Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Coping in a Pandemic

Onion Starts

We each need something to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The linked video by Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York helped me and it might help you. Click here to view the 57 minute video.

It is a recording of a video conference call in which Dr. Price explains what is COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves while living as reasonable a life as may be possible as we keep our distance from each other. It relieved stress about living away from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. It explained how we should interact with a small group of family members who live with us. It is presented in a way that is persuasive and practical. Unlike so much of the hyperbole, misstatements, and falsehoods I read and hear elsewhere, Dr. Price is believable when we need that as much as isolation from the virus.

I yearn to get out of the house and trips to the garden and yard are not satisfying enough. Armed with knowledge, I plan to go to work at the home, farm and auto supply store in a couple of hours. I’m not afraid any more. I’m not being foolish. I’ll be keeping my distance from co-workers and customers and washing my hands a lot, trying not to touch my face. Absent a general call to stay in place, either at the federal or state level, we must go on living as best we can.

Social distancing would be more tolerable if the ambient temperature would warm up by about ten degrees. Getting my hands in the soil and doing much needed yard work would take my mind off the coronavirus and self-imposed isolation.

As a writer, I’m used to working in isolation. It gives me strength and an ability to distance myself from social media and unwanted contact with others. I find a chance to think clearly about my life with others and how it will be lived. There cannot be enough of this time.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in the United States we don’t know how the infection will escalate. In New York, the number of cases is doubling about every three days. In Iowa, we have limited testing availability for the coronavirus, so what numbers we have don’t tell the whole story. The first person died of COVID-19 in Iowa yesterday. While tragic, I’m not sure what it means in the context of everything else going on.

My remedy was to view Dr. Price’s video, and use the information in it to go on living. We’re doing the best we can.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

A Post Consumer Life Worth Living

Arugula and lettuce planted March 2, 2020.

When I say post-consumer, I mean the one percent of richest people in the world have extracted what they can of what we have.

Something’s now got to give.

Yes, I’ll buy at the grocery store, gas station and drug stores, but a budget like ours can’t afford much extra. If shoes and clothing wear out, I’ll buy some on sale. Maybe some books, or a cup of coffee at a restaurant or shop will be bought, but little else that is unnecessary for daily living.

No longer do I just get into my car and drive in wanderlust.

We hope to avoid potentially big and unexpected expenses associated with an accident, automobile malfunction, health concern or home or family emergency. In a capitalistic society, all of those unexpected expenses are good for someone, as they generate revenue for them and unwanted expense for us. The bottom line is that we won’t be generating much for the consumer society overlords to rejoice about.

That said, to go on living in our current lifestyle, bills must be paid, and I’ll maintain paying work to support all of our creditors and suppliers. We seek to live without incurring additional debt, having to sell our home, or spend all of our life savings. We have our pensions yet if something big happened — an expense of thousands of dollars — how would we pay for it? Our pensions cover basic expenses and some debt retirement yet there is little extra at the end of each month.

I wrote the following in 2013 when confronted with the gap between my first retirement in 2009, before our pensions kicked in.

There are plenty of jobs in the area that pay below $10 per hour. The trouble is they don’t pay enough to meet our financial requirements, even if I were to work a few of them.

Year-to-date, wages accounted for 14.3 percent of income. Consulting income was another 5 percent. Adding these two amounts to consulting accounts receivable, the total is roughly 30 percent of required 2014 income. If I were to return to warehouse work at $9.25 per hour, that would generate 60 percent of required income. Low wage jobs can be a trap to get further in debt, especially if they do not provide benefits.

A portfolio that includes some lowly paid work is acceptable, but there has to be something else, a significant part of it, that pays more.

The best part of 2013 has been working in the local food system. The pay was low, but the relationships fostered by participating were meaningful. Working in the local food system offers the prospect of something more than dollars.

