I heard a Lewis Black bit on the Daily Show where he said that 2023 was the first year since the pandemic that felt almost normal. In our world, what with the return of live theater, it does feel that way, though you still see some people in audiences wearing face masks, since the pandemic isn’t really over. The COVID-19 pandemic will possibly continue for the rest of our lives, as the AIDS pandemic has, and COVID has killed almost as many people as AIDS has cumulatively, in 10% of the time.
As for a return to normalcy, well, maybe, except I still worry about what will happen in this country on the political front. I do have a hope that our relatively high levels of prosperity will save us from a complete breakdown, though I have forebodings of a consitutional crisis to come. The first month of 2024 could be very eventful.
I’ve listed below the current ages of the living generations in the United States, as 2023 comes to an end. We are almost, but not quite, to the point where each archetype fills an age bracket. When that happens, we will be close to the end of the Crisis Era.
Which means this era isn’t over yet, pandemic or no pandemic, normal or not normal. And people sense that, which is where memes like the one on the right are coming from.
So just be aware, and pay attention as these oh-so-interesting times unfold.
With all that said, I hope you and your family have a safe, prosperous, and happy New Year.
The cat is eating much better, presumably thanks to the anti-inflammatory medicine she is taking. It must reduce the pain and irritation in her mouth. She still is eating mostly mushy food, though we have found that she has a fondness for ham, so she sometimes gets pieces of that to eat. She really likes ham, reminding me of Ponyo the way she tears into it.
Thanks to eating more, Sashimi has gained weight. But she still drools a lot, meaning she must still have that growth on her tongue. It is comforting, at least, to know she is not in danger of starvation.
Nor, it seems, are we in danger of income starvation, as I have been offered, and accepted, a new position. It is the same kind of work I always do (software testing), and it is a 100% remote position with a company in Minneapolis. Pretty excited to be onboarding 100% remote; that will be a new experience for me. Right now I feel like a remote till COVID champion.
In world events, the two big stories of 2022 were clearly the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the confluence of the Jan 6th committee hearings and midterm election results, which I will call the slow death of MAGA. I thought it was impressive that the Biden administration was able to rally the West in support of Ukraine, and also dodge the expected “red wave” repudiation of the executive term. Is this inching towards a “blue wave” consolidation, and a revitalization of the Western alliance, after the setbacks of the previous administration? Or is it just pulling the partisan tension ever tauter, in anticipation of a reckoning still to come? Either way, I would like to take this opportunity to extend a middle finger to all of the MAGAts in the Putin/TFG camp, and heartily wish them more failure and humiliation in the new year.
In my own life, the best new thing to happen to me was being hired to work on the end notes for the sequel to The Fourth Turning.I’ve been a fan of Strauss & Howe generations theory for 25 years now, nearly half of my life, and it’s an honor to be included in Neil Howe’s process of writing the much anticipated sequel to their 1997 book (Bill Strauss passed away in 2007, sadly). It has been a lot of hard work, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and to prove myself (I’m pretty good at methodical information organization).
I say this is the best new thing to happen to me, because there is much to be grateful for in 2022 that is a continuation of past trends. I really am one of the luckiest people in the world. I get to work from home in a time of plague, and while the Covid-19 pandemic is about to reach its three year anniversary, my extended family and network has for the most part mercifully been spared the worst outcomes from the disease (though enough of us have caught it, Lordy). Our family is financially stable, even while our national economy is not. And though I have Boomer parents and Millennial children, I am not really “Sandwich Generation” in the sense of being responsible for caring for family both above and below me on the age ladder. My parents, thankfully, have retirement savings.
I’m also very lucky and grateful to be with my partner, Aileen, after almost ten years since we reunited at our 30th year high school reunion in 2013. We started off visiting each other frequently from our respective homes 400 miles apart, and ended up living together under one roof. Being in lockdown together tested our relationship – could we stand continuous contact for months on end? Turns out we could. Pandemic lockdown and moving in together have only strengthened our partnership, and I look forward to many decades together to come.
My big hope for 2023 is more opportunity for creative work, for myself and everyone else in the household. I know, it might seem crazy to wish for work. Didn’t I just enjoy a week off from that? But we Gen Xers are in our peak earning years, so it’s very good for us to keep that going at this point in our lives. I for one will be hitting the ground running next week, rereading Neil’s book while also swamped with work at my computer job. Aileen has had her contract at West Chester University extended, which is great because it means she will get one full year there to put on her resume. As for the young Millennials in our family, I hope for more opportunity to learn and grow, and figure out where they want to go in life. We will, of course, be there to support them.
