Checks and Balances

Lockdown is a broad term, that has been used in most countries by now, yet all to some different degrees.
It entails several concepts.
Closing of borders
Closing all non essential business (what is essential varies from countries to countries)
Shelter in place (enforced or not, more or less restrictions on ability to venture outside of the space of confinement)
Social Distancing
Limit or ban of outdoors activities

It is evident that these lockdowns were emergency mesures of last resort, that were implemented for lack of a better plan, and that a chain reaction was triggered between countries. it is probably fair to assume that all countries looked towards one another, mimicking, following what the previous one had done, and so on until it reached the whole world.

It all started with China ordering the first lockdown back in January. Then (i’ll skip other Asian nations) Italy was hit with the first European wave of the virus and ordered its country on lockdown in March. That was a shock to all. As much as the world had pointed fingers to the usual boogyman communist country that China is, criticizing their response (they did act too late) now we had a western country that pulled on the brakes to a full stop on its economy as well as locking their resident in their homes from one day to the next. Wild. France, Germany, Spain followed. America, reluctantly, but not so much, when you come to think of it, took the same turn. Too late unfortunately.

At that time, I personally felt proud of living in a world and a country who valued our lives the most, even if it was only 1% of us they were trying to save, over the economy. They were willing to put everything we filled our lives with every day, work, activities, school, aside from essential businesses, the economy to die basically, just to save a small amount of us. A part of me couldn’t believe it. In the horror of it all, I also thought maybe I was dreaming we actually weren’t controlled by the markets and corporations in the end, we humans were above all on the priority list. Wow perhaps I would wake up from this dream in the morning, Covid being just a bad dream, but now I had felt the connective-ness of our humanity, this huge magma of will as I called it back then in March, and despite the horror and looming despair from the economy about to collapse, it was nevertheless a beautiful thing. A sign that we as a specie, still knew what we had to do to ensure our evolution on this planet. And we were all willing to do it together. And some good would come out of it, environmentally, socially, we would all have some time to reflect on this situation to make the best of it on the other side. Learning, growing, taking care of each other, helping one another, in the end thats all that really matters. We would make it through, because we always do. As a specie.

In NYC things got rough quickly, logically and I’m pretty sure that everyone of us who had no choice than to be here will remember these times vividly. From the incessant ambulances wailing to the death toll mounting exponentially everyday, as much as the eerie emptiness of the city, the birds singing and our collective fate, locked in for some of us, braving the deserted city subway and streets for essential workers. The unusual sight of people wearing masks or whatever they could find to cover their face everywhere, gloves, to the odd dances we were doing while crossing other people on the street to avoid coming too close to one another.

New yorkers, we did great. Being disciplined without having the need for authority to enforce the lockdown. 99% of the people were doing it on their own. Perhaps some were out in the streets way more then they should of per recommendations. But can’t really blame them living in super small spaces, most of the time with roommates or families, people had to go for walks, runs, bike rides. But they all did it safely with masks on, and as we are finding out now, outdoors is actually the place to be. I recall thinking that for me it wasn’t too hard to stay inside all day, even in my windowless room, I had to work anyways, so I would give up my “spot” roaming the city streets, to someone who needed it more. Because they weren’t comfortable with being alone, or lived in tight space, just lost their job and were aimless, or whatever. To me, it was a collective effort, and if we all gave it as much as we could individually, and that threshold was different for everyone, it would have its way of balancing itself to nature and save the most people possible. Our lockdown was supposed to end on June 8th, but on May 30th, the protests started. There too, new yorkers did so with much consideration for the plague that we were dealt, all wearing masks and trying to keep distance in between them despite the rage.

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, where people also had been ordered to shelter in place and non essential business closed for a month or so under federal guidelines, not much of Covid was showing up. So they got impatient. And at the end of April, they blew it. Trump gave them his benediction to reopen businesses and do whatever they pleased. The rest is history.

