe this as a factual event. Last years Yorkshire puddings did not turn out so well! LOL! :-)! I also FaceTimed them on New Year’s Day. They had ‘Pork, and Sauerkraut‘. It, like all of the food they cook—looked delicious. My nephew was spending New Year’s with a friend, and so missed out on what was a very-delicious New Year’s Day meal. I wish I could have had some of that meal. :-)!

“Covid-19“.

My nephew had recovered from “Covid-19” before he came up for our Christmas dinner. But, his sense of taste-and-smell are only at the 50% -level according to him. I am glad he is as healthy as he is, but I do hope he is able to recover his sense of taste-and-smell to 100%.

“Apple”.

I use an Apple iPad. My sister got it for me so that I could have a newer version of the iPad. My previous iPad, that my sister paid for, had 64 GB of memory. This one has 32. The problem is 58% of that 32 GB is taken up by the operating-system (iOS). This is ridiculous! My general view is that when it comes to operating systems they should take-up no more than 30% of the total-memory, of any respective device. If I look at this operating-system-me,overy-usage, then that means that “Apple” should only sell any respective “Apple” device with at least 64 GB of memory on it. Needless to say, I am now going to probably buy a different type of smart-phone—when I finally get one—then an “Apple” smart-phone. This isn’t the only problem I have with “Apple”. I went to upgrade my software at the “Apple Store”, and I found that there was also a problem with how long it would take to download the software-upgrade. It would take four hours. I would have to sit in the mall for four hours! Please! This is nuts! Fortunately for me, my “Apple iPad“ had not downloaded enough of the operating-system-update that it would cause me a problem if I stopped downloading it, then-and-there. So that is what I did. I just stopped downloading it. I did order an external-drive to store my photographs on, while I was at the Apple store. It took a few days to get here, and now I’m finally going to download my photographs, and sundry—from my iPad. I was rather upset to find out, while I was at the “Apple Store“, that I could not delete photos from the “iCloud”. They are there—Forever! I do not know what to think about this ‘rule’ that “Apple” has made concerning the “iCloud”.

My Health.

I have scheduled my hemorrhoid -surgery for Monday, 03/01/2021. I will try to have the same person who drove-and-accompanied me to my colonoscopy appointment, to also take me to my Hemorrhoid-surgery. I am also having my generic-Synthroid dosage lowered. I will see if it has a negative-effect on my daily-functioning. I was supposed to have lowered it sooner, but I forgot. I should note that I have memory problems. So now my endocrinologist is probably having a heart-attack, because she believes my TSH-Level is really low in spite of taking a lower-dosage of generic-Synthroid. I have to tell her that I have not taken a lower-dosage. This is in order to stop her from, well, freaking out. I wish I had a better memory.

My Lawn-mowing Person.

I’m going to have to find a new person to mow my lawn. A friend of my late-mother’s has a person who may be able to mow my lawn. I hope so. First, my lawn-mowing person didn’t send me two-invoices (via-email) so I could keep track of how many times he had mowed my lawn. This is because I always pay in advance for about six lawn-mowings. Well, I still owe him $60.00, but I emailed him and said that unless he emails me the two-invoices he will not get the $60.00 I owe him. If there’s one thing I don’t like it is ‘sloppiness‘. Especially sloppiness in billing. It doesn’t take a genius to do good-billing, but in spite of that it does seem that very many people in my area do not have the talent to do proper billing. I think we have, as a society, become very sloppy. I would say that’s the big problem with America today. I should note, near the end of the season I had to have his people come back and mow areas that they chose not to do. This was in spite of the fact that they’ve been mowing the lawn all summer long. As I said, I have to just get a new lawn-mowing person to mow my yard.

‘Dude’, and ‘IAM’.

I often wonder what happened to ‘Dude’, and “It’s All Madness”. I wonder, is there any way someone could contact them? I would love to hear what they have been up to.

A special thank-you, to you “Brooklyn Guy”, for having this ‘blog’. “Happy New Year” to you, “New Wave Princess”, and anyone else who reads this! :-)!

New Year 2021

2020 is over.  Finally.

The ball dropped in Times Square last night, but the public was kept out, with attendance limited to the TV crews and performers, and a handful of first responders.  The guy on NBC kept prattling on about his thoughts while the ball was dropping; someone must have finally gotten his attention about 15 seconds before midnight so they could finally focus on the main event.

While 2020 is thankfully over, alas, I don’t see the emergency ending anytime soon.

We have two vaccines against Covid that became available in December, which in itself is a fantastic achievement.  But wait!  There’s now a ‘super-Covid’ strain against which the vaccine may or may not be effective, and we’re now told that while the vaccine may protect the person who receives it against getting sick, it won’t prevent that person from spreading the virus asymptomatically.  So even if we all get vaccinated, the masks, social distancing, and occasional lockdowns for shits and grins will still go on.

For now, unless some makes me, I’ll pass on the vaccine.  As far as I can tell, Covid is perhaps a couple of ticks more severe than the Hong Kong flu that was a thing when I was a kid.  The Hong Kong flu killed perhaps 100,000 in the United States (160,000 or so adjusting for population between then and now), but at the time we didn’t have overly sensitive PCR tests to genetically identify the virus (or non-functional fragments thereof), and didn’t have a political interest in emphasizing the worst, including fussing over asymptomatic transmission.

Nevertheless, here we are, with a politically weaponized virus that served to take down a President.  I acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election, but not that he won fair and square.

My son voted for Biden, not believing the radical progressive rhetoric, thinking that he would govern as a moderate Democrat, rather like Bill Clinton.  If I had believed that, I might have voted for Biden myself.  If Biden and Harris ultimately govern as moderates, it would mean that the entire electorate, the Democrats and Republicans, the liberals and conservatives, had all been played (except, maybe, my son).

I hope my son is right.  Meanwhile, Uncle Joe has told us to look forward to a dark winter.

Covid Testing: Do I Have To?

As I write this, there have been 672,393 coronavirus cases recorded in New York State, and 34,473 deaths.  The number of new cases has risen in recent weeks, but the number of deaths per day, after spiking at about 1,000 per day in early April, has stayed at a tiny fraction of that since June.

Across the state, which has a population of 19.5 million, there have been 19.1 million tests performed.  Manhattan and Staten Island have the distinction of having more tests than people.

The virus is indeed spreading, perhaps because we’re indoors more as the weather gets colder, perhaps because we’re tired of listening to Uncle Andy, perhaps simply because we’re testing more and looking for it.

And then I came across this on the subway the other day:

NYC Covid Testing Announcement

So I should get tested, even if I’m feeling OK.  Why would I want to do that?

First, I have to make time in my schedule, either make an appointment or wait in line, and get a swab stuck up my nose.  These are all things I’d rather avoid. 

And then, if the test is positive, I’ll have to drop whatever I’m doing and quarantine for two weeks.  I’ll have to isolate myself from everyone else, including my wife, unless she takes a test at the same time and her test comes back positive as well.  (I don’t know for a fact that I’ll be able to quarantine with my wife: they may indeed require us to isolate from each other.)  And I’ll have to explain my whereabouts for the previous week to the Covid police, aka the Test and Trace Corps.

As long as I’m feeling OK, and I’m not specifically required to get a test by a client (as happened in July) or a civil authority, I’m not getting tested.  In fairness, the two might overlap: if the Test and Trace Corps tells me I may have been exposed, they might not have the authority to direct me to take the test, but one of my clients has standing rules to that effect.

The bottom line is that I won’t get tested until I get sick myself, or someone makes me.

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About the same time, I read the following in Crain’s, a local business news magazine:

Dr. Christina Johns, senior medical adviser in New Hyde Park at PM Pediatrics, a nationwide provider of pediatric urgent care, said relaying information to patients is an important part of Covid testing….  People who think they might have been exposed to the coronavirus on a Tuesday morning, for instance, might decide to seek out testing that afternoon, she said. If someone is asymptomatic and has been exposed, however, the right thing to do is to quarantine and then obtain testing four to eight days after the exposure.

Crain’s New York Business, 16 Nov 2020

So if I think I might have been exposed, I should drop what I’m doing, isolate myself for a week, and then get a test.  I can imagine the conversation now:

“I’m sorry, I have to take the rest of the week off in quarantine.  I think I might have been exposed to Covid.”

“How do you figure that?”

“I was sneezed on in the street this morning.”

“Bullshit.”

New York State has released a coronavirus tracking app that one can run on one’s phone.  It would issue me an alert when someone that I’ve crossed paths with, who is also running the app, has tested positive.  OK, that’s a bit more than getting sneezed on in the street, but I still think I’ll pass, at least until Uncle Andy makes its use mandatory.

Making My Peace

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to make my peace with the notion of a President Biden.  I don’t begrudge President Trump’s efforts in the courts to possibly change the results—the Democrats took similar measures after the 2016 election—but I doubt he’ll succeed.

I still haven’t made my peace yet.

It would help if I could believe that Biden won fair and square.  If Biden was this wonderful candidate, so much better than Trump, the election should have played out as a shining example of how elections are non-partisan in their execution.  But that isn’t what happened.

An election is supposed to be a social experiment: you poll the voters and the results are what they are.  But Biden’s win feels like an engineered result: from Biden’s non-campaign, to the suppression of news items unfavorable to him, to making President Trump look like a blithering idiot at every turn, to the post-Election-Day shenanigans, it’s happening by design.  The fix is in.

But if I suspend disbelief for a bit and presume that what happened was in fact a free and fair election, that’s even more troubling.  It means that the electorate has decided that we’d rather not be a free country anymore.  It’s better for the government to take care of us: we can’t manage it ourselves.  Then again, if you vote for Republicans, you must be an evil racist.

It took me a while (a couple weeks after Election Day!) to realize that this year’s Presidential election isn’t really about Donald Trump or Joe Biden: if the candidates had kept their personalities and Twitter habits and families and foibles, and traded policy positions, the news media would be going on about how wonderful Donald Trump is, and I’d have voted for Biden.  The difference is more stark than it has been in any election in my life, even going back to when I was three and didn’t know what a President was.

A vote for Trump is a vote to stay true to the ideas the United States started with over 200 years ago, ideas which made us the most prosperous and successful country on Earth.  We haven’t always been true to those ideas, but have so far followed them more often than not.  In general, the difficulties we’ve faced have been in proportion to our divergence from them.

A vote for Biden is a vote to reinvent the United States as a corporatist, authoritarian nanny state bent on telling us all what to do—for our own good!—and making our lives miserable if we don’t do it.  Big business will still be free to do as it wishes, but small businesses and independent thinking are too disruptive and will be sat on.

Nevertheless, the reinventors won: now what?

When I imagine the worst, I anticipate that within two years I will be dead, destitute, imprisoned, or will have my life changed in some other way for the worst.  But that isn’t realistic: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not the Khmer Rouge.  I expect that taxes will go up, particularly corporate taxes, so I will go back to running my business not to be profitable.

More practically, things will slowly get worse.  If you weren’t fearful and suffering before, you will be made so now.  The ongoing Covid emergency won’t end, even with a vaccine, because it serves the purposes of the leadership to control the population.

But we can only be fearful and suffer with our own consent.  Abraham Lincoln remarked that ‘most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.’  For my part, I’ll carry on, trying to eat well, sleep well, and not stress out over events.  And I’ll enjoy, as much as I can, the cool parts of my work and the companionship of those around me.

That’s all I can recommend for anyone, for now.

Serene or Petrified?

The finagle was in for 2000.

You can read about it in Greg Palast’s book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.  The Florida state government, in the name of purging convicted felons from the voting rolls, disenfranchised thousands of others, effectively throwing the state to George Bush, who was elected President.

George Bush was an establishment Republican.  He campaigned on the usual Republican agenda of lower taxes and a smaller government.  I had voted for Al Gore, the Democrat.  I was disappointed by what happened, but could accept that the other guy won.  Under President Bush, we got into the War on Terror and war in Iraq.  We were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to be true.

Nevertheless, in 2004, Bush was re-elected, fair and square.   He ran on the theme, ‘I will keep America safe.’  His opponent, John Kerry, ran on the theme ‘I am not George Bush.’  It didn’t end well for John.

As I write this on the Saturday morning after Election Day, the results of the Presidential election are still unresolved.  I voted for Trump: I noted why in my last post, and won’t rehash that now.

And the finagle appears to be in process.  There are stories of piles of ballots appearing in the middle of the night, all voted for Biden, and of communities reporting more votes than registered voters.  So far, these stories are all unconfirmed.

The Democrats have changed since 2000.  While Biden presents himself as an establishment Democrat, the kind my parents voted for and I generally supported until about 10-15 years ago, the Democratic agenda has veered sharply to the left.  What used to be the middle of the road is now the ditch alongside it.

There will be recounts and court battles, and one way or another, Trump or Biden will win.  The loser will make a non-concession speech acknowledging the results, and that will be that, at least until Inauguration Day.  (You didn’t seriously imagine the D.C. sheriff coming to evict Trump from the White House, did you?)

I’d like to be able to be serene about a Biden victory and accept that ‘the other guy won.’  I could be serene if the Republicans hold onto the Senate.

But that’s dicey.  Counting the senators not up for re-election this year and the elections already resolved, there are 48 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two Independents, who functionally count as Democrats (one of whom is Bernie Sanders).  Two of the remaining seats are in Georgia and will be the subject of a runoff election in January; the other two are unresolved as vote counting continues.

