domingo, 31 de maio de 2020

Version 2.027

I often wonder what is was like to live in controversial times, so when I meet older people than me, I am always keen on hearing what stories they have to tell. Now it is my time to collect the stories, but it feels like I have nothing interesting to say.

Those of us who have kept our jobs, are not minorities, and are wise enough to stay at home to avoid contact with carriers of the virus are mostly protected. Or privileged, as it is so fashionable to say now. Privilege is an odd condition. I have a male friend who is bullied by his boss. If he were a woman, it would be a question of sexism; since they're both white men, they are both privileged.

While parts of the country live through riots and the big cities have imposed curfews, I think I am mostly safe from the violence; although, I thought I heard three gunshots and a car escaping earlier in the evening. It must have been all in my head because there were no police car sirens after.

Last year, a man got shot nearby and died. When I went to the Memphis in May barbecue festival, I met one of the detectives that worked on that case. I asked him a question about it, but he just stayed quiet, as if to wait for time to skip a beat and that moment to dissipate. Something in his demeanor stayed with me. One could feel the emotional toll of that line of business.

There are police officers now that are hurt that so many people have decided to criticize the police or assume that they are all capable of killing innocent citizens. It is the acts of the few that shape our perception of the many. It is not fair, but the riots are the price we pay for not acting sooner.

Today's JFK quote on Twitter is on point:

sábado, 30 de maio de 2020

Version 2.026

It is strange to wake up and read about riots on the news, when one is mostly locked up in the house. Today, I did take Julian to the vet for a follow up visit and we also went to Fletcher Creek Park for a few minutes. The week started with me not feeling well. Many mornings, I wake up and my right arm is numb, especially the hand. My back is tight, I feel the muscles contract around my bones and it hurts. I also feel a tightness around my throat and the whole thing just freaks me out. I am not a hypochondriac, but I definitely know when something looks off.

On Wednesday, I sent a message via the medical center app to the nurse practitioner that does my check ups to see if I could schedule a visit. Within a couple of hours, I got a reply and a phone call scheduling an appointment for the following day, which was yesterday. I had to see a doctor, since my nurse practitioner is out on maternity leave.

This doctor seemed thorough and I liked her honesty. She thinks the numbness in my arm might be due to carpal tunnel, which makes sense, since my desk at home is not the best for my wrist. The tightness in the throat might be due to anxiety or acid reflux, but she also wanted to check that my thyroid was normal. I told her that I did not have any reasons to be stressed out, but she replied that the relationship between the mind and the body is something that is still not fully understood -- I really liked that she said that; it shows humbleness and honesty --, so she suggested that I talk to a counselor, who could teach me relaxation techniques to see if that would make a difference.

Until today, I had not felt acid reflux, so I don't know if that is the power of suggestion or merely a coincidence. The doctor did mention that I could have silent acid reflux, which would not be noticeable in a normal way. Today, someone called to schedule an appointment for the counselor, but I missed the call, so I still need to work that out. We shall see... Well, I also need to go to the ophthalmologist.

sexta-feira, 29 de maio de 2020

Version 2.025

I am continuously amazed at how quickly things can happen in the U.S. We started our lockdown on March 16 and on March 25 the CARES act was passed in the Senate and two days later it was signed into law by the President. The stimulus checks started to roll out in April and today, May 28, the Chicago Federal Reserve released a working paper analysing the marginal propensity to consume of a sample of individuals who received those checks.

One can see how closely the Federal Reserve tracks the economy, no doubt this speed was informed by the long and subdued recovery of the Great Recession and by Congress' timidity in spending enough on fiscal policy to respond to that challenge. This time, the Federal Reserve Chairman does his PR rounds and takes every chance he gets to encourage Congress to not slack off.

Europe is still debating what to do. Monetary policy is not an obstacle, but governments not only drag their feet, but show complete lack of solidarity. Each country followed their own response to the medical crisis, even though the failure in one country would end up seeping into other countries. Even now, there is not a single entity in the EU guiding the medical response.

I am a bit disgusted with the Portuguese obsession of pointing out the failures of the U.S. dealing with Covid-19. New York became a focus point because Italy was a focus point: 75% of the cases in the U.S. came from Italy and most ended up in New York. And if one adds up all the data for the European Union, does it put the U.S. to shame? I think not. Europeans claim that their healthcare is so much better than what Americans have and yet, not only did they fail to contain the pandemic in their own countries, but they also ended up being the cause of much of the problem for America.

quinta-feira, 28 de maio de 2020

Version 2.024

On Friday, we celebrated the 2-month anniversary of Congress passing the CARES Act, which is one of the relief bills to deal with the adverse effects of Covid-19. The CARES act is massive in size, the most expensive bill ever enacted in the U.S.: $2,2 trillion. For comparison sake, U.S. GDP was $20.54 trillion in 2018.

It was spent on direct payments to individuals (according to that law, individuals making less than $75000/year qualify to receive $1200 immediately; those that make more than $75000, but less than $99000 can receive a smaller amount of money. Children up to 17 years old got $500 each), loans to small businesses, payments for healthcare expenses, tax rebates and tax credits, etc. This was the third bill that Congress had passed to deal with Coronavirus and after that another bill was passed to address salary protection. At this moment, Congress is debating whether to pass more bills to keep the economy afloat.