That set up a chain reaction of influence throughout the world as well, where people started to question the lockdowns and mask wearing recommendations. And it went both ways. There were also the influence sphere of countries like Sweden or the UK and for a moment the Netherlands, who went for the herd immunity model, saying we are kind of not going to try to save this 1% of the population, because we believe it is more “ethical” to keep the businesses open in order to not crash the economy, not create unemployment and so on. And just like the Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests spread across the globe so rapidly later on too, around mid May, all but NYS and a couple more states buisnesses were re-opened as well as waves of other governments preemptively ending their lockdown under the pressure of their constituants.

The problem of this globalized herd mentality influence (follow each other) is that every situation in cities, countries, were different. At a different stage of the virus evolution. And so if Oregon which had maybe 200 cases and 2 fatalities opened up again, it wasn’t so much of an issue as it was in places where the infection was on the rise. We are seeing the full effect of this now, where the messages are so mixed up in the global dissonant noise, especially in the US (but in other places to a lesser degree too) it is the ultimate chaos.

In NYC so far, we’ve tame the thing. Probably not forever but for a bit. We worked hard at it. The collective “trauma” is real. I mean in all respect for the medical workers risking their lives everyday, overworked, drained, forced to distance from their families, and the people who actually got infected, hospitalized fighting for life, the rest of us were nevertheless all witness to this human tragedy unfolding, helpless and also scared, confused, newly unemployed, trying to grasp what was happening in this world.

So personally, when i hear or read about people who pretend it doesn’t exist, I get a bit angry.

Not at them necessarily, but at the government for failing to lead by exemple, for sending mixed messages, flip flopping, reverting response types. When the only way to successfully “control masses”, is to be consistent. Just like with babies. Not only does it appease them, but it also instigates trust. That is something unfortunately right now people are feeling, that they cannot trust governments in this country.

Likewise for the people who won’t wear a mask. Hard to say when you encounter someone on the street. I’m not one to judge, maybe that person has had the virus already and recovered? Therefore they don’t need to wear a mask? I want to trust that they are doing the responsible thing. But especially when an older lady walks by me without a mask on, i’m like hmmmm… I mean lady, come on, i’m wearing mine mainly to protect you! So what up? Why you not wearing one?

So now we are facing the reopening phase 3 tomorrow.

The problem we are seing with countries that have already reopened, and even those who had completely tamed the thing, is that the virus creeps back in. Or never entirely left, but as much as it is more containable on islands such as New Zealand or Cuba, here, there are no borders to states. They’ve required people from certain states to quarantine when arriving to NYC, but it isn’t going to be enforced.

And already, with this influence behavior chain of reaction, that can probably be attributed to social media (influencers anyone?) people in NYC right now, are not really wearing masks anymore. Maybe only 50% are. Especially in Brooklyn. Its insane how quickly people can adopt the herd mentality as to following each other off the cliff. Surely not wearing them at the packed outdoor bars and restaurants. It is impossible to drink or eat with a mask on. Oh well, everyone says, we’ll see! The sun is out, tomorrow is another day.

And luckily here in NYC, it looks like the virus isn’t showing its face too much these days. Maybe it is, we don’t know for sure that it isn’t silently ramping up, but we may have earned a little break. What I really cannot wrap my head around though, is that we just don’t know much if anything about the long term consequences of this virus on humans. I mean what if asymptomatic or mild cases lead to a slow but steady weakening of our immune system by attacking it over the years? They are already finding out that it potentially attacks the brain. Who knows.

Surely only 5 months in, previous cases are monitored but to monitor something, you need to know what you are looking for. So in this horrible scenario (and I’m sorry to even come up with it but this is the downside of creativity) all these people who followed each other off the cliff, basically as they would catch a benign flu in the future would start dying from it, one after the next. They didn’t fall to their death off the cliff because they were actually supermen and women and went on to flying away instead, but they just caught a simple flu afterwards, and died from it, their body unable to fight the smallest infection. Its horrible and wish I could erase this thought and its seed.

But my point being that the kids recklessly trying to catch it because they think it won’t affect them much, need to be reigned in as to understand that actions have long term consequences. And for all those who just mindlessly follow, they need to think for themselves. Here again, we are betting that the virus is not anything of the sort, because if so, we would all need to just freeze in place. But there is a reason why since the dawn of ages, we try to AVOID getting diseases and viruses rather than trying to catch them on purpose. There is enough chances already of us getting it without trying hard at it.