If the Democrats win two of these races, they and the Independents will have 50 senators, which is enough, since the Vice President (Kamala Harris, for now) breaks ties.  The Democrats will have their dream of a blue House, a blue Senate, and a blue President.  Unlike Trump in 2017, the leadership will not have to fight the rest of the government as they pursue their agenda.

And then… we’re in trouble.

Under the prevailing Democratic philosophy as I understand it, since I’m white, male, and heterosexual, I’m an oppressor, the origin of evil, and will need to be put down hard.  Hillary Clinton called me (and many others) ‘deplorable.’  Keith Olbermann remarked last month,

And then [Trump] and his enablers and his supporters and his collaborators and the Mike Lees and the William Barrs and the Sean Hannitys and the Mike Pences and the Rudy Giulianis and the Kyle Rittenhouses and the Amy Coney Barretts must be prosecuted and convicted and removed from our society while we try to rebuild it, and to rebuild the world Trump has nearly destroyed by turning it over to a virus.

MSNBC, 8 October 2020

Well, thank you!

As I write this, word has come in that Biden has won Pennsylvania and therefore the Presidency.  It was probably a foregone conclusion: Biden needed only to win any one of the remaining states in play.  The lawyers may continue their battles, but yup, the other guy won.

OK, which is it:

  • We’ve taken a turn for the left, one among many in American history, just like in 1976 and 1992 and 2008.  (I was, in fact, OK with all three of those.)  Things will change, a little bit, but the fundamentals of our country will continue: nothing to get overwhelmed about.
  • The writing is on the wall; the storm clouds are on the horizon.  We’re about to go through a very painful transformation.  And I can’t protect myself against it, as one might board up one’s house in anticipation of bad weather, because the difficulties will be perpetrated by our own government.  (OK, I could stock up on guns and hide out in the woods.  But I still must earn a living, and my wife is a bigger New York City chauvinist than I am.)

Let’s just hope the Republicans can keep control of the Senate.

Election Reveal 2020

It’s 5:09 in the morning, the Wednesday after Election Day.  I’m here with my breakfast; I turned on my computer, but broke from my routine of checking emails and news feeds before doing pretty much anything else.

Like probably everyone else, I’ve had a bellyful of election news, to the point where it’s no longer news anymore.  I voted a week and a half ago, on the second day of early voting.  That much, at least, was done.

My wife asked me to get home early last night, fearing that there might be rioting in the streets: not as outlandish as it sounds, as many of the businesses in midtown Manhattan were pre-emptively boarded up.  Macy’s in Herald Square was boarded up; the Victoria’s Secret across the street, which had remained boarded up since the spring, got its boards renewed.  Chase and Citibank were not boarded up; Santander and some of the smaller banks were.  Sweetgreen, an overly pretentions salad place, was boarded up; most of the other eating places were not.

I had wanted to get home at 5:30 pm, but got stuck at the office.  I cheated and took an electric Citibike (electric bikes are fun, but they don’t count as exercise) most of the way, then walked the last mile or so.  Downtown Brooklyn looked mostly normal, or at least the new normal with restaurant seating in the curb lane and the queue outside Trader Joe’s.  I got home at 5:45 pm.

Back home, I resisted the habit of the evening news.  I watched part of a Hunger Games movie, itself a political statement of a sort.  Then dinner, a M*A*S*H rerun (it’s a timeless classic), a shower, and bed.  No election reports whatsoever.

A week and a half ago, I voted for Trump.  Even if I didn’t like him, I couldn’t vote for Biden.  He may be the last of the old-time moderate Democrats, the kind my mother would have voted for without a second thought, but he’s gotten old and slow.  He made very few campaign appearances, and those were sparsely attended.  And while Biden remarked, ‘I am the Democratic party,’ in the first debate, the party very clearly has other plans.

I had low expectations for Trump.  His campaign slogan, ‘Make America great again,’ suggests that the President and the government can make the country great.  They can’t.  The best the President and the government can do is to create an environment in which the people can make the country great.

But for three years, that’s what happened.  In spite of relentless attacks from the media, and the spectacle, which I’ve never seen before, of the President having to fight the rest of the government to get things done, Trump accomplished much of what he promised.  The border was made more secure; taxes and regulations were moderated; unemployment dropped to historic lows.

And then Covid came.  The essential problem with Covid was that nobody knew quite what it was or how severe it would be.  The best we could do is muddle through.  And we’re still muddling, although I hope that now that the election is over, one way or another, we can ease off on trying to treat Covid as a political issue.

In brief, from my perspective, the worst part of Covid was not the sickness, it was the response of Democratic politicians.  I believe the Republicans could win the New York City mayoralty if they can run a candidate more compelling than a live turnip.

I hope Trump wins cleanly, but I doubt that will happen.  My second choice is for Biden to win cleanly.  I’m really worried about what a Biden/Harris (or is it Harris/Biden?) administration would do, but at least the election would be over.

As I’m about to look at the news, my sense is that the election results will be inconclusive at 6:00 on Wednesday morning.  Trump may be ahead on electoral votes, but not all the way there.  And there is Pennsylvania.  I lived in western Pennsylvania for a time, years ago.  My gut feeling is that the state will go for Trump, but the state’s leadership seems to be trying really hard to put it in the Democratic column.

OK, here goes….

We’re not there yet.  At this point, Biden has 224 electoral votes, Trump has 213, and Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona are still in play.

The soap opera will go on.

We Are Not…

Democratic politicians have been going on and on of late about the United States’s, and more specifically President Trump’s, rotten response to the coronavirus.  But as I had written about New York City and the coronavirus in May, there are factors in play beyond the actions of our leadership.

We are the United States.

We are not China:

Besides being the origin of Covid, China is an authoritarian state, with government control over pretty much everything.  We yowl about how President Trump wants to get rid of the free press (not true, but that’s in issue for another day), but in China, there is no free press.  Our cell phones surveil us in the name of better advertising; their cell phones surveil them so that miscreants can be thrown in jail.  They tell us they’ve had 85,351 coronavirus cases as of this morning: that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.  We’re up to 7.2 million: still number one, although we may be overtaken by India at just under 6 million.

We are not New Zealand:

New Zealand is an island nation, separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of open ocean, well aware of how they are biologically separate.  They can enforce quarantine at the border, and if cluster of cases pop up, they can apply lockdowns to suppress the infection, with an immediate goal of ending the restrictions and returning to normal.

We are not South Korea:

Korea isn’t isolated, particularly from China.  But they were able to mount an effective response to the virus.  To do this, they had an agile government and business response, and a culture that respects its government and can accept the notion of continuous, automated surveillance in the name of public health.  The result has been effective contact tracing that focuses public health efforts where they’re needed.  We were told at the outset of the emergency about Korea’s wonderful testing program.  To date, they’ve done enough tests to cover less than 5% of the population.  Our figure is over 30%.

We’re not Ghana or Liberia:

The poorer nations of Africa have done better at containing Covid than most of the richer nations of the world.   Some of them have more public health experience, having dealt with far deadlier viruses; some of them admit the use of hydroxychloroquine, which is in common use against malaria.  But a big factor is that relatively few people travel there, few enough that quarantining and contact tracing really works.

But we’re the United States:

  • We’re not an authoritarian state (yet!).  We have a free press that can report the truth, except when it’s politically incorrect.  They can report what the government says, or not, as they see fit, and shade it with derision when they see fit.  They’re also free to exaggerate and spread fear rather than enlightenment: whatever sells newspapers.
  • We’re not isolated from the rest of the world.  In normal times, thousands of travelers entered and left the United States every day.  We initially chafed at the notion of closing the borders before embracing it.  This is a big difference, because we let the virus in and let it take root, because…
  • We’re not agile.  We’ve done about as well as can be expected in making plans and ramping up testing, but we’re collectively pretty rotten about anticipating problems.  Governor Cuomo shut down New York in stages, from 13 to 22 March.  If he had done it all at once on 13 March, it would have made little difference: people were already staying at home and not going out.  (And the virus was already spreading.)  If he had done it all at once on 13 February, there might have been a difference, but there was no sense of urgency back then.  Moreover, in the absence of a ‘genuine’ emergency, any government proposal that affects people’s livelihoods will be subject to intense lobbying and complaint.
  • We’re not trusting of our government, at least many of us aren’t.  I’ve written in these pages about the apparent futility of embarking on a contact tracing effort after the virus is already in the community: it appears useful only as practice for some more nefarious form of tracking and control.  I’m sure I’m not alone.
  • We’ve decided that hydroxychloroquine is a bad idea, even though it has been recognized as effective against other coronaviruses, and has been successfully used against Covid in other parts of the world.
  • And another thing: the United States is considerably larger than New Zealand, South Korea, Ghana, or Liberia: large enough that the virus will propagate through the states at different times, at different rates, with different effects.  There is no single policy that will work everywhere.

The benefit of hindsight suggests that we might have avoided all this trouble if we had closed our borders and kept everyone else out from, perhaps, sometime in January.  But even if we had known what to do back then, and the consequences of inaction, would we have done it?

Masks

OK, I wasn’t smiling. But it illustrates the concept….

When the coronavirus first emerged as an issue in February, I contemplated whether it would be useful to wear a mask.  Some people in New York City were wearing them, and the prices and availability on Amazon suggested supply issues.  It didn’t seem worth the bother.

In March, as the emergency heated up, my wife asked me about getting masks.  Our leadership at the time said that masks weren’t necessary for most of us, and we should refrain from using or acquiring them to save them for health care workers who really needed them.  Most of the masks were (and are) made in China, and the supply chain had been disrupted.  Overall, it didn’t seem worth the trouble, and as the drug stores all had signs advising ‘No Masks Available,’ I let it be.

On closer examination, the blue masks that were commonly worn by health care workers and now making a broader appearance aren’t meant to protect the wearer from the environment.  The original use case for the masks, which is also true for Covid, is that it contains the wearer’s emissions, which may carry the virus even though the wearer has no symptoms.  Health care workers commonly work with people whose immune systems are compromised, so they wear the masks to protect their patients from whatever microbes they may be carrying.

If you want to protect yourself from the virus with a mask, you need N95 or better, and if you’re a guy, you need to be clean-shaven.  When I got tested for Covid a couple of months ago, the doctor performing the test appeared in a bunny suit with a full face covering, which is probably as good as one can do while still being in the same room.

My wife had been following events in Korea, and since I was reluctant to run out and buy masks, she made up her own, following instructions on YouTube, from paper towels, adhesive tape, and elastic strapping.  Apparently, the Korean government had donated much of the country’s mask supply to China, so Koreans needing masks had to improvise.  My wife’s masks were comfortable and didn’t look overly dorky; I still carry a couple in my bag in case the mask I’m wearing gets soggy or otherwise troublesome.

In my travels on the Internet, I came across the Origin Maine Defender mask (no longer available), a gaiter made of stretchy synthetic fabric into which one can insert additional filter media (I used a paper towel).  I wore them for work: they were a bit uncomfortable and got soggy if I was exerting myself and sweating.  But thin gaiters aren’t really very good at containing one’s emissions, so I can’t recommend that alternative.

Later in the spring, we got a few dozen bandanas in different colors.  I gave some to my son, who wore them as bandanas.  My wife and I wear them folded up, with elastic strapping to hold them in place.  They’re colorful (my wife and I like to wear matching colors when we’re out together), comfortable, more effective than the Defender gaiter, and cheap.

New York rules (I’m reluctant to call them ‘laws’ because they’re rooted in executive orders from Uncle Andy, and not passed by the state legislature) require masks on public transit, in places of business (except while actually eating at a restaurant), and outdoors when social distancing can’t be maintained.  I’ll wear a mask while walking on the street, but take if off to ride a bike.

I doubt the mask actually does anything.  My wife and I tested negative a couple of months ago, and we haven’t felt any better or worse since then.  Beyond that, of all the thousands of Covid tests performed in New York State over the past month, less than 1% came back positive.  However, if indulging a little public paranoia will help us get back to normal, I’m all for it.

Meanwhile, the supply chains have gotten back to normal, and cheap Chinese blue masks are once again available.  As an employer, I’m required to have masks available for my employees, so I have a couple of boxes in the office.  But I’ve never worn one myself.

Tyranny with your Dinner?

Out in the wider world, things are slowly getting back to normal, almost:

  • Buses are back to the normal routine of getting on the front end of the bus and paying the fare, but the white line beyond which passengers are not permitted to stand when the bus is in motion has been relocated to keep passengers from standing too close to the driver.
  • Museums are reopening, but one must make a reservation before visiting.
  • Blink, the gym I used to frequent before the emergency, has reopened.  But the showers are closed, and one is encouraged to make a reservation.  I can resume my membership, or keep it suspended until the end of October.  I think I’ll wait.

Meanwhile, a proper meal inside a restaurant is still prohibited in New York City.  There’s outdoor dining, which is OK while the weather is nice, if one doesn’t get caught in a public protest (‘shame on you for flaunting your dining privilege!’), but will likely not be so wonderful come November.  One can also cheat a bit, and go outside the city (Hoboken is a few minutes from Greenwich Village on the PATH train), but that’s a so-so substitute.