To my readers, I say thank you for checking out my blog, and I invite you to keep visiting as I continue to chronicle these challenging times. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we can be sure there is significant change coming. I hope you have a foundation in your life like mine, because that will so helpful for getting through this crisis era. All the generations will need one another for a safe and prosperous New Year.
This post contains a mild spoiler about the Netflix series “The Sandman,” which we just started watching. If you don’t want a spoiler, don’t read any further! Stop now while there’s hope!
First I’ll just say that The Sandman on Netflix does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Neil Gaiman’s comics, though I’m recalling that spirit through a very hazy fog of memory, since I read the comics decades ago. I am thoroughly enjoying the dark fantasy aesthetic of this new TV series, as well as the signature Gaiman storytelling style, which I would describe as forgivably clichéd.
While watching the first episode, I had a curious moment of synchronicity. One element of the story is the outbreak of “sleepy sickness,” or encephalitis lethargica, which occurred from roughly 1917-1927. In the fantasy show it is attributed to the imprisonment of Morpheus, the King of Dreams. Basically, if you mess with the immortal power behind sleep and dreams, you’re going to mess with people’s sleep cycles pretty hard.
My synchronicity experience was that I had literally just read an academic paper about this outbreak, earlier that same day. This article was examining historical evidence for sequelae (abnormal conditions resulting from a previous disease) to earlier pandemics which are similar to long COVID.
Here is a relevant quote:
The Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-1919) andEncephalitis Lethargica
The long-term neurological effects of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 included Parkinsonism, catatonia, and “encephalitis lethargica”. The term encephalitis lethargica was first used by the Austrian neurologist Constantin von Economo in 1917 after he identified an increased number of patients in Vienna with meningitis and delirium during the winters of 1916 and 1917. In 1918, disorders that were similar to encephalitis lethargica were reported elsewhere in Europe and the United States, with a peak in cases in 1923 and a decline over the course of the decade. Ravenholt and Foege showed that in Seattle, Washington, clusters of deaths from encephalitis lethargica significantly increased a year after the winters of 1918 to 1922. Importantly, they also showed that in American Samoa, which largely escaped the 1918 and 1919 influenza pandemic, there were very few cases of encephalitis lethargica. In comparison, in Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa), where 8000 influenza deaths occurred, there were 79 deaths due to encephalitis lethargica between 1919 and 1922.
In other words, sleepy sickness wasn’t the result of a supernatural mishap. It was “long Spanish influenza!”
It is understandable for this fantasy story to associate sleepy sickness with its main character’s fate, since there is such a strong thematic connection. But in reality, the disease is likely an effect of viral infection or exposure, a more mundane explanation but also one that is very relevant to us in these pandemic times.
There seems to be a wish or urge to put the COVID pandemic behind us, even though the virus is still circulating and still killing. The lesson of past pandemic sequelae is that the effects of COVID will be with us for years to come.
Early on during the pandemic I had these recurring dreams where I was out in public and then realized suddenly that neither I nor anyone around me was wearing a face mask. Shock and guilt would wash over me as I remembered that we were in a pandemic and that everyone was being irresponsible. What were we thinking?
Sometimes in these dreams I would be out walking around in a commercial district or in a city center; there would always be crowds. Frequently I would be at a gaming convention, sitting around a table with other gamers, setting up a board game. I was sure I missed the experience, and that’s where these dreams were coming from; we didn’t go to a board game convention after January 2020 for over two years. We went to one in Oaks, PA for one day this summer, and everyone (almost everyone) was wearing face masks.
And then we went to an annual con that I’ve been attending for over ten years, and spent four days in a hotel with a couple hundred people, most of whom were not wearing face masks. I mean, the pandemic is over, right? That’s what the President said.
My dreams turned out to be prophetic, as when we returned from the convention, I tested positive for COVID. I was feeling crappy on the Sunday drive back, but attributed it to burnout from all the marathon board gaming. When I still felt sick on Monday, I took the rapid antigen test and got the positive result.
I suppose it was inevitable, given how contagious the virus is, and given that we pretty much stopped the non-medical interventions. Not such a good idea, I guess. Luckily Aileen did not get sick, possibly because she had already caught COVID in May (when I was the one who dodged the bullet). This is just how it goes in Pandemic Phase II.
I’m not the only one who got sick at the con, either. Turns out it was a superspreader event! After all the tut-tutting I have done over people not following pandemic protocols, I got all casual and went and caught the bug. As the proverb says, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
So it’s not too bad. The worst symptom is tiredness and sleeping a lot. In the pre-corona era I would have just thought I had a bad cold and taken a couple of days off work and slept it off. The worst side effect of having COVID is being isolated from the family. No more dinner together or TV night.
