Five Tips For Weathering This School Year

While there is no shortage of press coverage regarding ‘back to school’ plans across the countries – and certainly no clear national path or strategy – we’re yet again tossed into a situation where parents will continue to incur hefty tax burdens (property taxes, state sales taxes, state income taxes, federal income taxes) to support the education of our nation’s youth while also trying to juggle jobs, family responsibilities and the assumption of a greater share of the educational responsibilities for our children.  While it’s easy to get lost in the discourse around public vs. private, charter schools, vouchers, home-schooling, pods and other forms of K-12 education let us return focus to the 55 million children who were suddenly tossed into a strange new normal and, as of yet, are still not quite sure what this upcoming academic year holds in store for them.  So here are five tips for weathering, and succeeding in, what is shaping up to be another tumultuous year of education.

1. Children need our support – now more than ever.  The 24×7 never-ending COVID-19 news cycle is now running in parallel with the 24×7 never-ending political news cycle leading up to this November’s elections.  Add in the expiration of added unemployment benefits, an unemployment rate of 11.1% and the uncertainty around safety protocols and the assault on science magnified by partisan spats and parents are not the only ones feeling stressed.  Children lack the frames of reference to categorize and manage these issues in their heads and they now lack the traditional social support – be it friends, classmates, teachers or regularly spending time with other family members – that they rely on to help figure out the world as they grow and develop.  Having grown up during the height of the Cold War with a constant nuclear threat was challenging for me, but I was able to talk about it with an extended group of people and manage information a little more readily in the era before the Internet and pervasive social media.  If you have a child, or know one you’re close to, please do check in on them regularly and ask them how things are going. Get them to talk about their concerns and listen closely. They need someone to listen.

Julia Cameron – Pexels.com

2. Connectivity is critical.  Sure, we have to have high-speed Internet connections and device proliferation (and support!) to facilitate blended and fully online learning models but the human connection was lacking in the sudden shift online this past Spring.  Reach out and set up small groups, virtually, to get together on non-academic topics where possible.  Our nine year old son set up a Zoom book club with four of his friends and they would read a different book – not assigned by his teacher, just for fun, every few weeks and get together and discuss what they had read.  Part informational, part educational, but absolutely social – and that connection matters.

3. Schools have been, are, and will continue to be a safe haven.  That means being hyper-careful about reopening and, arguably more importantly, having appropriate procedures in place to quickly identify, triage and stop outbreaks in their tracks so we don’t have to live in an ongoing, heightened, state of fear and paranoia which is both mentally and physically draining.  Look to support your local educators on the front lines however you can and make your voices heard – attend school board meetings, send emails in with feedback on plans and participate however you can.  We are a community, and our voices matter.

Flo Maderebner – Pexels.com

4. Power off.  Yes, put the phone down, turn off the computer, tuck away the tablet and no TV for a bit.  Children are not accustomed to our Internet-enabled working world of constant screens, nor should they be for many years to come.  Get out in nature when/where you can even if it’s walking a few blocks to a local park to sit on a bench and bird watch.  If you’ve never tried fishing, now is a great time to give it a shot (catch and release!).  How about some low-key hiking through the woods as the Fall foliage descends on the northern half of the country in the months ahead?  Our first foray was buying a tent – thank you Amazon – and pitching it in the backyard and spending a summer night sleeping under the stars.  Most of these activities cost very little money, but they can be exceptionally valuable life moments that your children will remember.

5. We WILL prevail.  I’m no politician and I am not running for office but this is not an America vs. The World battle, all of humanity is in this together and we have the resources and know-how through science and funding to figure this out.   Breakthroughs will come – in therapeutics, vaccines and prevention strategies – but that’s the funny thing about breakthroughs, it’s hard to predict when.  Later in 2020?  2021 perhaps?  I don’t know enough to hazard a guess but there is an end, even if it is not squarely in sight today.

August de Richelieu – Pexels.com

The novel coronavirus has brought novel stress to all of our lives, and it has to our youth as well.  Without traditional outlets of sports, schools, social activities and friendships let’s make sure that they don’t remember this period of their lives as having been locked away with little connection to the world outside of a blaring TV screen and a 4 inch phone screen with TikTok videos and glamorous Instagram photos of a world that feels oh so far away.  Academics matter, and you’ll see plenty of that advice as schools open, but the social and emotional support for children – that’s going to be everything this academic year as it will inevitably be unlike one any of us have ever experienced.

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The author is the founder and CEO of Junction Education, a learning platform-as-a-service company that enables any content provider to quickly build and deliver personalized online courses to K-12 schools, colleges/universities, and professionals in over 160 countries around the globe.  He also co-led one of four public-private working groups chaired by the US Department of Education and FCC under the Obama Administration to chart a course forward for accelerating the digitization of the nation’s schools aiming to close the ‘digital divide’.

Hotel Stays During Covid Time

I recently drove through ten states to check in on family and also attend a spontaneous funeral from a death occurring while I was visiting.

During my trip, I was observing how states differed in their responses to operating in the waning tail of our Covid experience in America. Counter to what you may hear on the media, who have a vested interest in fomenting rage & fear to make revenue, America looks to be on the same page regarding dealing with a virus.

From California, through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada I saw traffic billboards along the interstates asking for people to be vigilant in wearing masks and be cognizant of distance.

However, life can’t operate in a vacuum. It must go on. People have responsibilities, they have children to provide for, they have crops to harvest, and groceries to buy for feeding their family.