Uncle Andy (Governor Cuomo) and Uncle Bill (Mayor DeBlasio) were maundering earlier this month about how resuming indoor dining would be ‘too risky.’  After raging at President Trump and insisting that they would make decisions driven by science and data, they fumbled about uselessly.  Governor Cuomo feared that indoor dining would bring about a resurgence of Covid… unless, perhaps, we allocated 4,000 police officers to mind people’s behavior in restaurants.  (In fairness, this is the same Uncle Andy who predicted dire consequences without 30,000 ventilators for the anticipated Covid victims of New York State.)  While I first came across this item on a conservative news feed, I checked a couple of more mainstream news sources to make sure it was real.

The Labor Day weekend felt close to normal.  My wife and I had lunch in Little Italy: there were fewer people in the streets than in past years, but it was comfortably busy.  We could get a seat on the subway returning home, but not a socially distant seat like in past weeks. 

A couple of days ago, Uncle Andy relented and put forth a plan for indoor dining in New York City, to take effect 30 September.  Restaurants would be limited to 25% capacity, with tables at least six feet apart, no seating at the bar, temperature checks at the door, and masks required to be worn when not seated.

But the worst part, to my view, is that one member of each party must identify himself for contact tracing.  If someone visits the same restaurant and later turns up positive, the Covid police will show up at my door demanding to know who I’ve been hanging out with for the past month.

The icky part is that restaurants with indoor and outdoor dining spaces (October is still mostly nice for outdoor dining in New York City) will probably collect contract tracing information from everyone, not just the indoor diners.  Choosing to eat outdoors to avoid contact tracing probably won’t work.

Oh, yes: New York City will provide ‘a team of 400 enforcement personnel’ to ensure compliance.  Not quite 4,000 cops, but it’s still onerous and stupid.

The saddest part is the response from the restaurant community reported on the New York State Web page.  The Restaurant Association and the owners of various restaurants are unanimous in praising and thanking Uncle Andy for his wise leadership.  Alas, he has them all by the throat.

Keeping sane and busy in an insane world

When corona hit I basically went into self-isolation for the most part. As someone who is in the high risk category (autoimmune issues made even worse by medicine that helps my issues, asthma, etc)I knew corona could kill me or make me very sick. I mean how many people have gone to the hospital with life threatening strep? I have! Our governor (JB Pritzker) enforced strict laws because Illinois had a high rate of corona and there have been a few neighbors who died due to it. I would go to the grocery store at times but that was the extent of it, church and the library and other places were closed. So I found things to do and it has paid off in keeping me offline.

First I decided to tackle my enormous book collection. As someone who is a library trustee I love to read and would buy bags of books at the book sale. However, the last few years I’ve been in school so the majority of the books sat unread on my shelves I decided to read them all and many I am donating to a garage sale for the music department at the high school. This way they make money and I get rid of things. I’ve been going through my closets and have bags of clothes and other items to donate ad well. I’ve also recycled a lot of things as well. I also finally went through my logic puzzles and finished all of those. My mom bought me about 100 around 10 years ago and still had about 20 so I finished all of these.

I’m not much of a cook but bought the Goldbergs cookbook. As a huge fan of the show i decided what better way to cook than with a show I am fanatical about? It worked great, I’ve made several recipes that were great! Speaking of learning new things I got a free membership to an online education program called Coursera and completed classes in instructional design, HTML, ans CSS and I’m just getting started. I also updated my resume and am getting calls for jobs, mostly remote now but that’s great. I even updated my portfolio and happen about that. What next? I figure now’s a great time to finally work on the Spanish certificate I want. Hopefully this will lead to jobs or maybe freelance options.

I am feeling better about all of this because people are arguing online and I am so sick of it. This way it keeps me busy without reading the insanity and complaining.

Voting… Somehow

I’ve come to believe that voting ought to be a little bit difficult.

Voting shouldn’t be an ordeal or an all-day project, but for me, voting has always meant taking time on Election Day itself to go somewhere off the beaten path, wait in line, possibly as much as an hour, and vote.  In my work, some of the controls of the machinery are designed to be purposefully difficult to operate because they would be dangerous if used without specific intent.  To me, voting is a similar endeavor: it’s serious, and not to be done lightly.

New York mailed absentee ballot applications a few weeks before this year’s primaries, with helpful instructions: you couldn’t simply vote absentee because you were afraid of Covid, but if you wrote it up as a ‘health issue’ you were good to go.  In the spring, I had not yet returned to the office, but I had been going out for a walk every day, joining my wife for grocery shopping, and heading out to job sites: a trip to the polls didn’t seem particularly frightening.

I ultimately didn’t vote.  Biden had already won the Democratic Presidential nomination, and none of the candidates in the other races were different enough from their opponents to make a vote worthwhile.  Not making a decision is, itself, a decision.

New York took a reasonable approach in sending out absentee ballot applications before the election, and giving voters an alternative to voting in person.  It represented a minor change from established law and procedure, but was appropriate under the circumstances.  However, while the Presidential race was effectively already decided by the time New York held its election, some of the other races were undecided for weeks until all the absentee ballots could be counted or their disposition resolved.

Now that we know what happened, would this be the right thing for the general election?

In one respect, it may not matter: New York is a thoroughly blue state and will go for Biden no matter what.  But the New York experience suggests that mandating national vote-by-mail, as the Democrats are proposing, is a spectacularly bad idea.

  • First, it’s an unwarranted intrusion by the Federal government on a function that is the responsibility of state and local governments.  It’s the responsibility of the states, with their knowledge of local conditions, to decide the best method for their citizens to vote.
  • Contrary to the insistence of the news media, vote-by-mail fraud does happen: in fact, the results of a local election in New Jersey were thrown out by the courts just last week.  The potential for election fraud with mail voting has historically been recognized by both parties, until the Democrats decided a couple of years ago that such a thing just didn’t happen.  For my part, it appears the Democrats are more interested in grabbing power than in good governance: I wouldn’t put it past them to try to finagle the election.
  • But the real problem with a vast shift to mail-in voting is human error and the Postal Service.  When you vote in person, the election staffer is checking the paperwork and walking you through a process so simple as to be essentially foolproof.  If you make an innocent mistake with your mail-in ballot, like forgetting to sign the accompanying paperwork, you’ve lost your vote.  (Some places will give you the opportunity to rectify such errors, but that takes time.)  And even in the best of circumstances, lost or delayed mail, or mail without postmarks, could result in more people losing their votes than the margin of a close race.  The Postal Service is an imperfect organization, and even throwing $25 billion at it, two and a half months before the general election, isn’t likely to help.

At this point, alas, all I can do is hope for the best, and hope and pray for a calm and fair election.  If the election goes badly—no matter who wins—it will be a worse emergency than Covid.

On to August

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted.  I wrote some drafts after George Floyd, but realized that I really shouldn’t write about race relations: whatever I might post could be used against me, to no practical gain.  The only thing that I think I can safely say is this:  When I was a kid growing up in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, I was sure that sometime in the future, say, 2020, we would be past fussing over race, and look at black and white as no different from blond or brunette, or tall or short.

That clearly hasn’t happened.

*          *          *

No, we haven’t gotten sick: my wife, my son, and I are still very much alive and well.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I felt icky.  I was really achy, and excused myself from work ‘in an abundance of caution,’ although I could have toughed it out.  I went back to bed, slept a couple of hours, and felt partway better by lunchtime, and well enough in the afternoon to take my daily walk (2-3 miles, although sometimes longer).

There was no fever, no shortness of breath, no coughing: none of the things we were told to look out for in March.  But the symptoms of Covid have broadened to the point where anything beyond a broken bone is suspect.

I was not to go out into the field for work until I was tested.  I went for a test the next day.

“Was it as horrible as you imagined?” the doctor asked after sticking the swab up both nostrils.

“It was about 80% as horrible as I imagined.”  I think I’d prefer a blood test.

My wife went for the test at the same time.  She has been following what’s happened in Korea in response to Covid, and was wondering why there wasn’t a blood test, as is apparently standard there.  She was also frustrated that we had to wait a week and a half for the result.

The tests came back negative.

Next time, unless I wake up barfing up a lung, I think I’ll tough it out, even though the rules expressly forbid that.

*          *          *

We’ve gotten through all four phases of Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan in New York City.  Some things, like mass entertainments, were never in the plan, perhaps to be resumed when the public perception of the danger, rather than the danger itself, had passed.

Other things got tossed over the side, including:

  • Gyms:  I’ve worked around this by ditching the subway and taking a Citi Bike most of the way to and from the office (as far as I can get in 45 minutes) and walking the rest.  I’ve managed to resist what in some quarters has been called the ‘quarantine fifteen.’  The gym owners in New York State have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state; we’ll see how they prevail against Uncle Andy.
  • Indoor dining:  This may seem a bit of an extravagance, but ‘dining’ in this context also refers to places like McDonald’s.  You can get a bite there, but sitting in the air-conditioned dining room to eat it is not an option.  Restaurants have set up temporary seating areas in the sidewalks and curb lanes, and it’s really nice if the weather holds, but November is coming.
  • Movie theaters:  Perhaps it’s just as well, as there haven’t been any movies that I’ve really wanted to see in years.  (In the 1990s, there were a couple of worthwhile movies every month.)  But it’s a downer not to be able to duck out of the heat of the day for a bit.
  • Museums:  I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘let’s go to the museum today.’  But it’s a pleasant, contemplative alternative for an afternoon’s leisure.  I do miss it.  The Metropolitan Museum is planning to reopen on 29 August… if Uncle Andy says it’s OK, which seems unlikely.

At least one can escape the heat by going shopping, although my wife has remarked that Macy’s hasn’t updated their stock in the month or so since they’ve reopened.  I guess springtime clothing will still work in the late summer and early fall.

At the Epicenter

New York City is the epicenter of coronavirus death. 

I don’t want your pity.  The reality is that the vast majority of us haven’t even gotten sick.  We’re carrying on, as best as anyone can.

I also wish you wouldn’t gloat.  Not because it hurts my feelings, but because we don’t fully understand what’s happening, and while you’re not suffering now, your turn may come next week, next month, or next winter.  For my part, I believe the explosion of Covid in the city means that we are taking our pain now, and any future outbreaks will be less severe.

New York City has been a big, densely packed, dirty city for over 150 years.  Its character as such is independent of the politics of whoever may be Mayor or Governor.  While we can fault our leadership for what they might or might not do, the essential character of New York City, and consequent risk of disease, is a fact of life and not the politicians’ fault.

Much has been written about the subway as a vector for the coronavirus.  Uncle Andy, last week, ordered the subways closed late at night for cleaning.  While that may make some people feel good, it won’t change much.  The trains and stations were cleaned periodically even before Covid, and an enhanced cleaning regime, in itself, doesn’t require the system to be shut down.  The only difference the nighttime shutdown makes is that the homeless will be chased off the trains for a few hours every night.  But while the subway almost certainly had a role in spreading the virus through the city, blaming the spread of the virus, and the death toll, on the subway seems a bit simplistic.

Over the last week, I’ve pulled together data from various places:

PopulationCasesper 1000Deathsper 1000
NYC and vicinity:
NYC8,399,000174,70920.8019,5402.33
Westchester/NY968,81530,70831.701,3051.35
Nassau/NY1,356,56437,59327.712,3401.72
Suffolk/NY1,487,90135,89224.121,5471.04
Hudson/NJ672,39115,76923.458451.26
Essex/NJ (Newark)798,97514,52118.171,2821.60
Other US cities:
Detroit672,6629,38613.951,0851.61
DC702,4555,0167.142510.36
Orleans/LA (New Orleans)391,0066,54816.754411.13
Philadelphia1,584,06415,1379.566380.40
Allegheny/PA (Pittsburgh)1,216,0451,3451.111020.08
Cook/IL (Chicago)5,150,23343,7158.491,6730.32
Los Angeles/CA10,040,00026,2172.611,2560.13
King/WA (Seattle)2,252,7826,5452.914630.21
NY/NJ vs other states
New York State19,453,561330,40716.9826,2431.35
New Jersey State8,882,190135,84015.298,9601.01
Other 48 + DC299,903,772817,4012.7341,9630.14
Europe
London UK8,982,00018,0002.005,2310.58
Ile de France (Paris) FR12,210,00023,7571.956,1160.50
Madrid ES6,642,00062,9899.488,4201.27
Stockholm SE974,0738,5368.761,288 (1)1.32
Coronavirus in Various Places

Note 1: Estimated.  I don’t have a death toll for Stockholm by itself, but Stockholm has less than 10% of the population of Sweden, and about a third of the reported coronavirus cases.  I’ll overestimate a bit and presume that it has 40% of Sweden’s reported 3,220 coronavirus deaths.

These figures were captured at various times last week, and not all on the same day. 

For the moment, let’s focus on the death tolls: the number of reported cases depends on the availability of testing, which is more a function of politics than biology.  But dead is dead, even though politics figures here, too: about 1/4 of New York City’s dead are ‘probable’ as opposed to ‘confirmed’ Covid cases.  Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere.

The next highest city after NYC, in terms of Covid death rate, is Detroit.  But Detroit has no subway, and having suffered a great loss of population, is nowhere near as dense.  The places with comparable death rates are all in the suburbs of NYC.  Is the virus somehow wafting out of the city itself?  Do commuter trains have a role to play?

Looking at other American cities, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation.  Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles all have subway systems, but have lower death rates.  In fairness, their subways are not as extensive as New York’s.  Meanwhile, New Orleans has no subway, but a higher death rate.

And all the European cities have extensive subway systems, but lower death rates, even Stockholm, which has refrained from the lockdowns in effect pretty much everywhere else.

