How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Numbers — April 30, 2020


We’re at about 55,000 deaths, but I don’t know if that includes nursing home deaths, where about a third of the people in them appear to be dying.

Vietnam: Zero deaths

Vietnam appears to have experienced no deaths from COVID-19. Zero. I first heard this from friends there, then it showed up on the Vietnam Studies Group list, and then reports started coming in from ex-pats who confirm the report and as of today, a Reuters report that says the same thing. No deaths.

Less air pollution, too — photos of HCMC with blue skies.

The details about no deaths, the low number of cases, the quarantines, the management of the crisis at the local level, are all reported consistently by various sources. Half the funding to manage the crisis comes from the national and half from provincial governments True, it’s very difficult to identify and track street vendors, other “independent workers,” and migrant workers who have returned to their hometowns. But it’s all consistent with the overall picture. They put all incoming visitors in quarantine camps, everybody’s wearing masks — of which there are plenty; garment factories are making them by the thousands. People are used to wearing masks because of the pollution, of course. Hugging and shaking hands are not typical Vietnamese gestures anyway. They also don’t put their aged in nursing homes, which is where so many deaths are happening here (and those numbers only started getting added today.) The grandmothers and grandfathers are at home with their families. They have a national healthcare system. And they are familiar with mounting vast national campaigns to overcome a threat.

Someone hung this over the tunnel entrance beneath the Arlington Circle. This is not a strike. It is something different. It’s as if the side of a mountain has fallen off and we can see for the first time all the geology — only what is revealed is the reality of work in the US: who is essential, who makes the wheels turn, who gets paid what, who can easily work from home, who has to risk their lives to make a paycheck — and who wants “the country re-opened” and who is going under permanently becuase they don’t have the cash to keep a business open with no customers (smallretail, for example,independent franchises).

This is an article titled Pandemic Job Actions May Push Renewed Labor Movement, from — can you guess? — an insurance journal:


People have been told that they have to apply for unemployment benefits and get denied before they can apply for COVID-19 UI benefits. The lines and websites are jammed.

But now some workplaces are re-opening and that means that even if you don’t want to (or your kids are at home from school because the schools are closed), you have to come back. If your workplace re-opens and you don’t come back to work your employer can fire you for cause and then you won’t get unemployment benefits. The Chronicle today reported a woman with two daughters who were at home and needed supervision to do their homeschooling; she tried to get off work to go pick up a computer for one of them, her employer told her no, told her to come back to work and fired her when she didn’t. Her final paycheck included pay for 22 days of vacation which she had been told she could not use.

Some meatpacking plants in the midwest have closed, leading to headlines about future meat shortages and pig kills, but not all. Packinghouse work is assembly line work, where workers pass a piece of meat from one set of hands to the next.

In California we’re in shutdown for at least another month, through the end of May. Some relaxations coming up. A new treatment, remdecivir, from the pharmaceutical company Gilead, appears to be able to speak to COVID-19 and hastens recovery by a third:

This raised Gilead’s stock value by 5.5% and a general stockmarket boost.

On the other hand:

The American Century and Kangaroo Island — April 26, 2020

The American Century and Kangaroo Island

When I think about how bad can it get, I think about Kangaroo Island, a big long island off the coast of Australia that burned a few months ago.

It was mainly a nature reserve and tourist destination and the reason people went to it was to see the koalas and kangaroos. My brother and his wife went there. When they arrived, they said, “Where are the kangaroos?” The guide said, “Wait until night. You’ll see so many kangaroos you’ll say take me back to the hotel, I can’t stand all these kangaroos.” And sure enough, as soon as it got dark there were kangaroos popping up all over the place like popcorn.

A third of the island burned, killing thousands of kangaroos and koalas and other animals with names I have never heard before, several of them listed as nearly extinct before this even happened. So that’s how bad it can get.

I get from here to there by thinking about Charles Darwin, who was reluctant (The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, David Quammen, 2006, Norton) to come forward with his theory of natural selection. I like to think about the years he spent sitting at his desk in Downe House, studying barnacles, suffering from headaches and stomach aches, slowly working his way toward the inescapable conclusion that species came and went, some of the most beautiful were gone forever, and clearly, God did not prefer human beings to beetles. It would have been hard indeed to be the guy who proved this to be the case, especially if you had a wife, as he did, whom you loved and who trusted in God to bring the two of you together forever in Heaven after you died.