So, I saw that most people were proactively wearing masks in public, they were utilizing hand sanitizer offerings, and trying to be conscious of keeping approximately six feet apart from one another in lines.

One larger change that I saw pertained to the Hilton chain of hotels. I first saw it in Texas, the state that the self-righteous West/East Coasters & media deride for not shutting down its economy to surrender to groupthink that would result in depression.

Hilton has enacted a policy change called “Hilton Clean Stay” where the hotel chain will prepare your room, seal the door with a type of chain-of-custody sticker that you must break upon entering, and inside you will see additional signage informing you that the room was cleaned with Lysol to eliminate viruses. In addition to the literature, a few of the hotels had lain out little packages of clean wipes near commonly used items such as telephones and TV remotes.

I think this is a good innovative change for a large hotel chain that may even have a good use during non-virus times for the sake of eliminating concern of guests questioning whether their room is really cleaned in all of the areas that are important or if it was just wiped down with a wet rag. This is a large reason as to why I will not stay in AirBNB accommodations where people are just renting out an extra room in their homes. I want to make sure that my environment is clean and that I can just go in and relax during my travels without questioning my surroundings.

Props to Hilton for taking it upon themselves to go the extra mile to both help protect patrons and staff members. The marketer in me knows that it’s also a co-branding marketing opportunity with Lysol most likely helping to split the costs to build brand loyalty and trust with travelling customers. That’s OK. It’s a smart business move on both sides.

So, in the wake of a tragic event such as Covid, we are still seeing businesses trying to adapt to operate in this environment with some performing better than others.

I’d also like to leave you with a gentle reminder to remain very skeptical of our media and their agendas. What we see published from their establishments has told a very different story than what I and others have witnessed in person across this country. Don’t let them divide you with politics. This isn’t a political issue. It’s a health crisis issue that doesn’t care about politics and is not the fault of an administration, but rather the fault of a foreign regime that tried covering up the outbreak and did nothing for the sake of others.

Masked Years

Masked years

Masks are here, effectively forever. Time to rethink little bits of furniture, retail, 

So, this note: first, something on the maths and science of mask effectiveness. A rumination on life in Taiwan and other parts of Asia. But first, a market for masks?

  1. Masks – health imperative and fashion market

As the pandemic swept toward the USA, masks were a hot commodity. We were urged, at first, to NOT wear them. A peculiar argument, which only made short-term sense – to enable medical front line workers to get them. And made terrible, long-term nonsense, since it encouraged strange thinking and worse actions. I’m not going to ruminate on the actions or motives of people who insist on not wearing them.

But now the shortages are past, I note my local Target has them in nice varieties. Neighbors have them in all types: macho boys and somewhat renegade musicians have bandana-style cloths. Tidy accountants have tidy masks. They’re necessities and they’re personal statements. We dare not leave home without one, so we may as well express our personalities. I’ve at home:

  • Now-banned ones; solid-color but a one-way valve that preferentially lets my breath escape. Ooops.
  • A small set of medical-quality N95s. Acquired a while ago, as forest fires ravaged nearby Northern California. I use these for dangerous trips into hostile territory. Like going to the grocery.
  • A pair of quirky ones: one that renders my face into a cartoon version of a teddy bear’s mouth. I wear those out when the neighbors’ kids are playing.
  • Three that a neighbor made! (She made some for my wife and one, I kid you not, has sequins on it.). I wear these while walking the dog or taking out trash.
  • Some nice, easy-to-wear, white-only, enriched paper masks made by a company for its factory workers. I wore them plus a face mask to go to BLM protests, of course.

And so, my little collection of masks starts to resemble my no-longer-used set of ties, whose colors and styles and prints in their way expressed a tiny element of personality: conformance or edginess; color or drab. Except: masks are really useful and mostly require handwashing and gentle air drying, and some need a little place for the PM2.5 activated charcoal filters.

The contractors working here have sturdy ones with the company logo. A neighbor has a set of Biden 2020 masks. Another, a white woman, has Black Lives Matter masks. Etsy reports it has nearly 6,000 Black Lives Matter masks. Yay!! I think I’ll get the raised fist one!

Okay, then. So there are, what, seven and a half billion people on earth. And they all need masks. Now, some are going to go crazy and have lots. Some will say: these for work, these for social, these for that. The world’s billion or so wealthiest individuals will have 10 or 20 each. And replace them every six months or more frequently. That, friends, is 30 billion masks a year, at $5 or $10 apiece. Just like that, a worldwide market of at least $300 billion a year.

Masks are a much bigger retail market than socks (now that folks work from home a lot more, who wears socks?). No wonder big fashion brands are heading toward this: we need to buy them; they need to sell something – and, frankly, we also need the quality control of someone to assert that the masks are reasonably effective. And the design aesthetics of someone better than me or, probably, you. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sboyd/2020/04/24/5-fashion-brands-pivoting-to-create-masks-for-the-public/#5f05b756648f

  1. Why we wear masks: the science of the effectiveness of wearing masks

COVID is an airborne, respiratory pathogen. The principal vector is from via disease-carrying droplets expelled from the respiratory system of the infected person, via the air, into the respiratory system of the unlucky recipient. Droplets expelled by coughing, sneezing, wheezing, singing, shouting, talking, breathing.

Masks should work, then, right?

Here’s Larry Brilliant, epidemiologist of some noted: “If 80% of people wore a mask 80% of the time, COVID would go away.” Is that really true?

Really. Yes. They’re easy and inexpensive, and the life you save may not be your own. So let’s note the science of how good they (and their wearers) have to be.