The job as proof reader was in my sweet spot, relevant to my writing. Same goes for my brief stint as editor of Blog for Iowa last summer. All were lowly paid work that I want to be doing.

What Didn’t Work

The warehouse work did not work because of the physical toll it extracted. Too, taking loans and withdrawing from savings, were steps in the wrong direction. Stopping the outflow of savings will be a high priority for 2014. We’ve tapped our current home equity loan ceiling, and what is left is credit cards.

How to Get There

At its simplest, based on a six-day work week, I need to generate between $94 and $125 each work day to pay our bills. To make progress, by paying down loans, we need more.

We survived the gap that year and until Social Security payments began in 2018. The coronavirus pandemic and social change it is bringing will cause an adjustment. I see these things happening.

While weather continues with adequate rainfall and favorable temperatures, growing more of our own food will be part of the solution. When we chose to live here we picked a lot with 0.62 acres: enough for a large garden. Likewise, my relationships with farmers helps secure food items we don’t or can’t grow.

Maintaining health through exercise, eating well, and regular medical, dental and eye examinations is foundational.

During the pandemic I find myself talking people through challenges. Not that I am an expert, but there is a vacuum of concern about others that pulls me in. Whether it is family or friends, it is important to stay connected now and once the pandemic has run its course.

Focus on one financial thing. Right now it is paying down debt with any extra money. Major appliance purchases (stove and dishwasher) will wait, as will replacing our current vehicles to secure reliable transportation for our last decades of driving an automobile.

If we do pay down debt, there are possibilities. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Most important in all this is having a life worth living and working toward that end. With that I’m prepared as can be to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Categories
Social Commentary

What Drudgery This Mortal Coil?

Dried chilies ready for grinding.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing us. Changes are just beginning. We’re not ready, change is likely permanent, and there’s no going back.

Attempts at social distancing push us to stay home and make constructive use of time. I don’t like what I see in this new awareness.

I’m not talking about our home with a fair share of boomer-style clutter. We seem to be at a point where the richest one percent of the population has extracted as much as they can from the rest of us. We are entering a post-consumer society in which assumptions about the past are out the window.

We’ve been inoculated and gained immunity to everything unrelated to meeting basic needs: the president’s lies and obfuscation, the GOP U.S. Senate lining the pockets of big business, the climate crisis, nuclear annihilation, foreign affairs, you name it. It will take all we have to survive and make ends meet. Other concerns? They are not ours as we hunker down to defend against the coming social apocalypse.

I discussed our tax return with a professional who characterized us as a “low-income household.” I did not know. Translated: anything we paid in federal and state taxes through payroll will be refunded. The tax refunds will go to paying debt incurred during lean times, a quotidian use of the money to be sure. Nothing will be left for the one percent.

So it begins – our life in the post-consumer society. We’d best embrace it. If we can there is hope we can do better than merely survive. If we can’t, what drudgery will be this mortal coil?

Categories
Social Commentary

Getting a Grip on the Pandemic

Above the fold at the Solon Economist, March 19, 2020.

When I started this blog there was no intention to write daily about a pandemic. Isolation, quarantine, social distancing, shelter in place, self-quarantine, and more are words to describe our behavior in response to the coronavirus.

As a writer and blogger I understand the concepts. Who knew it would feel important to write so much about them.

The words suggest something — communal behavior, loneliness, or disruption. I’m not sure exactly which. It’s as if once we understand what’s going on we know what to do.

When I returned from yesterday’s shift at the home, farm and auto supply store my spouse was waiting on the stairs.

“Give me your phone,” she said, ready to disinfect it on the spot with a homemade disinfectant swab.

I was directed to the kitchen sink where I washed my hands, then to the bedroom where I changed clothes. If I carried something home it could be isolated and not spread throughout the house.

I recognize these instincts from spending time with my maternal grandmother who took no quarter against threats to her household. One has to wonder why they are not my own instincts.