Kangaroo Island is how bad it gets. The kangaroos did not know how to get off the island. Do we? It turns out that the mayor of Kangaroo Island (probably someone who now wants people to get right back to work as fast as possible) is a climate change denier. He doesn’t think climate change had anything to do with the fires.

Which is related to Trump actually telling people “on TV,” which used to mean something, that they might try drinking clorox or disinfectant generally to clean out their systems.

In the meantime, Andy Blunden in Australia, whose book on Hegel for Social Movements I’ve got to finish and do a review of (the problem being that I really have to read Capital first) sent out to a discussion list that I belong to a 7-page rant (his term) called As of 2020, The American Century is Over. In response, I sent it around to a few close friends and people in my family, who represent a range of political opinions and perspectives, from managers to small business owners to healthcare professionals to teachers of all sorts. It’s a broad-brush arc of the rise and fall of capitalist America, its role in the world and how the bottom line looks from the middle of a global pandemic.

The responses I have gotten back tend toward the personal, which I find inspiring. They revolve around “When did you notice this was happening?” Our friend B. says for him it was the late 1960s, when he was in the National Guard and might have gone to Vietnam. Our son Jake remembers that when he went to Italy in 1997 to attend the University of Bologna, Americans ruled — they were cool and knew everything. he could tell by the way everyone smiled. When he went back the first time after 9/11, things had changed. American knew nothing. No one was smiling at him now. So for him the turning point was 9/11. Joe and I have noticed in trips to Mexico people will say “no me gusto” when I ask if they’d be interested in coming to the US. Mexicans don’t want to come here; they’ll skip the US and go to Canada. Canadians have no reason to come here. Joe and I would go to Colin Barker’s social movements conferences in Manchester, and we’d meet Brits who would say straight out that they didn’t want to visit the US, although they’d be happy to see the Grand Canyon at least once before they died.

And of course, the reason Joe and I were in Vietnam was because supposedly the US had something to teach other countries about how collective bargaining works. How’s that going for you, as they say? While the TPP (see early entries for the full story on this) was potentially coming to pass, there was a signed side agreement between the US and Vietnam that laid out a version of independent grassroots unions that looked a lot like unions in the US before 1948 (Taft Hartley). So people wanted to know how that worked, and we had something to teach. Then when Trump was first elected things got iffy — we had a good half-semester, but the reason for us being there was slipping and we were being asked to teach more and more cross cultural management, etc. The third time we went the Department of Labor Relations and Trade Unions was in deep transition; now it has merged with the Business Administration program. “This is how we do it in the US” is no longer a selling point.

Meanwhile, here in Berkeley, we are in a bubble. The recent rains make the front yard look great but they mean there will be lots of growth this spring, thus wildfires next fall. But the rains aren’t enough to really fill up the snowpack. We have had about 6 weeks of lockdown; I go to the grocery stores once a week and stand in the “senior” line to go in. No more than 20 people are allowed in the store where I get most everything, which used to be jammed.

Can you see the customers?
Long train —

Long train

Many days I don’t write. Partly because I feel confused. I know what’s happening in my little cohort, probably on my street and in my family; I watch a few minutes of CNN at night but can’t stand the sight or sound of Trump; I read the Chronicle in the morning, especially the national and international news; I read the London Review of Books and the NY Review of Books; I am in a couple of online discussion groups.

Around our neighborhood, people are decorating their front yards with “treasure hunts” so that homeschooled kids who get taken for a walk by their exhausted moms and dads can find things to distract them with.

But now 5 weeks have passed and I have become acclimated enough so that when I see a movie on TV in which people are walking down a sidewalk through crowds of people, or gathering together for dinner or on the beach, I feel puzzled: What do they think they’re doing? Oh– that’s from before.

Lifting up and looking a bit farther is hard. Hard to get the brain around. For me, it’s like doing math.

“Back to normal” won’t happen because the virus is among us. Now that Massachusetts is starting to test everyone, they’re finding that 60% of people test positive and — was it 40%? – of those are actually sick. The curve in Massachusetts is not flattening yet. California still can’t test everyone — not enough tests. No explanation of who gets it harder or weaker, except that obesity is a risk factor as is being African American. Children die, too. And there is no treatment and no vaccine.