The science of how good masks need to be is well understood. The droplets start out (leaving the mouth or nose) in sizes from low tens of microns to low hundreds of microns. They shrink – due to evaporation – but then stay airborne, with smaller droplets staying in the air longer. So the first lesson is: since they’re bigger as they’re exhaled, it’s critical that the infected person has something to block droplets. But, as we all know: there’s a long period during which a person is infected and contagious – but doesn’t have symptoms. And decent cloth is really good at blocking droplets. Masks are pretty good at blocking inhaled droplets as well – but they don’t have to be that good there.

These pictures show the principle: more violent or more prolonged respiratory output is worse, and masks well at preventing transmission.

These ideas give mathematicians enough to get cracking on modelling.  It’s hard work but the basic idea is to answer the question: what level of face mask adoption by the public, associated with what level of face mask efficacy, would be required to reduce the effective reproduction number (R) below 1? And the answer is … indeed, Brilliant is right. If nearly everyone wore reasonably effective masks nearly all the time … COVID goes away.

The graphs attached show modelling (Oxford University group, Stutt et al) that examines effectiveness at quashing transmission of COVID given lots of variables: the effectiveness of the mask – the graphs reading from left to right represent increasing effectiveness; the R(0) of COVID – the blue lines are the higher R(0) estimate; whether the masks are only worn after symptoms are determined (top rank) or all the time (bottom rank); and what percentage of people wear masks – each graph, from nobody to everyone. Each of the eight little graphs shows the effective R (written as R/e) in each case. The goal: R needs to get below 1.0.

OK, what to do?

First – compare the two rows. Wearing masks only after symptoms never does enough to spread contagion for R(0) = 4.0. Never.

Then look at the bottom row, the 3rd column – 75% mask effectiveness. Everyone, or nearly everyone, wearing reasonably effective masks, all the time ( = outside your household) kills the spread of COVID.

The message: Don’t wait for someone to have symptoms. Always wear masks. Limit your exposure to unknown places and people. Always wear masks.

  1. Masks and culture in Taiwan (and Japan, Hong Kong)

Crowded cities, packed trains, high humidity, people eating out all the time. Almost no COVID deaths.

Masks everywhere.

Taiwan, particularly, I know because I lived there and have many friends there. When I lived there, it was a decade after the SARS epidemic of 2002 – 2003. But the reflex was there: masks everywhere. If someone thought they had a cold, perhaps felt a little run down or had a sore throat coming on: wear a mask. Employees at stores where they were in constant contact with the public – convenience stores, like 7-11, banks, train stations, toll takers on the highways: always wore masks. 

And, Taiwan has a decades-old tradition of scooters as a means of inexpensive transit, and a nasty, long history of unconstrained dirty industries. Both meant that the air was sometimes filthy with soots and chemical fumes. You know what works well for these?

Scooters in Taipei: https://totobobo.com/blog/2019/02/totobobo-for-riding-a-scooter-in-taiwan/

And so it was, of course, that I developed a sore throat one particularly cold, damp winter. Off to 7-11. Masks for sale included nice masculine ones in sober colors and cute pink ones for young girls and Hello Kitty masks for dating-age young women. Of course, the would-be-tough young men would wear ones with death’s head skulls, but 7-11 doesn’t stock those.

Taiwan was and is where we all will be. Respiratory diseases are well quelled by wearing masks. They’re inexpensive and they can save lives. Done well, they express your personality. We’re going to have to wear them, either by mandate, or because we are humane enough to not want to be vectors of contagion. Cool. Let’s do it!

Nothing Will Change…And That’s A Bad Thing

People are desperate for a feeling of normalcy, whatever that may be for them. Not just now while we’re all on lockdown with nothing but bad news 24/7 but constantly.  When this is all over, and we switch to other news in the late Fall, I think most people will be desperate to forget this ever happened.  If we do talk about it, it will be only to discuss the lingering economic effects.

In 2009, I contracted the H1N1(swine flu). It put me flat on my back for over a week and I didn’t feel completely healthy again for over two weeks. Looking back, not only did I not alter my behavior, but less than a year later I quit a job with 50% work-from-home in favor of a job that involved 60% travel. While considering my career switch, I didn’t even consider how much more exposure that travel would cause me. It was a pretty bad risk assessment on my part.   Most people believe they are much better at assessing risk than they actually are.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The H2N2 pandemic, in 1957, killed over 100,000 Americans. The US population at the time, according to the 1955 census, was 171 million.  That means the death rate in the US was approximately .05%.  With a projected death rate of over >100k for COVID-19 as of this writing and the current US population of 328 million the death rate is .02%.  While I’m not a professional researcher by any stretch, what I could find in the papers from 1957 were many articles about the flu outbreak while it was in full effect.  However, it seemed like it was being reported on like the weather. The weather was terrible for a while, but once it passed, not many mentions at all. I couldn’t find anything encouraging people to change their behavior.  After 1957 almost no mentions of this major pandemic in media of any kind.

Today’s world is much more interconnected and media-saturated than in 1957. However, I think the same thing is about to occur this fall that occurred after the 1957 H2N2 pandemic. We here in America, for example, will happily change our focus to the upcoming presidential election and do our best to forget all about COVID-19.  

I believe this so strongly I made a fairly significant(for me) investment in Carnival cruise lines. If it goes back to half of it’s pre-CORONA-19 price then I’ll be taking all of my friends and family on a cruise with the profits.   

