Monday, April 06, 2020

Bigger than a Band-Aid

While I'm bragging on my state, I should say we have eviction moratoria in effect, for both residential and commercial properties. There are some issues: we don't know, when the emergency ends, whether people will have to pay back rent or if there will be partial or full forgiveness, if there is payment required, what will the timeline be like. Because it's clear that not everyone is going to have a job to come back to. But at least for the duration, people aren't being kicked out of their apartments. And when businesses do manage to re-open, they'll be able to at least start back in the same space. If they aren't able to re-open, their stuff is stored safely for now and they aren't scrambling to find a place to put it.

It's bigger than a Band-Aid, smaller than a solution.

Yesterday I went for a walk with my hoodie on backward and the hood pulled up over my nose and tied behind my head. It's an effective improvised mask. All the robbing-the-stagecoach jokes have already been made.

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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Small mercies

What I haven't been able to say is how glad I am that my parents have both passed. Imagining them in Hawai'i, my father increasingly frail and certainly at high risk; or perhaps worse, my mother alone and unwilling to ask for help. If one of them were ill, what would we do? Fly to Hawai'i, would that even be possible right now? It doesn't bear thinking about.

I'm glad they didn't live to see some of what's happening now. The immense stupidity, the shocking indifference on display in the federal government. I have rarely been more grateful to live in Oregon. We got an early look at a bad scenario, courtesy of our neighbors to the north. Social distancing took hold here, and seems to be flattening the curve measurably.

Meanwhile New Orleans is facing a catastrophe of Katrina-like proportions; New York is maybe, finally, peaking or at least reaching a plateau; the CDC is recommending face masks for everyone; and some states still don't have stay-home or social-distancing orders in place. A few evangelical mega-churches are continuing to hold public services (and in a couple of those cases, the pastors have been arrested).

One of the things people aren't noticing: So far, the media coverage has been centered around major cities, and also that's where the most intensive testing has been done. This makes it look like the epidemiology is urban-centered. But, in fact, we don't know what the infection rates in rural areas are like. We tend to assume the spread would be slower, with fewer people coming into contact with one another. That's a big assumption.

We also know for sure that the health infrastructure is less developed in most rural areas. Hopefully someone is looking at the challenges of delivering the kind of care that COVID-19 requires, at scale, in the big empties of the Midwest and the Intermountain.

Meanwhile, ProPublica has the news you did not want to see... Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate

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Friday, April 03, 2020

Joyful Noise

For health care workers, first responders
firefighters, food deliverers, officers of peace

For hospital hotel workers, crisis carers, city officials
teachers, students, janitors scrubbing every surface in silent schools

For spirit distillers turned to making sanitizer
For car wrecking shops manufacturing masks

For coffee shops that feed the needy
supermarkets with the dots that show safe distance

For empty parks and squirrels turned unusually brave
For joggers who step into the street to pass me

For all my friends and family and neighbors huddled in their homes
For my city struggling toward a summer full of doubt

I stand on my front porch and ring a joyful knell
on a copper-bottomed stockpot temple bell.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

USNS Comfort Arrives in New York Harbor

A woman dressed in green: her layered roots
dig deep beneath the harbor. Her robes are flutes
of bronze to ocean winds. A mother’s face
inclines above this fever-stricken place
to hear the clamor and the stifled mute.

Silence swallows yesterday’s pursuits,
the hustling crowds in tailored hustler suits,
the taxi horns, the never-ending race.
A woman dressed in green

stands tall and sorrowful, but resolute.
On the horizon, a ship comes into view.
Help arrives: a sisterly embrace
between a statue and a messenger of grace.
This ship, a woman clad in white, salutes
a woman dressed in green.

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Distance Learning

So it's official that school buildings will (almost certainly) be closed through the end of the school year. Instead, we're going to distance learning for the rest of the year.

What does that mean, exactly? We're not sure. Every district is going to have to do the best it can. In my district, we have fairly widespread use of Google suite educational tools, and I expect we'll be making heavy use of those. But there are lots of concerns about families not having access to devices, and/or not having access to bandwidth. Of course these issues align with, and therefore are likely to exacerbate, existing racial and economic inequities. Much as COVID-19 exacerbates underlying health conditions.

Hailstorms rolled across the neighborhood all afternoon, but I haven't heard any thunder.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Comfort and Freedom

From the flats of New Jersey you can see Manhattan for a hundred miles. The buildings float above the horizon like an island in the sky.

New York: I don't love the place. I could never live like that. It's too crowded, too fast-paced, too intense.

But it will always be a landmark of my childhood. The George Washington Bridge was like a godparent to me.

And now the city's fighting for its life.

Help is on the way. USNS Comfort came in today, past the Statue of Liberty. A lady in green salutes a lady in white.
The USNS Comfort, a 1,000-plus bed Navy medical ship, sails past the Statue of Liberty in New York, 30 March 2020.