Nuclear, biological and chemical military training well prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic. Except for the phone part, I knew the drill, and can execute it without losing focus on main events. Being an infantry soldier prepares us for life in unexpected ways.

A co-worker said they wished “the thing would run its course and be done so we can get back to normal.” I don’t know what that means. We are all active agents in a pandemic. The number of cases of Covid-19 and resulting deaths is largely dependent on what we do as a society. It’s not a given that any particular thing will happen or that a specific result is preordained.

At work a local medical facility ordered 800 welding shields to protect health care workers. We had them express shipped from the supplier to arrive overnight. If they can protect an arc welder from getting sparks on their face, they can likely prevent moisture droplet borne contamination from reaching a physician or nurse’s face. If we lose front line health care providers to the coronavirus we’re sunk.

We don’t know the future of the coronavirus, but it is likely here to stay. The pandemic will run a course but coronavirus will infect many of us potentially creating an immunity for those who survive it.

In China, where the virus originated, we’ve gone two days in a row without a new case being diagnosed. The first inklings of trouble there were in late December so if that is the course of the pandemic, 11 to 13 weeks, that’s better than it could be. It’s unknown whether the delay in recognizing the threat in the United States, and our apparent slow response will lengthen that trajectory. It will have an impact that takes additional lives.

Yesterday the home, farm and auto supply store announced a paid leave program for full and part time employees who must be quarantined. It’s not the same pay as working, but it is recognition by the family who owns the business and their managers that they must be socially responsible to remain in business. They have been flexible with other time off related to the pandemic.

Midst all of this, Spring arrived yesterday. May the gentle rain falling this morning wash away our concerns so we can accept our lives and become positive forces in the outcomes of friends and neighbors.  We hope for that regardless of whether there is a pandemic. If this blog helps readers that way, then I’m doing my job.

Categories
Social Commentary

Living with the Coronavirus

Lettuce in the greenhouse.

Estimates of how long the coronavirus pandemic will last vary from a couple of weeks to several months. The best guess is we’ll have a better idea once the number of contagious incidents reaches its peak.

Two and a half months after the virus emerged in China the government is beginning to lift the draconian measures implemented in its wake. Public health officials there remain vigilant for a second or third wave of the disease. The pandemic is not over.

In the U.S. we continue to be on the upward slope of the curve, and in our county the case count ticks upward with no indication we have peaked. News media explain we are a week to ten days behind Italy as the viral course continues to develop.

A friend in town displayed symptoms and was tested. He waits for the test results at home in self-quarantine and shut down public access to his place of business for two weeks. The pandemic is pretty close to home and we are just getting started.

The continued shortage of testing obfuscates the path of the vector. If we were testing more, one believes there would be more reported cases. We aren’t so we don’t know.

Given the expectation of a several month pandemic it’s hard to decide what to do about work at the home, farm and auto supply store. They are okay with people taking off work for any illness, but at some point they will need me to show up. They don’t seem aware of the idea that employees might be infected by going to work. They’ve had no discussion about closing the retail store and for the time being, I want to keep the job. I’ll probably go in today after calling off yesterday, and try to maintain a distance from co-workers and customers. We’ll see how that goes.

I don’t know if the coronavirus will be personally life-changing. My outlook is we can avoid infection, although I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion. It’s likely positive thinking of which the coronavirus is unaware. During my sick day yesterday I considered whether this pandemic would precipitate changes that are coming in my life anyway: leaving the regular job, staying home more, and conserving our income. As it runs its course I’ll consider that more. For now we’re sustaining our lives in a pandemic-stricken world and doing our best to survive and thrive.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Being on the Board of Health

Onion Sets

Remarks delivered on a community panel
“Citizen Involvement in Local Government.”
Community Leadership Program
City Hall, Coralville, Iowa.
December 9, 2011

I believe a person makes a choice in life, to be part of society and influence what the future will be, or to be a citizen centered on making our way in a challenging world, protecting what we have, and nurturing the advantages of living in the United States. While not mutually exclusive, each can be a lifetime of hard work.