I thought that, despite the insanity of having Donald Trump as President, Congress was very generous for how quickly it was all put together and, surprisingly, a lot of the payments were sent to the families within a month of the CARES Act passing, for example. Of course, people who became unemployed also were entitled to unemployment insurance, but that is administered by the states, but since the systems were overwhelmed, payments have been very late for some people, unfortunately.

Of course, all of this comes after the U.S. Federal Reserve started to flood the economy with money. It is completely unprecedented the scale of intervention; at one point, the Federal Reserve even hinted that they would support nonprofits directly. On Marketplace and Twitter, Kai Ryssdal shared that it was "no asset left behind." No other country in the world has spent as much money or has gone as far as the U.S. to protect its people and the economy. But society is also trying to step up to the challenge.

One of the first things I did when the economy was shutdown was to make a $250 donation to World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization started by José Andrés, the Spanish chef. When I was in Washington, DC, last February, which seems like an eternity now, I went to Jaleo, his restaurant, twice, even though I was only in the area for about four days, and I made sure to drag a friend with me. I really admire the work that Chef Andrés does, so I wanted to support that work.

The company I work for rewards and facilitates employee donations and volunteer work in the community and we are also encouraged to share our work in this area with our colleagues, so as to inspire our team members to participate. I am always happy when I see my colleagues in Brazil and Portugal post their accomplishments toward supporting the communities in which they work. Furthermore, the company usually matches 50% of our donations, up to $1000 per employee per year.

So when I was setting up my donation to WCK, I went to my employer's community support website, but because of the urgency of the pandemic, they advised us to donate directly to the nonprofit, since that would get the money to the nonprofits quickest, and then submit my donation receipt to get the company match. And that is why I ended up donating $250 to WCK right away and then set up my paycheck to send $25 every two weeks to them (I get paid bi-weekly).

Every month, I also put $25 in my Kiva account and that money only gets loaned to women in underdeveloped countries because that is who I like to loan to. what I do does not sound like much, but every drop in the bucket counts. There are other donations I make, as my goal is to try to donate $200 of every paycheck to causes I cared deeply for; but I also make one-off contributions, if I feel I can make a difference.

I recognize that today I lead a life of privilege and, despite having been unemployed several times, I have always had savings or unemployment insurance. If all else failed, there was also access to credit cards. I have always understood that the United States is a high risk country where you are expected to take care of yourself before asking for help, so I have always prioritized investments and savings over spending. My personal philosophy is that you are only one event away from your whole life collapsing.

For many of us, this pandemic is that event and we who are well should recognize the sheer luck that it has not hit us -- yet, because one never knows -- and we must remain humble. But once we take care of ourselves we must do better to help others. For the last two months, many of my Portuguese friends have felt sorry for me because I am in the U.S. and they presume that it is a horrible country, where one does not have access to healthcare or basic needs, but they feel safe in Portugal.

I do not share that experience. I have been reading some of the news in Portugal and there is something very wrong with a country in which, in the middle of a pandemic, the Ministry of Finance delays income tax refunds because someone doesn't want to let go of that cash, when the European Central Bank has clearly stated that the countries have carte blanche to spend.

But what is sickening is that this lackadaisicalness in returning people's own money is announced less than a week after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of the Republic, says that there are almost 400 thousand Portuguese people who are seeking help to have access to food, which is an euphemism for the fact that these people are at risk of going hungry. How many of these folks are entitled to IRS refunds? Why is it defensible to delay IRS refunds in a country where hundreds of thousands could be going hungry? Even Donald Trump does not dare to be this callous -- he signed off on those stimulus checks, literally.

quarta-feira, 27 de maio de 2020

Version 2.023

I got a check in the mail for $20.27 from the lab that did some of my blood work a few months ago. They had sent me a bill, which I had paid, now they sent me a refund probably because they charged me a price that was higher than what they had agreed with the insurance company.

Last week, I also had to call the bill department of the hospital where I did a follow-up ultrasound to my abnormal mammogram. That bill was over $900, which I had to pay because I have a high-deductible insurance, so I must pay the first $1800 of medical bills every year; after that, the insurance kicks in. They had told me in the bill that I could pay over six months interest-free, instead of paying it all at once, so that's what I did, except I did not call them to inform them of what I was doing, so, apparently, they expected payment in full.

I explained to the lady that I had merely followed an option they had given me in the bill, but she said that that was their "suggestion," but I needed to contact them to let them know that I was following their "suggestion." This is the part of life where I get lost because if they give me an option or a "suggestion" and I follow it, I assume they recognize that I am following the option that they have given me. Hello -- computers, if-then statements, etc. Anyway, I did not want to pay the bill in full because I thought the price of the exam was very high. Yeah, sure, if I were in Europe, I would pay a lot more in taxes to fund healthcare, but I live in crazy America.

