Coffee Thoughts: May 2020

Welcome to Coffee Thoughts, May 2020! That’s right, May has arrived. Consider this a helpful reminder of the date, since (as you’ve probably noticed) all the days tend to run together in quarantine time.

On that note …

No, America isn’t ready to “re-open”

Currently, you’re seeing a number of selfish politicians, corporations, and our current Buffoon-in-Chief making pushes to “re-open” the United States, usually by waving U.S. flags around (metaphorically, if not literally), saying how wearing masks and/or caring about other people is “just not our way,” or making dire predictions about how another month of shutdown will (gasp!) turn us into the U.S.S.R, or similar such nonsense.

Obviously, that’s a bunch of hot air. Any of these big figures who want to reopen things are motivated by greed, and nothing else. That’s it. You’d think that for giant corporations, it would be enough that they stole all the bailout funds intended for small business relief (New York Times), but now, you can quite literally see a bunch of wealthy people saying, basically, “Open things up, and let the poor die, as long as we get our business rolling again.” This is cutthroat capitalism at its worst.

Here’s the reality. While the Trump administration (and the ever-smarmy Jared Kushner) are desperately trying to say that the crisis is over, or that America’s response was a “great success story,” the numbers don’t lie: as of May 6th, COVID-19 has killed 72,293 U.S. people, including thousands of deaths in the past few days alone, and the true number is probably far larger than that.

By listening to the experts, and not reopening too soon, it will be possible to re-open in a smart, reasonable way — but stupidly barreling forward, and ignoring the data, will just cause more people to die.

The Pentagon released UFO footage. Yeah, really.

As if 2020 wasn’t weird enough, the past month saw the Pentagon confirm that a few clips of what looked like a UFO were … well, a UFO. Seriously. If this news had hit at any other time, you’d be seeing it everywhere, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like too much. It’s as if two sci-fi genres got mashed together without enough planning, so now, people are just confused by the whole alien subplot, and not sure how it fits into the main narrative. You know?

Now, a caveat is necessary. First, these videos have been online for a few years. They were just “unauthorized,” and the Pentagon has now, well, “authorized them.” Two, the term UFO does not mean alien, extraterrestrial, or any of that. Here’s a clip, courtesy of the Guardian:

Note, again, that the U in UFO stands for “unidentified,” not “alien.” There are a lot of potential explanations for what these things might be, but the key is that the U.S. government can’t figure it out. As Daniel Oberhaus writes for Wired:

So does the official authorization of these videos mean the Pentagon has finally admitted that aliens exist? Nope. For starters, anything the military labels “unidentified” is not necessarily extraterrestrial. It’s just something in the sky that military officials can’t explain—civil and military pilots see unidentified aircraft all the time. Could they be piloted by little green men? Sure, if you have an active imagination. But usually they turn out to be something much more mundane—an atmospheric illusion, an undisclosed military drill, a satellite, or evidence of a tired pilot’s brain playing tricks on them.

That doesn’t mean that these things aren’t alien, of course. They could be … or, they could be something far less exciting. So while this hardly counts for much, if you’re the sort looking for proof of extraterrestrial life, it’s interesting, nonetheless.

On a lighter note …

If the movie industry ever recovers from this current catastrophe, I have some predictions for the future:

Novel Update

As a full-time writer, I’m extremely lucky in that I already work from home, and my work flow hasn’t slowed down at all. That said, amidst my other writing, I’m always happy to report that my next novel is continuing to move forward! It’s a little early to make a release prediction, given the current pandemic — maybe the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next? — but either way, soon.

Cheers, and hope you all have a great Monday!

Coffee Thoughts: April 2020

Welcome to Coffee Thoughts, April 2020: The Social Distancing Edition. Because hey, you know, that’s what all of us are doing. And if you’re not —and you’re able to — you should be. Because seriously, guys, this COVID-19 pandemic is no joke.