Meanwhile, I’m also compelled to wonder about the wisdom of locking everything down.  It was OK as emergency measure before we knew quite what would happen.  But as a policy, I suspect that it only nibbles around the edges in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.

When this emergency passes, we need to calmly analyze and identify the factors that led to the rapid spread of Covid in NYC and other hot spots around the country and around the world.  And while it’s easy to blame the politicians or the subway, I suspect the reality will be a bit different.

Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a four-phase plan by which businesses in New York State would reopen as the coronavirus threat passed:

  • Phase 1: Manufacturing, construction, curbside pickup for retail;
  • Phase 2: Retail, professional services, real estate;
  • Phase 3: Hotels and restaurants;
  • Phase 4: Schools, arts, recreation, and entertainment.

The state has been divided into ten regions for the purpose, with reopening in each region, and advancement through the phases, consistent on meeting a set of metrics.  Most of the metrics relate to hospital usage, which makes sense, although some of the thresholds seem arbitrary.  The threshold is a minimum 30% available hospital beds and intensive care beds, which most of the state passes, but if the threshold were 20%, the entire state would pass.

The one metric that worries me is the need for contact tracers.  The virus was spreading for a month and a half before it was determined to be an emergency: contact tracing now seems pointless and silly. 

Nevertheless, under the plan, there need to be a minimum of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents: New York City will need over 2500.  Organizing and training a force of that size will be at least a three-month project.  Are we to remain on lockdown until then?

More worrisome is the authority to be vested in these contact tracers.  Will they have the authority to compel people to be tested?  To separate people from their families for isolation (as is happening in California)?  To compel answers to, ‘Are you now or have you ever been…’ or ‘Tell us about your friends and associates…’?

The only thing that such an effort would appear to accomplish is practice for a new Stasi whose authority, in the name of public health, would extend beyond biological viruses to embrace improper thoughts and improper speech.  That may be unconstitutional, but what the hey: it’s an emergency.

When I first read about the plan, I expected that we might be reopening in a few weeks.  I thought my work life would get back to normal in 4-6 weeks, and my wife and I would be able to enjoy dinner out in maybe 6-8 weeks.  Live baseball this summer, alas, would be a lost cause.  But if New York City will not come off ‘pause’ until we have 2500 contract tracers on staff, fully trained and ready to go, it will be a much longer wait.

I sure hope Uncle Andy reconsiders. And it’s disgusting, but right now, that’s all I can do.

*          *          *

Since the 1960s, when young men ran off to escape the military draft, the notion of running off to Canada to elude whatever turmoil the US was suffering has been with us.  It’s crossed my mind a couple of times, never very seriously, the last time in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected.

Now, in the name of public health, our liberties are basically gone.  Yes, there’s still freedom of speech, but only over the Internet, open to government monitoring.  Yes, there’s still freedom of religion–you can believe whatever you want—but all the churches are closed.

Alas, escaping to Canada won’t help.  They’re just as bad as we are.

Asbestos and Corona

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, found in nature, which was for many years used for fireproofing and other thermal insulation.  It’s still one of the best thermal insulators known.  But asbestos fibers, when inhaled, lead to cancer and other lung diseases.  Asbestos has been the subject of vast litigation, and there is an industry built around the removal or abatement of asbestos.

The incidence of disease and death from asbestos has a random character.  In the time before the danger of asbestos was widely recognized, some people worked around asbestos their entire lives with no ill effect; others fell deathly ill over the course of a summer internship at the asbestos plant.  Most cases, though, involved repeated exposure over time.

Today, the discipline and procedures of asbestos abatement are built around the premise that the danger of asbestos is not random.  The probability of disease on exposure to asbestos above the ‘safe level’ is presumed to be unity, i.e. the stuff is presumed to be lethal.  Workers tasked with asbestos abatement must wear protective clothing and masks, and special arrangements are made to ventilate the work area and prevent asbestos fibers from escaping outside.

In an industrial environment, these rules make sense.  Employers are required to provide a safe work environment, providing training and protection against hazards in the workplace.  It would not be OK for an employer to pass the risk of illness of an incomplete protective regime to his employees, even with their informed consent.

But this character of randomness associated with asbestos applies to other agents in the environment, including tobacco and (this season’s favorite!) viral exposure.

Last week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the military’s response to coronavirus.  The military had to develop policies and procedures on the spot as the threat emerged, without data on how deadly the virus might be or its propagation.  The result was a regime similar to asbestos abatement: the virus is presumed to be deadly wherever it might appear, and anyone not known to be safe is presumed to carry it.  Social distancing (‘tactical dispersion’) and hygiene procedures are ruthless.

And for the military, these rules make sense.  The first mission of the military is to be ready to carry out whatever other missions may be necessary, and being inconvenienced is part of military life.

But is this approach the right one for the rest of us?

What we are starting to know now from data is what many of us suspected in February: Covid-19 is similar to the seasonal flu.  It spreads almost as broadly as the seasonal flu, and while it is more serious than the seasonal flu, it’s not so deadly as to merit panic.

*          *          *

Prospect Park on a Saturday Afternoon

Yesterday, my wife and I bought lunch in a local pizzeria and enjoyed it al fresco in Prospect Park.  We took off our masks to eat and watched the people go by.  It was a glorious day: the first real spring day this season.  The park seemed busier than a normal Saturday: with everything else closed, what else was there?  We took a long walk, and when I got home, I realized I had a little sunburn.  It felt good.

Families hung out together in the park, but otherwise people were reasonably distancing themselves.  But I’m compelled to wonder: if you pass within eight feet of, say, 1,000 people, are you really safer than sitting six feet from four or five people in a subway car?

Were we taking our lives in our hands enjoying a sunny day in the park?  Even knowing about the virus, I find that really hard to believe.

Let’s End This

One of the reasons I don’t write more regularly is that I don’t like to repeat myself.  Too much of what I read on current affairs is people banging the same drum about systemic racism, or taxation being theft, or whatever.

But I’ll repeat myself a bit here.

We need to end this emergency soon.

The virus is a force of nature at this point: the government cannot protect us from it.  The one thing that the government might be able to do is forestall a disaster such as happened in China, Italy, and Spain, where so many people got sick at once as to overwhelm the health care system.  It doesn’t take that many people for that to happen: if 1% of a community got sick and descended on its hospitals all at once, the result would be worse than anything seen so far.

That, fortunately, hasn’t happened, although for a handful of New York City hospitals, it got close.  The number of new cases is starting to level off, and the number of hospitalizations is dropping, never having gotten close to the available space.  The Navy hospital ship Comfort, having arrived in New York City at the end of March to supplement available hospital space, is leaving, having treated a grand total of 179.

About a week ago, Governor Cuomo extended the emergency two weeks, to 15 May.  And if current trends hold, that’s a good place to start.  I don’t expect all the restrictions to be lifted at once, and even if they were, the public would likely still avoid large gatherings like sporting events. But I’m hoping that a month from now, I can take my wife to dinner.

Every state is different, and under our republic, decisions like this are made on the state level.  New York has suffered, and is recovering, but for other states, the worst may be yet to come.  And for some states, ‘the worst’ may not be that severe to begin with.

43 of the 50 states implemented some form of stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus.  At the time, we weren’t sure what would happen.  We didn’t have, as I sometimes like to say at work, the dimensions of the problem.

Meanwhile, there are the seven states, and Sweden, that didn’t force everyone to stay at home.  Most of the states in question are sparsely populated, but Sweden isn’t that sparse, and has some major cities.  Even though they didn’t have Uncle Andy’s guidance, they didn’t get whomped like New York City. 

Our understanding now is still incomplete, but way better than what we had a month ago.  To those who say, ‘the science should determine when it’s safe to reopen,’ I’m compelled to point out that any decision of this nature is an exercise in risks and statistics.  (Statistics is a science, too!)  Even deciding to wait for a vaccine is a statistical exercise, one that should properly consider the secondary effects of prolonging the emergency for another year.

So now is a good time to think about lifting the restrictions we’ve been under for the past month, based on the facts on the ground.  Mid-May is a good place to start for New York; other places might take longer, and some may be ready to restart, taking baby steps at first, now.

Let’s get our dignity back, and get back to work.

Life Goes On

The father of a friend and colleague passed away from the effects of Covid-19 about two weeks ago.  I’m sorry for my friend and what he has suffered.

I was working with him on site last week, and I felt it best not to talk about the coronavirus or the current emergency.  My friend had his professional demeanor back, but it clearly wasn’t the time.

I’ve remarked in these pages (in brief) that the danger of the coronavirus, while real, has been overblown and used for political purposes.  But am I wrong to believe that?  Is it cruel and heartless, given that people are dying? 

The virus, at this point, is a force of nature.  It doesn’t care what we think or say about it.  We can’t control it.  We can only try to conduct ourselves to moderate its effects.

But we need to be mindful that our efforts to moderate the virus have their own effects.   While they may not be as lethal as the coronavirus, they bring their own pain and suffering.  And to say those effects don’t matter ‘because people are dying’ is the worst kind of virtue signalling.

Death hurts.  But life must go on.

*          *          *

Washington Square Park

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, wearing masks made from matching bandanas.

There were fewer people in the park than a normal springtime Sunday, and people were reasonably distancing themselves, but it felt, for once, normal.  A couple of musicians were playing.  We sat on a bench, listened to the music, and contemplated the scene.  It felt good.

Musicians in Washington Square Park

Are We There Yet?

Back on St. Patrick’s Day, when the emergency was clanging down on us (it must be really dire to close the bars for St. Patrick’s Day!), I took the semi-wild guess that the emergency would last between six and eight weeks.  Now that we’re about halfway through, I’m contemplating how the emergency might end.

Three scenarios come to mind.  But before I examine them, I’ll share some basic assumptions:

  • Whatever the virus’s origins, it is now a force of nature, and will not take instructions from us.
  • Its spread cannot be stopped, only moderated.
  • In the long term, it will become part of the biological landscape.  It cannot be mopped up and sent back to China.

With that in mind:

Scenario One: Flatten the Curve and Be Done with It

If we take the premise that this business of shutting everything down was merely to ‘flatten the curve’ and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, then in another 3-5 weeks, the number of new cases should be small enough that we can start easing the restrictions.

We can let most businesses open, including (perhaps especially!) restaurants, although large public gatherings like sporting events and rock concerts will still have to wait.  I’d hope for at least Minor League Baseball (with its smaller venues) this summer.

We can expect testing of sample populations to get a better handle on how the virus has already spread.  However, the decision would necessarily be a judgement call, and entail some measure of risk.  Also, while the testing and setting of guidelines may be Federal endeavors, the restrictions we have now are set on the state level, and will have to be released the same way.  That’s how we’re set up in our republic.

The virus will indeed spread more readily when restrictions are eased: there will be an increase in the number of new cases, and some people will die as a result, who wouldn’t have died under the other scenarios (at least not from Covid).  But because many more people will have already been exposed, the increase will be more modest.

Scenario Two: Test Everyone

If we deem the risk of more new cases to be unacceptable, the next approach would be to test the entire population so that the virus can be tracked absolutely.  This would be a vast enterprise and would take at least 3-4 months.

I’m also not clear on what would happen.  Since I haven’t been seriously ill since the beginning of 2018, if I were tested, I’d expect one of two results:

  • I’m negative.  Would that mean that I’d remain under the quasi-lockdown while others got back to work?  Given the choice, I’d prefer to go forth in the world and take my chances.
  • I have antibodies, which means that I’ve been exposed, but haven’t gotten sick:  I had a brief but nasty bout with flu-like symptoms early in February.  I skipped a couple of gym sessions but otherwise held together.  Maybe that was Covid?  I don’t know.  In any case, if I’ve been exposed, the authorities would then presumably chase through my associates to see how I might have been exposed, or whom I might have exposed.

And what happens if I have antibodies and my wife is negative (or vice versa)?  Will one of us have to move out of the house so the other can be isolated?

The coronavirus is not Ebola.  It spreads rapidly, to the point where contact tracing—especially after the fact—is pointless and silly.  Attempting to trace anyway is also an invasion of our civil liberties.  And doing so sets the precedent for the next emergency (viral or otherwise).

After all, never let a crisis go to waste.

Scenario Three: Vaccinate

If we’re not willing to accept the risk of simply going back to business, and trying to track everyone’s status with the virus isn’t practical, then the third alternative is to wait for a vaccine.  In the very best case, a vaccine might be ready late this year or early next year.

But, given the choice, would I get vaccinated?  My wife and I don’t get flu shots, and from what I know now about coronavirus and Covid, I’d be genuinely reluctant to get a shot of a hastily-thrown-together brew of God knows what.  Then again, if the choice were to get the shot or stay locked up at home, that might be different.

I’ve reviewed the stay-at-home orders put forth by various communities, and they all, so far, admit going out for exercise while maintaining social distancing from others.  A new and improved version, to encourage vaccination, might reconsider this proviso, requiring the unvaccinated and unexposed to stay at home.

If it came to that, and we all decided to get the shot, the emergency would likely be over sometime next year.

But I don’t think we have a year.

I came across an interesting datum the other day.  Since the coronavirus crisis began, ridership on the New York subways is down 92%.  Crime in the subways is down… wait for it… by only 3%.  The people who earn their living through crime are presumably mostly young and healthy, still need to earn a living, and aren’t deterred by Uncle Andy telling them to stay home.