I was able to get a prescription for PAXLOVID. I mean, quickly. I called my doctor’s office, and they set me up with a Zoom consultation that felt like a formality. “You tested positive and you have hypertension which is a risk factor – ok, I’ll send over a script…” Within a few hours I had the pills (a housemate picked them up since I am isolating).
So we’ll see how it goes; hopefully I will be back to “normal” soon. Back to normal but very conscious of what non-medical interventions can achieve. I think I will be spending a lot of time at home, nose to grindstone, for a couple of months. I’ll still be risking exposure since Aileen has to go out for her work. Time for our second boosters?
In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic I blogged about how the crisis was proving to be a “tempering test of the market state.” What I mean by “market state” is this concept by legal scholar Philip Bobbitt of a newly evolving constitutional order. It’s an order where government has less power and instead markets provide the decision-making and regulation. It’s also been called the “informational market-state” or the “neoliberal market-state.” More and more I’ve become convinced that while Bobbitt is correct in his broader theory of periodic changes in the constitutional order, with the “market state” he has really just identified the priorities of the market-driven social era of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the new era, I would expect faith in markets to collapse and a return to government regulation to be in demand.
But let’s grant that the market state premise is correct. We are now in an individualistic, market-regulated constitutional order. In the earlier blog post, I framed the Covid-19 tempering test in these terms:
The Covid dilemma as it relates to this constitutional order is this: if the market state is supposed to protect the citizen while maximizing opportunities, what does it do when these goals are mutually exclusive? Simply put, an endemic disease that is highly infectious and lethal entails restricting economic activity in order to save lives, but that necessarily reduces economic opportunity
It would seem, based on the experience of the past year, that the market state’s resolution to the dilemma is simply to accept the loss of life. A premium in human lives must be paid in order to maintain the open society so vital to sustaining economic opportunity and generating financial wealth. The latest guidance from the CDC puts the onus on individuals to mitigate against the coronavirus as they see fit, certainly in keeping with the logic of the market state.
Some individuals have more leeway to make these choices than others, a fact not lost to many on social media.
I’ve seen a ton of posts like the one above, about how the CDC, and our society as a whole, have abandoned the vulnerable. It’s a brutal truth about our current state, where the government has essentially given up on the pandemic. It was just too big a creative leap to get out of our “normal” mode of an open society. And since we couldn’t get to herd immunity, we’re settling for herd culling.
How sustainable this will be, I do not know. Covid-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, well ahead of vehicular accidents. And it’s even worse for certain age groups, and presumably also for the immunocompromised. It’s just a cold fact that if we keep going the way we’re going, then one fallout of this crisis era will be significant population loss. It wouldn’t be unprecedented in the grand scheme of things.
My partner is off this morning to work as a substitute teacher. She gets this sub work because the full-time teachers are always out…with COVID-19. But then school is probably where she caught the coronavirus. So this is where we’re at now in Pandemic Phase II: sending essential workers through a revolving door of exposure and contagion and 3-5 days of quarantine. Maybe for other workers it was like this in Phase I, but we were all lucky enough in our house to be in lockdown the whole time. I guess as a society we can’t stop doing this, because oh no, there might be a Recession!
Another housemate has caught the ‘rona. Amazingly, I am still testing negative (fingers crossed). Isolation protocols and masking indoors work. Now that we’ve reached this state in our household, when I go out with a face mask on I don’t feel so conspicuously out of place, even though I live in an area where 90% of the public is not masked. I realize that I need to mask because there is a chance I am an asymptomatic carrier.
When I’m out in public and the only one masked I’m not at all self-conscious; I just feel like I’m in on a secret. But it was never really a secret, was it?
With these new protocols in place – wearing the face mask in the house, taking a rapid antigen test before going out – it’s like we’re in a new phase of the pandemic. Are we riding out the next wave? Learning to live with endemic COVID? I don’t really know; I’m just telling my story here.
Well, it was probably inevitable. Aileen has tested positive for Covid-19. She was feeling a little sick, mostly a sore throat, so we got some rapid antigen tests at the drug store across the street. We had already used up our supply of tests that we had accumulated earlier (including the government ones) because Aileen routinely gets notifications about exposure from the school where she teaches. That’s why this isn’t really a surprise, seeing as schools are incubators of disease.