Photo by jonathan leonardo on Unsplash

The major cruise lines have reopened their reservation systems and are taking reservations for as early as the fall of 2020. While most reservations are for discounted cruises in 2021. Let that sink in a bit. People who by in large are at home sheltering in place due to COVID-19 are booking cruises for as early as this fall!

Many people I respect are claiming that things will change forever but what they point to are trends like the death of movie theaters, malls, and more working from home.  These trends were already in full effect before the pandemic.  When was the last time you had a good experience in a movie theater not named “Alamo Draft House?”   Office space is often one of the largest expenses a business will have so, of course, companies are extending their work from home policies in an attempt to bring these expenses under control.

People are desperate to get back to “normal,” whatever that is for them. I fear this will lead to us being completely unprepared for the next pandemic which is sure to follow.

Caveat: If COVID-19 reinfection turns out to be possible and we are on lockdown for 3 years and not 3 months, throw this article in the nearest waste bin.

Heal Thyself

Dr.Bones had an A.I. powered Tricorder and Dr. Long, in Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy”, had three probes in the ear, anus, and mouth. Today even doctors are having trouble getting a qualified physician. Secretary Azar, due to huge health care demand and logistical problems during social distancing, recommended increased telemedicine and for state medical boards to loosen regulations. The government even approved non-Hippa compliant Skype and Google conferencing apps to be paid by medicare!

Medical boards micromanage with self-righteous zeal more than current state governments with total lockdown, even in rural areas without covid. The medical boards have responded passive aggressively, requiring a doctor to apply for a state medical license for each state in which a needy patient lives. They require new patients, that need care, to be traditionally seen in person before telemed can then be utilized. This freezes-out undoctored patients from getting care while local doctor offices are shuttered! Mississippi has the fewest physicians per capita, but 1,200 physicians wanted to help by telemed and went through the expense of applying for a Mississippi license. The board decided they could only consult with patients they had already seen in another state , from in-person consults, as the board representative noted there were more than an adequate number of physicians with the ratio of 191 doctors per every 100,000 citizens.

The best the average Joe can do is find a triage Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) to refer to a specialist. With financial obstacles, insurance denials, and long wait lists for specialists, it is crucial to be your own barefoot doctor before seeking even triage. An ER visit will bankrupt you and shotgun diagnostics by the primary care provider will as well as they are under time pressure trying to guess which specialist to turf you to. Mother nature gave us a brain and the Greeks gave us the concept of logic(Induction and Deduction). If you apply a systemic review of all body functions to I.D. symptoms and signs, observable physical changes, you can induce the forest from the many trees. That allows your provider to take your written down theory to segregate you to the correct specialist who can deduce the exact illness at less expense and more expeditiously. Your search engine via internet is your improvised tricorder!

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

To wit, let us start. Notice when the signs/symptoms started, duration exactly or continuous, and any variation. Does anything ameliorate it or exacerbate it or precipitate it? What time of day or circumstances does it progress? Is it progressive or stable? What home remedies or other provider interventions have been tried or failed? Try to narrow down to at least broad categories: Degenerative diseases are insidious onset and progressive, neoplastic diseases cause weight loss, hard knots or spots, or blood from orifices. Infectious disease cause fever, weight loss, lassitude, or pain. Psychiatric illness causes mood disorder, irrational thinking or anxiety. Endocrine disease causes weight change, change in vital signs or change of bodily habit/routines. Parasitic disease causes pain or blood and is associated with tainted food /exotic food or insect or tropical environs/travels. Vascular disease causes loss of central nervous system (CNS) function or peripheral symptoms or classic shortness of breath (SOB) or chest pain. Nutritional disease come from odd diets or GI absorption/gut signs. Abnormal movements,loss of sense or alteration if consciousness is neurological. Toxic exposures come from an angry wife giving you rat poison (Like my uncle Ranzy experienced for being too stingy with his wife!). Obviously self-induced toxicity from drugs or withdrawal depends on being honest with yourself.

We all need to be more self reliant as the world has changed. Form a close network of friends and family and try to befriend the obnoxious doctor or lawyer uncle whose opinions you abhorred growing up. Educate yourself so you do not have a family doctor putting a probe in all your openings trying to catch a clue as to what you have developed. Hopefully we will not President Camacho as our leader.

Community Now

Neither pre- nor post-, but with-COVID. And so we find ourselves in the messy middle. While debate rages on about whether and how to reopen for business, how to reopen for life really, artists are navigating uncharted territory in an effort to not only survive, but thrive. 

Artists and creators do plenty of work in solitude. That’s often when the magic happens, during periods of deep work without distraction. But then comes the time for an artist to show their work and find out how, and if, it has any impact on the viewer. What hits? What falls flat? What is just…meh?

With galleries and museums closed, artists suspending studio visits, and group critiques moving online, I have spent more time exploring creative expression and innovation on Twitter and Instagram. Artistic communities are pivoting and amplifying their online presence, and this is encouraging heightened conversation and engagement among artists and art lovers alike. 

Here are several such groups and individuals:

NYC Street Photography Collective (NYCSPC) fosters conversation and exploration of photographing life on the streets of NYC and beyond. With New York “on Pause”, the collective has increased their online presence by featuring the work of street photographers on their Instagram, holding group member print sales, and moving monthly critiques from their physical gallery in Brooklyn to Zoom. They recently launched a YouTube channel to showcase a variety of photographers discussing their approaches to documenting life in the streets. While I miss NYCSPC monthly meet-ups to photograph street life and in-person crits, I admire their commitment to the community via these virtual events.