We’re only a little way into this emergency, and people aren’t desperate… yet.  But that will change after a couple of months.  Moreover, other people who aren’t desperate at that point will come to resent the government for continuing what appear to be unnecessary restrictions, and may want to take matters into their own hands.

If the emergency continues for more than a couple of months from now, I expect that there will be violence, first in the relatively small-scale crimes of the desperate, but getting worse.

A colleague sent me a meme about ending the emergency by Independence Day, 4 July.  That seems a practical threshold, as much for the meaning of Independence Day as for the time span between now and then.  If we are not back to enjoying our essential freedoms by Independence Day, we should presume that it will be a long, long wait.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I hope to God we end up following the first scenario.  We need our freedom and our dignity far more than we need some incremental (and more than likely illusory) safety.

Social Distancing

Social Distancing

The rule seems simple enough: stay at least six feet away from other people.

But nothing is ever as easy as it seems:

  • I thought social distancing applies only to people who aren’t members of your own household.  If my life had turned out differently, and I had six children who still lived with me, my wife, my kids, and I could all go out together.  As it stands, I go out for a walk with my wife pretty much every afternoon, walking hand in hand as often as not.  Am I doing something wrong?
  • I’m still not clear as to whether ‘six feet’ means six feet on center (what you’d get if drew lines on the sidewalk six feet apart and had people stand on them) or six feet extremity to extremity.  The graphic (above) that’s appeared in my apartment building suggests that it’s six feet on center, but walking down the street, it’s easier to assess extremity to extremity (is any part of another person closer than six feet to me?).
  • If you’re on the sidewalk in motion, and someone approaches in the opposite direction, what do you do?  I will try to maneuver to keep as much space as practical, slowing down or speeding up if a stretch of sidewalk is particularly narrow.  But it seems excessive to cross into the street to avoid a momentary violation of the six-foot threshold.  It seems really excessive to stick out a tape measure and poke others in the ribs.

I’m asking having seen videos of the horrors of ‘people in public spaces not social distancing’ which typically show people in a park, walking and enjoying a sunny day, for the most part keeping reasonable distances, with some couples or small groups staying together.  Are the people who photograph and post these videos genuinely concerned for the public health, or resentful that somewhere, somehow, people might be enjoying themselves?

And what about couples who aren’t married and aren’t living together?  The executive order states, ‘Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time,’ which would seem to include dates.  But who is Uncle Andy to stand in the path of true love?

In another time, I wouldn’t give rules like this a second thought.  But in another time, we wouldn’t have rules like this at all.

Dr. Bob, years ago, said that ‘rules are made for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.’  I’ll take the rules in that spirit.  I’ll endeavor to keep my distance, but won’t yell at people for violating my Sacred Bubble.  I’ll wait for the next elevator (or maybe take the stairs) but won’t wait for the next subway train.  And I had a girlfriend but not a wife, I would be more than happy to go on a date (such as one can with the restaurants and theatres closed) with said girlfriend, Uncle Andy’s admonitions notwithstanding.

19 Days Later

Every day, I gird myself to watch the news.  I stopped needing to look at the Johns Hopkins dashboard when the United States topped the list.  We’re number one: there isn’t much more to say.  There now more dead in New York City than China will admit to in the whole country.

But while the news media is still in the mode of ‘get ready to die next week,’ the reality is a bit different.  Most of us are alive and well, and not coughing.

More than anything, it’s weird:

  • The supply chains have recovered from the initial jolt, and the stores are pretty-well stocked again, except maybe for disinfectants and hand sanitizer.  But there’s a line to get in the local Trader Joe’s that stretches (with everyone observing six-foot social distancing) down the block and sometimes around the corner.  It’s usually a 40-60-minute wait.  Some of the other local stores also have queues waiting outside.
  • Buses creep me out.  The driver pulls up and you get on in the middle of the bus, through what’s usually the exit door.  The MTA has given up on collecting fares, so the ride is free, and the front of the bus is roped off.  Signage in the bus reminds us that ‘buses are for essential travel only.’  I’d skip the buses entirely, but the creepiness doesn’t bother my wife, and I go out with her to do shopping a couple of times a week.
  • The subway trains now run every 20 minutes (the usual schedule for the middle of the night) 24 hours a day.  Ridership is still very light: one can almost, but not quite, maintain the six-foot spread on the train.  I find myself walking out of the home or office, checking when the next train will show up, and then walking one or two stations to catch it so that I’m not standing on the platform, waiting.
  • And yes, I do have to ride the train.  My business has been deemed ‘essential,’ and I still have to perform on-site testing.  I don’t really have to go to the office, but it’s convenient to the field sites, and I’m usually more productive there than at home.  (I’m also sure that I’m annoying my wife when I have video conferences and go running off at the mouth, but so far, she seems to understand.)  Life at the office has gotten especially weird:
    • There’s no heat or hot water in the building.
    • In normal times, there are a galaxy of choices for lunch.  No more:
      • Most of my usual choices have closed for the duration.
      • The Chopt salad place near my office closed, but there’s another one nearby.  However, you can’t go there and order a salad: you have to use their app or Web site.  I did it once and saw why: the store itself is roped off: you go to the vestibule, state your name, and the staffer hands over the bag.  There isn’t even a credit card machine: you have to have paid in advance.  Alas, it isn’t the same as when the guy is tossing the salad in front of you and you can tweak up your salad (‘a little more dressing’) on the spot.
      • One of the essential charms of McDonald’s is the fountain sodas, big and icy.  But when I went to the McDonald’s near my office, I was told, ‘no soda.’  I have cans of soda in my office, but it isn’t the same.  Perhaps one of the other McDonald’s near my office still has a working soda fountain.
      • The Chick-Fil-A near my office, two weeks ago, had markers taped on the floor to remind everyone of the need to keep six feet apart.  A week ago, the markers were removed, but there were hardly any customers: Governor Cuomo had halted work at ‘non-essential’ construction sites, and that was much of their market.  The next day, they were closed.
    • After I bring my lunch back to the office and eat it, I have to take the wrappings out and pitch them in a litter basket in the street: the lady who usually comes to the office to empty the baskets and occasionally vacuum is gone for the duration, too.
    • Even an afternoon snack has become a production.  Most of the Dunkins near my office are closed.  Needing a snack, I went to nearby drugstore for a candy bar.  But the racks of sweets near the cashiers have been removed: I guess single candy bars are not hygienic.
  • At the beginning of March, New York State banned single-use plastic bags to carry goods purchased at most retail stores.  But they’ve made a comeback.  I’m told that San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in favor of reusable bags over a decade ago, has reversed themselves: reusable bags are now forbidden.

In recent days, we’re being told that we’ve turned a corner, and the number of new cases is abating.  On the other hand, there are others telling us that the emergency will last all summer.  On St. Patrick’s Day, when all the restaurants and bars were closed, I estimated the emergency would last 6-8 weeks.  We’re now about halfway through that, and it seems about right, today.

Next week is anyone’s guess.

Coronavirus

I’ll get the stupid stuff out of the way first:

  • No, you can’t get the virus from drinking Mexican beer.  But it’s OK to ask that question, once: stranger things have happened.
  • I’ve heard so much about the coronavirus that I’m sick of it, in and of itself, so I’ve started to call it the Dos Equis virus.
  • When we have a Pacífico virus, then I’ll start worrying.
  • ‘Covid-19’ is a stupid name:
    • When I first heard it, I thought of ‘Product 19,’ a Kellogg’s breakfast cereal with a full day’s vitamins in one serving.  We had it in my house when I was a kid: it was a dreary part of dreary school mornings.
    • ‘Covid’ sounds like a brand of motor oil: ‘Covid-19 keeps your engine clean.’

And the less-stupid stuff:

  • I remember the Hong Kong flu and the Sydney flu, so I really can’t get upset with someone calling this year’s disease the ‘Wuhan flu’ or ‘China flu.’
  • When the virus started making the news, my wife said she didn’t want to go to Chinatown for dim sum, formerly one of our favorite weekend lunches.  I tried to talk her into going, but I didn’t really feel like dim sum either.  It isn’t racism, just the power of an unpleasant association.
  • I still go to the local Chinese takeout place.
  • Last week, when the gyms were still open, I had had a bellyful of bad news watching the morning news programs, so I switched to the other side of the gym, where the TVs were tuned to ESPN and the sports channels.  At the end of last week, I wondered what they would do now that sporting events around the US and around the world had been cancelled.  At this point, the gyms are all closed, so it doesn’t matter.

Trying to be a little more serious:

  • I always imagine that when some emergency happens, I’ll be able to settle down and work in peace, or maybe turn my attention to something I’ve wanted to do and never had the time.  But that never happened.  Past emergencies (snowstorms, hurricanes) have lasted less than a week, and I was overtaken by the need to find out about, and fuss over, the emergency.  I need to get past that, this time.
  • I’m feeling OK as I write this, except for the lingering tension of worrying what might happen.  At this point, that seems worse than the actual virus.
  • Last week, I regularly visited the Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard.  Now I avoid it.  I look maybe twice a day, and I’m trying to drop it entirely.  It just adds to the tension.

*          *          *

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to a restaurant for lunch.  She had particularly wanted to go on Sunday for the live music.  The guitarist was there, but we were the only customers.  He played, and we talked and laughed and sang.  I got a little bit drunk.  I think we needed that.

And then, about a half-hour later, I got a phone call from work.  I steeled myself to deliver a competent answer.  Life is never easy.

*          *          *

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I did some shopping.  We went to the Korean supermarket on 32nd Street and a nearby drugstore.  There are no paper goods, hand sanitizer, or disinfectants to be had, but everything else is pretty much there.

One of the Korean restaurants now limited to takeout was offering a ‘Care Package:’ for $149 (roughly the same as their menu price) they would pack up a Korean barbecue dinner (with raw meat to be grilled at the destination) and the essential garnishes and side dishes.

Samwon Garden Care Package

I was in good spirits, until I opened my email and got correspondence about Governor Handy Andy’s latest restrictions.  After decreeing that 50% of employees had to work from home, then 75%, he has gone all the way: all non-essential businesses shall be closed.  Public transit will remain in operation, but is to be avoided:

Individuals should limit use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and should limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders;

The program has a cutesy name: New York State on PAUSE (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone).  I get annoyed with cute names for serious business, as well as laws named after little girls.

My particular business, as I read the rules, is deemed essential, so I can go in to work, although I should probably take my bicycle instead of the subway.  Nevertheless, I’m working from home when I can: after being overjoyed at consistently being able to get a seat on the subway, even during the rush hour, now I’m a bit creeped out.

I get the idea: with the number of cases skyrocketing, it’s more important to try to maintain isolation.  Still, the news is a punch in the gut.  (I could plumb the numbers further: I’m an engineer: it’s what I do.  But not today.)

And yet, I wonder: we’ve been told that we should be welcoming of all people, that referring to Covid as a ‘Chinese virus’ is racist, and that diversity is our strength.  Yet the current set of rules seem to pit us all against each other, warning that any stranger within six feet is a potential disease carrier and bringer of illness and death.

For my part, I find myself being overly nice (or at least nicer than usual) to the people I have to interact with in my travels: we are, after all, all in this together.

salaries not what they were

So I have recently discussed my job hunting, which has its highs and low. I discussed a questionable job that was eventually rescinded and after that I was offered a job I turned down because it was part time with no benefits, not many hours a week, and required a round trip of over an hour to work 3-4 hours. Even though I need money, something doesn’t seem right so I turned it down. Plus in the second interview the one guy yelled at me for answering something what he considered wrong.

Brings me up to now. I got a call for a marketing job and am going on my third interview on Friday where she wants me to meet her boss. It’s looking good plus they reached out to me and on top of it she told me another department wants me too! The place has good benefits for the most part (no pension but who does anymore?). However, the salary is so-so. I mean it’s not bad, but I’m not entry level and it’s less than I made 15 years ago. This is my big issue with almost all jobs now, most seem to be paying what I saw many years ago. One job that interviewed me 15 years ago wanted to interviewed me now and are actually paying LESS than 15 years ago! I see this often, I don’t see jobs even paying $40,000 now, heck I am happy to interview for jobs paying $32,0000 now, though I made more years ago. Years ago I hung up on places offering me “just” $35,000 and now would be jumping through hoops to make that. if I am offered this job (which does pay more then $32,000 plus benefits) of course I’ll take it, but it seems we are regressing with salaries which is sad.

The Kevlar Bubble

 “Deficits don’t matter,” we were told in the 1980s, as the Reagan Administration started running what seemed at the time to be huge budget deficits ($200 billion!) to defeat the Russians.  We had seen much smaller deficits associated with price inflation in the 1970s (‘too much money chasing the same goods’), but were told not to worry.

Remarkably, it seemed to work.  The Russians were defeated (although, in fairness, the Reagan defense buildup had relatively little to do with it), the economy generally prospered, and prices for consumer goods remained stable.  The Federal deficit moderated, and even came close to running a surplus in the late 1990s.

But since the turn of the century, the government has been running larger and larger deficits.  Under the Bush (43) administration, deficits ran around a half-trillion dollars per year, and the Obama administration introduced the trillion-dollar deficit.  President Trump campaigned that he would not only eliminate the deficit, but would retire the entire debt in eight years.  (In fairness, that was one campaign promise I didn’t take very seriously.)  In fact, deficits under Trump have gone back into trillion-dollar territory.