The shutdown was intended to spare the healthcare system by slowing the spread of the virus. Sweden didn’t do a shutdown, possibly because they trusted the size and competence of their national healthcare system and were willing to risk individual deaths to spare the economy. I am now hearing that at Kaiser, there are extra beds and no crush in the ER. So that’s working. Elective surgeries are being scheduled. But protecting the healthcare system is not the same as protecting people. The shutdown protects people in the sense that if you stay away from someone who has it or is carrying it, you are less likely to get it. But it’s main purpose is to save the healthcare system. We will all get it, eventually, unless there is a vaccine. And about the same time there will be a vaccine, there will be a new virus. We had MERS, SARS, Zika, Ebola — Mother Earth loves life, just not ours all that much more than other kinds, and she’ll keep trying.

The Long Train with Empty Boxcars

The long train wreck goes like this: labor creates value. That’s where it all starts. Any kind of labor — that’s what digs the hole and plants the fruit trees, catches the fish, sews the clothes, raises the pigs, teaches the kids — on up. The difference between beans on a coffee tree and a latte is work. Value abstracted and made concrete becomes money; money gets exchanged for things people need and for more work. So before labor happens, no value happens; it’s just animal life and we’re just more animals.

So right now, some people are working and getting paid. Many, many others are not. They are not working and they’re not getting paid. Since they’re not getting paid, they’re not paying. They’re not paying rent, student loans, health insurance premiums, car payments, mortgages, etc etc. Those boxes have zeroes in them.

Shattuck Avenue in central downtown Berkeley. No traffic. I’ve never seen it this way. The cranes are not moving. Not a soul on the sidewalk. This was about 2 pm on a weekday.

The train travels slowly, pulling its increasingly empty boxcars, passing from the person who gets laid off from work to a bank that can’t collect on mortgages to empty container ships sitting motionless in San Francisco Bay, heading to a global financial crash.This is leaving aside things like the fact that people who have employer- based health insurance and lose their jobs and lose their insurance and can’t get healthcare so they’re sick in the midst of all this, sick with things other than COVID-19 — cancer, heart attacks, depression. You can see the economy moving slower and slower, with less and less money in circulation, as people eat up any savings they have and go broke, and the unemployment fund runs out, and the businesses that used to hire are wiped out and can’t start up again: the long-term effect of that — and there goes a choo choo train that pulling an increasing number of empty cars as it hurtles across the landscape.

If I make $15 an hour as a barista and bring home $300 -$600 per week and suddenly don’t have that, the whole chain that starts with my work serving coffee, for which I am paid, to me paying my student loans, credit cards, rent, car insurance, and taxes gets filled with zeroes. I just read that right now 90% of the world economy is under lockdown. There is so little oil being used that oil producing countries are actually paying to store it somewhere.

I put gas in Gabi’s car some time in early March — or maybe late February — and I’ve still got half a tank.

How does this compare with the 2008 financial crisis, that made such big news? The 2008 global financial crisis developed out of banks cynically pushing sub-prime loans to collect as many payments as they could before the borrowers hit the variable interest rate walls — 3 or 4 years out, when low interest rates suddenly skyrocketed up to 15 – 18%; then the banks smilingly went and captured whatever collateral there was to get, except that by then whole neighborhoods were one foreclosure after another and instead of having some virtually free real estate in their clutches the banks had a lot of worthless deteriorating junk. Then they were in trouble, and since they were all eating out of each other’s troughs, it became a global crash. At that point the fed rushed in and bailed out not the homeowners but the banks, only one of which – Lehman Brothers — was not “too big to fail.” That was under Obama.

Countrywide, wasn’t it, the original dreamer-upper of sub-prime loans? I actually sat on a plane next to a young girl who said her father had been the president of Countrywide. She told me this as part of me trying to make sense of why a pretty blond Los Angeles girl would get sent to a Catholic college in Texas — did she have to get out of town? She told me she was going there because her father wanted her to — and from that, she told me who he was. She was a bit embarrassed but also a bit proud that he was famous enough so that I probably knew who he was. I don’t think she made that up.

