Traveling in the Time of COVID-19

I was just thinking to myself that I’d like to go to Georgia to visit family. Especially some of my family members that are starting to get a bit older. I’d like to see them while I still have the chance. I’ve been meaning to go see them for a while now.

I looked up the cost of a bus ticket. $106 one-way. Then I checked the price of an airline ticket. $126 round-trip. Wow. What a deal! But then I remembered that I’d heard about needing a COVID-19 test to be able to travel. I wonder how much that costs?

And then I realized that I’ve probably been exposed to the virus and that my desire to see my relatives before it’s too late really isn’t in their best interests, health-wise.

Plus, there are quarantine requirements there and here if I remember correctly.

The ability of the average person to freely travel is really being locked down. How much of these precautions are legitimate? How much is government overreach? Why was there never a huge bump in numbers after the closely packed protests and riots? When do things go back to normal? Next year? Next month? It’s really amazing and fascinating how questionable reality has become in the last 4-5 years.

It’s a testament to the power of the media to shape our understanding of the world. And probably a testament to the dangers of building profitability for a “news” site around ad revenue rather than subscriptions. Things probably went truly wrong with Facebook and Twitter, though. It became too easy to boost misleading and untrue narratives into the national consciousness.

Anyway, I’ll have to put off my travel for a bit longer. Until I’m sure I’m not going to ride into my relative’s homes on a white horse.

Things to be grateful for 4/26 – 5/1

So, last week was pretty low key. That in itself is something to be grateful for given the circumstances. We’re still in one of the worst outbreak areas of COVID-19 in the world and no one in my family has gotten sick yet, thankfully. I’m a little concerned about how things are going to go with that. We’ve been having warmer weather so more people are congregating and other States are relaxing restrictions already even though they’re still on the upswing of the outbreak.

Some highlights for this week:

  • After many months, our cast iron skillet is finally developing a significant non-stick layer. We’ve baked chicken in the skillet with good results and also made filet mignon (stovetop + oven) that turned out amazing.
  • The filet mignon. We hadn’t had any since last year.
  • Got a lot of work done on last year’s taxes. I should be done with them by this weekend.
  • Got to actually binge watch a series for the first time in a few years. We found a show called “Into the Night” on Netflix that was really good. It has a lot of edge of your seat suspense that kept us reaching for the “Next Episode” button.
  • We finally found out when our stimulus deposit will hit our account.

Sitting at home all the time, I’m not doing a lot that’s exciting. I was thinking the other day that I haven’t posted anything to Instagram in a while because I haven’t been out to see anything that I felt was worth posting. But I’ve been using the time to read more, study foreign languages more, and to try to finish video games that I bought years ago and never got through.

For example, I’m about 60% of the way through “Grand Theft Auto V”. I bought the game about 7 years ago, got about 37% of the way through it and never finished it. I’m having a lot of fun watching Michael and Trevor’s bromance unfold.

Things to be Grateful For 4/12 – 4/18

Last week, I added a section to a blog post I made where I listed a few things I should be grateful for in the previous week. It seemed like a pretty good exercise, given the situation. I think it’s something I’m going to try to continue on a regular basis with once a week lists. Even after this pandemic is over, I think I could benefit from reminding myself of all of the good things that happen over the course of a week and meditating on them for a bit.

  • I reread The Red Badge of Courage and it made a lot more sense to me now as an adult and an Army veteran.
  • I’m continually grateful that the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library have such a large catalog of audiobooks and eBooks that I can borrow through my phone.
  • I discovered free online courses from Harvard. The certificates aren’t free, but it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.
  • The cat we rescued, Mama Cat, is finally starting to improve. She is suffering from some kind of skin condition that we’ve been treating with antibacterial/antifungal wipes. We gave her a bath and she’s finally getting fluffy enough to pick up and pet. She’s super grateful for the affection.
A 9" round cake pan half filled with fresh baked brownie.
Fresh baked fudge brownie in a 9″ round cake pan.
  • I baked some kick-ass brownies.
  • I found a really cool horror anthology on Amazon Prime Video called Hitokowa: The Killing Hour that is kind of cheesy, but in a great way.
  • Honda Financial Services allowed us to defer our car payments for two months, so we’re relieved of that burden until June.
  • My wife and I are both healthy and we’re eating well, which is more than many can say right now.
  • We have lots of toilet paper.
  • Our cat, Dapper, is super happy that we’re around all the time.
One of our cats, Dapper, trying to get attention.
  • I’ve been reading more by Stoic authors and the stuff makes sense. Here’s a quote by Epictetus that is still very relevant:

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

Epictetus

There’s an element of this in Buddhism as well, where you’re encouraged to live in the present moment. Or maybe I’m mixing that up with Western mindfulness? I’ll have to do some more reading.