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hard Rain and Tulips

It's spring, when the hard rain falls
and strips camellia heads from hanging branches.

It's spring, when yellow tulips stand up
brave against hail and wind.

It's spring and people are out walking between showers
keeping safe distances, waving hello

acknowledging with rueful smiles how the world changed
since winter turned toward this hard spring.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Reconfigured my desk as a standing workspace, which involved putting laptop, monitor, and keyboard up on a couple of big plastic boxes. As a result, my work mouse is now on the right, and my home laptop is on a different table with the mouse on the left.

I'm not noticing this feels any different. So much for any left brain/right brain stuff that might have been going on. I am now prepared to declare myself fully "ambi-moustrous." Still strongly right-handed in everyday life...

My work laptop has the little slider to cover the camera, and I keep it closed. Not prepared to let my co-workers look at the inside of my house; it seems a lot more intrusive than just talking, and if I have to present I can share my screen. I realize it's easier for people to follow what I'm saying if they can see me, though, so I'm considering putting up a sheet or something behind me. Weird, to be both isolated and experiencing a loss of privacy.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020


No, not what you're thinking, even if this is Potland, OR. I mean the thing where you cut the grass on your lawn with an electrical gadget that features a whirling piece of plastic cord.

What the heck is the past tense, anyway? Weed-ate? Weed-eatered? Whatever it is, I did it yesterday. Earlier than I usually get to it-- but then, we don't usually have enough dry weather this early in the year. And let's face it, working from home leaves me more free time. Morning commute is usually around half an hour, afternoon is usually an hour or more. I've found that I can actually walk home from work in about 45 minutes, but a couple of weeks of that gave me some severe pain in my right foot which I think was from plantar fascitis.

So, a couple of branches off this:

1) With this much extra time, I should come up with some projects to work on. Obviously these blog posts are one. Also, I have my KBOO show to keep running. Let's give some thought to other alternatives, shall we?

2) When we go back to working in building, I should figure out some way to use the bus commute time. I can't read on the bus, I get carsick; and audio books just don't work for me because they are sooo sloooow. I could figure out a way to listen to music. If I can get the plantar issue resolved, and go back to walking home, that would be great-- not so much in terms of time saved, but in terms of general health.

3) About that dry weather. Oregon is sliding into drought again, among other horrible pieces of climate news that have slid under the radar during the COVID crisis. Temperature records continue to be beaten, along with Antarctic and Greenland melt estimates. (I will grant, our technology on those keeps improving, so the measurements we're getting now may not be completely comparable to the ones we've gotten in the past.)

If we have bad wildfires with widespread smoke this summer, on top of continuing COVID-- well, it's beginning to look a lot like Apocalypse.

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When a friend tells you they're self-quarantining

What not to ask:
Do you really think that's necessary?
Have you been exposed?
Did someone at your job test positive?
Did someone in your family test positive?
Have you been to a funeral recently?

What to ask:
Do you have everything you need?
I'm going to the store today, can I pick up something and leave it on your porch?
Need any good book or movie recommends?
Would you like to talk? Do you have my number?
How can I help?

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

R.I.P. Kenny Rogers

The gambler he broke even.

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Friday, March 20, 2020


I still get up at 6:30, even though I don't have to be "at work" until 8:00.

At first, when I thought it was short-term, I wanted to stay on my normal schedule rather than go through another Daylight Savings-type adjustment. That's not true, by the way. I never really believed we would be back to "normal" by April 1st. So at first, I think it was just inertia.

But I'm coming to enjoy having this time to myself. I get up, take the dog out, and give him his morning biscuit. Then he goes back to bed, and I have an hour or more to drink coffee and think about things. And write.

At 6:30, the sun's not up yet but the sky is light. Still cold enough to need the space-heater for the first while. It's quiet, no traffic on the streets. The lawnmowers won't be out until later in the morning.

Caffeine levels are nominal, we have lift-off.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

I hereby resolve

on this first day of spring
That "social distancing" does not mean stay inside at all costs
That even "shelter in place" does not mean that
Nor do "self-isolation" and "quarantine"

I hereby resolve to go out and enjoy the sunshine
To walk around my neighborhood
That if I see someone else on the sidewalk
I will step into the street and avoid them
That I will nonetheless smile and say hello
That petting my neighbor's cat does not endanger them or me
I resolve to walk slower than the person in front of me
And stop every time her old small dog needs to empty its old small bladder

I resolve that social distancing and keeping in touch are mutually compatible
That human contact is more essential than ever
That video calls may be a poor substitute but they are what we have
To mow my lawn and weed the flowerbeds this weekend for sure

I resolve to reach out without touching
To speak without fear of contamination
I resolve to watch woodpeckers run up and down telephone poles
That dogs don't understand why a person wouldn't be friendly
I resolve that many things will be taken from us all
but some things we can choose not to give up.