I finally figured out that the reason why my current health insurance is set up like this is twofold. On one hand, I don't pay much for health insurance, just $65 every two weeks, and my employer pays $135. The other reason is that I have a health savings account. This is the first time that I have had an employer that offers us the option of a health savings account; usually, I have only had access to flexible spending accounts and money that we put into an FSA is forfeited if we do not use it within that year.

The beauty of and HSA is that I get to keep it for the rest of my life and I can even pass it on to my heirs, although I do not believe my dog will live that long. I can save up to $3500/year for medical expenses tax-free and I actually don't need to save that much, because my employer contributes $750 per year to that account. So, long story short, I do have the money saved up to pay for my health expenses, but I don't like to spend money, and since that account earns interest and I don't ever have to pay taxes on that money, if I use it for healthcare, I have decided that I am not going to touch it.

But there must be some other malfunction in my brain because my employer gives us up to $500/year to do an annual check-up, but I never submit the paperwork to get some of that money, nor do I have my check-up as early on as possible to get the maximum amount. I also have not enrolled in the doctor by telephone services that we have through work, nor have I enrolled in the service that helps us to manage our health expenses. And I need to go to the eye doctor because I am having trouble reading without glasses, but I have not scheduled an appointment. Instead, I bought cheap reading glasses.

I know: I am a disaster waiting to happen and it's not because routine healthcare is expensive for me; it's just that I am lazy like most other Americans. And my favorite Disney character is Uncle Scrooge...

terça-feira, 26 de maio de 2020

Version 2.022

I had grand plans for today, Memorial Day, and the last day of the long weekend: I was going to do my Portuguese taxes. Alas, I dilly-dallied and spent most of the day reading. I finished a book and started another one. Yesterday, the iPad cheered me on because I read for 27 minutes, which it said was my daily goal. If this was meant to make me feel good, it did not, as I felt like a loser. So today, I read way more than 27 minutes to teach the iPad that my attention span is slightly greater than what it had assumed. But I still need to do taxes...

Throughout the day, I thought about the meaning of the holiday and the lives lost trying to protect the country. Americans do a good job with holidays; despite all the sales and shopping, people do think about the meaning of the occasion that is being observed. At the end of the day, the neighbors and I got together and collected all the flags with which we had decorated the neighborhood.

At my place, I only have a small Portuguese flag that I keep on my desk, so I do not decorate the house for Portuguese holidays. I have been thinking about doing a random act of kindness for June 10. There is a Portuguese young man who lives in an adjacent neighborhood, so I was thinking about putting together a basket of Portuguese products and dropping it at his door. Maybe I'll even include a Portuguese book, since I'm feeling particularly generous.

segunda-feira, 25 de maio de 2020

Version 2.021

The highlight of today was going to Burke's Books to pick up my order of three John Grisham books: Camino Winds, Ford County: Stories, and Theodore Boone: The Accomplice; the latter one is a signed copy that I intend to give to my nephew. I may be able to FedEx it, since the regular mail has been iffy, to say the least. Last year, the USPS failed to deliver a box of books that I had mailed myself when I was in Boston, then over Christmas, a friend in Portugal tried to mail be a gift and it managed to find its way to Prague, but not the U.S. One of my friends works at FedEx and about a year ago told me that their CEO's expectation was that, within a couple of years, the post office would be out of business. Seems about right.

After having the books dropped off in the backseat of my car, I parked on a side street and went for a walk along Cooper St. to the old Galloway Methodist church where Johny Cash gave his first performance. I took a photo of the statue of the singer and the plaques explaining the significance of the place, but Julian was restless, breathing heavily from the heat, and a woman who walked by pointed at him saying that he was cute.

She seemed odd, dressed in a stretchy dress showing her full figure. She looked like a prostitute, but then I thought I was being crazy. I have never seen a prostitute in the U.S., well, I probably have, but I have never been able to tell that they were prostitutes. I don't think I could even give directions on how to find one. Anyway, all these thoughts went through my mind, but no conclusions were attained.

As I finished taking the photos, the woman started talking to me. She asked if I knew Memphis well. I told her well enough. Memphis is a bit hard to know, it's very spread out and some roads are windy and not on a grid, so sometimes you take a turn thinking you're going one way and end up way out of where you intended to go. She started to tell me that she was looking for help. She was from out of town and was staying with a friend who needed to go to a hospital, but the trip crossed state-lines and she couldn't find someone to take her friend.

Hmmm... I played dumb and told her that the best way would be to call the insurance company of her friend and have them arrange for transportation. Of course, she did not look like her friend would have health insurance. She carried on with her story. Someone had told her that she could take a bus to her hometown, but she only had $4 and the trip was $17 and they did give her a cigarette and a Metro pass to go to the long-distance bus station, but what those people did not realize was that she had grand-babies, whom she could not leave alone. It defied logic, but the point was that she either wanted me to volunteer to give her a ride somewhere two and a half hours away or, most likely, give her some cash.

The first time I came back to Memphis after moving to Houston, I was riding with a friend on Ridgeway Rd, right next to the railroad overpass, where a lot of homeless people would hang out. There was a wooded corner full of tall bushes, that they would use as a bathroom, that much I figured out during the many times I drove by on my way to and from work. As we passed that area, my friend, who was in her seventies, told me to never try to help a homeless person. She had given a ride to a homeless woman once, and it turned out that the woman had a mental disorder and pulled out a knife on my friend. Duly noted.