B&H Photo Video of New York, NY

B&H Photo has transformed their Event Space from physical location in Midtown Manhattan to a streaming space online. Their calendar features events hosted by guest photographers and B&H employees who lead workshops on lighting, editing software, how to find your creative voice, and more. Photographers like Derek Fahsbender actively promote and participate in these events in an effort to foster continued interest in photography, compare/contrast gear, and encourage fellow creators not to lose their way artistically during this slog of a shutdown.

Sonia Goydenko, street photographer and instructor, founded @showmeyourduds to highlight how we can learn from failure. It is an examination of the work behind the work. Photographers are encouraged to submit a series of photos, showing both the losing and winning images, along with a narrative explaining how they arrived at the final image. The value in learning from others’ creative processes and how they work through failure transcends any isolation order or economic halt.

MoMA & Coursera Partnership

Museums are innovating and offering access to works and texts rarely seen. From Twitter super-user and self-described “picture geek” Andy Adams, I learned about Seeing Through Photographs from MoMA via Coursera. Course materials include scans of text and photographic plates, links to artist interviews and short films, and live discussions (April 30th’s event featured Sarah Meister in discussion with Sally Mann regarding the new exhibition of Dorothea Lange’s images at MoMA). Since I’ve lessened my photo treks through NYC these days, it seemed an ideal time to brush up on photographic history, explore underrepresented artists’ work, and improve my visual comprehension. The course has pushed me to re-examine images more critically while continuing my exploration of photographing New York City.

View this post on Instagram

For those of you joining our global movement in support of artists and makers, here’s the logo and text on both the page (swipe to see) and below for reposting to your clipboard. You can also copy and paste these from my website, follow link in bio. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists around the world have found themselves without work, teaching, technical support, gallery work, exhibitions and sales have disappeared. In an attempt to help alleviate some of this stress @matthewburrowsstudio has instigated the #artistsupportpledge The concept is a simple one. You post images of your work to sell for no more than $200 (£200, €200, ¥20000) each (not including shipping.) Anyone can then buy the work. Every time you reach $1000 of sales you pledge to buy another artist's work for $200. So make a pledge and post your work using #artistsupportpledge and follow the #. keep updated on news and further opportunities @artistsupportpledge Repost and tell your friends, colleagues and collectors. For a users guide please see the HOW TO posts @artistsupportpledge Artist Support Pledge is a generous culture in support of artists and makers. ©️and ™️ 2020 Matthew Burrows all rights reserved. #supportingartists #covi̇d19 #coronavirus #livegenerously #agenerousculture #culture #generosity #art #makers #framers #livecreatively #exhibtgenerosity #weareone #generosityisinfectious #unityindiversity #neweconomy #supportartists @craftscouncil @matthewburrowsstudio

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Artist Matthew Burrows founded @artistsupportpledge (ASP), a way for artists to promote the discovery and sale of their art. Artists post works on Instagram for $200 maximum and use the hashtag #artistsupportpledge. After selling at least $1000 of their own work, participating artists commit to spend 20% on purchases from other participating artists. I discovered the movement via artist David King. King has produced a plethora of works over the past several weeks at prices far below the prices his works typically command. King’s ASP works sell so quickly I have not been able to snag one for myself (yet). He also posts the works that he has been purchasing from other artists, some of whom are selling their art for the first time. The movement engenders mutual support, promotion, discovery, and even a little FOMO.

While these projects and programs are no substitute for the energy of gallery visits, face-to-face discussions, and in-person purchases, they provide alternative outlets for communication, education, and commerce. I hope these endeavors live on, even after we figure our way out of this in-between state.

Any creative communities or projects you’ve noticed shifting and thriving? Please share in the comments.

May Day – Mayday

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Winston Churchill

It’s been two weeks since May 1, known as May Day, an ancient festival of Spring and which was also chosen by worker’s movements to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in Chicago of 1886. It began as a peaceful rally for an eight hour workday, until someone threw a stick of dynamite at the police who were attempting to disperse the rally. Chaos ensued, resulting in death and injury on both sides.

In the year 2020, May Day has marked a day of partial reopening in many states. In Texas, restaurants, movie theaters, churches, and retail were allowed to open at 25% capacity, followed a few days after by hair, nail, and tanning salons. On May 18, limits will increase to 50% capacity and also adds in gyms and offices.

I think the Texas reopening could have been safe, and could have happened weeks earlier. The one caveat that has yet to be satisfied – people here need to take this infection seriously – and most don’t. They dismiss the seriousness of the illness, they dismiss the possibility for infection and spread, and they don’t even grasp the consequences of exponential growth and what an overwhelmed hospital system would mean.

People have been holed up in lock-down for a long time, and they are anxious to get out. Coupled with that, is a sense that the danger has passed and it’s time to move on. This view has been espoused directly from the Oval Office, albeit without the caveat to take the remaining risk very seriously.

“In May we have already forgotten the lessons of March.”

The virus has fired the first shots in a war, and we have staged a wise and hasty retreat. We gained a pause and respite at great cost. We have squandered the time, with precious little to show for it, and apparently none the wiser. Meanwhile the virus is regrouping and consolidating, waiting for an opening to break out. We have declared victory and moved on. In May we have already forgotten the lessons of March – that an infection somewhere is an infection everywhere.

Image
25 doctors flying back from NYC on a packed United flight May 9, 2020.

