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!

A Divine Restaurant Experience

Recently, I was on a short road trip with a friend and I saw a sign for a restaurant that I adore from back home in Arkansas, Cracker Barrel.

I know, it’s a chain restaurant, but so what? I generally stay away from chain restaurants, but Cracker Barrel is very consistent all across the country and, in the end, I’m a Southern boy far way from home without anything close to Southern food nearby.

As we were driving by Sacramento, California, I did a quick search for where this Cracker Barrel was located in the city. Unfortunately, it turned out that the restaurant was on the opposite side of the city and I wasn’t willing to turn around on this leg of thew trip. I figured we would just have to make plans to stop by on the way back.

Just when our hopes were dashed for the day, and stomachs grumbling, there was a new hope. The skies parted, the sun shown through, and I spotted the divine brown and golden sign of Cracker Barrel a mere 30 minutes away in Rocklin, California.

Could it be? Yes, it was a second location in the Southern food desert of West Coast. I had already missed the interstate exit for that restaurant because there was no warning ahead of time that this glorious establishment resided there in Rocklin. This time, I wasn’t going to resist turning around. It was going to happen. We had been in lockdown far too long to pass up the chance to go to Cracker Barrel.

I took the next exit, turned around, and sped back to the previous exit, cautiously making sure to take the correct part of the exit to ensure that we had no more barriers between us and that simple comfort food housed behind that humble exterior lined with rocking chairs.

We pulled into the parking lot and I wanted to make sure to set our expectations low and told my friend that we may just have to get a to-go order and eat in the car. However, as we got closer to the door, I saw the magnificent message on an outdoor banner saying “The Dining Room In Now Open.” Yes, you read that correctly, it was a restaurant where you could eat inside of the establishment in the state of California.

Whiskeyriff.com

After we walked through the door — with masks on — we felt like kids in a candy store, but I guess we were literally in a candy store too. We were seated promptly, walking through the dining area with walls adorned with the typical antique kitsch. We found a dining area with every other table closed off in order to give diners space between each other. Aside from the spacing, cutting capacity down by half, the dining experience was the same. We both had to order our obvious choice, Chicken Fried Steak with gravy. What else would you order at Cracker Barrel after having not had that luxury for so long? It was a no-brainer.

Cracker Barrel, Chicken Fried Steak

What struck me as odd, after the fact, was our absolute elation of being able to do something that used to be normal and mundane. Eating at chain restaurants were just a given and a way to end being hungry while driving across a state during a trip. Now, it feels like a luxury or a event to simply go sit inside of a restaurant and have some sort of semblance of normal life which we have had stripped away from us after six months of a virus changing everyday life across the globe.

I look forward to the time, hopefully soon, where we can go back to doing the things that were just normal, assumed, uneventful, and taken for granted. We don’t know what we have until it’s gone. Don’t take your Chicken Fried Steak & Dumplings for granted.

Cracker Barrel, Chicken & Dumplings

We all deserve to be able to enjoy time with our friends and family eating in America’s restaurant, Cracker Barrel.

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.

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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

Masking The Truth

I get it. No one WANTS to wear a mask. Well, not unless you’re attempting to hold-up a stagecoach or fight ninja turtles.

Around a month ago, I bought a cloth mask on Etsy. We already had some surgical-type masks purchased from Walmart just before panic buying started happening, but I didn’t want to wear one of those out and about because it makes it look like you are the one who is sick. After all, here in America during flu season, we put on a mask when visiting a doctor’s office if we have symptoms. The point is, I could tell that masks were going to be a necessary clothing item soon, and I wanted to be prepared.

Since then, a friend and his wife here in Chicago have begun crafting and selling high-quality masks, and I bought some for my family. I can highly recommend for an excellent fit and color/fabric choices.

My first venture with the mask was into a liquor store. I’ll be honest that sitting in the car I was having second thoughts about putting it on. I’m highly self-conscious, but in this case, I bit the bullet and just did it. Because I knew it was going to be the right thing to do.