So a bit of common sense would be helpful here again in this global discourse around the virus. And measure the consequences of assuming that we all ought to – take the risk of allowing for more infections faster because the majority seems like mild cases so far. The herd immunity school of thought. Or, as other health experts have been recommending, tip the balance the other way on the precaution scale, to try preventing as many infections as possible. Because we just don’t know YET. We will know more as time passes. Impatience, again.

Playing Russian roulette with life and death at the scale of a nation and the world, is a perplexing gamble. This isn’t the stock market or a business we are dealing with. Nor is it a scientific experiment. And I would question the psyche and moral compass of any man or woman who would lead us down that path, based on obvious nearsighted intentions or speculations on its outcome. One man’s narcissism and impatience could be a dangerous mix in governing a nation and in science. Hard to resist the compulsive need and thrill to play God amidst a pandemic.

The virus is real. The pandemic as well. But I’ll look at it as an allegory in a broader sense.


An Allegory

The pandemic, in general regardless of this one specifically, is nature telling us to look in the mirror. Asking us, do you still know how to survive? Can you survive amongst the modern society you’ve created and can it fonction, sustain you as a specie?

Clearly the answer is no. We’ve had to shut it down. Shut down society, shut down the economy, keep each other at a distance. Shut down our borders. For lack of a better plan. In earlier writings I had hinted at the idea that fighting a pandemic in 2020 was way harder then in 1918 or in the 13th century. We may have a medical advantage and more knowledge but they had no economy to save nor social distancing to do. They still had to fight the virus and survive. Close contact with family just like today is unavoidable, but they didn’t have huge circles of friends, nor did they work in offices, have to get into elevators nor live in buildings and high-rises. There was no mass transit, no hair salon. Not as many kids went to school, even less to universities. They didn’t work in or go to restaurants, bars, none of these things that we had to give up, and that some are desperately attempting to keep open, none of these things were creating resistance to fight the virus in previous pandemics. Sure we can wear masks for the time being and do all these things. But when looking through the lens of the allegory, the pandemic is saying these aren’t compatible. This doesn’t work. This system, made of way too many individuals owning non essential businesses, mass schooling, mass socialisation, the way all this functions is crippling us. But more importantly, in 1918 or the 13th century, there was barely any mobility compared to today. We’ve taken it to the extreme with mass traveling. And that, is the biggest flaw in our society, when looking through the lens of the pandemic.

In all previous pandemics, when the virus was contained and died in a village, or town or country, it could come back once, twice, maybe more. But not incessantly. And unfortunately in our times, extreme mobility will make it really hard to end the brushfire from spreading. We will be keeping the virus alive as long as it can hitchhike from one person to the next, one town to the next, country to the next and so on, across oceans back and forth. Incessantly. By millions of passengers, or even millions of people crossing from state to state every day. We will be keeping it alive until we reach herd immunity. At 70%, it means that between 1 out of 2 person, and 1 out of 1 (yes that’s almost everyone) will have to have been infected. So you know, when babies are born, that adds one more person to the total amount of people that needs to get it. Exponential. Its going to take a while…

Its safe to say that extreme mobility is the biggest problem of our society, when looking through this lens to assess what works and what goes against nature. Fighting a virus as a specie, every century or so, is nature’s test on humanity.


Mobility

I live in NYC. There isn’t much of nature here, cities are about as bad as it gets in times of a pandemic.
I can’t tell you how a part of me wants to just hit the road, be it upstate for an escape or visit my family in Oregon. Whom I haven’t seen in more than a year.
But, traveling goes against the laws of the pandemic. Giving my body to the virus to potentially hitchhike its way up to peaceful Oregon. Or upstate.
And so you would ask, why would Nature be so heartless to keep me from seeing my family?
Or some would selfishly perhaps say, how dare you nature, screw you, family is the most important thing.
It all comes down to the choices we make.

