sábado, 28 de novembro de 2020

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The holidays are a time in which we are supposed to reach out and pretend to be social, therefore I sent a few messages and spoke on the phone with some people. One of my friends here in town is upset because we have not seen each other for almost a year. She has a very busy schedule and we did not see each other that often, but after the pandemic started I did not feel comfortable being around her because she told me she does not wear a mask all the time around people. Plus now she goes to restaurants a lot and continues to not wear a mask around everyone.

I want to scream "Law of large numbers," but what is the point. Here's a basic principle about life: everyday that we do not die does not mean that we are immortal. People do not realize the priviledge of being alive today, of having access to healthcare, knowledge, good food, clean water, comfortable homes.

For millions of years it was not like this. For thousands of years, a few had priviledged lives, while most lived under dire and squalid conditions. Today, in most developed countries, we flipped our luck: only a minority struggles. I feel like we owe it to ourselves and the ones that came before us to act responsibly and to not use up scarce resources.

But I ramble: it is what it is.

On this Black Friday, I did do some shopping. I visited two garden stores and bought a few plants for the garden. I managed to find some hydrangeas and hardy ferns at half-off, which made me happy. And I bought camelias, pansies, violas, two small ivies, and a few bulbs. Now to find the will to plant all of this tomorrow, as it is supposed to cool off on Sunday.

sexta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2020

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It was a happy Thanksgiving. It actually feels better now than when it started. I am not particularly fond of holidays, but I guess one must do. I had a traditional meal with friends and, since I was not able to take my usual cranberry jam, since someone was already taking cranberries, I made Brazilian cheese bread. Dinner was roasted turkey, roasted duck, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and the cheese bread. There were also other things with gluten that I could not eat: dinner rolls, homemade bread, stuffing, corn pudding, and gravy. The desserts were pies: pecan, pumpkin, and some other ones, but I did not pay attention, since I could not eat any.

The conversation was interesting. One of my friends works at Rhodes College, so he let us know a bit about the pandemic plans in place. Students can attend classes in person or online. The college signed a contract with Baptist Memorial Health Care to provide compreenshive health sevices to the college. All students get tested as soon as they arrive on the campus and every two weeks after arrival by a nurse team from the hospital that will visit the campus.

Three residiential halls are empty and are being reserved for quarantining students, should anyone test positive. If a student lives alone and test positive, (s)he quarantines by (herself)himself; if more than one student live together, then if one test positive, all must quarantine. While the students are under quarantine, food gets dropped off at their door.

It seems like an adequate plan, so we will see how things turn out.

quinta-feira, 26 de novembro de 2020

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Some of my friends in Portugal have reached out to me concerned about my well-being. Nothing in my life has changed significantly because I have been social distancing, working from home, and limiting my outings since March 19. I did travel during the summer for a few days, but I had very limited contact with people and I always wore a mask. Furthermore, I have only eaten outside of home three times since March.

The only calculated risk that I have taken is that I had surgery in July and I have had several medical appointments, including at the dentist. Still, I feel the risk of being exposed to the virus is minimal. My goal is not to eliminate my exposure completely, but if I am exposed, I want the viral load to be small enough that it does not overwhelm my immune system.

I see a lot of people complaining about everything that they cannot do, but I am, for the most part, grateful for everything in my life. I am grateful that my job allows me to work from home and that I live in a city that takes risk seriously and works hard to keep me and other citizens safe. The authorities have to set the tone and step up to the plate because not everyone understands risk. But I also have to take responsibility for my own safety and the safety of the few people with whom I still interact.

Nevertheless, I am angry that there are people who do not take this threat seriously and especially angry at people in power who fly by the seat of their pants. With the amount of money that is spent on education and science research, there is absolutely no excuse for authorities to remain ignorant of what the scientific community says. Of course, not everyone in the scientific community is conservative about risk or even capable of doing cost-benefit analysis, but the majority gave us good advice.