Anyway, what’s going on here makes that look like kid stuff. 2008 was about homeowners and banks. Although we had seen Katrina hit Louisiana, we did not directly connect the collapse of our major banks with global warming. This is about global warming, as COVID-19 is only the most recent in the “named” viruses (or other diseases), from SARS to MERS to West Nile to Zika, that scariest of all to me. So even if we survive this, we can be sure that another one will come along soon.

Is this a general strike? and Negotiating communication channels — April 14, 2020

Is this a general strike? and Negotiating communication channels

No, but I’ve heard the question asked. Just because people aren’t going to work doesn’t mean they are on strike.

Occupy attempted to pull of general strikes, and the big Occupy day in Oakland in 2011 did close about 30% of businesses, but it wasn’t really “general” although it was a strike in the sense of an organized withdrawal of labor by the working class, along with a lot of demonstrations of solidarity and actual celebrations, music, free food, street art, lots of very creative stuff and a few broken bank windows. Here’s a friend of ours, Sierra, doing ASL interpretation for speakers.

Criticisms of Occupy mainly were that there was no specific list of demands, the way a labor strike would send forward a set of demands that said, “Here’s what the boss has to do in order for us to go back to work. When you do this we’ll go back to work.” Occupy didn’t do that and the leaders resisted trying to do that. What Occupy really was was a coming-out party for the 99%, the creation of a new collective identity that was a positive identity, something that people could be proud of — in opposition and contrast to the 1%, who are still — 9 years later! an eon in popular culture – referred to with contempt. “He’s a one-percenter,” people will say, dismissing someone. “Trump and his one-percenters friends,” for example.

So Occupy, although it was general, in the sense of national and international, and it sometimes meant people didn’t go to work, was not a strike much less a general strike.

What’s happening now is not a strike because people are losing their jobs, not temporarily withdrawing their labor. Businesses are laying off workers, many are closing, some permanently as their supply chains and customer bases disappear, people are applying for unemployment benefits (and supposedly are getting them). It’s like the difference between falling and flying. In a strike, the workers get power by clamping down and taking back the thing that they possess that makes the wheels of the economy turn: work. In a strike, workers have the power to give and take and they are demonstrating that power by exercising it, in case the employer may have accidentally forgotten. But in this thing, this corona virus pandemic, the value of their work has gone to zero and the job just doesn’t exist any more — they’re falling.

But we are coming up with some demands, interestingly. The Bernie people and the various organizations that have grown up in the last decade and especially since the 2016 election, Our Revolution, the Indivisibles, Move On, and the organization that I’m a part of, Democratic Socialists of America or DSA, to say nothing of Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad and their allies — have a bunch of actual demands, like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All that could fill the void — and in fact are, as people start to blink and sit up and look around, after being knocked down flat on our backs and talk about it. Those are big, national-level demands. Locally, people are asking, “What have we gained that we want to keep? What behaviors and practices are now forbidden or hard to do or collapsing, and we want them to stay that way — and what can take their place? And how will we support the workers who earned a living doing that work, and how can they transition to the new world?”

Now that I can hear the birds singing, what can I do to keep it that way?

Communication channels

Our online book discussion group of about 11-13 people (we’re reading Red States Revolt by Eric Blanc, about the 2018-19 wave of teacher strikes in Republican states) is having intense negotiations about what channel of communication to use. The options are telephone (with voice-to-voice, simultaneous contact, including a voice mail asynchronous feature if someone has cleared out their mailbox or has set it up); WhatsApp group; Whatsapp individual messages; contact group and reply-all function on email; individual emails; regular message/Chat functions…. and all of this is in order to set up and hold ZOOM meetings, which might in turn be recorded and then…emailed? Shared somehow? And I think there’s a Facebook page out there. And also a googlegroup with google drives and google sheets.

The use of these varies by age, generation, and tech skill. The intensity of the negotiation, in which everyone is trying to be polite and not mention the age of some participants or the stupidity of some of the tools, is rich.

Last night a glitch in entering a family ZOOM meeting led to an alternative proposed by some of the younger participants, to instead join a game called Houseparty which required me to get my phone, find my AppleID, put on my glasses, download a new app and install it (signing in, using password, allowing the use of all my contacts — or not – for the software — I could see it happening –etc) in order to play a really fun game in which you guessed what city the Brooklyn Bridge is in and imitated a hawk in a kind of charade. The fun was that there were lots of faces on the screen and everyone was being silly.