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No, this isn't about a rodent infestation, which I have seen in my house in the past. This is about the way I currently have my desk set up. Work laptop and wireless mouse on the left, home laptop and mouse on the right, big screen monitor and ergonomic keyboard in the middle, daily dongle swap.

What I didn't mention about this before is that I mouse with my left hand at "work" and with my right at "home."

This has actually been true for years. When I got severe tendinitis in, and eventually had surgery on, y right shoulder, I wasn't able to mouse with my right hand at all-- I could barely move my arm, and even using a trackball mouse was unendurably painful. I switched to left-hand mousing, and I kind of stayed in the habit. I also gave up the trackball, because I couldn't find a decent left-hand trackball.

After the surgery, I stayed with the left-hand mousing at work, for no real reason that I can think of. But also about that time, I finally got a home computer and a good right-handed trackball. So I was using a laser mouse left-handed at work, and a trackball right-handed at home.

Eventually I gave up on the trackball and went to a laser mouse at home as well. Now I have effectively identical mice: they're both Microsoft wireless one-wheel mice, the work one has a shiny black top panel and the home one has a matte silver top. And I'm finding that the physical transfer of dongles and the transfer of mousing action from one hand to the other makes a satisfactory demarcation between work and home life.

As it seems likely we'll be under a shelter in place order soon, the mental use of space that is physically denied to us becomes more and more important.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Only in Portland

A local strip club, having closed its doors in compliance with the Governor's orders, is keeping its employees busy as a food and beverage delivery service.

You order off their website. They deliver. They dance (all at a safe distance).

My town is unquenchably silly...

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

New skills

Besides practicing out of Annie Finch's book, I've learned how to do some new stuff due to working from home.

Little stuff: how to run a meeting using Google hangout. Rearranging my Google apps tab, so that all the stupid stuff I never use and hate to be reminded exists falls to the bottom. Other config tweaks that just make my life and work that little bit easier. Nothing I couldn't have figured out at work-- but the extra constraints of working at home have forced me to focus on optimizing the things I can tweak.

Distraction, consolation: these are essential features of resilience. But so are concentration and realism. The trick is to maintain the balance, to be aware and engaged with the crisis, yet not be overwhelmed. Also, it's a dynamic balance: we can't, and should not try, to be unmoved by events, but we need to stay within what they call "productive disequilibrium." Where the emotional tension moves us toward action, rather than paralysis.

I don't mean to make it sound so easy.

This is one of the reasons I'm determined to go on with Wider Window. As people are more shut in, it becomes ever more important to allow our thoughts and imagination to range freely. Such is my service.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Grief: deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death.

Before the fact, before the act
Before the yawning grave

Before the dreaded phone call
Before the broken wave

Why isn't there a word
for the grief that comes before?

We asked around for water
Before we felt the thirst

We must have had suspicions
Before we knew the worst

Why isn't there a word
for the grief that comes before?

There's a shadow on the mountain
and a storm out on the sea

There are crows on every corner
calling raucous prophecy

Why isn't there a word
for the grief that comes before?

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About to start my first day officially working from home. I've done it before-- most recently, when Todd was laid up sick at a friend's house. We now wonder if that was an early COVID case. The timing seems improbable, but then, he was one of the very first people to get norovirus on land.

That was just for one day, and I wasn't prepared. Since the closure was announced last week, I planned this out.

On my desk right now, work laptop to the left, personal laptop to the right. In the middle is my big screen and ergonomic keyboard. In a few minutes, I'll shut down my personal laptop, swap the keyboard dongle and the monitor's VGA, and fire up the work laptop. (They each have their own wireless mouse.)

It would be easier if I had a docking station that fit both laptops. Alas, they are different generations of HP. Still, it's not as if I have to swap back and forth constantly: just once a day. If I need my personal laptop during the day for some reason, I can run it with its own screen and keyboard (not ideal, but usable).

And, oh yes-- I brought home my stash of teas, chocolate, and pistachio nuts.

On another front, I'm trying to figure out what to do about my radio show. It's important to me to keep it going through the crisis. KBOO has closed their recording studios for the duration-- so, I downloaded some recording software and am going to try to record some episodes at home and send KBOO the sound files. I've figured out how to record with a headset-- actually my work headset, which is also going to have to be dongled back and forth since I have webinars for work-- I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate other sound sources, such as YouTube audio. Reading aloud for a solid hour, even if I pause the recording when I need to, is going to be a pretty big strain.

If I can figure this out, maybe I can get together with some of my planned guests one on one and record some more episodes.

No-one knows how long this is going to go on.

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