Walking in, I immediately looked around to see whom else was wearing a mask. First employee I spotted no. First customer I spotted no. But I still went about my business, highly self-conscious to how I looked, but shopped for my booze anyway.

Not even a minute later, an employee one aisle over (not wearing a mask) asked if I needed help finding anything. I asked for what I was looking for (a special barrel-aged Jeppson’s Malört!), and he led me over to the aisle where it was. I kept my distance, briefly commented on the peculiar liquor, and thanked him for his help. I quickly realized, wearing a mask was no big deal after all. I’m just keeping to myself, doing my own thing. At that point it really didn’t feel different than wearing something unusual for me like a hat. Would you wear a cowboy hat out running errands? No? Well it’s ABSOLUTELY normal for a good chunk of the population. In some locales, you might even look out of place for NOT wearing one.

giordanos.com

Two weeks ago, I ordered a pizza from one of our favorite places (Giordano’s!). I ordered over the phone for “pick up”, drove there, walked inside wearing my mask, signed my credit card receipt, and took home my pizza. No big deal.

Last week, I ordered a pizza again for “pick up”, drove there, walked inside (not noticing new signs on the door), and was immediately stopped by an employee who jumped up and said I had to wait outside. As someone attempting to follow the rules, I suddenly felt scolded and a bit ashamed, not gonna lie. But what changed was a new local ordinance that said only employees were allowed inside of a restaurant. The manager was apologetic, and for my part I felt compelled to explain my confusion because on the phone no one said anything about not coming inside. Nevertheless, I sheepishly went back to my car, waited for him to come out and take my credit card, ring it up inside, and give me my pizza. Lesson learned.

Last night we ordered pizza again, but this time the person on the phone explained they can only do curbside pickup, and asked if I wanted to pay over the phone, which we did. My wife and I together went to pick up the pizza this time, pulling right up to the curb at a numbered spot, with me on the passenger side. When we arrived I called the store to tell them we were there. I put on my mask, my wife in the driver’s seat put on her mask, and an employee wearing a mask and gloves handed me my pizza through the passenger side window. All was well, and we drove off.

THE POINT OF THIS STORY: wearing a mask is a courtesy to those around you. In the 5 seconds I’m interacting with this employee, I don’t want to spread my germs to him at his place of work, and he doesn’t want to spread his germs onto the food I’m buying. At this point, I’d personally feel more out of place NOT wearing a mask walking into someone’s business. They have to be there to serve their customers; I don’t need to be a jerk and make them worry that I’m unnecessarily spreading my germs to them.

Because to me, this boils down not only to respecting others, but also science. Do you believe in asymptomatic spread? Science says it exists, and the testing results indicate it exists, so if you simply don’t, that’s another conversation. So now that we’re dealing with how to prevent asymptomatic spread, why are you against face coverings? We teach children to cover their mouths while coughing, sneezing into their arm to stop the spread of germs when they are sick. But now we have a virus where it cannot be known at any given moment if we have it or not, and therefore anyone could be unknowingly spreading the virus at any time. Cloth face masks aren’t perfect, they may not block 100% of the virus if someone is infected and is out and about in society, but the mask will block a portion of it, reducing the spread. Compare that to someone who has the virus and is out and about in society and is spreading 100% of whatever is coming out of their mouth. There’s no contest.

webstaurantstore.com

Now, you may then bring up Constitutional rights and freedoms and whatever, but bear in mind that “no shirt, no shoes, no service” is a thing, and so “no mask” can be easily added to that for the time being. Private businesses have no obligation to entertain you as a customer, especially when local ordinances are backing up the mask requirements. The truth is, having a face covering helps slow the spread. It’s the same reason we’ve socially distanced for 45 days…to slow the spread. Don’t want to slow the spread? By all means keep rebelling against wearing a mask. But at least acknowledge that you’re consciously not helping slow the spread of this coronavirus.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, syfy.com

Nonprofits are Struggling to Adapt to our Strange New Normal — (Part 1)

(This part 1 of a series on how COVID-19 is affecting Nonprofits)

COVID-19 has been a perfect storm for traditionally-run nonprofits. The way this pandemic has necessitated altering our society as a whole is directly and profoundly impacting the way nonprofits must consider strategy and operations. To understand how this impact is playing out, it’s important to gain an understanding of how most nonprofits operate. It’s a topic that, until I joined Astra Labs, I didn’t have much insight into.