In Harris County, TX (Houston) with a population of five million, we have 622 Covid patients in the hospitals as of 5/15/2020, up 10% from the day before, with this bump coming two weeks after we started to reopen. It is the beginning, not the end.

I’ve been watching New York Gov. Cuomo’s briefings every day, and I really like how he steps through the current numbers each day showing the simple facts, and requesting (vs mandating) that people wear masks when distancing isn’t possible. He has coordinated daily reporting from all hospitals to drive this data, and has led a massive effort to sample 15,000 random citizens for antibodies to determine baseline infection rates (20% in NYC). They are ramping up an aggressive contact tracing system. He has divided the state up into ten regions and defined clear benchmarks for them to reopen and delegating responsibility and accountability to those regions. Five of the ten regions are cleared to open for a phase 1 opening. He’s making it very clear what they need to do to reopen safely – and stay open. He’s communicating in a clear, consistent, and unambiguous way to earn trust and buy-in from his people.

An infection somewhere is an infection everywhere.

NY Governor Cuomo

In Texas, we have no such efforts. We were so very lucky in shutting down right before the infection curves took off. People here generally think this is not a big deal, that the lock down is a waste. Our governor and the President downplayed the seriousness, and the average person doesn’t care to look for data or appreciate the effects of exponential growth left unchecked. Local officials have tried to enact more stringent protocols, but were rebuffed by many citizens and then officially by the governor overriding the new rules.

risk it
Billboard in Texas

So, we find ourselves at the precipice of chaos, with impending entanglements of economic and pandemic consequences, oscillating at historical scale. Only one mantle in the U.S. has the antecedent respect and stature to lead and unite the public in a time of crisis. That is a factual, earnest, and empathetic address from the Oval Office – serious in tone, but striking a confidant and hopeful chord. It carries a weight that no other office or figure in America can match, it would get us all on the same page. This is a singular moment when the President could lead by informing the public that:

a) This disease is very bad, you don’t want it – at any age
b) We learn more new bad stuff about it every day – including for kids
c) It spreads like wildfire, and everybody can carry and transmit it
d) The lock-down has brought it under control
e) As we reopen EVERYBODY needs to be hyper vigilant, on guard, and OCD with masks, distancing, and hygiene – wear a mask to slow the spread, to win – it’s the patriotic thing to do
f) The better we do controlling spread, the more things we can open and faster we can open them
g) We will figure out schools, sports, and travel soon
h) Treatments and vaccines are progressing

That’s it, that’s all it would take to get the entire country on the same page. Get people to want to do the right thing. Don’t force people – let peer pressure work its magic.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate”
–Movie “Cool Hand Luke”

But this is not what we have. We have a hodgepodge along ideological and partisan divides. I understand the electoral math, of not wanting to tell people that they need to do something inconvenient. But that equivocation will cost us all very dearly, very soon.

Texas restaurants are allowed to open to 25%, and I’ve been watching two popular Mexican places nearby. Judging from the parking lots, both are running at about 85% on weekend nights.

I was at a Kroger grocery store last week, and I watched as the produce manager was wearing a mask covering only his mouth (and not his nose) sneezed in the direction of the uncovered strawberries on display. He was talking to his assistant who was dutifully wearing a mask – covering only her chin. The other major grocery chain, HEB, was very aggressive in their initial response, but has slowly rolled back many of their changes. The percentage of customers wearing masks everywhere I go has started to decrease.

The local ice rink is opening up Monday and limiting ice to 12 people total, so I bought an hour of private ice for a 3 on 3 hockey game with friends. Locker rooms and showers are closed. Rules say that everyone has to wear a mask both on and off the ice. This is not an easy ask when you are skating hard, sweaty, with a wet mask, and gasping for air. A good friend of mine, who owns a very successful industrial service company texts me and asks if he can just sign a waiver or something to avoid wearing a mask. I text back, in vain mostly, that the mask protects others. It sounds so impotent, so unconvincing. I have a feeling the rink may be ordered to shut down again soon as infections spike, so I’m going to play at least once while I still can.

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue has a bandana mask | FOX 7 Austin
Stevie Ray Vaughn statue in Austin

The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.

Aristotle

I ask myself, why should I wear a mask to protect others if nobody else is wearing a mask to protect me? Scott Kupor mentions in his recent book that you should “Sell aspirin, not vitamins” – he has a clear understanding of human motivations. Maybe I need a more serious mask or filter system that works for me instead of others.

As a nation united we could prevent a catastrophe, but as a nation divided the best we can hope for is to survive the infectious and economic catastrophe. This year’s May Day re-opening, without proper protocols and vigilance, may lead to yet another very explosive and chaotic situation.

The string quartet may be playing an upbeat melody on the upper deck, but we may also soon be sending out a mayday call. Let us all hope these charts don’t start to look like hockey sticks. When vanity and strident political maneuvering comes to play in a global pandemic and a historic economic crisis, it has certainly become a very Strange New Normal.

Violinists Play to Empty Toilet Paper Aisle Like it's The Titanic ...
String quartet from the movie “Titanic”

Office Or No Office, That Is The Question

Okay, so it is not quite the question asked in Hamlet, but it is really a question that a lot of businesses and workers are asking themselves right now during international lockdowns. If you find yourself asking, “Where will I work?” or “Do we need to pay for an office?” then you are probably thinking about the short term and that makes a lot of financial sense. However, I think this is a much larger question. The question that really needs answering is “What makes us Human?” The answer to that is “people.”

