Saturday, November 14, 2020

Time Will Tell: Three Months In and a Challenge for Us All


This line strikes me. 

This is the one thing Dr. Frieden presses when confronted with the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. 

I have to question it. “Rebuild social cohesion”? We never had it. Well, we had a manufactured unity based on white culture. This election cycle proved that we have issues going way back that have precluded true cohesion of the whole. 

And yet, we must have unity moving forward if we hope to manage this microbe and others that will arise in the years ahead. Cohesion and trust are the two items that countries who are successfully responding to SARS-CoV2 have. No one is completely safe from this microbe, but teamwork is proving to lead to positive results and recoveries. There are large countries with only hundreds of deaths and economies recovering.

A bit more than 3 months into the 2020-21 school year. How badly are we failing in comparison? I will list mid-September, October, and November numbers. 


85. 100. 163.

County deaths. When I took IHME’s state death projections and adjusted them to Waukesha County’s population, I predicted we’d lose 220-240 people by 12/1. That’s only 57-77 more people. It’s highly likely we will surpass that awful number.


8%. 21%. 38%.

County positive test rates. Our testing has remained fairly steady, but we’re losing it on contact tracing. Data are only good if they are received quickly and used. This viral growth is completely unacceptable- we are not isolating it. We’re just saying “Yeah, it’s here." Our contact tracing is now being farmed off to those who receive positive results. 


134. 484. 1,145.

County infections per 100,000 people. If we picture the virus as salt dissolved in water, we are living in a really salty sea right now. The virus is receiving exactly what it needs to thrive and we seem incapable and unwilling to change its living conditions.


1,210. 1,508. 2,573.

State Deaths. IHME predicted in late summer that 3,708 COVID-19 deaths will have occurred in Wisconsin as of 12/1. We are within sight of that now, everyone, and we could blow past it. We lost 1,065 people across Wisconsin in the last month.


Oh, come on. How bad can it really be?

If you’re not following him, I recommend checking out Dr. Tom Frieden, the former Director of the CDC, and someone who’s specialized in pandemics and recoveries. He posts regularly and this week’s summary was particularly packed with both depressing data and helpful information.


He references The Covid Tracking Project's weekly report for the nation:


“Cases are up 41%, hospitalizations up 20%, and deaths up 23%. States reported 875,401 new cases this week; 1 in 378 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The seven-day average of deaths now exceeds 1,000 per day, a level not seen since the summer surge. States reported another 7,382 lives lost to COVID-19 in the past week.”

That positive rate seems shocking but we must remember this: that’s only 0.26% of our population. Even if we’re missing 80% of infections, that would still mean only a tiny fraction of our total population has been infected.


Herd immunity without a vaccine? Picture what we have gone through to-date and it just keeps going for months. Getting worse. Until finally, someday, it peters out. What and who will be left?


This report mentions Wisconsin specifically several times. Wisconsin is among the top 5 per-capita infection centers of the nation at the moment. Mayo Clinic is stating its facilities in northern Wisconsin are full. Full. And now there are data showing our Indigenous population is increasingly being affected by Covid-19, which is just another facet of that overall equity and social justice problems underlying our lack of cohesion and trust.


So, all the news just sucks?

No. Dr. Frieden points to some evidence coming to light about our immune systems and having hd OTHER coronaviruses. There MAY be some “cross-reacting antibodies” that some of us have that might help us combat SARS-CoV2. We still don’t know why some people’s systems react so strongly to this virus, though.


We also have reports on two vaccine studies with promise, and about a dozen overall in the works around the world. Data about this virus are multiplying and that can only aid the worldwide fight to control it.


Dr. Frieden wrote and published an article in The Atlantic yesterday to expound upon the current situation and our future. My lead quote is from that article. We’ll be seeing 2,000 deaths per day- every day- soon. Most of our 2021 living will be controlled by this virus.


What can we do?

Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?

The current administration's failure to orchestrate a coordinated, focused approach to this virus leaves us with a huge mountain to climb. But, as Dr. Frieden says in his article, all is not lost. I will both quote the article and include some of my own interpretations of what he says in the article.


There are things for individuals and businesses to do:

  1. “Indoor restaurants, bars, and social gatherings are, sadly, unsafe right now.”
  2. “Many clusters of cases come from people who go to work, school, or social get-togethers while ill. No testing, government, or health-care program can control COVID-19 if people continue this behavior.”
  3. “Business meetings and work that can be remote should stay so.”
  4. Delivery, curbside pickup, and strict shopping safety measures.
  5. Keep hair salons and stores open by maximizing safety measures.
  6. Take care of body, mind, and spirit. Outdoors is safest and can be good for mental health, too.