Having spent time in the biotech startup world, the stark contrast in the assumptions made by nonprofits, and how those assumptions play out in the management of resources, have been jarring to me.

Six Assumptions Made By Traditional Nonprofits, and how COVID-19 has dismantled each of them. 

The First Assumption nonprofits operate on is that whenever tragedy strikes, or there is a significant issue which causes harm, they will be able to quickly quickly leverage donations as an integral factor of their response. Naturally, this relies on areas not hit by a tragedy or natural event to have money or resources they can spare in order to be able to raise funds that can be used to deliver aid to areas that are strongly affected.

However, when something truly goes global, like this pandemic has, raising money or acquiring resources and donations from unaffected areas becomes almost impossible. Since each area is affected, many turn inward trying to do whatever they can to support their own communities first in an effort to facilitate reaching out and help others from a position of strength later. Unfortunately, due to the pace of spread, most people are currently working to strengthen their local communities and areas right now, and therefore outside aid in the form of donations and resources become disproportionately more difficult to acquire in impoverished communities. Many lack the tests and resources to contain and control these problems, leading to more suffering down the line.

The Second Assumption is that many resources do not need to be stockpiled and the small supply of critical stockpile resources that exist are usually reserved for immediate use. For example, initial food and shelter that could be provided to a hurricane-stuck area will fill the gap until further supplies can be sent into the region. Or a small cache of first aid supplies could be used quickly in the event of a disaster until medical supplies can be flown in.

This depends on there being an available capability in the market for people to manufacture critical supplies in short notice and a workforce to spin up these types of manufacturing quickly enough that a meaningful response to the demand can be created. However, this is difficult when manufacturing is centralized in one or two regions of the world, when those regions are hit hard, are impacted early that result in disrupting the middle of the supply chain, and affecting everyone else’s ability to adequately prepare for the coming storm. This is then compounded by further supply chain interruptions as the virus hits different regions — causing intermittent shutdowns on raw material extraction, manufacturing of special parts, or even disruptions in shipping lanes — preventing the flow of critical supplies that global distributed stockpiles might have alleviated.

Naturally then, a Third Assumption unfolds. We have all come to collectively rely upon the dependability of global manufacturing capabilities and the infallibility of Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing and logistics to get things where they need to go. Nonprofits have bought into that assumption, too. Naturally, these systems far outstrip most organization’s capabilities to stockpile resources in the first place. The thought here is that in whatever situation arises that those stockpiles will be insufficient, it’s a simple idea to quickly order whatever else is needed with funds on-hand.

A supply chain with zero surplus or stockpiles anywhere along the way is inherently an efficient one. However, it’s also the least capable of weathering interruptions. When random interruptions are thrown into the mix, delays happen quickly, and cascade through a system without any buffer zones. As these cascades create shortages, everyone is trying to acquire supplies they need and near-term tension causes exhaustion and price spikes, leading to further waste and ineffective use of funds. Therefore, when dealing with disaster situations, and other unpredictable events, one shouldn’t discount the incredible strategic advantage of stockpiling critical supplies and resources, around the globe, and using them as an additional pool to weather the storm.

The Fourth Assumption made by traditional nonprofits is that their responses will only be needed for a short amount of time — granting that most disasters are short-lived — and humanity has a handle on how to deal with the most commonly occurring ones; floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, famine, hunger, and disease outbreaks. That is what is needed for a nonprofit to fill in the gaps before our lumbering systems kick in and provide aid and support.