In 2004, after helping manage our rural public water and wastewater systems for almost ten years, I sought additional engagement in society and applied to the county supervisors for appointment to the board of health. Without reservation, and in every respect, my service on the board was good for me personally and I hope it contributed to society.

So what did we do? Besides the regular board meetings, there were other commitments. I tried to consider our life in society from a public health perspective, and work toward doing things that made sense while complying with a host of rules and regulations.

The board of health has oversight of the public health department and the meetings could easily be filled with tasks required by government such as approving the department budget, writing policy and other administrative work. We did do a lot of that while I was on the board.

But there were other things not written in the black and white of legal code. We made a decision about an indigent suspected of having tuberculosis, trying to respect his rights as a citizen, while protecting the public from a contagious disease. When the health department closed a restaurant near where I live, I listened when the owner called me at home and explained the financial strain our action created and the injustice he felt. During an in service day, I found myself responding to an outbreak of norovirus and spent the better part of a day speaking to parents about what their children had for lunch the previous day. All of this work was engaging.

It is hard to list any disadvantages about being on the board of health. When we sign up, there is an understanding that there will be both good and bad things along the way. In a way, it was all good.

I found three things particularly rewarding while I served on the board of health. First, there was the self-fulfilling feeling that I was giving something tangible back to our community. Second, the board provided a vehicle to study and present information about issues that impacted people’s lives. For example, I spoke about arsenic contamination in county water and about the Silurian aquifer. What was best was getting to know people in the community in a way I couldn’t have predicted. A sense of engagement in society was a significant benefit, one that keeps giving and for which I will always be grateful.

Thank you for attending today.

Categories
Social Commentary

Watering Hole

Bar and Grill Parking Lot, March 13, 2020.

By last Friday traffic in bars, coffee shops and restaurants had slowed considerably. It was hard to determine whether it was because of the coronavirus, spring break at the university, or something else.

It made being a guest at the establishments a positive experience with little perceived danger of the virus being transmitted.

Our county now has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, 14 of 18 as of this morning. The high number is attributable to a local bank trip to Egypt where returning travelers were exposed to the coronavirus and contracted COVID-19.

The parking lot was packed at a bar and grill on Friday afternoon. From the look of things, it was a popular watering hole for trades workers. When my friend and I entered, every man was seated on a stool around the U-shaped bar drinking beverages, looking at their mobile devices, and talking with neighbors. The bartender was the only woman present. The rest of the bar was empty.

We ordered drafts of Bud Light so as to fit in and chose a table away from the bar.

What speech I made with a friend was not my normal one. The one I know by rote and by heart. The theme that never changes, come what may, “Radix malorum est cupiditas.”

It’s not that the worn phrase has no currency. Many are the emails from political candidates who say we must overturn Citizen’s United, then, in direct order, request a donation. The old saw still cuts wood. This prologue has never been in abeyance or irrelevant despite the waxing and waning of political candidates and their ilk. What’s hard is to listen.

What did I hear? Murmuration among the tradesmen making sense of their lives in a pandemic they hardly acknowledged. Individuals all. Resolute. Of strict father figure families no doubt. Gathered together around the bar in between a career that requires a pickup truck and a home that remained unseen that afternoon.

When we finished our beers and left, most were still present and would be until either the happy hour ended or home beckoned. It was hard to discern, but I suspect the watering hole was the best part of many of their days. So it was for mine.

Categories
Politics Social Commentary

Modernity of Social Distancing

Los Agaves Mexican Grill, Iowa City, Iowa at lunch time on Friday, March 13, 2020.

When it comes to “social distancing” Iowans know what to do. We tweak our normal behavior. Many of us are not socially close by nature so it’s not a big step.

Epidemiologists are using the term “social distancing” to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully slow community transmission and spread of the coronavirus.