As I said, I didn’t see my family for more than a year. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t eagerly be thinking of seeing them. And if so, because of course I do from time to time, it would only be for a short amount of time, a week maybe. How hypocritical is it to make a choice to live thousands of miles away, in normal times, see each other a couple days in a year and think that now, in the time of a pandemic, it would be the most important thing to do, that I really need to see them for a couple days. No it is not. I don’t need to. I want to, it would be nice, but I don’t need to. We do have FaceTime and ways to connect the distance nowadays. Thankfully. Must I say, that a century ago, I probably wouldn’t live that far away from family.

And so the question that Nature is asking of me, regardless of her questioning extreme global mobility, is if that choice many of us make, moving away from our families is worth the price to pay. For our planet.

I made the choice to not see my nieces grow up day after day, or to have the ability to hang out with my sister and be part of each other’s life. Or she made it. Regardless we both moved away from our parent’s home. Neither of us thinking that perhaps one day, a pandemic would hit. Well today is the day. And so, I must answer that question and if answering no, being away from them isn’t worth the price to pay, then I should pack up that Moving van and hit the road.. For good. Not just for a couple days and come back.

Again, in 1818 or the 13th century, if one made that choice to move somewhere, it was likely forever. So a question to ponder deeply. Not to take on a whim.

So I sit back a bit, in this time of a pandemic which again, Nature is saying, sit in stillness rather than business, all we have is time, take it to reflect on what is essential. The answer will arise out of stillness, a ripple in the water, there is no rush, there is no urgency to move around incessantly. Once you get beyond the trepidations of the child within, who just wants something right away because thats what our generations are used to, instant gratification. We are spoiled. Impatience is one of our growing flaw as a specie, fed by binges on never ending feeds, fueled by infinite choices of information stream, activities, places, people and products.

And one could argue, but all these choices we have today, isn’t it a good thing? Part of the evolution? Rather than not having the choice? Like isn’t it awesome to be able to choose between 20 brands of toilet paper at the supermarket when facing that wall of choices and prices? I personally feel very overwhelmed in the toilet paper aisle. And many other aisles. Its like, no please, I don’t want to spend 10 minutes deciding what is the best and cheapest brand, at the same time, I don’t want to overpay for such basic essential products and it be so critical to require 10 minutes of our lives to ponder.

Well here is where the laws of the pandemic comes in.
In some instances, having a lot of choices can play well by the law, and in others it doesn’t.

And by the way, toilet paper is something that didn’t sit well with the laws of the pandemic quite obviously. In the whole world (or at least first world problems).

So it is our balance. Nature. Nature be the judge of what goes on and what changes. And how these thing changes are ruled by a set of laws.


The laws of the pandemic, obey the laws of nature

The first law to obey, is the protection of our environment.

The protection of our planet, of this Earth, to sustain it rather than destroy it. Its like the fondation of everything that is about to be built upon. Nature acts as the ultimate Checks and Balances. We filter the problem we are dealing with through this question, how can we fix it so that the solution goes with Nature rather than against it, so that the solution protects our environment rather than destroys it. And suddenly, we have way less choices as to which solutions to implement. And that it a good thing. Because we really only need to do one thing at the base of it all, is to preserve our planet.

The second law governs social protection.

The protection of our social fabric. We can all agree that we don’t want to live in a world that would completely isolate one from another, be it living with gowns masks and gloves or within an individual plastic bubble à la Flamming Lips (however could that could be for parties) or as we had little choice but to implement for lack of a better plan, locked in our homes for months, years or half a century to come. However good that would be for the planet and completely keep in check all the other laws of the pandemic, that would not be good for humanity. It remains a question for some, living in a virtual world vs the real world, continue to procreate using the tinder tool to match each other up, I think there is a black mirror episode relating to that scenario. FaceTime, Augmented Reality, travel in a virtual world, exercise from home, work from home, Social Media, Drones, Robots, all these tools could potentially allow us to remained sheltered in place indefinitely and still be able to communicate, connecting the world, even manufacturing and food production to some extend without moving. There would still be a lot to iron out in the next 50 years for such a lifestyle but it is forceable.