Covid-19 and its isolation procedures have dragged on for quite some time already. While there is now talk of re-opening in a few months, some experts are saying we are not in the clear just yet. People fear that we might experience another wave, or there may be continually recurring resurgences unless and until we get a handle on this thing. There is also talk about how vaccine development may take another 12 months from where we are today and afterwards we will need to manufacture and distribute those vaccines. A vaccine seems to also be one of the few permanent solutions to this pandemic. It will take a gargantuan effort to distribute them globally. In the meantime, People will be apprehensive and it will take time for the economy to regain the lost momentum. Nonprofits still have much work ahead of them as we repair the damage to all our systems, and people struggle to make up for missed payments, shrinking savings, and more.

The Fifth Assumption made by traditional nonprofits is that they do not need large cash reserves or a significant runway built into the budget. The general sentiment is money should be spent quickly to provide immediate aid / relief. And, if there is a need, donors will rise to the occasion in providing more cash flow. This has *generally* been true, but isn’t always true. However, more than 80% of nonprofits operate with only 6-12 months of cash reserves on hand, much of which is already allocated according to their budget.

Due to the isolation and shutdown measures taken by governments, Global  GDP’s have taken a massive hit. This has rippled through all parts of the economy and many people who would ordinarily happily donate to relief efforts are now cash-strapped and unable to help out. As a result nonprofits who’s strategies depended on this influx of cash are now met with a difficult choice: do they scale back efforts in order to maintain funding through an uncertain timeline, continue to operate until they run out of cash and be paralyzed, or increase their fundraising efforts in an attempt to get ahead of the problem? None of the choices are particularly appealing, and all of them are risky.

The Sixth Asssumption made by nonprofits is the that conducting operations on the basis of the inherent availability of volunteer time and volunteer manpower is an easy way to cut cost and add flexibility. Relying on volunteers allows them to scale their activities to the occasion at hand or keep volunteers in reserve. As a result, many of their capabilities are tied to the the availability of volunteer time and those volunteers’ ability to do ground-work where and when it is needed. This is a decidedly low-tech approach that has allowed nonprofits to scale some things that do not scale well, but their workforce is also vulnerable to economic conditions.

This approach collapses when the entire world switches to working from home, staying in physical isolation, and sometimes even being mandated from not being outdoors. Furthermore, many nonprofits are weak in their implementation of digital strategies, or don’t appropriately adapt to the digital world well, and therefore are cut off from their most successful efforts to give aid to others. This can be frustrating because funds cannot be used in the most effective ways, and new funds cannot be raised in traditional ways that previously worked well. Once again, it leads to an inability to be maximally effective at a time when the world needs it most.

So Where Do We Go From Here?  

One of the tragic things about this pandemic is how quickly many medium sized nonprofits went from providing aid to absolutely struggling to stay alive and operational. As this pandemic drags on, we keep seeing wonderful and historically effective organizations fold under the pressures, or remain alive only in name, rendered immobile due to their diminished ability to raise funds. This is truly a tragedy because many of the medium size nonprofits are an excellent blend of being quick to respond to problems and run in an efficient manner. I truly think the world is worse off with their loss and I fear that many others will be heavily affected before this is over.

Covid-19 is truly the most perfect storm for many of these organization. It has systematically eroded away the assumptions built into the models of most nonprofits because of the measures we have needed to take in order to flatten the curve and slow down the spread of this virus. 

At Astra, we saw these problems coming from a distance. We have always operated digitally and remotely. One of the reasons I joined the organization is to help craft our strategy for the coming decade and ensure that disasters on a global scale would not prevent us from carrying out our mission. In subsequent parts of this series, I will elaborate on the advantages of nonprofits moving to the digital world, outline some of the strategies required, and what assumptions may not apply anymore.

(In Part 2, I will talk about why traditional nonprofits are struggling to go digital, even though doing so will allows them circumvent some of these problems…)

What Day Is It?