Sometimes, at intersections, I give money to the beggars. I know we're not supposed to because it could be used for drugs and we're basically allowing them to remain homeless, when they could seek actual help instead. But, today, I gave almost all the cash I had to the man that sits in the intersection near my house selling the Sunday paper for $1. I was sorry that I did not have a $20, so I gave me a handful of dollar-bills. I think I still had $2 left, but I decided that it might not be safe to give it to that woman, since there was nobody else on the street if things did not go well. So I started to walk away as I told her that I was sorry, but I could not help her. She stayed behind and I continued walking.

In Memphis, the border between being in a safe and an unsafe part of town is very easy to cross and I suppose that now with the pandemic, things might be slightly different and parts that used to be safe have become less so. At least, I had a dog with me. And my dog gets really wacky when people get too close. The woman was wise to keep her distance.

domingo, 24 de maio de 2020

Version 2.020

I just saw tomorrow's cover of the NYT. It will have the names of 1000 victims of Covid-19, which is about 1% of the almost 100 thousand people that have died in the U.S. In the beginning, I had this idea that it would not become widespread. We'd work really hard and stop it; but soon I began to quash my hope with the reality of the numbers: there were too many carriers for it to be stopped. I remember being in that limbo, that time when one could feel the divergence from the old normal, almost like the time-space continuum was splitting in two and we entered the one where bad things happen.

Even still, I think about how fortunate we have been to have fairly good supply chains for food and access to medicine that mostly works. Every once in a while I remember how sick people used to be bled in order to remove the demons that caused illness. Was that not a highly effective way of eliminating the weakest people? One cannot know how many people died from the cure, rather than the disease, but those that survived, those were truly exceptional specimens of our race.

sábado, 23 de maio de 2020

Version 2.019

It stormed this afternoon. The clouds moved swiftly like the vapor of a boiling kettle and, for a few minutes, the wind was so strong that, when I got home, a cedar planter was knocked down. I almost forgot that my TX girlfriends and I had scheduled a happy hour on Zoom.

One of the best things that happened during the Trump administration was meeting this group of friends, which was formed at a Women's March. Since then, we have met for dinner and parties at each other's houses, outings to the theater and museums, art crawls, road trips, etc. Even though some of us scattered across three states and we live in four different cities, we still keep in touch and do things together.

Today, I was reading a comment about Trump in someone's Facebook wall and the person was saying that Trump was not that bad, even though the writer was not a supporter. How much worse could he be? This is not a rhetorical question. In our Zoom conversation, someone mentioned that the highest risk we face was if he were to lose the election, since he'd still be in office over two additional months, from election day in November until the third week of January. But if that were the case, his powers as a lame-duck president would be diminished. No, I disagreed, in my opinion, the next six months will be the most critical. In any case, today's WashPost has a story about the Trump administration considering resuming nuclear weapons testing.

But, to the point of that gentleman, who does not think that Trump is that bad, I get what he's saying because I did not meet my girlfriends at a pro-Obama rally--there were none and, had there been, I wouldn't have gone. People confuse the actions of President Trump with the reactions of the people. He is very bad, but because he is bad, many of us know that we must rise to the occasion and be better. If the country fails, much of the blame falls on us because we are the ultimate safekeepers of the Republic: "a government of the people for the people."

In these times, we know we cannot win alone, so we forge friendships and alliances to support each other. I think that is why my group of TX friends is so successful. After I moved to Memphis, I was also invited to join a group of ladies. We usually meet for dinner once a month and that is an undertaking. We are all different and, apart from eating and being women, there is not that much more that unites us. Plus, we never talk about politics; we do not wish to be divided and, yet, we are.

sexta-feira, 22 de maio de 2020

Version 2.018

We put out flags around the neighborhood today in preparation for Memorial Day, which is Monday. I met a new neighbor who lives across the street from me. Neither of us is new in the neighborhood, but I had never seen her. She, on the other hand, knew exactly who I was. She said "Oh you have a fire!" I did not understand. "You're the one with the fireplace, you use your fireplace all the time." Ah, yes, that is me. She proceeded to inform me that she sees my fireplace all the time, but she does not see me, except when I'm outside gardening, since I'm always tending to the garden. Man, she must spend more time looking out the window than my dog.

Anyway, I am not very quick at putting the flags down, plus the soil was very dry and it was hard to poke the ground. I think I may have busted a nerve on my right thumb because it feels awfully numb. Oh and I also set off someone's car alarm. I didn't even get close to it and it just went off. I apologized to the young man who came to check on his car, but I feel like I am the one who is owed an apology.

Speaking of young man, a funny thing happened this morning. I forgot to put the trash out, so I hurried to do it when I heard the truck in the alley. One of the trash collectors already knows me and is always sure to make some small talk. We started talking because his dream was to have a French bulldog and he would see me walking Julian in the morning. So this morning, he asked about Julian and I told him about Julian's foot. Then the young man proceeded to let me know that he was very happy because he finally had a Frenchie that his family had gotten him. He pulled out his phone to show me a picture of his little dog, a female. Then he asked what kind of food I gave Julian.