Here in the U.S., the COVID-19 Recession Has Arrived …

… and the overall picture is, perhaps, even more dire than anyone could have anticipated. At the time of this writing, over 50,000 people have been recorded as dying from COVID-19, and those numbers are only going to rise. Unemployment is hitting record levels. People are struggling to get by. Not every nation is able to socially distance to the extent of the more privileged ones, and those populations are going to be hit even harder: that means less wealthy countries are going to face epidemics on a level far more deadlier than here in the U.S., and it’s deeply depressing to watch, particularly in nations with leaders that aren’t taking this seriously enough. This is a global health catastrophe, incomparable to anything most people today have experienced, and things are only going to get worse before they get better.

Here in the U.S., the many flaws in our healthcare system are showing their ugly face. The U.S. doesn’t have universal healthcare, and the problems with that have become horrendously obvious: it’s disgusting, frankly, that a woman who was treated for COVID-19 then received a hospital bill of almost $35,000, according to Time. It’s disgusting that people have to be terrified of getting laid off, not just because of the loss of income, but because this would leave them with no health insurance if they, their spouse, or their children do get sick. It’s disgusting that god-only-knows how many people aren’t getting tested because they’re afraid of the bill.

In a country this wealthy, things shouldn’t be like that. I’ve written (and spoken) many times about how desperately the U.S. needs a universal healthcare system — ala the Medicare for All plans promoted by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and so on — which, politics aside, is an initiative that the majority of the American people support. And seriously, if there was ever a time where the need for universal healthcare was most obvious, it’s now. When you desperately need medical care, you can’t go shopping for the best deal. When people are dying, nobody should be be profiting from it. And the general excuses about “can we afford it?” look particularly inane now, as it becomes clear just how important government spending has become in combating COVID-19. As I wrote on Truthout in 2016:

I’ve watched patients die from preventable conditions because they couldn’t afford treatment. In nursing homes, sick people are warehoused into less-than-adequate conditions, with families forced to pay yearly costs of $90,000 a year to put their loved one in a shared room where they and the 30+ other patients on their unit will be taken care of by only two aides. Because of money issues, people lose limbs that they shouldn’t need to lose. Patients decline when they shouldn’t have to. An increasing number of people don’t go to the doctor, even when they develop terrifying symptoms such as mysterious lumps in their throat, because they just can’t afford it.

Yes, having universal healthcare wouldn’t have prevented COVID-19 from coming to the United States, though the situation certainly could have been a lot better if the current administration had taken the threat seriously from the start, to say nothing of the fact that public health agencies like the CDC have been direly underfunded, year after year. However, the U.S.’s ability to climb out of this hole is deeply impacted by our ruthless, for-profit neoliberal healthcare system, as the Guardian has explained. If there was ever a time to take a long, hard look at our issues and make big changes, it’s now…

… or, well, actually, the time to make changes was yesterday, or last year, or a decade ago, but until time travel comes around? It’s now.

Remember the most vulnerable populations, okay? Healthcare workers, the homeless, the elderly, and more.

Speaking as a former healthcare worker — and as someone who is married to a current healthcare worker, my wife, who is actually working in a hospital emergency department as I write this — it’s so, so, so important for people to understand what’s at stake here, take social distancing seriously, and do everything possible to flatten the curve. COVID-19 cases haven’t even peaked yet, and preventing more infections is the only way to keep the U.S. medical system from getting overrun by cases, impacting not just COVID-19 patients, but anyone else in need of medical care.

Every day that my wife is working, I’m terrified at the thought of her getting this. Would we survive? Probably, because we’re young, healthy, and not particularly at-risk. But that’s not guaranteed. And regardless of our personal safety, it’s terrifying to consider the plight of marginalized communities out there, across the world, who aren’t so lucky: from people in refugee camps, to the homeless population, to working class immigrant populations, to those with prior health conditions, to the newly unemployed, to the residents of nursing homes — the latter of whom are an elderly, immunocompromised population packed into close quarters, facing not just a high risk of COVID-19 infection, but the psychological toll of quarantine.

Again, though, the best thing that everyone can do right now is stay at home, self-quarantine, and buy medical workers the time they need so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. This is the time to catch up on Netflix. It’s the time to work on all those old art projects you’ve been putting off. You get the idea.

For U.S. readers, if you’re looking to get a sense of how your state is doing at flattening the curve, I highly recommend you check out the state-by-state projections available on Covid Act Now. For example, here is the current figures from my location, here in New Hampshire, where we currently have a “stay-at-home” order:

Anyhow, best wishes to all of you out there reading this. Hope you’re staying safe, healthy, and well.