Although the virus is opportunistic, many of the bad things that have happened did not have to happen. It was our unwillingness to prepare and our own perceived invincibility that contributed to the problem. How many times did we have the opportunity to prepare and, instead, chose to squander resources? None of this was unpredictable or even inevitable. We, humans, made the poor decisions that have brought us to this point. And we will continue to pay in human lives for those mistakes until this is over.

quarta-feira, 25 de novembro de 2020

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Quando leio a imprensa portuguesa, sinto uma mistura de repugnância e contentamento. Uma notícia no Eco fala de como Portugal está abaixo da média na despesa extra de saúde por causa da pandemia. Note-se que Portugal gastar abaixo da média não é automàticamente problemático, dado que paga salários abaixo da média.

O que é problemático é o que vem a seguir: Portugal esteve bem no controle da transmissibilidade do vírus, o que fez em 32 dias. A única coisa que Portugal fez para controlar o vírus foi fechar o país na mesma altura que os outros países fecharam, só que como o vírus chegou a Portugal mais tarde, o contágio não foi tão rápido. Naquela altura, Portugal fazia poucos testes, o próprio PM Costa o disse. E depois as autoridades não fizeram rastreamento generalizado de contactos, logo como é que controlaram intencionalmente?

Como é possível que, com tanta gente a morrer, os jornalistas abdiquem de pensar crìticamente e induzam os leitores em erro? Ou talvez deva interpretar este comportamento como atrevimento e desfaçatez. Se for esse o caso, se calhar até nem estamos mal de todo. É que se as coisas já estão assim tão más, é sinal que estamos mais perto de uma mudança brusca do que se julga. Só falta alguém cair da cadeira, salvo seja...

terça-feira, 24 de novembro de 2020

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What a day! President Trump has finally given his blessing, so that the Federal government can finally and officially start working on the transition of power. We also learned today that there is a third vaccine for coronavirus, this one only about 62-90% effective, but it does not require refrigeration beyond a regular fridge. 

AstraZeneca, which is a British-Sweedish company, partnered with Oxford university o work on this vaccine and it is a nonprofit venture. The EU still does not have a pharmaceutical company with a vaccine, as Pfizer and Moderna are American, but we will likely end up with more vaccines than just these three.  

Let's see who gets what and when.

segunda-feira, 23 de novembro de 2020

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One of my American friends cooked cranberry jam this morning, the recipe that I make and that I had given to her about 10 years ago, while spending Thanksgiving with her in Denver, Colorado. I do not take credit for the recipe, for I found it in a magazine, but what caught my eye when I first saw it was that one of the ingredients is Port wine. I like to use Ruby Port, just because I like the color so much, so there is always a bottle of Port at home.

Every year I get a message from my friend letting me know how everyone in her family enjoyed the cranberries, but this year, since they will not be together, the message said that everyone was sad because they were going to miss eating it. She sent me a photo of her Port Sandeman bottle saying that she and her husband were also drinking a glass to their favorite Portuguese-American.

I always get amused when my Portuguese friends tell me that I am so negative about Portugal. I sell the hell out of Portugal. If I were in charge, Portugal would be a rich country. As it is, it will continue to become poorer and milk the EU for cash. Oh well, dá Deus nozes a quem não tem dentes...

domingo, 22 de novembro de 2020

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I almost missed my Saturday Zoom call with my Houston girlfriends. A big chunk of the conversation was still dominated by politics and the election. All of us are still social distancing and I suppose that we are all used to it now. It has become the new normal; the thought of being in a carefree environment with other people is the awckward situation now.

My Memphis girfriends continue to have the monthly dinner in restaurants, but I stopped going after the pandemic. It just feels strange that they do it in a restaurant. I could understand meeting in someone's backyard and spending some time with each other outside, but they always go to a restaurant. And there was a Zoom call once, I think, but I did no participate.

It's funny how one can be friends with such different people.