A grade school friend and I met in the county seat on Friday. His nonagenarian mother lives in an assisted care facility which was quarantined after he arrived in Iowa to visit her. He spoke to her on the phone, but couldn’t pay an in-person visit.

It was a tweak.

More tweaks are coming.

Last night Governor Kim Reynolds’ office issued a press release which said, “The Iowa Department of Public Health has determined, based on the new COVID-19 case and the announcement this evening of community spread in Omaha, Neb., there is now community spread in our state.”

The release continued to explain:

Community spread occurs when individuals have been infected with the virus in an area and cannot specifically identify the source of the infection, or do not know how or where they became infected.

Due to the detection of community spread, there are new recommendations for individuals with underlying conditions, and all Iowans should be prepared for cancellations and disruptions in routine activities.

Mitigation measures should be implemented immediately to have the most significant impact on slowing the spread of the virus.
Leaders of institutions and organizers of events should begin to act on their contingency plans related to large gatherings, including church services. Iowans should not hold or attend large gatherings of more than 250 people, and consider making adjustments for smaller gatherings with high risk groups.

It appears the governor is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which include monitoring the progress of community spread and under certain conditions, making recommendations for social behavior. For now, school can continue, but not church where there are large congregations.

There is a political aspect to the coronavirus pandemic and it appears our state is taking reasonable actions if the federal government is lacking in its response. Regular communication and compliance with CDC guidelines should reflect positively on Reynold’s handling of the global pandemic’s mitigation in Iowa. As a former six-year member of our county board of health I don’t see a benefit to criticizing the governor as the state works to understand the progress of the disease and take appropriate action.

For our small family, it doesn’t take much to be socially distant. Yesterday I decided not to attend a legislative forum 10 miles from our home. I went to town to mail a package. On the way home I stopped at the pharmacy to see if I could buy a bottle of 90 percent isopropyl alcohol. They we sold out of all alcohol and sanitizing items. We’ll make do with what we have. Today I’ll go to the farm for our weekly seeding session.

A late winter snow fell, covering everything except the driveway and roads, which were too warm in this meteorological spring. For a day it was still winter by the calendar and by the weather.

There is never a problem staying busy at home. I completed the U.S. Census on my mobile device after reading in social media our state senator did his. It took ten minutes even after I had to re-do it. Between reading, writing, cooking, laundry, and preparing for planting, there was plenty to do. I put some bird seed out on the front door landing but they hadn’t found it by sunrise this morning.

While we were isolated, it didn’t feel that way. Iowans are used to working in isolation and with modern communications it is easy to stay in contact with friends and neighbors.

The news about the coronavirus from Europe, the Middle East and China is pretty startling. We really don’t know how many people are infected, although public health officials seem to be tracking the number of deaths.

Estimates of the impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic range widely yet are relevant. Global population was between 1.8 and 1.9 billion people at the time. The estimated number of deaths ranges between 17 and 50 million, maybe more. In the United States, the death rate was between 0.48 to 0.64 percent of the population or toward 650,000 deaths at the high end.

If we use the lower number in the range (0.48 percent) to determine how many deaths the 1918 pandemic would cause in the 2020 U.S. population, it would be more than 15.8 million. We are nowhere near that and likely to see only a fraction of that number with coronavirus. There is a modernity today that didn’t exist in 1918, with advanced public health and research organizations, better communications, and a resulting ability to coordinate between government and non-governmental agencies.

The phenomenon of social distancing looks to create a positive result. People will die of Covid-19 and the loss will hurt families. It will hurt us all. At the local level, we do our best to understand the pandemic and live our lives accordingly. We not freaking out. We are learning.

We’re sustaining our lives in a turbulent world that’s becoming infected by coronavirus. This may not be the last pandemic in my lifetime, so I hope we learn from it.