And then this morning our son called me to tell me that a photo I had posted on Facebook showing what it is like to sit in the front yard to eat breakfast in the sun also seemed to show that our car was parked in a way that hovered in the air and defied physics. Correcting this took 2 phone calls and re-sending a picture that clarified what was goign on.

My point being here about the negotiations going on over channels of communication. This is NOTHING compared to trying to establish homeschooling nationally on line.

Week 4 for us, 11 for Ho Chi Minh City — April 13, 2020

Week 4 for us, 11 for Ho Chi Minh City

On Wednesday afternoons at 6 pm we go out on our street and “wave” at our neighbors. Some bring bottles of wine or beer. We have started to wear masks this week; some people have surgical masks, some use scarves or bandannas, one family has made a project of sewing pretty masks. If I knew how to crop pictures in this new version of WordPress, I would crop off the asphalt.

Our friend John Hutnyk in Vietnam says he and his family have been locked down for 11 weeks now in their apartment, homeschooling, but that Vietnam has had NO deaths and they’re doing tracking for all the corona virus cases. I have heard this information, about the efficiency of their healthcare system, from more than one source.

Of course people wear masks all the time there anyway, at least in Ho Chi Minh City. And I wonder what has happened with all the migrant workers; where are they?

Here, CA is in the vanguard (supposedly) with a relative low rate of deaths per thousand. But we’re restless under lockdown. Lots of ZOOM meetings, phone calls, people giving each other masks for presents, lots of front yard dioramas and treasure hunts. Our Danish tenants who were living downstairs have packed up and gone home to a country that has a decent healthcare system.

The Chronicle this morning (I walk out to the front sidewalk every morning while my coffee is being made, to pick up the paper edition which gets thrown from a car window at about 6:30 am) reported the Alaska Democratic Primary, which I had forgotten. Biden won about 55% to Bernie’s 45%. This is after Bernie dropped out, last Wednesday April 8. Of course, it was a totally mail-in ballot election, but still — people were voting for Bernie; a lot of people. Thousands of people are voting for Bernie, or Bernie’s ideas, even after Biden wins primary after primary and even after Bernie drops out. I’m saying that his campaign and the organizing that has gone on under that banner has been a mass education campaign for our country. Of course, it didn’t happen (or isn’t happening, since it’s still going on) on a neutral plane. It’s going on in the context of a fight; I would call it an existential struggle. In this sense, it’s like learning at work, labor education: you’re learning in a context where your life and the lives of your fellow workers depends on it. Just-in-time learning.

I’m buying vegetables via pick-up from Dirty Girl Farms at Benchmark Pizza:

This gorgeous array is mostly leafy stuff, as you can see. There is a lot of it in the fields right now and the supply line between the fields and the grocery stores is whacked because of lack of field laborers, lack of drivers, lack of open stores, and the titration of customers into stores (we stand 6 feet apart in lines, waiting for one to come out so one can go in). What you see above cost $24.00. But I saw a photo this morning of a long trench of onions in Idaho that was about to be bulldozed because they couldn’t get to market. Same with dairies in Vermont and California, which are dumping milk.

But there is also a lot of talk now about how to keep what we like about the shutdown and do a sort of reverse disaster capitalism, using Naomi Klein’s term. Oakland just dedicated 74 miles of street to local-traffic-only bike boulevards, so that people could use the public space of the street for distant congregating. Apparently people who can’t get on MediCal because they are just $5 over the limit (maybe this is Vermont) are now going to be able to get on it. Now people who are independent contractors are eligible for unemployment (although what is happening is that when they apply to get benefits, they get denied and a letter saying that the new program won’t start until next week, and many people do not understand that denials are routine in that program and they have to go ahead and keep applying.)

But these are just tweaks.