The numbers in the U.S. continue to be bleak and North Dakota is the place in the world with the most daily deaths per million people. If one looks at the progression of cases geographically across continental USA, there are hardly any regions with two spikes. The areas that did really poorly in the Spring are doing better now than the areas that lagged behind in the beginning. Thus it took the virus about 7-9 months to spread everywhere.

When the pandemic is over and done with, I wonder what people will do with the massive amount of data that is being collected every where around the world.

sábado, 21 de novembro de 2020

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Yesterday, the father of one of my friend's passed away unexpectedly. The pandemic is bad enough, but losing your father one week before Thanksgiving is really sad. This is the most important holiday for Americans, the one that you spend with family and loved ones.

I can't think of what to say when someone dies. All the words seem insufficient and there is nothing that one can do to soften the blow. It is hard for me to see other people suffer, perhaps even harder than being in their shoes. But if our species is anything, it is resilent.

My friend was at work when she heard the news. Her coworkers hugged her to comfort her, pandemic be damned. I don't know of a people who hugs each other more than Americans. When they talk about human touch, they mean it literally. In Portuguese, we don't have human touch, we have "calor humano." Human heat would not ring the same.

Mike, my garden guy, was supposed to come today, but had a change of heart and took the day off. He said he was too tired. Sometimes I worry about him. I spend more time than I should trying to figure out how much money he makes in a year. It can't be that much. He charges $35 per hour and a year has about 2000 hours, so that would be $70K per year, except that he does not work eight hours a day, thus it has to be less. I think he probably puts in half the time. I could not live on that. I suppose my Mother was correct: I am too ambitious.

I am taking this week off work and hope that I will find the will to read a book. And I could also start refreshing my French.

sexta-feira, 20 de novembro de 2020

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Loving County, in Texas, has one case of Covid-19. What's so special about it? This was the last Covid-19-free county in the continental United States. The virus is everywhere now. There is no point in shutting down anything at this point. You should just wear a mask, avoid people, and if you cannot avoid them, then at least stay far away from them. In the words of Anthony Fauci:
I want to really be explicit about this, because whenever I talk about simple things like uniform wearing of masks, keeping physical distance, avoiding crowds (particularly indoors), doing things outdoors to the extent possible with the weather, and washing hands frequently, that doesn’t mean shutting down the country. You can still have a considerable amount of leeway for business, for economic recovery, if you just do those simple things.

~ Anthony Fauci, The NYT

quinta-feira, 19 de novembro de 2020

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Around September 11 and 12, RTP published some of the first news regarding Covid-19 explaining only a portion of excess deaths in Portugal, about 30%. On September 17, the number of death certificates started to revert to the mean and so we went from Covid-19 explaining 30% of excess deaths to it explaining more than 50% in a few weeks. It also helped that the international media started to look at excess deaths and the Portuguese miracle did not come across as very credible.

But here's the catch: death certificate data are not considered final until 2 years from now and, by then, very few people will be paying attention to see if any changes have been made to history. Revisions to the pandemic data follow mostly a whimsical schedule.

Two days ago, on November 16, 4375 cases, which had taken place earlier in the pandemic, were added to the cumulative number of cases. The reason for the increase was a change in the data analysis system used. That explanation does not hold water because, obviously, data analysis systems do not produce cases. These cases had to have been reported in some other form and were being witheld from the old system for no obvious reason. But why add them now, after all, what are 4375 in a total of over 200 thousand? They would have had more weight earlier on.

I do not trust the data from the Portuguese authorities because much of Portuguese data is manipulated for political reasons: how else would a country without a functioning justice system be considered the 7th ranked democracy in the world? The level of absurdity would be comical were it not for the fact that by manipulating the data on the pandemic, people are unable to evaluate risk properly, which leads to more people getting sick and dying.

quarta-feira, 18 de novembro de 2020

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Next week is Thanksgiving, which will be a quite dangerous time because of the pandemic. This is the most important holiday for Americans: it is a time in which families get together and nd also invite random people into their homes, as it is quite un-American to spend Thanksgiving alone. Canada has already had their Thanksgiving and the number of infected people increased.