We sat there and talked for two to three minutes, but we were less than 6 feet apart. Right at that moment another neighbor greeted us from afar. I think he was shocked that I was talking to someone so close and none of us had a mask. Later in the day, I ran into that neighbor, who was fertilizing his lawn, while wearing a mask. I do not wear a mask while walking the dog, I don't see the point. I barely talk to people and, if I do, it's only a few minutes. Plus, the advantage of being an introvert is that we always keep enough distance. Maybe it's not 6 feet all the time --who came up with that distance, anyway? -- but it's far enough that one does not feel like our personal space has been breached. In fact, I don't even remember the last time I had a cold or the flu.

But this is the neighbor that thought that this virus was not that serious and that for sure he had already had it. He tried not to get too close to me, since he had seen me too close to the trash collector. I always get a kick out of seeing people scared of me.

quinta-feira, 21 de maio de 2020

Version 2.017

I took Julian to the vet and on the way over listened to the BBC World Service. That is one of the best things about living in Memphis, as I have never been anywhere else where you had three public radio stations. The first two station take turns playing classical music or talk radio and the third one has BBC World Service. It is a real treat, although one has to have an HD radio to be able to listen to all three radio stations, so that was one of the requirements I had while shopping for a car.

Anyway, one of the stories I heard was about the use of 3-D printers to produce PPE masks and the feature was about an 8-year old British girl who had decided to use her family's 3-D printer to make them. I had already heard a similar story about a family that was working day and night to produce masks in their printer. That is so wild...

If there is a silver lining to these most dark times in which we live, it is that it will spur innovation and entrepreneurship, which will define the 21st century. And from here we roll the dice to determine how nations will fare. Those who concentrate their resources on ensuring the survival of the status quo will see their fortunes worsen. And for the first time, we will have a public record of what most everyone thought or did.

Another story was about collecting information on what governments were doing to handle the pandemic. The objective was to give each country a report card to inform the public on whether a country was safe to visit. Clearly, there will be lots of investment in the ability of artificial intelligence to understand content in different languages.

Things will not stay the same, unless the goal is to remain poor.

quarta-feira, 20 de maio de 2020

Version 2.016

On Sunday evening, I found a furuncle between Julian's toes. It had just formed, so it was bright red and had not yet burst. He began to be somewhat lethargic, which I assume was from the pain. I remembered that Chopper one time had a cyst above his eye and the vet advised to put a warm wet washcloth over his eye twice a day, which I did religiously until it went away. I thought about doing that for Julian, but first did a quick search online to find out more.

One of the therapies recommended is to soak the foot in warm water twice a day. I add some essential oils that have antiseptic properties to the water. The ones I use are bergamot, eucalyptus, and lavender. The latter two also have calming properties, so by the time I finish giving Julian a massage, while his foot is soaking, he's usually pretty calm and ready to sleep. I don't let him walk as much and about 80% of his walks are done in a stroller, which he seems to enjoy. This evening, he must have been feeling better because he was pretty active and even a little mischievous.

I will drop him off at the vet tomorrow. I wanted to do it on Monday but they had no appointments for two days. And there I was feeling sorry for them, thinking that they were probably not having any pets come in and it turns out they are booked solid. Somebody told me that pet adoptions are up, since so many people did not want to be home alone during the quarantine. I hope people will look after their pets and do not abandon them once our situation improves.

terça-feira, 19 de maio de 2020

Version 2.015

Two interviews -- that's what I want to revisit. Sometimes, throughout the day, I think about what to write at this time. I smother the temptation to write about Portuguese politics. There is no point now, the process is too far ahead for it to be stopped. So, two interviews that I really enjoyed today is it.

I'm not sure why today's Marketplace podcast was not available when I walked Julian. I ended up listening to The Literary Life podcast, which is done by the owner of an independent bookstore in Miami. Hearing Miami mentioned brings me back memories of last year's visit to Art Basel-Miami. It was a very tight schedule, since I was with a group, but I reserved a few minutes to just sit in front of the ocean. "Carve this moment into your mind, it will be a while until you see it again," I told myself. The idea of a pandemic was too far out to even be contemplated, but I just felt the distance.

The first interview was with John Grisham, which is actually my second time around with him: he was interviewed not long ago in an Instagram Live by Burke's Books. I should just read one of this books and get it over and done with, especially because Burke's probably has an autographed copy of something and I like autographed books. Speaking of Burke's, today is the 20th anniversary that the current owners bought the store, which has been around since 1875, but not in the same location. I very much enjoy their current location -- there are several nice restaurants right next to it. Luckily, I have been to a few, but I am worried about their survival during this crisis. Then I remind myself that the price we pay for progress is losing things we love, there is no way around that.