So last Wednesday Bernie quit — withdrew from his quest for nomination. People I know think that he made no mistakes whatsoever in his campaign, that he did everything right. But his winning depended on bringing out voters who had not voted before — youth, minorities, women. And apparently that didn’t happen (I don’t believe that). But if you look at what happened in Wisconsin this week you can see what a big lift that was going to be — expanding the electorate, despite gerrymandering and massive voter suppression. In Wisconsin, a state that has gone into lockdown, despite a sequence of efforts by the Democratic party to postpone the election (as has been done in some other states) until people could freely gather at a polling place, the state Supreme Court last-minute ordered the Party to go ahead with the election. Many polling places had been closed entirely — I read that there were only 5 open in Milwaukee, for example, down from 200. It was cold and rainy. People who were willing to take the risk of voting in person on election day had to stand 6 feet apart in lines that stretched for hours. And a request to extend the time to accept mail ballots was denied. Many people who had requested mail ballots had not received them by the deadline for mailing them in. With that kind of repression in Wisconsin, what was the expectation that Bernie’s campaign was going to expand the electorate enough to elect him?

Everyone has heard by now the quote from Trump — I actually saw him say this on TV – “If we allow mail ballots, there will never be a Republican elected again anywhere.” Or close to that.

People I know and talk with are afraid Trump will win in November. Biden has been invisible, absent, and never generated much enthusiasm to begin with. It’s not that the people who supported Bernie won’t vote for him; we will, sure, or at least those of us who decide to bother to vote. I’ll vote for him. With so little excitement that I’m going to stop writing and go clean up now,

Warning — April 5, 2020


I am having a hard time getting used to the way WordPress works now. It used to be that I could just open a new page and write and pull in pictures. Now it’s all these blocks and you have to do things with blocks. I think this was intended to make it easier for people who do a lot of tricky graphics, but it’s harder for me.

In the meantime, kids in our neighborhood are turning their front gardens into entertainment for other kids. This is because schools are closed and parents are working from home and at the same time, are trying to homeschool the kids. That means taking a lot of walks in the neighborhood.

For example, I used to be able to change the size of a photo or crop it, using tools. Now that has disappeared.

Now I have to think ahead about whether I’m going to write a paragraph or not. I can’t just write, and then go back and edit and break out paragraphs or run things together the way I want them. This is not good.

So this is all within walking distance of our house — a great neighborhood in which to shelter in place.

Now I’ll try to think about what is really going on beyond this neighborhood. We were not affected by the wildfires last fall, for example, other than the fact that the smoke poured down toward the Bay because of the way the wind blew, and covered the sky so that it was dark all day and smelled terrible. That lasted for several weeks. We haven’t had the earthquake that has been promised, although the Pleasanton quake last fall, that was 6.1 and woke me up at night, produced a crack in our uphill retaining wall and some doors that don’t shut well. So we’ve been lucky enough, so lucky that you can almost pretend that there is no problem.

However, all of the above are local. Like Katrina, they take place in a certain fraction of the world and you can avoid them, travel away from them, abandon them, forget about them. A pandemic is not like that. A pandemic is global. Maybe it’s the expression of global warming that is best-suited to getting the attention of human beings. Warming temperatures in the ocean get the attention of sea creatures, including global travellers like whales, but they only impact humans who live in coastal areas, or get hit by super-storms, or notice the price of fresh fish. These are all things you can walk away from. Dying forests get the attention of global travellers like migratory birds but only impact humans if you live where there are forest fires. The waves of extinction don’t bother anyone human because all we really notice is what happens to the price of animals that we raise for food. so it makes sense that it’s from a food market in China — a “wet market” where many types of animals are sold — that the virus is born.

What will our world look like when we come out of this?

Near future and further future —

Near future and further future

Going northeast out of Inspiration Point in Tilden on my bike

Right now we are shut down, locked down, sheltering-in-place, quarantined, whatever, for the purpose of flattening the curve, the curve being the rate of increase in the number of cases that come to some hospital. The rate, at least as of last night, had not started to bend into a curve — it was still slanting up. In San Francisco the number of cases is doubling every eight days. 

The goal is to make what is now a slightly jerky rising line bend east, even just a little. So people are doing what is possible to avoid contagion — staying home, wearing scarves or bandannas (this is new), keeping 6 feet of distance between each other, not using personal shopping bags in grocery stores, etc. Socializing only with people who you basically share a space with all the time.

Teenagers will find a way to get together even when most of the parks are closed.

For us in the short term, this is not a problem. I’m on some screen almost all day, with breaks to read or practice my cello, but I am in touch with friends and can go for walks in our comfortable neighborhood, going down the middle of the streets without expecting to see any cars come by. Joe and I can sit in our front garden and eat breakfast and talk to neighbors who are out for a walk. I can ride my electric bike up to the gorgeous long ridge top park, Tilden, and get out on the trails and ride for an hour, looking out over the Bay Area. They are closing down the parking lots but I don’t need a parking lot if I’m on my bike.