Coffee Thoughts: March 2020

Welcome back to Coffee Thoughts, folks. The March edition, to be precise. Arm yourself with a mug, take your first sip, and let’s get rolling.

First off, let’s discuss the one issue that everybody (and I mean everybody) is talking about, everywhere in the world. C’mon, you know what it is. What else could it be, but … what, you thought I meant the U.S. presidential election? Nah, more like …

Coronavirus

Hey, you were warned. Hopefully you washed your hands. And seriously, folks: speaking as a former healthcare worker, please do wash your hands. Thoroughly. Frequently. And yes, yes, count to 20 while you do it. None of this “put-your-hands-under-the-water-and-splash-a-bit-and-take-them-right-back-out” nonsense that some people do.

Now, knowledge is power, and as COVID-19 continues to spread, one of the most important things people can do is learn more about what it is, who is at risk, and how to respond. To that end, as the Guardian explains, it’s important to know that COVID-19 is highly contagious. If it continues to spread, people all over the world will be at risk. At the same time, you should be aware that while the death rate is relatively low — deadlier than the flu, but around 2 percent in, for instance, the Hubei province — there are still thousands of people who have died, so as John Oliver put it, you should strike a balance between being cautious and not, you know, letting hysteria take over to the point where you go swallowing bleach, or something similarly dangerous.

Sadly, the people who will be most impacted by this are the same ones who usually suffer during such times: the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the economically disadvantaged. When it comes to societal inequality, as Bill Gates has said, according to CNBC, the healthcare systems in low-income nations are already struggling, and thus, “A pathogen like the coronavirus can quickly overwhelm them. And poorer countries have little political or economic leverage, given wealthier countries’ natural desire to put their own people first.”

Even here in the U.S., though, it looks like poor people are going to suffer a lot more than rich people will, because it seems the pharmaceutical industry is still up to its usual price-gouging bullshit: a few weeks ago, health secretary (and pharmaceutical lobbyist) Alex Azar refused to promise that if/when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, that it would be affordable to all Americans. What he’s saying, in essence, is that the pharmaceutical industry is hungry to profit off the misery of sick people. Now, for one, fuck that. Two, that’s classism at its finest. And three, it’s bad science, because vaccines work most effectively when everyone gets them, allowing herd immunity to kick in.

So yeah, this is scary. You know what else is scary? Racism. And another thing that is absolutely, 100 percent not acceptable — and, sadly, is also happening right now — is that Coronavirus has sparked a wave of anti-Asian racism, as I wrote for Grunge, with countless individuals and/or businesses of Asian descent being bullied, ostracized, or even beaten, simply because of the fact the COVID-19 started in China. This sort of insane xenophobia and racism needs to stop, immediately.

Now, for something else

Okay, time to shift to something a bit less stressful, huh? Long, deep breaths. Here’s Nova, the ever-noble companion, being a dog, and doing dog things:

The struggles of finding gender neutral baby clothing are all-too-real

As a new father (almost four months!) I wanted to take a moment to mention this great article on Vox, by Chris Chafin, which discusses the real-life struggles of trying to clad your baby in clothing that isn’t hot pink or baby blue, and questions why society even cares so much about a baby’s gender, to begin with.

Until you become a new parent (or go shopping for somebody else’s baby, or what have you), it’s easy to underestimate just how aggressively the clothing industry wants you to clad your infant in the most ridiculously, stereotypically-gendered colors, prints, and styles imaginable. Now, as the father of a baby girl, I don’t have any issue with the color pink … or, say, butterflies. When she gets old enough to make her own fashion decisions, if she likes pink butterfly garments, she can happily choose those for herself. While she’s a baby, though, it’s downright ridiculous that the fashion industry tries to shove gender norms down your throat, to the point where it’s sometimes nigh-on impossible to find clothes that are, say, green, brown, red, orange, or so on.

The industry’s fixation on an infant’s gender is clearly unhealthy. So hopefully, as society evolves on topics of gender, in general, this is another area where we can evolve, as well.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. Have a great Monday, everybody!