And yet price inflation has been moderate.  Yes, the government figures understate the case.  But while today’s Federal deficits, as a percentage of GDP, are at least twice what they were in the 1970s, real price inflation has been less severe.  What happened?

One of the most basic equations of economics is:

MV=PQ

where:

  • M is the quantity of money in the system
  • V is the velocity with which money changes hands
  • P is a price index
  • Q is the value of goods and services transacted (in some unit of measure unaffected by transient price changes)

So, since about 2000, M has gone way, way up; Q has stagnated, rising very slowly; P has gone up moderately.  V, in consequence, has dropped like a rock.  Money doesn’t change hands like it used to.  It disappears out of the economy almost as fast as it’s created.  How does that happen?

For starters, every year, there are roughly $700 billion in imports that have no corresponding export.  Once one of those dollars leaves the country, it isn’t coming back.  That, in itself, will make a big dent in the effects of a trillion-dollar Federal budget deficit.

Perhaps a bigger factor is the inequality that has overtaken the American economy since 2000.  Another place the money can go to have no further effect for ordinary people is into the pockets of the very, very rich. The rich have relatively little need for consumer goods (how many Lamborghinis can one drive at once?) but will seek to invest their new-found gains to at least preserve their value.  So the stock market rises, independent of the productive values of the corporations on it, and real estate goes up, which causes some incidental problems for ordinary people who want to live in places like New York and San Francisco, but nothing major.

Yes, it’s a bubble.  Bubbles usually pop when people realize that the object of the bubble isn’t returning value and they want their money back.  But the essential difference this time is that the money won’t stop.  As long as there are huge new debts, the money has to go somewhere.  This bubble is made of Kevlar, and so far, is puncture-proof.

About 30 years ago, I read The Great Depression of 1990 by Ravi Batra.  At the time, its essential premise seemed ludicrous: that the very rich would suck all the money out of the economy and impoverish the rest of us.  Yet that’s exactly what’s happening now.  The vast Federal deficits, nominally intended to help the people, are in fact helping the very rich become even richer.

Yet it works, for now.  The Federal government borrows money that doesn’t exist; the money passes through ordinary people, but doesn’t really circulate very much before it ends up in the hands of a big bank and its owners, who effectively sequester it so it can’t do any further damage in terms of price inflation, or the money simply leaves the country, never to return.

It’s a delicate balance.  If you cut budget deficits, suddenly banks and big corporations would have to work for a living, and the stock market would plummet.  If people became more prosperous and traded among themselves, rather than buying imports, money wouldn’t be flushed out, and prices would rise.  And if, as some of the Democratic candidates for President imagine, you mobilize millions of people and pay them union wages to go out and fix climate change, they will find that their new paychecks won’t actually buy very much.

A while back, I entertained in these pages the notion that the economy we experienced was a simulation of sorts that had become divorced from the economy of the stock market and the Federal government.  No, it’s not quite a simulation, but it’s pretty close.

It Would Be Simpler If We Would All Just Die

Time magazine recently designated Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage wokescold, their Person of the Year for 2019.  It really isn’t surprising: the title seems to have always been based on notoriety rather than merit: past designees have included Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Watching Greta’s speech at the United Nations, I could barely get through twenty seconds without bursting out in laughter.  Perhaps she meant to be deadly serious, but it came across as overwrought and silly.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about global warming, or climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week.  The basic premise—that human activity is putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural systems can take out—is beyond controversy.

But I’m skeptical about the effects.  I can’t observe climate around the world, but I am aware of long-term trends where I live.  I’m writing this on Christmas week, in New York City.  The temperature outside is 48 degrees Fahrenheit, a little warmer than it has been in the past few days.  Last week was right around freezing.  About 15-20 years ago, it was warmer, with milder winters and several days each summer with high temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  But in more recent years, the weather has become more like I remember it, with over-100-degree days being genuinely rare, every winter bringing snow and at least a week or two of temperatures close to zero, and mid- to late-December being right around freezing, like it is this month.

Nevertheless, it’s always fair to check one’s premises, and when my professional society made a presentation on the subject available, I checked it out.  You can review it for yourself here.

My essential question for Greta Thunberg and all those who go around screaming about the ‘climate emergency’ is: what do you propose to do about it?  Part of my skepticism is that climate change seems to be a pretext for Draconian government control of our lives.

The presentation had some useful insights, but they were very grim.

  • Exxon, in the early 1980s, had endeavored to project future levels of carbon dioxide and global temperatures.  Their projections have turned out to be accurate, nearly 40 years later.  This answers another of my points of skepticism: there were many predictions in the 1980s that low-lying Pacific islands would be underwater today, but that hasn’t happened.  But here is a prediction from the 1980s, by an entity with a business interest in accurate results (what will be the future market for their product?), that is coming to pass.
  • Carbon emissions and global GDP (is it really a ‘domestic’ product when one is considering the entire world?) have moved in lock step for the last 50 years.
  • Even on the level of households, there is a strong relationship between energy consumption and income.
  • To meet the goals of the Paris climate accords, the world will have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 7.6% per year in the short term.
  • Doing so will mean that global GDP will have to necessarily shrink.

My wife and I could reasonably reduce our household’s emissions by 7.6%.  This would mean (as a quick approximation) not only using 7.6% less energy at home, but traveling 7.6% fewer miles and eating 7.6% less.  But if we must do it again and again over successive years, we will ultimately be starving in the dark!

And we’re doing pretty well in the world: for many, even a slight reduction in consumption would be a real hardship.  Some countries and peoples simply can’t reduce consumption; others won’t.

It would be simpler if we would all just die.

In the recent Democratic debate, the candidates all insisted they would do something about climate change, although exactly what was still very fuzzy.  But what will they do, if elected?  What can they do?

Remediating the effects of climate change will be a vast project: it will entail implementing new sources of energy, building infrastructure to hold off flooding, and possibly relocating whole populations.  Can our government do those things competently and even-handedly? 

And if not, as seems likely, what would they do instead?

What Makes News Fake

I try to get a varied news diet.  I watch NBC Nightly News, read the newspaper, scan mostly conservative news feeds.  For a liberal perspective, I find audiobooks most effective: most of the day-to-day liberal media presumes that one already understands their premises, and the audiobook format discourages me from skipping over the parts I might not agree with.

I normally don’t watch the cable news channels, except when I’m at the gym.  I watch CNN or MSNBC with the sound turned off, sometimes with captions, while sweating on the treadmill.

Since I started going to the gym in 2015, it seemed that the ‘news’ on CNN and MSNBC wasn’t quite real.  NBC, in fairness, wasn’t—and isn’t–that different.  This was before Donald Trump emerged as a serious candidate for President, but has only gotten more severe since then.

Journalism is, or ought to be, like mining.  One digs out nuggets of truth, and presents them to the world.  A customer of a coal, gold, or diamond mine would be unhappy if they received something other than coal, gold, or diamonds, and the customer for journalism should have the same expectations.

But mining is, well, iffy.  One can dig and find nothing.  Real journalism is iffy, too.  It can also be difficult and expensive.  Real journalism runs the risk of getting sued or arrested for saying the wrong things about the wrong people.

Given that most of the media is run by multinational corporations worried about liability and their bottom lines, how can the iffiness be removed from journalism, so that one can deliver a consistent product with no risk of liability?

Just like gold and silver have been replaced by fiat money, so truth in journalism is being replaced by ‘truthiness:’ it’s delivered like news, feels like news, but it’s not quite the same.

President Trump, shortly after he was inaugurated, called the phenomenon ‘fake news,’ which seems a reasonable name for it.  But what makes fake news different from real journalism?

  • It’s all about the narrative:  There’s nothing wrong with narratives in and of themselves.  They’re how we go from data points, like reports of incidents, to understanding.  But in real journalism, the facts drive the narrative.  In fake news, the narrative drives the facts.   The narrative determines what facts should be emphasized and which should be disregarded.  You can marshal enough facts to support the narrative that the United States was built on slavery, but the preponderance of historical evidence suggests otherwise.
  • Is it news or is it opinion?   There isn’t an absolute boundary, and reportage is always colored to a degree by the reporter’s perspective, but it used to be clear what was news and what was opinion.  Today reporting and opinions are allowed to mix.
  • Or just tell us what to think about it:  I noted back in 2014 of an NBC news item that we were told was ‘scary’ before any of the facts were presented.  It seemed an outlier then, but not so much now.
  • Lose your sense of proportion:  If a politician who has said nasty things about President Trump says something else nasty, it isn’t really news: it’s something we’ve basically heard before.  But one can advance the narrative by presenting it as a fresh revelation.  Just keep banging the drum: as my mother used to say, “it’s repetition that teaches.”
  • And now for a commercial break:  One of my jaw-dropping experiences on the treadmill came a couple of years ago while watching CNN, when a commercial for Tom Steyer’s ‘Need to Impeach’ initiative appeared.  The viewpoint of the commercial was so consistent with the content of the news program that, other than the request for a donation (to do what?), it was hard to tell them apart.  I accept that politicians running for office will run commercials presenting their own viewpoints and positions, but this bordered on propaganda.

It’s a troubling trend.  I’ll leave it at that.

The Democrats, So Far

I haven’t written for a while.  I wanted to write something in response to the shootings in early August: not so much the shootings themselves, but the media response to them. I was afraid that someone might come to the wrong conclusion about me.  But the world is changing, and not in a good way, and if I just shut up, I’ll still get trampled.  Maybe not right now, but sometime close enough to worry about.

Since then, I’ve been watching the Democratic Presidential debates.  It’s still too early to critically assess the candidates against each other, so it’s more a game of perceptions.  Some are wokescolds, some come across as genuinely Presidential, some are just annoying, and one seems like a crazy cat lady.

But I couldn’t vote for any of them.  Stripped of the rhetoric and the variations of individual candidates, they all have the same formula:

The American people are suffering and fearful.  Under my leadership, the Federal government will relieve your suffering and assuage your fears.  Under my leadership, the Federal government will bring help.

And if you don’t need or want help, too bad: you’ll get it anyway.

To be fair, it isn’t that Trump doesn’t pitch to fear and suffering: it’s what politicians do.  But Trump proposes to address the woes of his constituents by doing that which the government should have been doing in the first place, and not trying to fix things by regulation.

As I write these words, my mother’s pithy summary of the Republican philosophy rings in my head:

“I’ve got mine, so bugger you.”  (And yes, she actually said “bugger.”)

And if all the Democrats wanted were higher taxes, I might concede her point.

But I believe my mother would be horrified by what we’ve become.  No: she already knew: she said it herself, 15 or so years ago:

“We’re a spent people.”

A spent people, in need of help from the government, don’t care about liberty.

But liberty is what the Democrats propose to sacrifice in the name of helping the people, although for the most part they won’t say that out loud.  They do talk about gun control, but that would only be the beginning.

Well, I got a Full Time Job, BUT….

After way too many years of underemployment, unemployment and the like I finally got a full time job but there are red flags galore. To summarize my job life since 2007, I lost my high paying but high stress, job where I was bullied. In general I liked when I did what I was hired to do but often “duties as needed” meant things like counting pencils. HR bullied me so badly and when my boss was fired so was I and anyone connected to him. At first I was happy because I hated the job (liked my boss) and figured with my impressive skills and my masters I’d find a job soon and even had an interview the day I was fired. Looked good, but it became a nightmare that continued from December 2007 (yes almost 12 years) until now.

So from December 2007 until September 2016 I tried everything. I got a job waitressing but both me and the restaurant owner mutually agreed I couldn’t hack it anymore due to arthritis and psoriasis. I did a variety of temp jobs and whatever I could find. I went on interviews and sent out hundreds, if not thousands of resumes. I dealt with everything you can imagine, being told I was too old at 37, told I wasn’t smart, taking test after test and still being rejected. I would cry and so depressed. It was a nightmare and couldn’t figure out why I was being rejected. I knew then I had to go back and get another degree so I chose substance abuse.

In general, I wasn’t crazy about substance abuse but knew there was a shortage in the field. I got a 4.0 my first semester but the second semester was rough, because I lost my mother unexpectedly, my grandfather expectedly, and I got very sick where I was bedridden for months. Luckily my classes were mostly online (and the one in person class wasn’t long when we met in person and had online sessions). Even so, I graduated with a 4.0. I then applied for the advanced program and was rejected. I don’t know why but it was known the department was angry I didn’t want to work with low income clients in the “hood”. No, I didn’t want to get shot for a barely above minimum wage job. I’ve discussed my issue with the addictions program in another thread so it’s another topic. I then started the online teaching program and that has been a positive experience.

I finished the degree, and continued with my online teaching certificate. I started getting job interviews with my instructional design experience (what I did in my job I mentioned earlier) and thought it would be cool if I went back to doing it and ironic after spending two years in addictions but nope. So I decided to bite the bullet and take the drug counseling certification test. I did this and passed and since then I’ve been getting interviews. One place gave me bad vibes when I interviewed but I figured they wouldn’t call me but then they offered me the job.

I should be happy, right? Nope, they told me the wage, which was 16 bucks an hour and change (16.82 I think). However, they didn’t mention benefits and when I asked they told me they would tell me when I started. This is fishy. In the past I would have never considered this offer but here I am. I am going to help the online teaching program give presentations about the program and love this field, but they can’t afford to pay much, or anything right now. So yeah here we go again where I am going to take a job I don’t want and still hope something better comes along.

My life, now.