I have already received an invitation to spend Thanksgiing with a coworker's family and I also have open invitations to some of my friends' get-togethers. Additionally, my girlfriends in Houston had also suggested that we hold a virtual Thanksgiving party via Zoom. This latter option seems to be the safest.

On Facebook, a few Portuguese people have started to talk about their plans to go to Portugal over Christmas. I think it's too risky, plus we don't know if countries will close their borders or will implement quarantines. This is not the year to travel and there is nothing to gain from exposing ourselves and our loved ones to such risk. We are fortunate to live in a time in which most people have access to technology that allows them to talk and see their loved ones at very little cost. People should take advantage of it.

terça-feira, 17 de novembro de 2020

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In the Western world, there are two schools of thought when it comes to healthcare: one is what people denote as socialized medicine, in which the healthcare system is mostly financed by taxes and there is universal healthcare; the other one is a for-profit healthcare system in which not everyone chooses to have access to routine healthcare. The healthcare system of each country usually stands within a spectrum of these two extremes, but there are hardly any pure systems, although many European countries fall closer to socialized medicine and the U.S. is closer to the for-profit system.

The U.S. is often criticized for being one of the richest countries that does not provide universal healthcare to its citizens. One should note that in the U.S., there are groups of people with access to socialized medicine type healthcare, for example, the elderly have access to Medicare which is funded with a federal tax on the working labor force, and veterans receive healthcare through a federal funded system. Medicaid is another system that is a joint effort of the federal and the state governments, which cares for children, pregnant women, parents, elderly, persons with disabilities, etc., who qualify (meet a low-income threshold).

After the Affordable Care Act was passed, health insurance became accessible to anyone in the U.S., as people with low income could have the federal government pay for part or most of their health insurance premiums. However, when the ACA individual mandate was repealed, people did not have to get health insurance, whereas when it was in place, those who chose to not get it had to pay a penalty, so there was an incentive to get health insurance.

Do not assume that some people are completely shut out of healthcare in the U.S. because federal law requires that hospitals provide emergency care to anyone, regardless of ability to pay, so you could say that in the U.S. there is universal access to catastrophic healthcare, but not universal acess to preventive healthcare. But even that is not valid everywhere. For example, San Francisco, in California, has offered universal healthcare access to their residents since 2007 and, more recently, states like California and New York have started to move in that direction as well. The main point to keep in mind is that independently of what people's views are, there is likely some place in America where they can live accordingly.

Perhaps the greatest critics of the American healthcare system are Americans themselves, but there are also many Americans who defend it because they feel that depending on the government for healthcare leads to being complacent. Furthermore, the U.S. federal government does invest in healthcare in the form of research, public health threat monitoring, etc.

One can succumb to the temptation of trashing the way Americans manage healthcare, but it is wise to remember that of the Western countries, the U.S. was best positioned to prevent the pandemic. Since the Bush Administration, there had been a multi-administration effort to try to mitigate pandemic risk. And the Obama Administration had negotiated with China to keep American observers there so as to keep track of the risk of a new virus making the jump from animals to humans.

Despite the animosity between the Democratic and Republican parties, there are many policies that continue from one administration to the next regardless of party. For example, over the last 50 years, we saw the development of biofuels and reduction of the dependence on oil, the development of the Internet, creation of the information economy with the collection of massive amounts of data and satellite imagery, etc. All of these were the work of multiple Republic and Democratic administrations.

Even in international relations, for several administrations, the United States pursued a policy that promoted the development of China because the sheer size of the country make it very attractive as a market for American products. When I first came to the United States, in 1995, I worked at the Office of International Programs at the University where I studied. Most of the students that were managed by the OIP were sponsored by foreign governments or non-profits, many from China and other Asian countries. I remember one of the first meetings I attended in which Dr. Art Klatt, the director of the OIP, spoke about how interesting China was for American companies: think about what it would mean if each Chinese person consumed a Coca-Cola a day, he would say.