The second interview was Jerome Powell on CBS yesterday, but that I only read today. He has been making the rounds in the media to try to raise awareness for the millions of people who had just pulled their head above water in the last couple of years and now have to face this massive crisis. He clearly has thought about what we learned from the financial crisis and how people did not understand that the Federal Reserve saved both Main and Wall Streets. This time, Congress also acted swiftly, but he wants to make sure that fiscal policy continues to be deployed to help those folks, the ones that are the lasts to reap the benefits of an expansion. Of course, he cannot prescribe fiscal policy, so he must be tactful:

PELLEY: And what sort of support, in your view, do you think the Congress would want to consider?

POWELL: You know, I don't give them advice. We don't have oversight over Congress. Quite the reverse, actually. We're a creature of Congress. And they have oversight over us. But -- so I don't give them advice on particular policies. But I would say, if I may, that policies that help businesses avoid avoidable insolvencies and that do the same for individuals -- keep workers in their homes, keep them paying their bills. Keep families solvent so that when this comes, we come out the other end of this, we're in a position to have a strong recovery. People will be able to spend, be able to do things. And that's what we need, to have a strong recovery when it comes.

60 Minutes, CBS News

In March, I got a call from my Representative in Congress, Steve Cohen. I voted for him in 2018, so that was a nice surprise, even though I had forgotten his name. Congressman Cohen wanted me to be aware of all the programs that Congress had passed and that I could use in case I had been affected by the Covid-19 crisis. To keep his constituents informed, he has having a telephone town hall, in which he had representatives of the Federal, State, and City government to talk about how they could assist me. Luckily, I have not been affected by this crisis, but it's nice to know that the local authorities are on the ball.

In the interview, Powell was asked what gives him hope and I particularly like his response:

PELLEY: What gives you hope in this dark time?

POWELL: Well, as I mentioned, in the long run, I would say I would never bet against the American economy or the American people. We have a great economy. We have highly industrious people. We have the most dynamic economy in the world. And we're the home of so much of the great technology in the world.

So in the long run, I would say the U.S. economy will recover. We'll get back to the place we were in February; we'll get to an even better place than that. I'm highly confident of that. And it won't take that long to get there. It will take some time to get there. So I think we're going to need to help each other through this. And we will.

60 Minutes, CBS News

We have had very good Fed Chairmen, but it is very nice to be reminded that there's a decent person ahead of the Federal Reserve. Maybe more people will get it this time.

segunda-feira, 18 de maio de 2020

Version 2.014

Today was my shopping day, which happens once every three weeks. Since I am in the market for some sheer cotton curtains, I stopped by Pottery Barn, which is in the same shopping center as Target, so might as well go in there, too. When I go shopping, I wear a mask and a hat. Sometimes I even wear sunglasses and when I look at myself in the mirror, I am reminded of the T.V. series "The Invisible Man." But no one laughs at my insanity.

Since Pottery Barn was about to close, there was hardly any shoppers. All the employees had face masks on, there were wipes to disinfect the shopping carts, and the bathroom was cleaned after every customer use. At Target, things were a lot more relaxed. Mask use was not enforced and many people were in the middle of the aisle chatting, as if we were in a relaxed environment.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to do my groceries at The Fresh Market. At the door there was a sign saying that we were required to wear a mask and it was enforced. I don't know if it was because of our circumstances or maybe it was the music that was sad--they always play classical music or jazz, but one could feel a certain heaviness in the air. Nonetheless, it is my favorite grocery store and I enjoyed my visit.

During my ride, I listened to BBC World Service, which spent most of the time talking about things related to Covid-19. The hottest topic today is how the pandemic is going in Brazil, especially S. Paulo. Hospitals are at 90% capacity and things are not looking too promising. I feel for my colleagues, but we are all working from home until the end of May or even after.

domingo, 17 de maio de 2020

Amanhã: “a teimosia de haver exames” …

Na mais recente entrevista do Primeiro Ministro, este confessou que a decisão mais difícil que teve de tomar face à pandemia foi quando, no dia 12 de Março, anunciou o encerramento das escolas. Na véspera, o Conselho Nacional de Saúde Pública não se pronunciara favoravelmente pelo encerramento generalizado de escolas, esclarecendo que apenas naquelas zonas onde os serviços de saúde o recomendassem se devia fazê-lo. Recordo que a Universidade do Minho encerrara, por deliberação do Reitor, no dia  8, e também estavam fechadas as escolas dos concelhos de Felgueiras e Lousada e algumas da Amadora e Portimão. Existia no entanto uma forte pressão das associações representativas de pais e de escolas, para o encerramento, e começava a falar-se num “alarme social” latente.

Version 2.013

For the life of me, I cannot fathom the source of my organization streak today. I put away some leftover Christmas decorations that were left in the fourth bedroom and got rid of a bunch of packaging materials from the move. I am always sorry to toss empty boxes because I always feel like it is wasteful. I am particularly fond of smaller boxes in which you can mail a small gift to a friend. Of course, I do not mail anything now.

A long time ago, I used to spend over $500 a year mailing things to people. I do not like shopping for myself, but I love shopping for others. Then, boxes I had mailed started being detained in customs, some packages got lost, and I trained myself to stop mailing things. Conveniently, the Post Office is almost out-of-business; thus I have no need for boxes anymore. Except, I always think that they may come in handy for my next move.