We each took a test, and her result was positive. Mine was negative, but one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time for me. We’re masking around the house, keeping our distance from one another, and have sent her son and the cat to go stay with his Dad. I’ll make sure to take a test before making any decision about leaving the house.
Meanwhile, I wrote this poem for the occasion:
An American With COVID
I know someone with COVID and I love her just the same. She only got the COVID ’cause she had to play the game. She got her shot and wore her mask, it’s really quite a shame. She had to earn a paycheck to have money to her name. If you know someone with COVID there’s no reason you should blame. They’re just another person out there trying to win the game.
Take a look at the remarkable chart below, which shows death rates from COVID-19 for six different groups of United States counties. What distinguishes the groups of counties is the partisan voting rate, and what is remarkable is how much higher death rates are in Republican leaning counties than they are in Democratic leaning counties, after the first big wave, which hit primarily coastal megacities.
It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that this reflects the politicization of the pandemic, and how, in Republican-leaning parts of the country, there are lower vaccination rates and lower levels of compliance with mitigation rules such as wearing face masks and avoiding indoor gatherings. I’ve complained before about how insane this is, but here I want to give a little more thought as to why people might be motivated so differently in their behavior that they experience such disparate outcomes.
Here, I want to comment on how data like the above relates to two different ways of looking at the world. One is to see it from the standpoint of the individual, and their unique perspective. And the other is to see it from the standpoint of the collective of all people, which is what graphs like the above are doing. Graphs like the above are created by aggregating data – each week, a certain number of people die from COVID-19. Each individual death is a tragedy, and some deaths are unavoidable no matter how much we as a society try to mitigate against the spread of the virus. But looking at the aggregate data makes it plain how mitigation efforts do reduce overall suffering and death. That’s why we ask, as a society, for everyone to participate collectively in this effort.
The problem is, large numbers of people don’t want to see the world from this collective perspective. Their preference is to focus on the individual, and the rights of the individual. It’s like they see the dots on the graph, but not the curve. But one dot alone doesn’t give you any information, when you are trying to determine good policy. The curve, the collection of dots, is what lets you make an informed choice. The dots themselves just give you individual stories, what we call “anecdotal evidence,” which could be used to justify any policy. For example, as the graph above clearly indicates, some people in the counties with the lowest death rates do die from COVID-19. No place has a 0% rate. You’ll always be able to point to a case of a breakthrough infection in someone who was vaxxed and boosted and still got sick and died. But that one case alone is not enough to justify giving up on vaccination. To decide what overall policy is the most sensible based on one case and not the entirety of cases is foolish.
The same applies in other areas, like gun control. Simply put, firearms are a hazard and making them easier to access and carry around increases the risk to everyone of injury or death from firearms. It’s why we have this idea of sensible gun laws to regulate the use of firearms, making everyone safer, just as we regulate so much else in life. But a sizeable minority is obsessed with the individual right to bear arms, stymying lawmakers’ efforts to enact such legislation. This minority probably thinks that their arsenals will make a difference in upcoming political struggles. But however violently future political conflicts are resolved, what easy access to firearms will mostly do is increase the rates of suicide and homicide by firearm. I’m not even talking about mass shootings, I mean just ordinary incidents involving firearms.
Gun rights advocates will argue that it is unfair to deny them their individual rights just because of the negative consequences of other people’s choices. They are looking at the dots – you can’t take what’s mine based on someone else’s actions. For gun control advocates, the argument is that restricting gun rights will benefit the public in the aggregate. They are looking at the curve – overall suffering and death will go down if you change the rules. This is the same logic that goes into determining rules for the mitigating against the spread of the coronavirus. Restricting some rights, like the right to congregate indoors in large groups, will benefit public health, in the context of a highly transmissible and potentially fatal virus in circulation.
The zealous prioritizing of individual rights over collective good is what leads to memes like the one on the right, found on Twitter. It’s what leads to freedom derisively being called “freedumb,” when taken to the point of needlessly endangering lives. But those who won’t comply with mandates for the collective good aren’t really dumb, they are just prioritizing their rights as individuals over what is best for society as a whole. To them, compliance with authority smacks of submission to tyranny. They even have narratives based on historical occurrences to justify their resistance, even though the context is completely different now.
Maybe it would help for people to think in terms of both individual rights and individual responsibilities. Then you can keep your personal autonomy, but also recognize that your personal choices have consequences. Then you can see how you as a dot fits into the bigger picture of everyone else as a curve. Look again at the graph. It’s clear that for any one given individual, your chances of dying from COVID-19 are small. Not even half a percent of the country has. But if you are careless about transmitting the virus, you will help to kill some people. And that’s on you.