There are things for our leaders to do:

  1. Communicate honestly, directly, and regularly.
  2. Universal mask mandate for public places.
  3. Support The People. “Around the world, the best-performing countries provide stipends, social support, and temporary housing to help people who are quarantined.”
  4. Science-based standards. Strategic closing of parts of our system needs to be based upon community spread. “An effective closure needs to be nuanced, specific, and tightened and loosened based on real-time data about where the virus is spreading.”
  5. Support the delivery and rollout of a safe, effective, and widely available vaccine.


Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?


We’d all rather go about what we WANT to do. We’d all rather focus on something ELSE. 
COVID-19 is hanging about all our heads. 

Those "something elses". We have a lot of different ones and it seems like we all have a pet cause or two or more. Things like personal freedoms, jobs, human rights, social justice, religious freedoms, environment, health care, mental health, green industries, education, clean food, clean water, clean air...the list of things we hold dear goes on. Please feel free to add to what I have begun here.


Now consider:

Each is connected to the other.

We are connected to each other.

Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?




Time will tell.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The White Funnel

Michael Harriot created one of his amazing tweet threads on November 4 that left me again facing something that I had to address for myself here.


My interpretation is this: there’s a status quo funnel that everyone needs to pass through in order to belong in the group of people who deserve a piece of The American Dream. That funnel is whiteness, resulting in white privilege. And if you don’t belong, you are Black or Other, and you will face specific restrictions and penalties.


The modern Republican Party headed by Donald Trump is the ultimate vision of this funnel. According to the voting statistics, at least 68,726,780 people have chosen that funnel.


Regardless of your DNA makeup, if you can get through that white funnel, you’re in. That’s the only way to explain why various “white” groups have gone from being “bad” to “acceptable” through our history: Irish, Italian, Swedish, German, Polish, and Spanish are all examples. It also explains why there are non-European ancestry folks who are “OK” and in the white nationalist camp: they have dropped their own individual genetic and cultural identities to get through the funnel and become “white”. Your genes may be African, Asian, or Middle Eastern, for example, but if you’re working to fit down the “white” funnel, you can stick around. If the white funnel's opinions change, as they did during the WWII era when we incarcerated Japanese-Americans, you are no longer in that funnel's care and become Other once more.


“White” is a construct. I’ve struggled my entire life trying to understand what “white” is, and this is the one explanation that actually fits. I’ve known about the ways “white” people hate on each other from the inside. My mother rattled off all the derogatory terms for Italians and Polish people among others- I never understood why but “knew” they weren’t as "good" as "we" were. It makes complete sense if “white” is a funnel. “Those people” haven’t made it through yet. They haven’t conformed and been accepted yet.


Fitting down the white funnel is typically beneficial- and for some, it's extremely so. That's why it's succeeded to maintain itself. Maybe you can make it big. Maybe not, but you’ll be “better off” than The Other (I’ll explain that in a bit). You have access to more opportunities like loans, jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. If you look a little different but know the right folks, you can still flourish in the white system. For some of us with pale skin and blue eyes, we can appear to be “OK” to a white nationalist even if on the inside, we’re raging at the violence and injustice done around us. We can go decades just moving along in that whiteness because it’s easy. Our birth gave us a special pass that might take years to recognize and address because the system is built for us. Depending on our choices, we may never understand it.


Why wouldn’t everyone just try to be white, then? To just go ahead and slide down the funnel with both feet? Doesn't matter if you're Indigenous, Black, or from somewhere else- just blend in and learn the rules.


Universal assimilation could be a thing, but it’s not. And even if it were, we’d lose so much. As I’ve heard some Indigenous People say, their traditions state that if their language is lost, their spiritual world is, too. They are another group of peoples who have always been considered Other- not white. Abandoning the self for material gain via acceptance robs us all in terms of cultures, viewpoints, arts, and so much more.


And there’s never been universal assimilation because Black people have always been rejected. Slaves were Other. Slaves weren’t human. Black people were enslaved, therefore, they could never even approach the funnel. For those who argue we haven’t had slavery or its problems since the Civil War, I suggest you start with Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.


Because of those in the Civil Rights Movement and the many people to this day who defend and maintain those rights, some things have gotten a bit better. But the old rules and notions have extremely long tails. The fact that some don’t even want to move Confederate statues in more accurate contexts and think our modern segregation is not influenced by current and historic white-controlled laws is telling. Many are clinging to that funnel because historically it’s been the ticket to living in some comfort here. To “belonging”. Losing that is frightening.


That concept of belonging or not...I think that's connected to the real request Black people have made to the white people of the US: they don't need or want *help*. They want an equal *chance*. To not be penalized just for being who there are.