Time is funny. To quote Lenin: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

As we find ourselves in the intra-pandemic state of COVID-19, the perception of time seems to ebb and flow. No longer is the clock the timekeeper. Instead, events of non-uniform length and subjective importance seem to be measuring time. Our strange, new normal may be exacerbating these divergences (ever present, though often unobserved). I’ve seen many comments on Twitter about time and conflicting reactions to its pace.

Depending on our familiarity with what is happening in our lives, time perception shifts. “We gauge time by memorable events and fewer new things occur as we age to remember, making it seem like childhood lasted longer,” Dr. Santosh Kesari, neurologist and neuro-oncologist says. The pandemic of COVID-19 is a new type of event for children and adults alike (save the rare super-centenarians who were alive during the Spanish Influenza), requiring that our brains update our mental models. Bombarded with unfamiliar terms — like COVID-19, coronavirus, flatten the curve, and social distancing — our brains play catch-up, processing these novelties and integrating previously unknown behaviors into daily life. As a result, it seems like life has come to a screeching halt. At the same time, non-stop news reports, ever-changing predictions of the spread of infection, concerns about survival, and sudden loss of family and friends make life feel like it is flying by faster than we can process its events. It’s almost like time is moving at multiple speeds simultaneously.

I find it curious how time passes at an uneven pace now, depending on where my hours are spent. My outdoor hours consist of running miles through NYC or photographing its rather empty streets, while indoors I am occupied with machine-learning and time-series data analysis. Whether indoors or out, I am engaged in some activity. And yet, the speed of time fluctuates. 

In the vein of social distancing, how does the pace of time feel now that relationships with anyone outside our immediate living space is noticeably more distanced and disconnected? As we physically distance from other humans, does time slow down or speed up? Perhaps it does both. It might feel like time has slowed to a near-stop while we wait to hug family and friends, wondering when we will next see them in person. And when we do meet again, it might feel like time has flown by so quickly (nieces and nephews growing taller, parents looking a bit more aged than when we were last together). 

If events govern the measurement of time, COVID-19 has demonstrated the various ways that time can move and bend, revealing its non-linear and non-sequential attributes. Will we be able to keep account of all that has happened and when and how, or will it all just blur together into an event collectively known as COVID, stripped of its details? While forgetting may be the path of least resistance (and can even be beneficial for our mental health), it will be important to recall our COVID experiences in order to proactively address similar situations. History does not necessarily repeat, but it does rhyme. And yes, there will be a next time.

from Cuomo’s PowerPoints are all of us right now

Let’s Break Up With China

Saving People & The Planet

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

China’s Role in Covid-19

I’m not really known for mincing words and I have a tendency to be pretty direct with what I want to say. This may be good or bad depending on the perspective. However, there is one area where I have no qualms expressing my opinion and that is the area regarding my views on China.

China’s CCP has helped bring the world’s economies to their knees through its oppression of free speech of heroes in China who tried warning the world of a dangerous outbreak called COVID-19.

We witnessed doctors and journalists in China being rounded-up, punished, disappeared, even dying from the illness they tried warning the world about. To China’s CCP, the appearance of stability and control was more important than the threat of a deadly pathogen that it tried to cover-up. Keeping up appearances prevented international health experts from the CDC and WHO from studying to help prevent an outbreak.

On top of that, China’s CCP has repeatedly lied about their infection rates and death rates while minimizing its actual blame and role in this whole tragedy. Instead, they launched a propaganda campaign of sending aid to European nations. Later which, those nations found the medical protective gear donated to them was counterfeit and offered no protection along with antibody tests failing to work at all.

China’s CCP lied and we must all hold them accountable. It’s time to examine our relationship with this regime. I think it’s time for the world to cut China out of the loop and repatriate or localize supply chains after this disaster. We will all need it for economic recovery in the end. The CCP will only continue to smile while it tries stabbing us in the back.

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

What is the CCP?