Payment Status Not Available – The drama continues

I kept hearing about more and more people getting their Trump Bucks, but I haven’t seen a damn thing so far. I’ve been checking my account regularly. I’ve been scouring the internet for clues. I’ve been trawling through Twitter for hope.

Then I thought I’d found my salvation.

The IRS released their Get Payment web app early. It wasn’t supposed to be available until the 17th. I clicked the link and waited for my turn…

…but the IRS screwed me with “Payment Status Not Available”.

Bro. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I was. Better on time and working than early and broken.

I know they have my info and I know I qualify. The IRS is quick to take money from people when they owe extra on their taxes and will screw you with fees and penalties on a daily basis if you’re late, but when it’s their turn to pay up, they pretend like they’ve never heard of you.

A coronavirus kind of weekend

With all of the extra time I’ve been able to search around online for nice channels on YouTube, freebies, and stuff like that. The station above has some really smooth, low key jazz. It’s fantastic as background music in the afternoon while doing other things around the house. Work. Reading. Chores. Laying on the bed with the cats. Whatever.

Another weekend at home. We stayed in, except for my wife going downstairs to feed a stray cat near our building. We look out the window and we see people on the train platform going out, but it just doesn’t make sense to us in the long run. I’d rather pass on a weekend out now and be alive for many years of weekends out in the future.

Corona-chan as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I introduced my Mom to Corona-chan. She thought it was pretty neat, and especially appreciated this particular image:

The shortages continue online. It’s starting to get annoying because I’m about to run out of all purpose flour. What the hell is going on that flour has been out of stock everywhere for so long? What are people doing with all of that flour? I need flour to make biscuits. My wife needs flour to make banana pudding.

Spent time yesterday while watching “Shtisel” to look for a new wallpaper background for my phone. Finally settled on the image above. It’s clean and elegant looking and it doesn’t interfere with the visibility of the app icons.

I miss going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 34 – Disconnecting from the news, cheap lunches, and deerlingo

A watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper

So, I’ve reached the point now where I’m not checking the case and death figures as often because the numbers have gotten so high that it’s really hard to think about that in terms of trying to make it real. You know what I mean? You can picture a few hundred people, but when you start talking about tens of thousands sick and thousands of deaths, it gets a little abstract.

The result is that the pandemic is starting to feel a little more unreal to me. I mean, I know it’s real because I can see out my window that there really isn’t much going on. I see the lines and shortages at the grocery stores. I see the notifications from live streams on YouTube with news updates from Cuomo and De Blasio. But it just feels like we’ve hit the new normal. This isn’t weird anymore. This is just how it is.

Cuomo was saying in a news conference that the numbers of new hospitalizations are plateauing and that we have probably “flattened the curve”, but that deaths are going to continue in high numbers every day because these are people that were infected largely before social distancing measures were put in place.

I feel that people should have accurate information, but I also think that making people think things are getting better is going to make stupid people go out and do reckless things, sending the situation spiraling back out of control. Hopefully that doesn’t happen this weekend.

The last time I posted, I mentioned something about wanting to go out. I did, but not to ride my bike. The mayor canceled his open streets project so there’s really nowhere around here to go to ride my bike that feels safe, even with the reduced traffic. It’s still the Bronx. So, oh well. I really need to stop screwing around and figure out an indoor workout routine. I’m starting to really feel the wobbliness in my legs while doing routine things around our apartment and that’s not going to work.

DOE free meals in New York City

What we did do, though, was go check out the city’s DOE free food effort. When this all kicked off, the city was handing out free breakfasts and lunches to school kids, I guess to help make up for the loss of that resource for parents. School food is cheaper to pay for than groceries. So, makes sense. But I’m thinking that not enough people were showing up and they were throwing food away, so they opened up the free food to people of all ages.

I wasn’t expecting a gourmet meal, but I was thinking something along the lines of salisbury steak, instant potatoes, fresh broccoli, maybe greasy burgers, or fried chicken. You know. Food. What we got was an approximation of food that really helped me understand why so many kids have nutrition problems in the US.