My background study, before I became a mountain man living off in the mountains as a hermit, was around cultural and forensic Anthropology. It was a wonderful area of study for me because it helped answer many of the questions that I had about what makes us Human and why people behave in the ways that they do. What sets us apart from the wild is our organization into societal structures that we have created to ensure our collective survival from the elements and threats.

Being around people is not just an elective thing we do on the weekend with friends in a restaurant, it is a deeply instinctual psychological need from a million years of evolution and myriads of millennia of organizing larger societies. It is such a powerful psychological need that when you are away from other people for long enough periods of time you develop what is commonly referred to as “Cabin Fever.” I experienced this myself as I lived in the mountains for over a year alone with only a stray dog to keep me company. I would drive across mountains, more than an hour away, just to buy a loaf of bread in Walmart to experience the comfort of being around people after months alone.

Photo by Piotr Usewicz on Unsplash

Being isolated and alone can actually contribute to your death as well. Historically, one of the worst punishments that could be handed down upon a bad actor in a village or tribe was to be banished and ostracized from society. That is because you’d not have the safety of a larger group or a stable supplies of sustenance to keep you alive. As we have developed scientific observation and medical study, it has become apparent that isolation away from others causes early death through increased morbidity and mortality rates attributed to loneliness and isolation. Our psychological stresses increase inflammation, stress, cholesterol, and mental illness that lead to early death. Simply put, we have to be around others for our health.

In our modern society, this has carried over into our workplace. We are organized in miniature hierarchical tribes where people join either for pay or for achievement. Our motivating factors are different from person to person, but they largely revolve around being part of a group where we can work towards a common goal and achieve success. It is a need to be part of something larger than ourselves.

We have seen a trend of co-working spaces popping up across the globe from both small and large companies allowing so-called digital nomads, remote workers, and independently-minded entrepreneurs to have an office workplace around others with many amenities they have grown accustomed to that allow them flexibility away from a rigid structure. Why don’t they simply work 100% remotely from home? To answer that, we have to look at motivations that people have for work.

During this crisis, there’s a lot of talk about huge waves of remote-only work or that businesses will simply eliminate physical offices all together. That may work for some workers who prefer to just punch in for their assignments and clock out for personal endeavors, like a lone wolf, but I don’t feel that will be something that the majority of people will feel comfortable with after the novelty of working from home wears off. That is where Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation comes into play along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The two work in concert, but I will briefly address Herzberg.

Photo: Herzberg Two-Factor Theory – 7Pace

For the workforce, jobs are broken down into Hygiene Factors — encompassing things such as income levels and job security — and also Motivation Factors –- encompassing the psychological aspects of the job such as a sense of belonging, doing something meaningful, and being part of a cohesive team –- which coalesce into the overall experience of working for a company or group. Each person has different motivations, like some just wanting prestige of job positioning, but you can’t have one aspect of the Two-Factor requirements without the other. One side will outweigh the other side if it is lacking and the employee will be unhappy. So, you could increase someone’s pay a great amount but if they feel isolated and unhappy then they will end up leaving to find another more enjoyable work experience. These are components of management that are taught to managers and in business school as necessary to the health of a company.

When you remove people from the workplace, where they are not feeling like an active and valuable member of the organization, they will end up leaving. This is often overlooked in the short-term discussion about working from home and decentralizing. This is one of the most important factors into why I feel that work-from-home will not be sustainable across the board for companies. There may be some sections of the workforce, based on personality type, who will opt-in to work remotely fulltime, but I do not see it being rolled out across entire industries or even large companies.

Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

After these rolling lockdowns begin to end, I think that people will be starved to be around their coworkers and friends that they won’t be thinking about staying at home anymore. That will be their last desire. Who knows, WeWork may even pick back up and be host to many new and returning “nomads” to gain some semblance of normalcy back where they can have a visceral sense of security and comfort around others happy to be back in the office.

We spend a large portion of our lives at work. We are driven to be there for a purpose and people around us believing-in and striving for the same goals is an empowering feeling. We need it. We also make a lot of our friends through work and some even find their spouses in the workplace. The office is more personal than it may seem on the surface. It’s the people that make it worth it. And it’s the people that we will go back to.

Why? Because we are Human. We need each other.

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Covid-19: Uniting and Dividing Us

There is a Chinese curse that supposedly says, “May you live in interesting times.” Whether we like it or not, we now live in interesting times. Regardless of the duration, or the costs we might need to bear, we will overcome this crisis like we have overcome others in the past. When we come out on the other side and take off our masks, our social behavior will be permanently altered. Will we do what we did after World War II, pull together, and build a global community, or will we be torn apart and drift towards another Cold War ?

We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological.

Rebecca Solnit in How to Survive a Disaster

Coming Together

Facing a common enemy has sparked a communal spirit within us. Social distancing has, ironically, encouraged us to turn outward, care for our neighbors, and reconnect with our friends and families. By way of an example, I am doing something I haven’t done for years: calling my friends and family more often and having long, meaningful, and engaging conversations. Having everybody in the world going through similar experiences has inspired many of us to help out in our respective communities. There is an unprecedented outpouring of help and support from online community groups for people in high-risk categories and those in need. As the lockdowns spread across the world, it brought along the practice of collectively stepping out and applauding health-care workers. It’s an act that is part defiance, part support, and part celebration – we are all in this together. We feel helpless, but we are still here!

The collective cheering ritual started in Wuhan and spread across the globe in the virus’s wake.