Categories
Social Commentary

Food Hoarders All

Morning Kale Harvest, June 2015

Because of the coronavirus, people are stocking up on food and sundries in case they are quarantined. Local retail business is up compared to last year. The wholesale club has been rationing specific items.

The retail outlet where I work twice a week has a large table in the employee break room where we pass the time talking, looking at our mobile devices or yesterday’s newspaper, and eating snacks and lunches. The consensus among this group of employed yet low-wage workers was we could survive a month or more of quarantine without stocking up. It’s how we do.

When my uncle died, Mother found a large number of one-pound boxes of dried pasta in his pantry. A person is in the store, it’s cheap, so why not pick up a package? Years of accumulation like that reflects a certain type of affluence. For those of us with a stable home life the amounts build up. A person has to work at it to use up the pantry and freezer. It’s a form of food security.

If we were quarantined and had no access to new food, the first thing to go would be dairy products. Fresh milk and eggs would be most missed, although cheese and butter would not make it a month. This discussion is hypothetical since there is an ability to receive home-delivery of most grocery items in our community. My next door neighbor owns the grocery store in town so I’m not worried about running out of food if quarantined.

We have plenty of fresh onions, canned tomatoes, dried basil and olive oil to make it through a month of pasta dishes. There is plenty of applesauce and pickles. We have enough apple butter to last more than a year. Kale? there is plenty in the freezer along with other frozen vegetables from the garden.

We’d test how far ten pounds of flour goes. We’d see if the yeast in the ice box is still active. If the yeast isn’t active, there would be biscuits and corn bread made with baking powder as leavening. There would be a big batch of soup made from celery, carrots, onions and potatoes. We have five cases of prepared beans, a large bag of garbanzo beans, and plenty of rice. The freezer has frozen raspberries, aronia berries and blueberries. We’d find out what we have.

As indicated above, this is theoretical as the community would support us on quarantine. As we settle into a weekend spent mostly at home we have no worries about food security. Sustaining our lives on the Iowa prairie is what we do.

Categories
Social Commentary

Getting Through a Pandemic

Sugar rationing at Costco Wholesale, Coralville, Iowa, March 11, 2020.

We have a Costco Wholesale Club near the home, farm and auto supply store where I work two days per week.

Wednesday is my day to pick up provisions there on the way home after work. Costco sells a lot of what we use in our kitchen but especially organic frozen vegetables, milk, butter, cheese, eggs, jarred olives, tomato paste, prepared black beans, raw tortillas, flour, sugar and the like. They are a good fit for our semi-veg cuisine and we like the USDA Organic shield on much of what we buy.

Costco was rationing provisions yesterday because of the coronavirus. Rationed items included water, rice, sugar, diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, nitrile gloves and liquid handsoap.

While waiting in the checkout line, the woman behind me commented that I had no water or toilet paper in my cart, referring to a common social media meme about “Costco panic buying.” I replied we manage our own well so we don’t buy bottled water. The person in front of me asked the cashier if this would be a record sales day for the store. The cashier replied decidedly not. One has to wonder if those rationing signs on certain items increase sales more than the social phenomenon of “panic buying.”

A crew inside the entry offered to wipe down carts with hand sanitizer. A few members wore the kind of masks I keep in the garage to prevent breathing sawdust. More than anywhere else I go, Costco is a petri dish of international human interaction, mostly because of the nearby university hospitals and clinics. I declined the sanitizer and kept a comfortable social distance from fellow shoppers. If I die of COVID-19 you’ll know it was a bad call.

News this morning is the president twiddled his thumbs while addressing the pandemic to the nation from the Oval Office last night. Pandemic response seems outside his wheelhouse. The World Health Organization identified the coronavirus as a pandemic about the same time the president was preparing his speech. Also in that time window, actor Tom Hanks and his spouse were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia. At least the rich and famous can get a test kit and have results reported.

At the end of the day it was a regular experience, one among many. Our best chance to survive is to listen to health professionals and work to follow their guidance. That can be done. It’s all part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.