We went over to PS 306 on Tuesday around 1:00 PM. We walked in and there was no one there. First red flag. We started to walk beyond the lobby and two employees waved us off and pointed us at some insulated bags sitting on folding tables in the corner of the lobby. Second red flag. Instead of prepared food, the insulated bags were filled with clear plastic grab bags of prepackaged items.

Turns out that some were for lunch and some were for breakfast.

The breakfast bag included:

  • a cheap muffin that was overly moist, squashed, and had no taste
  • frozen strawberries and sugar in a cup (basically a big cup of poor quality strawberry jam)
  • a knock-off of Yoohoo! chocolate drinks

The lunch bag included:

  • a ham and cheese sandwich
  • another of the nasty strawberry things that I guess you’re supposed to eat straight since there was nothing to spread it on
  • a small cup of green beans that were clearly from a can
  • another of the chocolate drinks
  • a package of off brand chocolate fudge chip cookies

First off, the only thing that was edible was the sandwich. Second, you should be seeing a pretty clear theme there: sugar, sugar, and some more sugar. And it all tasted bad. These meals have almost no nutritional value. I don’t understand how they can be served in a school.

If I really found myself in a position where I absolutely needed to get free food, I would rather use any other resource. This stuff would probably make a person sick in the long run. No wonder no one was showing up. The only thing it’s fit for is wasting taxpayer money, justifying some people’s jobs, and filling waste bins.

God help the people that actually need to eat this every day.

Just yuck. No. Plain rice and canned tuna with salt would be a better option.

Not hoarding, just higher demand

Speaking of groceries, I finally put something together earlier this week when I was at the grocery store and noticed that shelves are still empty. It’s not really that people are hoarding now; it’s just that they’re home. People aren’t at work so they’re not buying lunch at a restaurant. They’re not going out to eat so they’re cooking at home. There’s a much higher demand for groceries and the supply chain is still trying to catch up with that increase, so there are shortages of some items.

That being said, we haven’t run out of anything. Or at least anything that we can’t either do without anyway or replace by going to the grocery store. We’re going out less often though, so we’re using this as an opportunity to actually eat the food in our cabinet and rediscover old favorites, like our Bialetti and Cafe Bustelo espresso:

Bialetti Moka Color coffee pot and two Le Creuset espresso mugs with freshly brewed coffee.
Some bright points for me this week are:
  • After finishing “Unorthodox” and getting into “Shtisel”, I’ve rediscovered my interest in Hebrew. Plus they’re both great shows.
  • I found an app called Coursera with free college-level content
  • Found a new (to me) app called Lingodeer to help me learn foreign languages
  • Had some time to play Overwatch and Legend of Zelda: BotW.
  • Finished an awesome book by Adam Makos called Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives In World War II
I don’t even remember what map this was, but I love the small details they added to make things a little more immersive and fun in Overwatch.
A screenshot from Lingodeer. I like that you can turn off “romaji” in the settings. I obviously hadn’t done that when I took this screenshot, but turning off romaji forces me to read the Japanese scripts.

One of my goals this year is to actually make significant progress in learning at least Japanese and hopefully Spanish and/or Tagalog as well. I’m a little disappointed that Tagalog isn’t offered as a “premium” language in language learning apps. The course in Memrise is a community course and the kid doing the audio for the words sounds like he’s not really happy about it. I feel like it was probably some project or a thing his parent made him do.

Note: Featured image is a watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 30 – UBI and Universal Health Care

I was lying in bed earlier after working remote all day, just watching the sun go down while the room got dark. It’s kind of depressing being inside all the time, even with lots of stuff to do. Not so much because I’m inside, but because of the circumstances. It’s not as much fun when you have to do it. I miss going to Central Park and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I mean, sure I could still go to Central Park but I’d have to ride the train, which almost guarantees catching the coronavirus, and the park is too full anyway. It’s also not worth the risk.

It’s not just older people dying. It’s young people too. Couples dying together. It really makes me think about what I’m doing with my time. It makes me wonder what would happen if one or both of us passed away. Who would take care of our cats? Our stuff? Our only nearby relative is my mother and she’s essentially trapped in lower Manhattan because of COVID-19.

It makes me wonder if we shouldn’t move and get the hell out of New York City. This place is a death trap right now. Even once this clears up, it’s just going to come back in the Fall. And if it isn’t COVID-19, it’ll be COVID-20, or some other deadly virus that will wreck the city because of the amount of international travel.