Besides law changes such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act that put cracks in the funnel, the fact that more recent immigrant communities have emphatically resisted fully jumping down the white funnel by not abandoning their languages, cultures, or religions, is a positive change. But those choices are met with grumbling by some and extreme resistance and hostility by others who either jumped down the funnel themselves or whose ancestors did.


The US is a land of opportunity...if you conform.


The US is a land of opportunity...if you are not Black.


Those are the truths we’re wrestling with today. As I reflect on how my own ideas of human beauty and constructive living have changed dramatically over my years, I know positive change is possible. I am so grateful for the comfort that I have now, instead of the anxiety, of seeing different people doing different things. It also helps me be more accepting of myself.


I embraced the Democratic ticket this year more so than I ever have because, even though I know I still benefit from that funnel, I want to break it. I want our ideals to have a better chance of becoming reality. A party that at least mouths the words “together”, “diversity”, “equity”, and “green” in positive terms with written plans was my only option and hope.


I couldn’t vote for a 3rd party in 2020. I have voted that way in other local and national elections. I will again in the future if this behemoth white funnel loses some of its power. I long for a system that supports 3 or more strong parties that must work together to get us further along in our quest for a land of true opportunity.


It’s going to be a long, hard process. But if we’re truly great, we must do it.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Together We Can Get Through This...We Can Do Anything

I have recently been listening to a playlist of BTS group and member collaboration songs from over the years. For a good overview, Michele Mendez recently wrote All Of BTS' Collaboration Songs Prove They Can Tackle Any Musical Genre in Elite Daily and included links and short descriptions of the top 20. I picture everyone involved in these projects as learning from each other and growing to become both better artists and people.


That’s the hope and potential available, anyway.





RM’s late 2017 collaboration Champion with Fall Out Boy has struck me hard lately. I touched briefly on my appreciation for his Wale one that year in When’s it Gonna Change? Right Now. I never explored Champion but I should have. They relate: cynicism, disillusionment, hope, and self-affirmation to build something new are all mixed up in both these songs.

Along with one overriding truth: relying on each other will benefit us all.

This fact is especially poignant in 2020 as we are mired in the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic. Can we all be “champions” by getting through this?

For me, “Champion” started as a strongly angry, angst-ridden rock tune that grew with the additional lyrics by RM and the influx of electronic-pop and rap elements. The flesh RM adds to the body of the song gives more depth to the reasons why there are both such anger and such determination to overcome it.


RM raps:

Have you ever felt how hard it is to be an anybody
To be living, to be breathing, not choosing a dead body
Remember, the man told me that this life is a party
Yeah, all the glory's so short you should put away the garbages
Normal ain't normal, ordinary is a luxury
People say "Woo, pessimism" what the other mean?
If you wanna understand, you stand under
This shit is vital, respect to the mothers and fathers
What's wrong with the life of a passenger
If somebody gotta be, then I'mma be the messenger
I'm just too young, don't know what to believe in
But too young, you know, not to be living
I will stay, I will wait and I'll fight like a king
Even though I can forever ever be a king
I will marry this goddamn world, by my own
And put myself on a goddamn ring



He lists the hardships bluntly: that youth or lack of connections and power can make success seem impossible, but he’s willing to try hard and put the ring of success on himself by getting himself in the ring to fight.


Patrick Stump sings:


And I'm back with a madness
I'm a champion of the people who don't believe in champions
I got nothing but dreams inside
I got nothing but dreams



To me, he’s saying that even if the people have given up hope in champions because of hardships, the concept of and truth that a “Champion” exists is not necessarily lost just because people don’t believe. There are those who can fulfill that role if they act on the dreams they have inside. What a message for 2020!

I also love how the song plays with the concept of defining the term “champion”. RM describes 3 levels of existence:

“Somebody” is those we normally look up to but are they worthy of that respect?
“Anybody” is a person living the best they can, so perhaps truly worthy of respect.
“Dead body” is a person dead on the inside, who’s truly pitiful.

I have felt at times in my life that if I didn’t have a fire inside me telling me things are wrong and could be better, life would be easier. I have felt that if I were able to just put my head down and work within the system I find myself, I could be really successful- a champion of some sort. I haven’t been able to do that because making myself into someone else's image has made me feel dead inside. 