The Trump Administration is the first that has interrupted the flow of inter-administration policy and the current policy has the United States navigating with a short term focus, which is completely uncharacteristic of American policy. The size of the pandemic is a faillure of American policy, but then again, all other countries are failing, which brings me to my point: all countries were dealt the same challenge, but the social contract that citizens have with their governments is different.

In European countries, the focus is on providing access to healthcare care to everyone. In the United States, the focus was to prevent the situation from hapenning in the first place. Both systems have failed and few, if any, can claim to be better than the other.

segunda-feira, 16 de novembro de 2020

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While walking Julian this afternoon, I ran into my neighbor who was feeling under the weather a few days ago with a simus infection. Since he was unable to attend his partner's birthday party, we sent some leftovers. Today, he thanked me profusely for the carrot vegetable soup and the crustless quiche that I had made. It was very comforting, he said. I thought it was amusing to hear someone rave about vegetable soup.

He also drank some of the Earl Gray tea that I gave to his partner for him. I find that Twinings Earl Grey is the best tea to take when one is with an affliction of the respiratory system. The tea is infused with bergamot oil, which has antibacterial properties and is a nasal decongestant. It is especially potent when taken hot. I always recomend it to friends and often offer it if someone is not feeling well. To be honest, I do not offer it; I just order people to drink it because that is how I roll.

My other neighbor across the street has tried two of my soups. They were big hits and I am kind of becoming known for them, which is kind of funny because I seldom make soup, but I am thinking that I should probably be more diligent about it. These last few weeks, my immune system started acting up again, so I should focus more on vegetables, fruit, and animal protein, as those things do not seem to have any effect on me.

Cereals, especially ones with gluten, but also others, beans, and anything sugary, even alcohol, trigger reactions. I found out about the beans the other day, while I was trying a vegetarian diet for a few days. It was hell and I am still not recovered. I have two allergic eczemas that itch like crazy and I still have lots of inflamation. I will get my diet right one of these days: the more you fail, the more you learn enough to get it right.

domingo, 15 de novembro de 2020

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My only question right now is if anyone in the Trump White House will be dumb enough to do something akin to treason. It appears the administration has been firing people who are not Trump loyalists, while replacing them for yes-men. I suspect we still have another six months of circus, until people get accustomed to the idea of a new President.

Jared and Ivanka's return to NUC will also be entertaining and I called that one years ago: they have done so much harm to Trump's name that they will be treated as pariahs. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you.

At any rate, let us be realists: in six months, this pandemic will likely be over. The harsh winter will speed up the contagion and the most susceptible will die. Not even Biden can stop this train wreck from crashing at full speed.

sábado, 14 de novembro de 2020

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I received a message from my medical group regarding my flu shot. They were a bit authoritarian and asked me to just call and schedule it, which I did, so at 1 PM I went in to get it. Normally, I get my flu shot at work, when the nurses visit the office once a month for vitamins and flu shots.

There were hardly any patients at the office, but they must be busy because when I tried to schedule my physical, the next opening with my nurse practictioner was in December 9. There was an opening today at 1 PM, but since I had eaten breakfast I could not take it.

As far as I can tell, patients are getting the usual level of care at the doctor and there aren't any shortages of flu shots. It's kind of amazing, considering what I hear about American healthcare from some people. Of course, many Americans themselves think that the system is totally rotten. When the Covid-19 vaccine gets discovered, I will not be as eager to get it.

We, the person who takes care of my lawn and I, continue to tear the garden down. I actually wondered today if he had health insurance. If he does, he has to buy it via Obamcare, since he mostly does odd jobs. I should ask him about it. One of the health insurance providers that I used via Obamacare keeps sending me emails saying they would like to have me back. Well, I am tended to, now.

Last night I dreamt of tornados and hurricanes and today it was announced that tropical storm Iota has formed. This year sure just gets better by the minute.