China’s government is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and it is NOT the Chinese people. The CCP has spent generations brainwashing the populace with propaganda about how they have been wronged by others and that they can only survive through the CCP. China’s citizens are told that they must sacrifice their own goals for the CCP’s agenda and that they will be outcasts and enemies of the state if they have more children than their draconian restrictions describe as acceptable by the party.

The CCP has done this through the government-controlled national media outlets, continually feeding the people of China with social engineering to sway them towards outcomes the party favors. They’ve imbedded government proctors into companies to monitor how they behave or what they produce in efforts to control messaging, and they have created a large police state through a massive surveillance program along with technology/app integration.

Through this surveillance program, the CCP monitors, tracks, shames, reprimands, punishes, or abducts its citizens. This has grave implications on the civil liberties and human rights of the people of China and everyone who visits this nation. We have seen this play out with videos posted online of civilians walking across roads between lights and immediately having that individual’s I.D. plastered onto an nearby billboard and, presumably, being fined through text and having their “social credit score” docked points for being shamed while jay walking.

(Here is video from Daily Mail showing jaywalking tracking)

We have also seen the darker side of this where more than an estimated one million Uighurs have been imprisoned for practicing Islam. They are being sent to concentration camps in Western China to be “reëducated” to not have a higher belief other than the communist party. Uighur wives are being left with Han men who are CCP members. There are reports that the Uighur women are being forced to sleep in the same bed as the men from the Communist party, and being raped, for them to assimilate into the CCP “family.”

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Aside from the Uighurs, the practitioners of Falun Gong are being imprisoned for following their beliefs. Both of these groups have suffered unimaginable treatment and are being used as Guinea pigs for the CCP’s organ harvesting program. These political prisoners have had their organs involuntarily harvested to supply a $1Billion+ Chinese secondary market. Foreign nationals are allowed to schedule an organ transplant and fly-in to receive organs from nearby concentration camps of Uighurs and Falun Gong.

What was their crime to warrant having their organs and lives take from them? Threatening the agenda and undermining the messaging of the CCP itself. The CCP sees any free-thinking or outside thought contrary to its stance as a threat to its stability and a crime against the people of China. So, do you find yourself not supporting oppression and lack of free speech? Then you’re a criminal and you’re subject to die in a concentration camp.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

China’s CCP is also practicing predatory infrastructure loan traps to expand its influential reach across the globe. It has created a predatory program called the “Belts & Roads Initiative”(BRI) where they enter into agreements with nations, mostly poor and under-developed, where they bring in Chinese labor to build highway and railway systems to connect cities for commerce. The problem is that these expenses are massive and the nations have no way of paying off the debt. The debt represents 15% of many nations’ GDP and some of those nations, such as Kenya, owe 72%+ of its debt to China through these sorts of programs or even upwards of 70% of a nation’s GDP.

Is the CCP just super generous and wanting to give out $5Trillion worth of free money? No, absolutely not. The CCP is playing the long game where it is waiting for those nations to default or take out more loans to pay the interest on their older debts. With this, China is buying exclusive mining rights for hundreds of years in poor nations where it can exploit them for their natural resources to pay off a previous debt from building roads. In other places, they’ve trapped island and port nations so that China can cancel the debt owed in exchange for waterway access and ports for hundreds of years. This is a game of dominance, much like the board game “Risk,” and the world is largely ignoring this predatory behavior.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

However, it doesn’t end there. China’s CCP has stolen the Intellectual Property of the world’s tech and telecom companies to roll out analogues to then sell back to nations in Europe. Chinese theft of I.P. is at an all-time high with 25% of companies reporting that China has stolen from them in the last year alone. That’s where Huawei comes into play. It is trying to sell its 5G communication networks across Europe and the world. Is the CCP wanting to connect people and improve lives? No. The CCP is wanting to control data and have access to communications across the globe where they can continue to expand its theft of I.P. and control what the world sees about China’s actions through pressuring freedom of expression in nations that still have civil liberties. Why? Because that’s what China’s CCP does domestically in China. It controls through fear and through suppressing the free speech of dissenting voices.