It is nice to enter the fourth bedroom and not have as much clutter. Another benefit is that I found my previous notebook where I kept track of my budget and savings accounts. Sometimes, I think of my obsessions and they feel foreign, like I have no idea why I would do such things and, yet, there they are in my own handwriting. And I continue to do them.

Every two weeks, when I get a paycheck, I write down all the balances of my accounts in a notebook -- in pencil and paper, not a computer notebook. If I do this, it helps me increase my savings and control my expenses. I don't budget, really, I just force myself to look at what I have.

Paper and pencil help me keep my obsessions under check. If I were to do it in a computer, I would start to make simulations and I could spend hours on end playing with the numbers. This way, I write it down, add it up, and am done. Well, sometimes I also calculate the rate of growth...

sábado, 16 de maio de 2020

Version 2.012

Fridays are those days that seem to arrive too soon, yet by the time they get here, one is completely pooped and the week does weigh on us. I miss my ugly desk at the office. At least my back did not hurt as much and I had two computer screens. This afternoon, my neighbor Mike had another one of his balcony concerts. I hardly knew any of the songs he covered, although some were his own, so it's hard for me to know them. I left $40 in his tip bucket, since I also wanted a t-shirt and they are $20 each.

Later on, I met a new neighbor, who had been at the concert. It turns out she's the lady who is always doing work in her front flower beds. I do see her work, which is pristine, if a leaf or flower is bent the wrong way, she just clips it; but I only remember seeing her once before and that was long enough ago that I would not recognize her. She and I talked while I was walking Julian, as it just so happened that I was wearing the Soludos shoes that have a Boston terrier, that looks exactly like Julian, even though he's a French bulldog. Both breeds are a cross between terrier-type dogs and English bulldogs. Anyway, she mentioned my shoes, which I got yesterday and the selling point that the marking people dreamed up was that they are conversation pieces.

Julian made a fool of himself because there were other dogs walking around, so he kept jumping and being obnoxious. It is odd that he acts like that outside, since he is almost a little angel when he's inside. He escaped through the front door, while I was leaving to go to the concert, since my hands were full, but I called him and he came running into my arms immediately. It is so odd that he is this obedient because Alfred would just run off and want us to play chase with him, which was a pain. Alfred was a perfect dog in all other aspects.

I must say that when I got Julian, he was completely wild and did not know how to behave. He did not even understand why one would ride in a car. Now he thinks that car rides lead to pet day-care, where he plays with this friends, Starburcks for puppuccinos and baby bell cheese, and walks in the park. He has been completely Frenchified.

At night, I felt like watching a movie. Well, I felt like watching a French movie, but I did not search very well. Instead, I watched a South African movie that had part of the story in France. I don't think I had ever spent this much time listening to Africans, so that was interesting. Toward the end, I almost thought that the story line was going to turn into "Os Maias," but a more wholesome, or shall I say less perverted, ending ensued. It was a very cheesy movie, but the photos of the actors and crew during the credits were interesting.

sexta-feira, 15 de maio de 2020

Version 2.011

Things are opening up. Today I got a message from some friends who want to go out to celebrate two birthdays at the Coastal Fish Company, which has a patio. I replied that I would go if they could secure the table on the northwest corner of the patio, which is the one that has the most ventilation, since it's farthest away from the walls and close to the lake. Yes, I have already evaluated the risk of the patio and, since the dinner is scheduled for May 30, I have also thought that there's plenty of time for things to get reassessed and it getting cancelled. I suppose that I could not go, but if I cannot eliminate the risk, I need to learn to manage it. Plus, I still have not ruled out not going.

My neighbor who went to New Jersey to do crisis nursing sent a message. It is hard to tell if she is in good spirits or if she is trying to convince herself more than us. She thinks things are not going well; in fact they are getting worse and access to PPE (personal protective equipment) is not good. After seeing the picture that she sent of herself, I am very concerned. It does not seem like her equipment is sufficient, but maybe she is in an area that does not have direct contact with infected patients. The hospital is supposed to get some PPE in this week. She promised another update on Saturday.

This week I also received an email from my former neighbor in Houston, who is 95. She is being extra-cautious and I am surprised that she has decided to not go golfing. She said some of her friends are going, but she thinks it too risky. I wonder if I will see her again before this is under control. I wonder if I will see a lot of people. I tell myself that nothing has changed, we merely have more information about the existence of a virus, but it existed before we found it, and there are others that remain unknown. The underlying restriction remains:
"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance."

~ Marcel Proust

quinta-feira, 14 de maio de 2020

Version 2.010

I have spent the last few days slowly remembering "The Brief History of the Dead," the 2006 dystopic novel by Kevin Brockmeier. Many years ago, I bought an autographed copy at Nightbird Books, a newly opened bookstore in Fayetteville, AR, initially located near the mill.

To live up to its name, Nightbird Books had a very large birdcage, so one would browse books with the sound of chirping birds in the background and one would walk by the birdcage and spend some minutes observing the animals. The other unique thing about Nightbird Books was that it was going to be a wine bar as well, except the owner never got around to having the time to go to Little Rock and spend a whole day getting trained to obtain an alcohol license.