The idea is that our medical system can’t handle all the people who need care. It is being overwhelmed. There are not enough ventilators, masks, hazmat suits, etc. When the system is overwhelmed by corona virus cases then no one else can get in and get regular medical care. I would have called my primary care doctor about being sun-sensitive, for example — not now. We have a friend who is scheduled for heart surgery, which he needs; will he get it?

Teenagers will find a way to meet even when many parks are closed. Actually, it looks as if there is some distancing going on.

So we are basically locked down in order to give our skeleton-thin, scrape-the-bottom lifeboat of a medical system some time to try to catch up with the tide of sick people who are really only just starting to come in. Apparently we here in California are going to get the crest of the big wave in the next two weeks, middle of April.

But then what? The imagination wanders, trying to think about what the future will look like two, then twenty four months from now.

Eventually, since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, everyone is going to get it. But just because we are all going to get it eventually doesn’t mean we should go out and try to catch it now and get it over with. First, it is really dangerous — all that stuff about young people not getting it, or it only being dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions or low immune systems — turns out to be not exactly true. Somewhat true but not something you can count on. Babies are dying; young men and women in their thirties are dying. Second, if you do get sick and try to go to the hospital, expect to if you’re lucky get a bed on a gurney in the hall, and maybe get taken off a ventilator if they need it for the next guy and your’e not going to make it anyway.

But, once the curve flattens and we build up our healthcare system (good luck with that!) and a vaccine or a treatment is created (12 -18 months from now at the earliest) then, can’t things go back to normal — or at least the way they were?

No. Because the country will look different. Most obviously, a lot of people will have died and will continue to die. Who? In the US, among people I know, it will be people who can’t get medical care (Trump just closed the Obamacare markets, by the way, so people who were hoping to be able to jump onto health insurance are out of luck). People who are old, weak, etc — the people who are vulnerable to it right now because of their own health conditions or their economic condition.

People will also die because of how they have to live. It’s not just cruise ships that are floating petri dishes. So are apartment towers where people stuff themselves into elevators. So are giant nursing homes like Laguna Honda in San Francisco, or VA hospitals. There’s that aircraft carrier in the South Pacific that pulled into Guam with a load of sick sailors. The sailors (many of them) are now housed in hotels along the beachfront. The captain got fired for publicizing the situation on board — like the Chinese doctor who first recognized the spread of coronavirus and mentioned it to his supervisors. He ultimately died of it. Captain Crozier apparently caused a threat to national security by sending an email about the situation to 22 people. How was this a threat to national security? My guess: it drew attention to the fact that every single ship in the Navy is just a floating cruise ship full of people breathing on each other and infecting each other. Which pretty much means the entire US Navy needs to pull into harbors and rent separate hotel rooms for the crew members. This applies to every other Navy, too.

What kind of a Navy would keep its fleet sailing if there were infections on board that might ultimately kill most of the crew? Or even some of it?

Well, maybe we shouldn’t expect to wake up. After all, we’ve got the common cold, which is a corona virus and mutates into something new every year and stays in the population. Then we had SARS, which apparently came from bats in Asia. The MERS which came from camels (?) and spreads mostly within hospitals. Then Zika, of which I heard a health professional say “Zika just petered out.” How? Just mutated away? And there’s dengue and chikagunga and those other ones. So this isn’t going to be the last one. If the population is still there, something will come and get it. I’ve been reading about the Plague of Cyprian that started in Ethiopia in the 240s AD and moved across the Roman Empire east to west, over about two years, wiping out thousands.

I keep thinking of the frogs, which started to grow funny in ponds in Wisconsin back in the 1980s. Then the Golden Frogs that were gone forever from the cloud mountains of Costa Rica.

Other people who will die, sooner rather than later: people in migrant camps, homeless people, people in our immigration detention centers. Nursing homes. The Holyoke, Massachusetts Old Soldiers Home has had 11 or 13 deaths. People who are jammed together into small spaces where they have to run into each other often, and especially those for whom the supply chain for getting food and necessities is fragile.