This what I think of when Patrick sings:

got rage every day, on the inside
The only thing I do is sit around and kill time
I'm trying to blow out the pilot light, I'm trying to blow out the light



To me, the pilot light is that inner voice telling me to try to fix things that cause the rage. If he or I could snuff it out, we’d have less internal conflict and just do what’s expected. Others have interpreted that differently. That inner turmoil of rage at the status quo and the desire to not feel compelled to try to fix it is summed up in his next lines:


I'm just young enough to still believe, still believe
But young enough not to know what to believe in
Young enough not to know what to believe



To me, he’s saying he KNOWS there’s a way- a better way. He KNOWS there’s a chance for something good- something better. There’s just so much fear and resistance out there and perhaps inside too, he doesn’t know if he has the strength to try.

BUT...if he does. If I do. If WE do...

If I can live through this
If I can live through this
If I can live through this

I can do anything


That’s why this song is speaking to me now. 2020 is a cliff in so many ways. So many things could happen as a result of what we choose to do.

Public health, social justice, civil rights, education, health care, mental health care, environment, gun control, economic development…what if we reach out to one another across the country and around the globe like these artists who collaborate to build bigger and better art?


If we can live through this
If we can live through this
If we can live through this

We can do anything



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Time Will Tell: Two Months and 100 Deaths

 

How are you?


It’s a simple question. And yet, if we really decide to unbox it, we could unleash floodgates of emotions and thoughts.


I’ve taken to asking the boys this question at the daily stand-up meetings we started doing this month. Hubby recommended we do it as a way to encourage them to stay on top of their school responsibilities. I may start officially speaking up, too. We all should be willing and able to say what we’ve accomplished, what we plan on doing tomorrow, where we see obstacles and worries.


What’s done? What do you see up ahead?


I wrote in this blog in August about the projections being made in regards to the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the illness it causes, COVID-19. Another month in, it’s time to look at it again.


On 8/14, I said we had 64 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 11%, and 148 facilities-based investigations. On 9/14, we had 85 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 8%, and 123 facilities-based investigations. Here as of 10/14, we have 100 dead.


I said 2 months ago that a quarter of our total losses of life had occurred in the previous 30 days. I called that stunning. Well, we’re now at 36% of all loss of life having been AFTER I said that. 


What do you need help on?


Stunning, indeed. What’s even more stunning is that we have no gameplan. I watched parts of a Waukesha School District board meeting last night and several members asked to establish some rules for the district if the County was not providing them. The state legislature has unsuccessfully pushed back against Governor Evers’s mask mandate and successfully against his public gatherings restrictions. Yet they have not themselves provided leadership to encourage people, to cultivate helpful behaviors, or to provide gateways that will allow us to control the spread of this virus. They are encouraging businesses to maximize their incomes now, for citizens to “live our lives now”, heedless to the health care and life costs that will result for us down the road.


They are being reckless and destructive. I state here and now that people who are running businesses and laughing at containment measures are cushioning their own wallets now to the long term detriment of the rest of us. The politicians encouraging them are guilty of supporting threats to public health. The increased infection rates are leading to increased expenses for health care and lost wages for both the customers and the public at large.


Do you have any shout-outs for appreciation?


I have said before I’m grateful for the school district for posting their positives and quarantines. Right now, we have 21 people positive and 278 in quarantine where those numbers were 10 and 198 a month ago. Everyone should be doing this data tracking. Some claim we’re violating HIPAA with this information. It’s clear our understanding of and use of these regulations need to be revisited in light of public health crises like this pandemic. This is a situation where one’s health is connected to everyone else’s and we should be behaving as such.


In connection to that, the Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Koch, discussed how test results and contact tracing have been slowed and that can lead to control problems. He also suggested that community buy-in is needed because behaviors outside of school are driving infections. Again, we rise or fall together. Public health is an issue for all of us.


What roadblocks do you see?


Our positive rate per 100,000 population has gone from 133.7 on 9/10 to 483.6 as of 10/15 and for the overall state, it’s 627.9. As I pointed out last month, we were 34 points away from being in a lower category of risk. Now, look at us.


One could argue, I suppose, that it’s not worth society’s efforts to avoid a few deaths. That the disruptions would be too great. However, as I see some industries evolving to adapt to different norms, I question that fatalistic perspective. In addition, there is research showing possible links to long-term health problems in those who have gone through COVID-19 infections. Our societies may be on decades-long hooks in terms of direct costs and losses to inputs to society from these infections.


IHME predicted 3,708 deaths will have occurred in Wisconsin as of 12/1. In September we were at 1,210, up 185 since 8/14. Now we’re at 1,536, up 326. The current growth rates still do not indicate we’ll be at the IHME prediction, but the rate of increase is quickening. My extremely rough, straight-line chart points toward 1,830 (126 in Waukesha County) by mid-December. 


What’s next?