One of the ironies of this situation is that it has really hammered home to people how important it is to have a steady source of income that is independent of hourly wages. We can’t all be rich people living off stocks, and even if we could, maybe that wouldn’t be any better considering the stock market tanked too.

UBI isn’t such a bad idea. It works for Saudi Arabia. It works for Alaska. It could work everywhere else in the US too. We’d just have to close a few corporate loopholes. And in the end it would even be better for those companies, because there would be enough cash in the lower and middle classes to keep the companies afloat during hard times.

We’re working our way up to doing UBI already with cash payouts. The lockdown was extended to the end of April, so what happens when May rent comes due? The $1200 wasn’t even enough for April rent after all in major cities.

I think it’s clear now we also need universal healthcare. And that it’s not a bad thing. It would take some serious cognitive dissonance to say it’s ok to make COVID-19 treatment free, but to say it’s ok for people to be left to die from other illnesses.

Anyway, my hours are irregular. I’m basically on call. If I work tomorrow or not, I’ll be alright, but I need to get out and get some fresh air. I’m hoping to squeeze in a bike ride. There’s not much traffic, so it might be alright to ride in the roads around here for a change.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 28 – Cooking, Jazz, and Corona-chan

So, I stayed up too late last night, I think, because I feel really tired and I have a headache. Coronavirus symptoms, I know, but this is pretty normal for me when I stay up past 2:30 AM.

I spent most of the day cooking. Not that I’m complaining. This is a good time to work on perfecting cooking skills after all. I think I’ve got biscuits down to a T:

A 9″ round pan filled with biscuits about to go in the oven

I’m still having issues with cooking bacon in our cast iron skillet, though. The pan is seasoned well. It’s not that the bacon sticks. It’s just that the skillet doesn’t seem to heat evenly on a gas burner.

The bacon overcooks in the middle while the ends are still near raw
I had to squish the bacon up over the part of the pan directly over the heat. I know the skillet is off-center. I had too much bacon in the skillet to cook it all at once so I had the rest of the slab over on the left side.

I haven’t quite worked out what temperature to cook the bacon at or where on the skillet to position it so that it cooks in the way I imagine it’s supposed to work. But maybe it just doesn’t work like a regular pan and you just have to do this way? Scrunched up over the part of the pan that’s directly above the heat?

Cornbread for tonight’s dinner

I also made cornbread. I finally figured out how to do that without burning it. Later, I’ll fry some chicken. Also in that cast iron skillet. I love that thing. It’s so fun to use even if it’s a little difficult.

I’m taking a break right now. I found this nice jazz livestream to listen to while I put my feet up for a bit. It’s really relaxing. I feel like I’m in a cafe somewhere, like things are normal and I don’t hear sirens outside the window constantly.

I haven’t even been outside in over a week I think. We just go to the grocery and then come home. The statistics for New York City are really bad and I don’t want us to wind up sick. Who would take care of all of our cats? And besides, I have too many books to read and video games to finish to die now! I haven’t even finished “Breath of the Wild” yet. Or The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Anyway, I’m starting to burn out on trolling Twitter for coronavirus information. The conversation has gotten bogged down by trolls and morons that are peddling conspiracy theories about everything from secret magic treatments for COVID-19 to an upcoming war between Trump’s forces of righteousness and the “Deep State”. Apparently, all of the coverage about the coronavirus from around the world is a hoax made up by “the Libs” to destroy America.

I did find this gem last night, though:

Corona-chan’s campaign for world domination

It’s brilliant. It really catches the popular mood in the US. All of the memes and conspiracy theories are in there. It epitomizes the idgaf attitude towards the pandemic many Americans have shown both visually and through the choice of music.

America loves end of the world scenarios. I think it’s baked into our culture, a leftover from the religious fundamentalism that played a large role in the colonization of the continent. Not that religious fundamentalism is in our rear view mirror, of course. There are plenty of Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist churches out there.

This is sort of a different topic, but I think Christian fundamentalism is dangerous because it encourages decision making based on feelings rather than logic and reasoning.

Don’t think. Just have faith.

Don’t ask questions. Just believe.

Don’t do any research. Just listen to what I tell you.

And that’s how you wind up with groups of people that are ready to believe in “deep state” conspiracies, that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that we’re about to go to war with someone. Not sure who, but someone. Either the Deep State, or China, or maybe us against the rest of the world.