However, and that is the point of the balance scale for now as a specie and society, I think the majority of us would rather continue to have physical contact with more people than just our immediate family.

Because thats what it comes down to. Physical contact is different from socializing. Socializing can be done online. We’ve been doing that for probably 20 years by now, from the dawn of the internet to today’s social media, the world is socially connected and the generation of kids born around 2000, for the most part, from the developing world to the developed world (3rd to 1st I can’t remember what is politically correct to say here) we are almost all used to socializing online now.

The third law is economic sustainability. And I’ll talk about that later.


Typologies of spaces and social distancing

Time, silence and space are of the essence.

We are finding out that the great outdoors is the place to be. Not 100% safe without social distancing nor masks but it makes sense that the wild open space is on the opposite spectrum of the small, confined space of the elevator or small indoor space where air is trapped and cannot circulate.

What is nature trying to tell us?

Let’s go back live in the woods! Not quite, but maybe that we have overdone it in terms of relying too much on indoor space and the use of artificial air. A/C is also wasteful energy, so is electric heat and those goes against the rule of Nature, the first law of the pandemic.

Take the School equation problem for exemple. Let’s put this problem through the first law of the pandemic, that all solution must be beneficial for our planet. Or at least not destroy it.

Schools

Despite School being good for kids socializing skills – and this could be argued, not all kids strive in the physical school system – but the majority definitely seem to prefer this option. Parents aren’t only looking for day care to supervise their kids as they must work away too, they and teachers truly seem to think that school is good for the developmental behavior of humans. We will evaluate the solution through rule #2 and #3 later but for now let’s focus on rule #1.

School is indeed a major puzzle to solve. Not only does it takes place indoors, gathering hundreds if not thousands of kids or young adults at times and everyday, social distancing is difficult to implement in such setting, it mixes different age groups, involves people staying in an more or less large enclosed space, with sometimes windowless rooms like amphitheaters, for long amount of time. Everyday for many hours. The perfect storm. Through the lens of the pandemic. And it involves a lot of commuting, which not only pose a problem regarding people more or less obligated to rely on mass transit, not a fine place to be either in times of a pandemic, but the whole notion of commute, unless by foot bicycle or sail boat, is detrimental to the environment. And in our space typology chart, aside from countries that don’t rely on artificial air, at least in our country, also checks in the wasteful energy box. Back in 1918 pandemic, they didn’t have such sets of resistance, yet still resorted to closing schools. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have internet yet. Nor the capacity to organise at a large scale, as we have.

But for sure in 1918, the fewer schooled children staying at home vs going to school, even if they still would have to forgo education a while (as we are lucky to have the online option at least) it wasn’t such a problem as mothers at that time mostly stayed home doing domestic work. I’m certainly not implying that we should revert to that and mothers shouldn’t work. But that configuration suited nature better.

And in that regard, if for the time being we shall flow with life as we know it, and physical school must remain for some, then I’ve outlined a possible solution on July 2nd. It would involve the government or companies paying one parent who would prefer that solution, 70% of their salary in order to stay home and home school their kids instead of working.

That would allow for the remaining who must be physically in school like essential workers kids and those who’s 2 parents want to or need to remain working, to easily spread across space and time, Monday through Friday but in very small classes, maybe even give the possibility to conduct some classes in parks or public spaces, therefore taking a lot of the pressure off the set of resistances that the school equation problem poses. And I can already hear the collective roaring that it is not financially viable. I can’t be sure, but it would be worth to do the maths. To balance the cost of implementing a one for all solution with all that it entails, from the starting headache point and it’s financial cost, more risk, insurances, more staff and teachers, more cleaning, more everything, weighted against the cost of paying all these parents a good chunk of their salary. Again, we are looking at a place like NYC. In a small town, classes may be less difficult to reduce in size, to space out, or to conduct outdoors.

Let Nature organically organize the chaos. People’s needs will be met naturally if we don’t force it and let it happen.