A month from now, the election will have come and gone. I hope we know who will be leading us. I hope there’s real change and fresh energy coming into play. I hope we have a plan and a sense of responsibility and renewed understanding that we all need to continue our involvement.


I will work on my physical well-being. I will focus on the daily care of my body, mind, and spirit. I will look for opportunities to connect with and support others. 


I wish you the best in the days ahead. As others have suggested, drink plenty of water, exercise, eat well, and sleep. Also, I hope you can surround yourself with spirits who lift you as you work forward. We need boosts from others. We need to boost each other.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Time Will Tell: One Month Later



While the equinox has not yet occurred, summer is breathing its last, and fall’s energy is wrapping itself around everything like a wool scarf.


Fall means a return to academia in the US but this is unlike any other fall in modern times. We have fires raging on one coast, hurricanes threatening 2 others, unrest over police brutality in multiple cities, and a microscopic lifeform replicating itself in varying degrees of success inside humans on every land around the globe except Antarctica. And no leadership cohesion on any of these fronts as political factions multiply their hateful rhetoric and actions. 


I wrote in this blog a month ago about what projections were being made in regards to that virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the illness it causes, COVID-19. I decided to check in today a month later to document where we’re at.


On 8/14, I said we had 64 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 11%, and 148 facilities-based investigations. Today, we have 85 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 8%, and 123 facilities-based investigations. 


A quarter of our total losses of life have occurred in the last 30 days. Stunning. The other numbers sound like we’re getting things under control. It’s been claimed that teams have been assembled and trained to contact trace. The school district we’re in has a new dashboard reporting positive and quarantine counts by school, subdivided further into student and teacher numbers. Currently, a total of 10 people have positive cases and 198 are supposed to be in quarantine.


The qualifiers in the previous paragraph are because I have seen little emphasis on true tracing or quarantining in this county. Political rallies, local events, and comments by residents all indicate there is little to no interest in or understanding of these practices in a large portion of the citizenry. There is tracking of how well tracing or testing turn-around are going. There are no marketing campaigns to cultivate involvement in stopping this virus.


While positive rates are down, our testing rates are abysmal. Fewer data points mean less reliability to any analysis, to the point of being almost meaningless. It’s as if the county has given up. The superintendent remarking again this week in his youtube update that some believe it’s impossible to get below 5% (a benchmark to safely head towards a return to normal) supports that opinion.


The replication factor of Wisconsin is the second-highest in the country at 1.23, ranging from 0.97-1.46. A month ago we were at 1.13, ranging 1.04-1.21. To me, this appears to be a reason to believe the leadership on this disease is failing at a statewide level as well.


The US death rate on this disease is less than the worldwide rate of 3.17%. One could argue, I suppose, that it’s not worth society’s efforts to avoid a few deaths. That the disruptions would be too great. However, as I see some industries evolving to adapt to different norms, I question that fatalistic perspective. In addition, there is research showing possible links to long-term health problems in those who have gone through COVID-19 infections. Our societies may be on decades-long hooks in terms of direct costs and losses to inputs to society from these infections.


The county’s calculated burden rate is significantly down from a month ago: from 280 to 133. I don’t have the testing data for back then. If we were testing the same number of people, I’d be more confident in that reduction. We’d only need to go down another 33 points to enter the second-highest threat level.


IHME predicted 3,708 deaths will have occurred in Wisconsin as of 12/1. We’re currently at 1,210, up 185 since 8/14. The current growth rates do not indicate we’ll be at the IHME prediction. My extremely rough, straight-line chart points toward 1,650 (140 in Waukesha County) by mid-December. Still hard to contemplate that at least another 440 families, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc...have yet to suffer these losses, but in all likelihood will. If spread grows exponentially the IHME numbers could be possible and if the entire population is exposed before a vaccine is implemented, 5,200 could die in the county and 75,686 could succumb statewide in total based on the current 1.3% death rate.


The weather is gorgeous today. It’s a reminder that we’re here today and should enjoy it despite thoughts and worries of the past and the future. Flowers are still blooming. Insects are still crawling and flying. The sun shines and the winds blow whether we want them to or not. 






Breath still flows in and out of our own lungs.


Buddhism has always intrigued me. To me, it’s about developing a presence that just “is” and that observes what just “is”. I know part of me wants to be able to eventually say, “See!?!?”. Another part wants to reassure myself that things didn’t turn out as bad as they could have.


With so much going on, it’s important to return to that breath and to today- to this very moment. To what we love and really value and to release both fear and want. Maybe if we all just sit for a bit and send those feelings of love and value to both ourselves and the rest of the world (all plants, animals, people, land, water, and air), we’ll all have a better tomorrow.