This is the CCP. This is what we are empowering and supporting with our trade dollars. This is one of the many reasons that we need to stop enriching the Chinese government and have it die on the vine from economic collapse.\

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

International Trade

We, as Americans, have turned a blind eye to China’s atrocities for the last thirty years. Offshore manufacturing has settled into China and caused a huge economic boom there, under the auspice of “Special Economic Zones”(SEZ) through the concessions that the CCP has made, by allowing for foreign entities to have manufacturing facilities operate for export using Chinese labor.

These changes have given easy access to American companies to produce their goods without the constraints and obligations of labor requirements domestically. In the short-term, it helped boost companies’ stock values and returns by trying to position them to as “service industry” while manufacturing is offloaded overseas. In the long-term, this represents a threat to the companies doing business in China through state-sponsored Intellectual Property theft of their products, it’s a threat to globalized dependence on supply chains, it’s a threat by enriching a dangerous regime to export its oppressive ideology, it’s a threat by empowering the CCP’s flagrant digital abuses with state-sponsored hacking efforts, it’s a moral hazard that the companies are complicit in the human rights and civil rights abuses that their efforts finance, and it’s an existential threat to the globe through both building up a totalitarian regime’s adversarial military forces while also contributing to out-of-control maritime transportation pollution.

Aside from the threat of the totalitarian efforts of China’s CCP, the pollution caused by supporting its export economy is helping to destroy our planet. Approximately 20% of the atmospheric pollution on our planet comes from the oceanic transport industry.

Localizing Supply Chains

After we stabilize our workforce and financial footing, America and other nations need to focus on helping their people and nearby neighbors.  We can do this by refocusing how our commercial supply chains are organized and through modernizing our transport infrastructure.

While off-loading manufacturing, we’ve neglected our domestic infrastructure, treating it more as a relic of our past industrial might from a post-war era where the future was full of amazing promise that we could only dream up for a sci-fi film. Instead, that capital was sent to China they have built the modern cities that America began dreaming of in the 1950s.

According to information compiled by Statista,there are approximately 34,000 General Cargo Ships, Bulk Carrier Ships, and Container Ships cruising our oceans at any given moment. This is how we largely obtain goods from China, through oceanic transport.

Photo by Roger Hoyles on Unsplash

Cargo ships don’t use regular fuel to move their goods. They use the cheapest and most filthy sludge that money can buy, and it’s called “Bunker Fuel.” Bunker Fuel is a byproduct of oil refining where the thick tar-like sludge is left over. That is what ships use for fuel. It’s one of the most awful forms of petroleum used in our modern era as it emits horrendous amounts of sulfur and pollutants into the atmosphere. This pollution is largely overlooked and unregulated because those ships are out in the open ocean and out of view of everyday citizens. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

According to a report by iNews UK, it’s estimated that each cargo ship creates the same amount of pollution as 50 Million passenger cars. They also state that a mere 15 of the large container ships create more pollution than all of the passenger cars on the planet combined. If that doesn’t make you think about our supply chains and the implications of offshore dependence, then I don’t know what will. On average, it takes around 12 days for a cargo ship leaving Shenzhen, China to arrive in Los Angeles, CA. During that time, it will burn on average 63,000 gallons of the Bunker Fuel sludge every day for a total of approximately 750,000 gallons during the voyage.

We are polluting our planet for cheap plastic crap from China and I hope that everyone can take this down time to think about the unintended consequences of our doing business with the CCP.

Photo by Jorge Aguilar on Unsplash

A Solution Could Be Mexico

I have thought a lot about what we could do to both create jobs in America, reduce dependency on an adversary like China’s CCP, and lift-up our neighbors.