It has been a while since I have posted. I have suffered from fibromyalgia for 22 years now, and I have a better understanding of the disease process. Recently, I realized I had not had a Vitamin B-12 Level, nor a Folic Acid level ever done. So, I had them done—and both were below-normal levels, respectively. I have been getting B-12 shots now for about 9 months, and my energy level is better than it has been since 10 years ago. I tried taking Folic Acid, but I got diarrhea when I took it. So, I will have to ask my physician if I can have the injections of Folic Acid instead. My IBS started in 1997. I do not know when my hypothyroidism, and low vitamin levels stated—but I would say it was at the same time. The lesson here is that despite all the money spent on healthcare in the USA, we really do not have a system that can properly diagnose, using low-cost blood-tests, diseases correctly. I have suffered unnecessary pain because of the failure of this system. I got my correct diagnosis from ‘Dr. Google’. I, for one, look forward to A.I. -powered ‘medical diagnosis and treatment plans’. Recently, I had a hemorrhoid ‘banded’—and that was a complete failure. As the little ‘rubber band’ came off, I experienced the worst physical pain of my life. It was like my root-canal infections, but worse. I am now thinking that most things cannot be fixed because they are due to the degenerative diseases of aging. Everyone should be aware of this reality. I certainly am. OUCH!

Plastic Bags

A while back, I was at the Trader Joe’s, buying groceries.  I had brought a reusable bag.

“Oh, aren’t you saving the planet!” the cashier said.

No, I’m just trying not to be wasteful.

She enthusiastically told me that the store had stopped providing plastic bags, and that it was wonderful ‘for the planet.’  The store now had only paper bags for carrying things home, unless you wanted to buy a reusable bag.

I’m skeptical:

  • Paper bags are bigger and heavier, and require more energy (i.e. fossil fuels) to produce and transport than plastic bags.
  • Plastic bags are more readily reusable.  They come in handy anytime one has extra items to carry.  Paper bags are good for covering school textbooks, but my need for that went away quite some time ago.
  • Paper bags can be a home for bugs.  When I moved out to my first apartment, I had a bug problem.  I sprayed under the kitchen sink, but the bugs migrated to the stack of paper bags I stuck between the wall and the refrigerator.

Beyond that, plastic bags don’t get soggy in the rain.  The one real environmental downside to plastic bags that I’m aware of is that if they are not disposed of properly or recycled, they can become litter and foul waterways.

But it really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a big deal.  I’m not going to stop shopping in a store, or go out of my way to visit a store, because of bags.  If a store wants to provide only paper bags, or indeed only plastic bags, that should be their choice.

Alas, not anymore, not in New York.

Starting next March, it will be illegal for stores to pass out single-use plastic bags for carrying things home.  Smaller bags for meat or deli items will still be legal.  It will also be legal for restaurants to use plastic bags for takeout items.  As for paper bags, each county has the option of applying a five-cent fee for each bag, the proceeds to go to a state environmental fund.

Better living through government, I guess.  Thank you, Emperor Cuomo.

We’ll still go to the Trader Joe’s: they have good stuff at reasonable prices.  But my wife is on the lookout for plastic bags from stores that still have them.

When the ban goes into effect next year, I’ll still be able to get bags from the Chinese takeout.  But while I do enjoy Chinese takeout, I don’t enjoy it that much.

What about a lifetime buy?  How many bags would my wife and I need for the rest of our lives?  If I posit 200 bags a year for 40 years (I’ll be 97 then, and probably beyond caring about bags), that’s 8,000 bags.  Amazon sells a case of 1,000 bags for under $20.  For under $200, I could buy myself peace of mind on the plastic bag front.

In fairness, that’s still a bit silly, as buying bags in bulk will still be legal: how would the Chinese takeout get their bags?  Then again, I’m sure that this year’s initiative is just a start, and Emperor Cuomo or his successors will come up with cleverer ideas.

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The Border Emergency

Four years ago, I wrote:

One can construct a sensible immigration policy around the notion that the borders should be open. Such a policy would necessarily include restrictions on receiving public benefits, and effective enforcement against the relative handful that are genuinely criminal or otherwise dangerous.

Alternately, one can construct a sensible immigration policy around the notion of closed borders. Such a policy would include physical border security, and an immigration bureaucracy that actually works, so that our closed borders do not interfere with legitimate travel and tourism.

The horrifying thing is that we’ve done neither, and are continuing to do neither.

I’ll amplify a bit: our laws and regulations are based on the premise that the border is secure.  It’s against the law to simply walk in without presenting yourself and your stuff to the designated officials at the border.  Yet the border itself is not secure, and most of our leadership—both Democratic and Republican—seems OK with that.

Four years later, nothing has changed, despite our being more than halfway through the term of a President who made border security his signature issue.

President Trump asserts that there is an emergency at our southern border which requires him to reallocate funding from other purposes to build a wall and take other measures to secure the border.  Meanwhile, the rest of our leadership denies there is an emergency, and further asserts that Trump is bonkers for saying otherwise.

Is there an actual emergency?  I don’t know first-hand: I don’t live there.  And whatever may be happening there, one could argue that it’s hardly an ‘emergency’ because the same conditions have prevailed for years.

But reports from the people who live at the border suggest, if not an emergency, a continuing, serious problem.  And the government’s figures show that, after reaching a low in early 2017 (perhaps in the belief that Trump might, actually, enforce the border?) illegal border crossings have surged back to where they were a few years ago.

Whatever may be happening at the border, the real emergency is in Washington.

We have a President who has, like all Presidents, a duty to faithfully execute the law.  The law, in this case, operates on the premise that the border is secure, and there is therefore an executive responsibility to secure the border.  And President Trump is simply following through on that responsibility.

The emergency is that the rest of our leadership believes that enforcing the border is stupid or immoral or… something, and seeks to thwart the President from carrying out his duty.

If you really believe the borders should be open or that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be abolished, then make the effort and change the law.  If it’s really a moral issue, it’s a worthwhile project, although you won’t get results next week.

Until then, the law is what it is, and our President is bound to faithfully execute it.

After the ‘Shutdown’

I’ve been overtaken by the tail end of a project that has taken much of my time for the last several months.  My staff and I had to work nights and weekends, and through the holidays, to frantically get everything hooked up and operational, and finished the last part Friday morning.  We’ll have to do cleanup over the next few weeks, but that hopefully won’t be quite so manic.

*          *          *

The soap opera that was the government shutdown is over, for now.  President Trump will not get funding from Congress for a wall or other border security measures, for now.  It would be within the President’s power to allocate funds for the purpose by executive order, and he isn’t doing that, for now.

I respect the President for trying to force this issue, and I respect him for recognizing that he wasn’t getting anywhere.  What’s galling is that the Democratic leaders, Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, were in favor of better border security a few years ago, but are against it now that President Trump wants it.

It was a defeat for the President, of course, but not a ‘humiliation,’ as it was reported in the Daily News and other media yesterday.  Remember that Trump is not a politician by education or temperament.  He’s much more willing to take risks than a ‘normal’ politician, because he’s learned that, yes, risks sometimes go bad, and defeat stings, but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.  He does not humiliate easily.

But what happens next month?

A proper way forward will require the parties to address each other with respect.  It’s hard to assess the dimensions of Trump’s respect—or lack thereof—for Schumer and Pelosi.  He’s given to making offhand tweets, but I’m not sure that means anything one way or the other.  I’m sure, however, that he recognizes the power they hold over the situation, and while he may not respect the people, he respects their positions.

On the other hand, the Democratic leadership seems to see Trump as somewhere between contemptible and beneath even contempt.  It’s not just that they voted for the other candidate in 2016: Trump is not their President.  If he can’t be removed from office (not that that won’t be a coming attraction), he can be effectively neutered by refusing to acknowledge him as President.

It’s a simple strategy, and demonstrably effective, for now.  All they have to do is stay the course.

For 2020, it will either work extremely well or extremely poorly.

A long few months for me

I have a long update on everything that has happened and it ties into the problem with colleges preparing students for low level jobs. Anyway, in 2016 I started college again to work with addictions. I knew then that with just the basic 32 hour degree the jobs were worthless (some paying minimum wage and in bad areas) but with the 60 hour degree the job offers were much better (close to what I have made in past). So basically I decided to go for the 60 hours and managed a 4.0 GPA. This proved difficult at times since my mom died in the beginning of my second semester and I became very sick to the point where I believed I would die. Not an exaggeration, my doctor told me I had symptoms of stage 4 liver cancer. Turns out I had several issues, including a severe kidney infection. Luckily this semester (Spring 2017) I had two classes online and a third was once a week and the professor was understanding of my illness. Long story short I completed this semester with a 4.0 GPA and when Fall 2017 came around I applied for the advanced program. They required me to jump through hoops that no one else had to, and they still rejected me. The reason I found out was because they didn’t like that I wasn’t open to working in high crime areas (something I told them about from the get go) and that I attended church. To say I was bitter was an understatement because I was clear I wanted in that program and not the 32 hour one. I also believe race may have played a part since the school is mostly African American and very very SJW.

So instead of going in the program I wanted, I decided to apply for the internship and be done. But nope, they let me know late that I was rejected so I had to wait a semester. I was then able to start my online teaching certificate, something I considered long before this program. I also took an addiction class that had a lot of information I need for my certification test so it was fine. When I applied for the internship from the get go the professor was nasty to me. No matter what I said in class he bashed me. In July I was having a conversation with a classmate about the students that they accept and I stated half don’t belong there. The professor overheard me and decided to attack me in class and tell my classmates I was talking about them. They told him I wasn’t referring to them and he started saying yes I was. Then in September I got into it with another student and a professor and it ended with me suspended from school until I had a conduct meeting. In the meantime I had to attend a conference in Myrtle Beach and several of my classmates also attended. For the most part they mostly ignored me and if they saw me would say hi and walk away. These were classmates I was on good terms with before this, we spoke often via email and in class. My professor said things about me to them I assume. While at the conference I found that I could return to my internship (I had 7 days left to go) and had to attend a counseling session. At the counseling session the counselor said I didn’t need help, and that was that. I returned to my internship, finished it last week and turned in the logs.

Speaking of my internship, it went well and met great people. The bad thing though is that it is merging with another company so they couldn’t have offered me a job even if they wanted to. I am sending a resume though to the new place taking over and keeping in touch with several I met at the internship. I liked it there but go figure something like this would happen. I’m also pursuing the online teaching certificate and was selected to job an honor society for future educators, which I accepted. Ironically the acceptance came during my suspension, which to me was a sort of omen. I wish I had listened to my vibes about doing the program I am almost finished with and switched to the other counseling program or perhaps it will come in handy with education jobs, who knows.

The latest and greatest from me

Where do I begin with this.

I resuscitated the job search late this April.

I signed up for Indeed. At first, there were many posts…I got a lot of interviews but no offers and then the posts dried up at the end of June and has been dry since then.

As for me, I got a swift shock when I sat down and toted up my monthly — and then yearly expenses for my cost of living.

I am still here at this crummy crummy apartment — the rent is almost $1400 — there is a 5.5% increase yearly, as mandated by, I think, the county — and I am still tied to that bin, that is holding all of the furniture and my belongings for the past 3 years.

In essence, my monthly rent is over $1800, counting the bin and the rent for this apartment.

I do not go out, I do not go on vacations and I don’t buy clothes, unless it is a necessity.

The rest of my expenses are food, car insurance, the 3-way-phone/internet/cable bill, gas and electric.

I am being swamped and back in August, when I saw how much per year I am spending, just to live… I nearly shit my pants.

If I got a $38,000 per year job?

I won’t be able to cut it financially.

After taxes, that job will net me about 26 grand…I need about 50 grand to stay in the black and there is no job that I will be able to get that will pay me 50K per year.

The part time jobs don’t even seem to be available anymore. To make up the deficit…I’d have to work a solid chunk of hours per week and that chunk of hours has to be guaranteed indefinitely. And we all know part timers are always the first to go when a company wants to tighten its belt.

You no longer work to earn a living — in NJ you are working to feed an economic monster. You have little money for your own disposal

The money just is not here anymore. The jobs are not here anymore — I think New Jersey is done for, cost of living wise. The cost of living goes up each year and salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. Nobody gets a raise anymore. I never got a raise at my last 3 jobs.:( Nothing — open up my check on the last pay period of the year and I have the same damn amount looking me in the face.:(

I am nearly 61. Like it or not, I haven’t got many years left in the workforce.

We have lost nearly 64,000 jobs in this area between 1993 and December of 2014 — those 64,000  jobs  were concentrated in a radius that comprised 3 towns. This is the hub that was Passaic-Clifton-Nutley.

Roche closed for good in December of 2014. Genentech, the company that owns them, decided they did not want a NJ campus. They were phased out over 3 years’ time.

2 hospitals closed; went out of business — I can’t see how — business was booming there and always was —  and the third one that’s left isn’t so great.

One of the hospitals that closed had a residency program and was a leader in heart surgery.

Roche closed, Givudan is gone, both ADPs were absorbed by Roseland and Shulton is gone — gone after Cyanamid was bought out by some other company. ITT was a goner when the  Iron Curtain fell in 1991; ITT no longer exists because of that.

64,000 jobs and nothing at all to replace them.:(

In their place: retail, housing and a mixed-use commercial building where Givudan stood.

Nothing is where one of the former hospitals was…and the former St. Mary’s is vacant. No buyer for the property.

Mary’s took over the Passaic General building; Passaic Gen went out of business.