Trust Nature

In terms of using public space to conduct classes, it seems like taking kids on daily walks through the city can be highly beneficial, combining physical activity with learning, instead of sitting still in a classroom. Or sit in a park, on a plaza like the greek forums, why not be creative with the solutions? How worse can it be for everyone than locked in a classroom sitting in stagnant air?

That could also create more space for other students for class to take place in that room if they must while another class is out and about.

Another point to note about silence, one of the 3 essence. It would be wise to discourage students talking during indoor class, leaving the teacher to more or less lecture. However encourage open discussions through walking or sitting outdoor classes.

And as the national recommendations are already outlining, no forced air, opening windows and doors to maximize fresh air intake and flow.

So this outline would obey both rules #1 and #2. If a natural repartition between the home schooled / distant learning student and those who take place on site was to lower the overall commute load on the city, it would be ideal. If we took the case of a Manhattan school for exemple, lets say that those who live the furthest away, perhaps in more suburban houses like Queens or Brooklyn with more indoor and outdoor space were to naturally opt for the home school option, this would allow for the closer students to commute by bike rather than mass transit, further reducing the commuting weight on the city. That point of balance would indicate that this solution is in perfect adéquation with Nature. For rule #3 here, doesn’t necessarily apply. But it will make sense when I explain it later.

There are many more problematic space typologies that we are trying to deal with, which outcome will depend more on all 3 rules.

Typology of spaces and how they rank in terms of the pandemic.

From safest to worse. All situation assumes that wearing a mask is mandatory except in (1).

1. Outdoors + Maximum Social Distance (Zero Density). Like being alone on a beach or in a park, obviously. Hike in nature etc… 100% SAFE
2. Your own room/apt/house alone
3. Outdoors + Social Distancing + Movement (like people walking, reduces the time spent at the same location where air could stagnate) + Silence. Like the silent marching protests
4. Outdoors + Social Distancing + Stagnant (like people sitting). An outdoor concert with seated audience spaced apart. Or a reasonably crowded beach.
5. Outdoors + No Social Distancing + Movement. Like a farmers market
6. Outdoors + No Social Distancing + Stagnant
7. Indoor House / Apartment + Social Distancing + Natural Air
8. Indoor Large Grocery Store / Hall type of space + Social Distancing + Movement

Could operate when infection is under control but non essential. If people refrain from talking, shouting, singing, they could be relatively safe

Church (Indoor + Social Distancing + Stagnant + Masks)
Gym * (Indoor + Social Distancing + Movement + Masks compromised when drinking water). 
Restaurant / bar outdoor terrace seating with social distancing (Mask not possible when eating or drinking + Outdoor + social distancing + stagnant)

Not so safe but essential

Train / Bus / Subway / Short Flight (Indoor + Social Distancing Difficult + Stagnant + Masks)
Schools (indoor + Social Distancing Difficult + Stagnant + Masks Difficult for little kids)
Prison Jail (indoor + Social Distancing Difficult + Stagnant + Masks)
Playground (Outdoor + Social Distancing Difficult + Movement + Masks)

Definitely not safe but essential

Elevator (Indoor tight space + Compromised Social Distancing + Stagnant + Masks)
Hospital (Indoor + Stagnant + High Concentration level of the virus + Masks not possible when eating or drinking)
Long plane flight (Indoor tight space + Compromised Social Distancing + Stagnant + Masks not possible when eating or drinking )
Nursing Home (Indoor + Social Distancing + Stagnant + Population at risk + Masks not possible when eating or drinking)
Dwelling with several family members (Indoor + Compromised Social Distancing + Stagnant + No masks)

Risk of transmission too high, shouldn’t operate because unsafe and non essential

Night Club
Indoor Bar
Gym * (Indoor + Social Distancing + Movement + Masks compromised when drinking water).

Small, confined indoor space with stagnant air and physical closeness are the killers. Exemples would be, night clubs, bar, as well as a small house / apt with several family members.

Further questioning needed for these typologies in regards to Agriculture and Manufacturing and the role they play in modern society : Processing plants, Factories, Farms.

Its not the end. Just taking a break.