If American companies would both repatriate manufacturing and relocate supply chains to nearby neighbors, then we could both have a wonderfully vibrant economy and social stability. I think Mexico would appreciate it. I went to school with many international students and I had one sharp classmate, who is from Mexico, explain very succinctly how our economies are intertwined. He said, “If America sneezes, Mexico gets a cold.” If our economy slows down, then Mexico is at risk of much more drastic downturns and currency devaluation.

Mexico is full of amazing and talented people that we can rely on. We would have a much better experience in trade with them as an ally than what we have with our adversary, the CCP of China.

Here are a few bullet points that I think could help improve our position.

  • Immigration issues with Mexico could largely be solved through increased manufacturing and trade with Mexico. As we increase trade with our neighbor, their economy will boom and become more stable while also increasing the per capita annual wages of its citizens. This will create a more stable environment for the Mexican people and improve their quality of life immensely.
  • We can also address the drug cartel crisis that torments and plagues the people of Mexico. With increased individual wealth and increased jobs opportunities creating a better life, the drug cartels will become less and less relevant as a source of money that can be given to the people to do their bidding for them. It won’t be worth the hassle.
  • We can expedite prototyping and shipment to the U.S. for our supply chains. Instead of waiting 40+ days to receive products through oceanic shipping from China, our businesses could have their products in a matter of days to better address changing trends and market needs without having to plan four or more months in advance.
  • A larger number of good-paying railway jobs can be created from an increased distribution system as it becomes an ever-important focal point for logistics.
  • Reduced pollution. Trains move smaller amounts of cargo than cargo ships (around 10%) but they are quicker, they consume less fuel through a hybrid diesel-powered electric generator, and they burn a cleaner type of fuel that releases fewer atmospheric pollutants.
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Let’s Be Better

We can vote where our dollars go in support of products and companies. We aren’t powerless. Corporations have switched to interactive marketing platforms focusing on increased involvement with customers through social media accounts. It’s an invaluable source of information that gives them insights on consumer trends and how to better improve their products or services in a rapid fashion.

All we really need to do is vote with our dollars and let our voices be heard. This also applies to supporting candidates who support initiatives to bring jobs back to the Americas and condemn regimes like the CCP for their horrendous human rights violations and crimes.

We can be better. We don’t have to have blood on our hands from doing business with the CCP. Let’s use our power as consumers to hold corporations and government accountable and use our resources to build up states and nations who value human rights and free trade.

We are all in this together and we are the only people who can help get us out of this predicament.

Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

Al Fresco

On the lighter side, no one knows how restaurants will be able to operate yet, to keep their customers safe but just as importantly their serving staff too.

Here is one restaurant in the Netherlands that has an idea for diners outside.

One thing I particularly enjoy about life is serendipity. In fact, the reason I’m contributing to this blog is because of a connection that goes back to my college days.

When something like the above comes along, curiosity gets the better of me, and I simply MUST know more about it. What language is that? Where is this place? Who thought of it, the owner or the waitress? I appreciate cleverness, and this is both timely and clever.

Now for the serendipitous part: the language is Dutch and a friend helped track down the visual clues to a restaurant in Amsterdam.

Wait…Amsterdam? I was there 3 months ago! In fact, I stayed in a hotel only 1.3 km away from this place. It was my first time in that part of Europe. Rainy and gloomy that time of year, but I’m sure the canals are beautiful in the summer. Hopefully I’ll get to go back to Amsterdam when the world begins traveling again, and when I do, this restaurant will have a new customer.

That’s what I’d humbly suggest everyone takes away from this ordeal; that this may be our new normal, and we haven’t figured it all out yet. So try to recognize and relish the little things that you would not have ordinarily encountered in your pre-COVID-19 existence. For instance: outside of Italy, “al fresco” dining simply means eating outside, like the video above, loosely translating from “in the cool [air]” according to Wikipedia. Italians though, say “fuori” for outside or “all’aperto” for “in the open [air]”. If you were to say “al fresco” in Italy, the expression means “in prison.”

Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash

How apropos for us now.