It’s nuts, but it’s fascinating. Trump being elected somehow brought all of this insanity to the surface. I think it’s a good thing. We needed to know it was there. Of course, we could guess that this kind of crazy exists in American society, but now we know for sure. Hopefully, as a result the politicians will take notice and shift some of the national budget away from funding the military-industrial complex and instead boost education, regardless of who wins the November election.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 27 – Trying to reach the back of the cabinets

Since we’ve been going to the grocery store less, we’re actually using up things in our cabinets that might have otherwise occupied space until they went bad.

I’ve also been finding and discarding products that did, in fact, occupy space until they went bad.

Silver lining? Social distancing and the fear of a deadly virus is good for minimalism. My goal is to hit the back of the cabinets and the bottom of the freezer by the time this is all over. No more old stuff sitting in the cabinets, fridge, or freezer.

Case in point is this meatloaf. I had the meat in the freezer for months and now that I have less inclination to go outside and more time to actually cook, it’s done and ready for dinner.

This is the recipe, in case you’re interested: Easy Meat Loaf

A few thoughts on the impact of coronavirus in the USA

I’ve heard that there are conspiracy theories floating around that the US created the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. I haven’t bothered to read them, though I know it began with China denying the virus started there, as if their denial can change reality. We all know the first cases of the virus were from people working in a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and last time I checked, Hubei is part of China.

What’s the point of pushing culpability onto the US? I saw a news headline that mentioned a group of lawyers filing a class action lawsuit against China regarding the coronavirus. Again, didn’t read it, but I imagine it alleges that China tried to cover up the outbreak by silencing/killing doctors who spoke out, and is continuing to downplay the actual numbers of infected and dead. So, I guess China is worried about financial liability and wants to muddy the waters? Are they trying to “save face”? Is it just to maintain some sort of propaganda within China?

Should a country be responsible for a viral outbreak that starts within its territory? I’m inclined to say yes, but only if that outbreak started because the country wasn’t enforcing proper sanitation protocols regarding contact with animals. I don’t even know what that would mean or how you would enforce that, though. What happens if a salmon virus outbreak starts in Japan because people eat sushi, for example? Eating the fish raw is the whole point.

And what kind of sanctions could you impose that wouldn’t cause the offending country to implode? On the one hand, people would like to have a country that caused massive deaths punished, and maybe some would be ok with the country falling to pieces. On the other hand, having a country disintegrate would be dangerous in many other ways, especially if it’s a country like China which supplies so much of the world’s raw materials.

A lot of people have pointed out that this situation shows the dangers of having so much of the world’s production tied up in one country. I agree. I think it’s dangerous for the US to rely so heavily on China for raw materials. It’s obvious why we do, though. The labor there is cheaper so the materials are cheaper. It lets companies price products lower so that companies can also keep wages in the US depressed, allowing for greater wealth concentration.

That’s a pretty dangerous mindset, really. Corporations, with the tacit approval of the US government, have allowed wages in the US to stagnate and fall for decades while allowing an ever greater concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It’s a danger to the entire country. If people have no spending power, the economy will collapse. And “the people” aren’t just the rich few. It’s everyone. Capitalism relies on a strong middle class to function properly.

I don’t understand how people can be so strongly in favor of undermining the source of their wealth. Do they think that if the US economy tanks they’ll be ok? Aren’t they worried that the value of their wealth will tank as the US dollar tanks? I’m not an expert in stocks and markets and all that, but it just seems bizarre to me that people who have a vested interest in the economy wouldn’t push harder on legislators to even things out a bit. Or I guess much more than a bit now, considering how severe the income inequality in the US is.

Maybe it’s ok that the US is going through this huge crisis. Maybe it’s even ok that on the other end of it we might not be a superpower anymore. At this point, the only thing super about the US is the US military. Everything else is falling apart. We’re not number 1 in anything. It’s embarrassing and it’s something we should address instead of trying to hide it behind false bravado pretending to be patriotism.

Maybe this is the wake-up call that the US needs to reinvest in the American worker and the American Middle Class. Maybe this is the wake-up call that the US needs to hammer home how important it is to have a national healthcare system that provides services to everyone. A national healthcare system that can act as a single entity, devising emergency plans for pandemics and natural disasters, creating warehouses of emergency inventory that is regularly cycled to maintain its freshness and usability.