Why do we need a medical school and start-up companies? that is what is there now on the former Roche campus.:( That’s not going to bring us 31,000 jobs for all skill sets and every education level.

I guess my only choice is to relocate to a cheaper state. If I stay here, I will be slaughtered financially. I can’t and won’t blame myself: I am what I am and what I did for a living I did for a living. it is what it is and I have to find somewhere else to live.:( Not this state — I am finished here.:(

Who thinks this is going to happen to them — and who thinks this state is going to more or less be only for the high earners???:(

You know how property taxes are here — effing sky high — and landlords are greedy. The least expensive 3 bedroom is perhaps about what I am paying, maybe $800 less per month than what I pay, if you are lucky. And most of these people are multiple property owners, like the one who owns my building. I never even got a stove when I moved in here! he never told me “Stove is yours to take care of.”

When I first saw these rooms, there was a stove here. he was  busy pulling up the old carpet…I came here 2 weeks ahead of my move-in date to paint and no stove. I figured he’d have it here by April 1, which was my official first day here; 4-1 comes and no stove. I call him asking “”Where’s the stove” and that is when he tells me I have to provide it MYSELF.

I have one of those old stovetop ranges….this is a 1960 apartment that was never updated…but no stove. Buy it myuself? NO…because I’d be stuck with it. I have a countertop oven…and I think it is packing it in.:(

Not what we agreed upona nd nowhere in the lease does it say “provide your own stove.” Guy downstairs…same thing….and that other apartment downstairs where the screaming tenant was…that stove got thrown out. New tenant is there and I am 100% sure the landlord provided a stove for him.:( I would LOVE to find out somehow.

Ugh…:(

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings to be the second appointee by President Trump to the Supreme Court were derailed by the accusation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh held her down and tried to force himself upon her in the early 1980s, when they were high school students.

Let’s break the “he said, she said” deadlock and grant that events unfolded as accused.  How did the two of them get together?  They were at a party; they were friends; they knew each other.  They apparently rather liked each other, to the point where they wanted to be alone with each other.  But when Kavanaugh asserted himself, she resisted, and ultimately, he thought better of it and backed off.

If this had happened last week or last month, or even ten years ago, I’d agree this is a serious concern: I don’t want a Supreme Court justice who runs around attacking women.  But what about an accusation from two-thirds of a lifetime ago, when the participants were both teenagers, with their brains not yet fully cooked?  Moreover, Kavanaugh, as a serving Federal judge rising through the ranks, has repeatedly been background-checked by the FBI, and nothing of this nature came up.

While it may have been a sexual assault under the legal definition, more practically it was a case of botched consent.  (If there had genuinely been an assault, the proper course of action, even in the early 1980s, would be to call the police.  But that didn’t happen.)  Today, one is supposed to ask and receive permission every step of the way, giving a romantic encounter all the charm of an ICBM launch.  But this was another time.

We’re told that we need to believe the survivors of sexual assault.  OK: I’ll believe her.  We have an event that happened two-thirds of a lifetime ago, which, at the time, would have been deemed a youthful indiscretion.

Since then, repeated background checking over Kavanaugh’s adult life found nothing of concern.  The inescapable conclusion is that Kavanaugh grew up, became a responsible citizen, husband, and father, and the events of his adolescence shouldn’t be held against him.

What’s chilling is that the tale of Christine and Brett is hardly unusual.  Very few people are so pure of heart that nothing could be dredged from their past.  If this is the standard to which future Supreme Court justices and others subject to advice and consent will be held, we’re going to have trouble finding people who can meet that standard.

Then again, this could all be a put-up job.

Two sides to every story

I have been watching the Kavanaugh hearings with interest, not because I support or oppose anyone, but rather because we have become a country of they said this and those said other things. Right now I am deal with an issue that could get me expelled from graduate school. I have a 4.0 GPA, on scholarship but could lose all of it to a bully my temper. My professor has been bullying me severely since March. He attacked me via email but the worst came in July where he heard me having a private conversation with a classmate about the admissions policy and how so many don’t belong in school. Instead of ignoring a private conversation he was not involved (and which didn’t pertain to him) he decided to bring this conversation in class and attack me, saying I have no right saying this about my classmates and he then told my classmates I was talking about them when I wasn’t, and they knew I didn’t mean them. He then asked me to stay afterwards where he called me worthless and how he was going to get me expelled from school. I reported this to the head of the program and she is aware and aid he would be nicer. Well, he was nicer, only because his comments weren’t as mean, and ignored.

Anyway, last Thursday he started telling us our degrees were worthless and he recommended we go for the advanced program. He then looked at me and said “not you, you’re worthless”. Needless to say I started to go and he continued as did a classmate who bullied me for not going into bad areas for an internship. This classmate (a Nation of Islam member) made it about race, and I started to walk towards him to confront him and my teacher pushed me. He then told me to leave and started harassing me. As I was leaving I made a comment like “I hope you die”. Well, long story short he pressed charges against me and the school suspended me until a hearing. I could get a warning, suspension for a semester or expelled or many other things. I am hoping since I am almost done with the program (55 hours at my internship where they like me)they will allow me to continue with another professor. I am terrified because the one time I erupted (after months of abuse) is now going to cause trouble. Forget the fact that I am a 4.0 GPA library trustee, active in the Legion Auxiliary and church, nope the professor (who has a history of abuse towards women) is the one they might believe. The reality is this, people believe the person in power over someone else and it is sickening. It’s why people (especially women) don’t come forward and victims suffer.

Andrew Cuomo

Last Thursday we had the primary election in New York for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and some other offices.  It’s the first time that I can recall in my life that an election in the United States was moved from Tuesday.

But then, this past Tuesday was 11 September, the modern date that will live in infamy.  For me, it’s the day we learned our leadership is either stupid or evil, and to this day we’re afraid to find out which. Living well—or at least carrying on with aplomb—is the best revenge against terrorism, or stupid or evil governments.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Alas, I’m apparently in the minority.  11 September is supposed to be a day of moaning and interminable suffering, and not for normal things like elections.

Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario, won the primary and will be running for a third term in November.  His opponent this week was Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City. I knew it was a lost cause, but I voted for Cynthia, even though I disagree with most of her positions.  Then again, if a live turnip had been running for Governor, I would have voted for it.

It bothers me when a politician is himself the son of a politician.  (I’m sure we’ll have daughters of politicians running for office someday, and I’ll have the same objection.)  It says that talent is so thin on the ground that we have to look to the children of past leaders.  I thought hereditary government was something we fought a Revolution to get rid of.

Worse than that were his campaign commercials.  Cuomo’s campaign invective against President Trump rubbed me the wrong way.  It isn’t that I agree or disagree with his positions: I watched Cuomo’s campaign commercials and realized: I don’t like this person.  I want him to go away.

In contrast, in President Bush, we had someone who more clearly became President in 2000 as a result of electoral finagling, and who led us into a pointless war.  But other than John Kerry, whose entire platform running for President in 2004 was ‘I am not Bush,’ nobody felt the need to rail against Bush or make him the bogeyman.

Alas, Andrew Cuomo isn’t going away, and I expect that he’ll run for President in 2020.

Thwarting from Within

Lester Holt was almost breathless on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News.  An anonymous senior White House official had written an op-ed published in the New York Times that day about how the President’s staffers were working to thwart his out-of-control initiatives.  The item was presented as an ‘unprecedented warning’ on the President’s condition.  This was followed by an unflattering snippet of President Trump denouncing the op-ed, looking especially boorish.  (But what did you expect him to say?)  Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director, seemed, on a quick listen, to go along with the message that the President is deranged.  But he actually said that the report itself was suspect, and that was the real cause for concern.

The op-ed itself is understated, compared to the overblown report on NBC.  While I wonder about the motivations of its author in writing for publication while asserting that he supports the President’s achievements, my more immediate impression was that the op-ed was dated: although it was written more recently, it reflected the situation early in the Trump administration, when the new President hadn’t yet gotten his bearings.  Donald Trump had never held any sort of elected office before becoming President, so it’s entirely reasonable to expect some learning curve.  But he—and we—got past that.

So why are we reading about circumstances from a year ago—which we could surmise from news reports at the time—now?

And why is NBC (and doubtless other media outlets) pushing the narrative that the President is going off the rails?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Deep State.

The revolution certainly will not be televised. “The Coming Collapse”: Food for thought.:(

The Coming Collapse

The voters were hoodwinked.

There was never going to be a reboot of the coal mines and as for the Rust Belt and the auto industry: That goes with a nice offer of a bridge for sale. There were never going to be any school vouchers.

Buyer’s remorse is going to hit quite hard.

Face it: all of you were lied to and you bought it all, hook, line and sinker.

Can somebody here assure me that hospitality and etiquette at a job interview is not dead???

Somebody, anybody, tell me that hospitality and etiquette is not dead at a job interview.

Nobody seems to offer you a drink or if they can get you anything — not anymore — I mentioned this to a job coach (I have one now and that is a story in itself) and she  laughed.

Laughed like this was a joke.

I reminded her that we were told to always make a client or an interviewee at home– “Oh that was a long time ago. This is why you are having a problem finding a job…. this was a long time ago…a glass of water, really?” And she kept laughing.:(

10 years ago at my last “corporate” job is not a long time ago.

And niceties and hospitality never go out of style.

As for the job search itself:

Oh, the jobs are there, on indeed. Dozens of them. That’s not the problem now, scarcity of jobs — the day of the hard copy “help wanted” news paper ad is done.

And done because it’s easier and quicker to post an ad as long as you wish it to be, on indeed. There is no per-word price like there is with a hard copy ad. Last I heard a newspaper help wanted ad was a couple hundred bucks for a smallish ad.

Though every once in awhile, a giant in an industry will publish a newspaper help wanted ad.

I restarted my job search about a month ago. “For the real” — I still have been looking in the meanwhile. Not much success.

I have sent close to 80 resumes in the past 3 weeks — I got several “the employer has seen your resume” and got perhaps 4 phone interviews. Only one phone interview has resulted in a face to face interview.

I have attended one interview this past Friday and it was at a small mom and pop electrical company — this is the bunch that didn’t offer me a drink or anything else — that wasn’t for me and they ended the interview after 4 minutes, anyway. This is much ado about nothing — they want to speak to other candidates for the next 3 weeks and then call back the candidates for a second interview.

The mother of the bunch sat in on that interview with me and the other person. The mother did not introduce herself. I had to ask her name.:(

So is etiquette dead? When did the rule change?:(

Reverse Discrimination Alive and Well

In 2016 I went back to become a drug counselor. They asked me if I planned to go for the advanced program or the basic and I said advanced. They said I needed to maintain a 3.5 GPA to even be accepted. A year later I was finished with the main part and applied for the advanced program. I have a 4.0 GPA, and serve in various capacities including as a library trustee. I thought I was a sure thing, but nope. In fact, they claimed I didn’t have the right personality for that program or something stupid. I almost dropped out of the program because I was very clear what I wanted when I started and with a 4.0 GPA should have gotten it. Most of the people accepted into the program have lower GPA’a than me, some don’t even hit that number. I received a $10,000 for this summer, otherwise I would have dropped out.

Well, turns out I think I know why I was rejected. I found out I was rejected because the coordinator hates Catholics and anyone right of, well, a communist. They found out I mentioned I didn’t want to work in the ghetto and their snowflake brains were offended. Also, need I mention everyone accepted was African American? Yep. So now, I find out with just the certification the jobs are garbage to be blunt and I could make more in other fields. I’m looking into going for a doctorate in psychology instead because at least this will get me into those programs but apparently not much else.

The only good thing is the grant means I have to attend all expense paid conferences and get additional certification in integrated care so who knows. I’m also taking online teaching certificate and Spanish classes so this should help.

Are You a Citizen?

It seems an obvious question: so obvious, in fact, that I hadn’t really noticed its absence in all the times I’ve had to complete a Census.  In fact, on researching the issue further, it wasn’t really absent: in 1970 through 2000, the question was on the long-form questionnaire.  But the last time all participants were required to identify whether they were citizens in the United States Census was in 1950.

President Trump is planning to bring the question back for 2020, to howls of protest.  Nineteen state Attorneys General are contemplating suing the Federal government if the question is added.  The question, we’re told, would discourage immigrants, legal and illegal, from participating in the Census, leading to an undercount that would deprive states with large immigrant populations of representation in Congress (and, by extension, the Electoral College) and Federal aid of various stripes.

The Census is intended to be “an Enumeration” to establish “the whole Number of free Persons,” which includes (since slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, we’re all ‘free’) citizens and immigrants, regardless of their status.  Fair enough.

But not asking about citizenship is just one of many ways in which our leadership has made policy decisions in deference to people’s fears.  Some might be afraid to answer the Census if we ask about citizenship, so we won’t ask.  Indeed, the primary argument of the latest group of gun control advocates seems to be to emotion: guns are scary, and dangerous to our precious children.

Deferring to fear is not good public policy.  For years, we’ve been reluctant to address North Korea.  We’d make a deal with them; they’d do what they wanted anyway; we’d call them nasty names, but then ultimately make another deal.  President Trump has broken the cycle.  It’s a bit scary, to be sure, but it seems to be working.

Asking Census participants whether they are citizens is eminently reasonable.  The question should be asked.

Or is it that illegal immigrants—although they cannot vote—have become a part of the political power base of states like New York and California, and the leadership of those states doesn’t want to lose power?

The world is changing…