This solidarity goes beyond a personal level. Doctors across the world are sharing their knowledge, treatments, and procedures. Researchers are collaborating on a global scale to create vaccines and improve virus detection. Industries across the globe are volunteering skillsets for research, as well as retooling their machines to make personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. It has even compelled tech giants Apple and Google to team up and create a contact tracking system.

Doctors exchanging research notes on twitter

DRIFTING APART

The threat that is unifying us is also threatening to reverse the globalization trend toward Cold War levels. As the virus spread, it brought about competition due to the limited supply of existing ventilators and PPE. Several U.S. states were in conflict with the federal government regarding access to ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile, in addition to bidding against each another to acquire the much-needed PPE and medical equipment. The friction between U.S. states/local municipalities and the federal government was most evident in the case of New York and SF. Would the states ever depend on the central government ? Should they?

On a global scale, problems in regard to acquisitions surfaced with news of nations stealing masks from each other. The pandemic exposed and even widened the divisions in the EU. This was evident during the early days of the epidemic in March when Italy got hit the hardest, and other EU nations refused to offer medical help and supplies. As the lockdown takes a financial toll on Italy and Spain, economically stable northern countries disagree on sharing the burden, causing the worst crisis since the EU’s inception. The tensions and the resulting distrust will likely surpass the damage caused by the virus.

It’s a reciprocal interest that Europe meets this challenge. Otherwise, we must abandon the European dream and say, everyone is on their own. Either we all meet this challenge, or the tribunal of history will judge us.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte In an interview with Bild newspaper

Even after some semblance of normalcy has returned, travel restrictions are likely to continue. Travel across countries, something we had taken for granted, will never be the same. Borders that inhibit not only the entrance but exit as well have returned to a level beyond what the most ardent nationalist ever advocated. National sovereignty is being advocated as the best defense to an international threat


These contradictory trends are not new. They are an extension of the struggle between global solidarity and nationalism, now accelerated by the pandemic. As we continue to struggle, we are creating a new reality that will define us. We are not just observers; we are building history and performing together in this new and strange reality.

Photo by Filip Filkovic Philatz on Unsplash

Stay safe; stay well.

Covid Coup De Grâce

In my formative years my great uncle Dr. Walter Cale was a horseback doctor in Atkins, Arkansas, known for Atkin’s Pickles. He sold cucumbers for a living to the pickle plant and bartered medical services taking in chickens and eggs. His two-room home office took walk-ins with routine care in the front room and the back room housed his examination table, which he dropped ether solo doing surgeries. He was my physician and gave me the inspiration to shoot for the stars from our poultry farm. He did well financially and had community respect from all.

Library of Congress

Post-World War, third party insurance introduced pencil pushers between the doctor and patient. Big government socialists noticed and the American Medical Assoc. was offered the copyright to ICD publications and the American Psychiatric Assoc. was offered DSM copyrights if both organizations would back socialized medicine via medicare/then medicaid. The rank and file were sold down the river, so to speak, with golden retirement parachutes for leaderships.

The ensuing price controls and bureaucracy degraded medicine with physicians chasing the rabbit around the financial track. To reduce the added expense of the middle men, managed care was devised. Doctors found that patients would change MD care for a pittance cheaper charge. The physicians saw patients as a revenue source and not a friend and neighbor. Patients saw doctors as a commodity to sue as an insurance policy if health did not remain perfect. The government was glad to force doctors to take the mark of the beast as hospital privileges required the MD to accept medicaid patients and medicaid which forced MD’s to charge even the poor or uninsured the same price without discount or else be sanctioned.

Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash

The low reimbursements required quick throughput, as with cattle, to cover expenses. The huge volume at low profit and degraded quality pleased the government as the MD’s were the highest revenue source for the Treasury as a group. Anecdotally, the expanding knowledge base and time pressures degraded quality. The government introduced electronic health records to slowly force treatment cookbook cascade methods like paramedics use in the military. Additionally, it takes so much longer to see the patient and electronically prescribe with typed notes that significantly fewer patients can be seen through office hours. This results in fewer claims to Centers for Medicare, etc. As in all socialist schemes rationing becomes necessary.

Now fast forward to present day and Covid is making older MD’s consider retirement rather than pay staff and expenses whilst being slowed further by Covid precautions/protocols. The risk of a subpoena by a trial lawyer, on behalf of employees or patients catching Covid, makes retirement look better. Telemedicine is slower, less accurate, depersonalizes, and devoids the last of the physician patient relationship. Older MD’s are a large proportion of practicing physicians. Covid may be the final coup de grâce if they are financially stable. It is now gotten to the point of being hard for a physician to find a practiced physician, good luck to the lay person.

BBC

Socialized medicine will be forthcoming rapidly. Already two thirds of physicians are hospital-employed minions controlled by number-driven men in Italian suits and manicured grooming. In one lifetime, this MD has seen the complete replacement of traditional care to a government-hospital industrial complex with a different “provider” yearly, if not semi-annually. It is impersonal and less beneficial than having a trusted doctor lobbying for you sincerely. Covid is the final nail in the coffin. We will be akin to Canadian and British NHS unless you are wealthy and can afford concierge care from a MD who has bailed from centers for medicare which makes it illegal for the MD or patient to bill for services. By the way, one can not bail from medicare Part-A without risking your social security check.

A strange new medical normal with fewer doctors, greater expense, scarce expensive medicines, and degraded services is on the horizon. Maybe we will still be able to leave our homes without Fauci’s/ E.U./U.N. Covid ID of alleged immunity.