In 2006, La Maison des Tartes, one of my favorite bakeries and restaurants, was still open and one could visit the bookstore and walk up the parking lot and have a cup of coffee and a pastry. Two years later, the restaurant closed, but one of its founding members, who had already left, had opened a quaint little restaurant down the street called The Brick House Kitchen, which soon became my favorite place where to drag my friends to.

I recall having one of my most enjoyable meals there: a beef stew so tender served over a cauliflower purée that was utterly divine. I once asked the waitress what was the secret to the cauliflower purée being so unbelievably creamy and she replied that it was probably copious amounts of butter and thick cream. Oh, but it was so worth it!

After Nightbird Books moved to Dickson St. to occupy the building where the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse used to be -- my French conversation group often met at the Smokehouse on Wednesday mornings for breakfast, -- The Brick House Kitchen opened the BHK Café in the bookstore, but I always preferred the restaurant to the café. Alas, both only lasted a few more years.

At the end of last February, and after 14 years in business, Nightbird Books also closed. I believe the last time I had been to it was in October of 2013, when I visited Fayetteville to attend a friend's wedding, but I always enjoyed shopping there and am sorry that it no longer exists.

"The Brief History of the Dead" often comes to me mostly because of the idea of the in-between world, the world of the living-dead, those who are waiting to be forgotten by the living, so that they may enter the world of the dead, as the author mentions is the belief of many African societies. The book's action takes place in two worlds: ours, the world of the living, and the in-between world, the world of the living-dead; the latter's action is driven by a pandemic that has afflicted our world.

I had a hard time getting into the story, as fiction is a struggle for me, but once I was in, it was a page turner. The end did seem inevitable, but I could not help but feel tremendous disbelief that it had just finished like that.

Now, as we live through the pandemic, I feel disbelief as well. I feel like at some point during the last two months the universe took a wrong turn in the time-space continuum and we entered a universe that is almost make-believe. It is hard to accept a reality that so eerily feels like fiction.

quarta-feira, 13 de maio de 2020

Version 2.009

Today USDA released the first WASDE under a security protocol for the pandemic. Last year, in April, I got to visit Washington, DC, while the cherry trees were still in bloom to attend the release of the April WASDE. The WASDE report is a monthly publication of the United States Department of Agriculture that attempts to quantify the supply and demand of agricultural commodities. WASDE stands for World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

Traditionally, the report is released in the USDA building under a lock up, this means that that wing of the building is shut off from the outside world during the release: no telephones, no Internet, no windows, nothing. To get in, you must leave all your personal belongings in a locker room and then go through security, including a metal scanner. All this trouble because the first case of insider trading was on account of USDA's estimates of the cotton crop in 1905, although suspicion of something fishy was already around in 1904.

In May, the first estimates of the new crop are released, so this is a very important report; then the estimates get revised every month, as new information becomes available. In February, USDA also releases an Outlook of what the new crop might look like, but it's just estimates for the world and key countries and the numbers are mere guidelines. Of course, this year, February was right before the pandemic, so those estimates became moot almost immediately.

I got to attend the Outlook conference this year, right around Mardi Gras. In fact, that Saturday before Mardi Gras, I went to the Wharf in DC and saw the fireworks. It was packed, but only when I got there did I realize that it would be so crowded. The true reason why I went to the Wharf was because I wanted to see what the planters looked like -- yes, silly me, I wanted to see what kind of plants they had used to decorate the area during winter, right before Spring. Everything was already a bit sad and ready to be switched, but I am sure that it had looked splendorous over Christmas. One day I'd like to see it.

At the Wharf, I merely walked around and stayed away from most people. I am one of those odd balls who does not like crowds and feels very bothered if people get too close to my personal space. I did not even go to a restroom or stop at a restaurant. It was so crowded. Little did I know that, at exactly that time, in New Orleans, people were getting infected with coronavirus, and the NOLA Mardi Gras celebrations would become a hotspot for the spreading of Covid-19.

I once read that being an introvert is a survival mechanism, since one does not engage much with other people and lives a less exciting life. I would not call my life boring, but I recall a conversation with a good friend when I was in 10th grade. She told me that I was indeed boring and sad, so she started hanging out with other more interesting friends. She did come around decades later. And I suppose I also failed to live up to my reputation.

terça-feira, 12 de maio de 2020

Version 2.008

I can't get over how many Portuguese people ask me if I am doing OK in the U.S. They talk to me as if my life is in eminent danger. And today, someone sent me an article from Expresso saying that people of Portuguese ancestry were having trouble getting help in the U.S. because they could not speak English. I find that very odd because when I schedule an appointment at the doctor, for example, I am asked in what language I would like to communicate. Hospitals and law enforcement have a network of volunteers who can speak foreign languages and can assist in case of an emergency. I know because, when I lived in Stillwater, OK, I was the Portuguese-speaking volunteer interpreter.

Less than two weeks ago, while talking with a Russian friend who lives in Houston, TX, she complained to me that, at the community center that she attended, they had information in Spanish. She felt like everything should be in English -- if you can't speak English, you're in the wrong country is her view. I told her that the U.S. does not have an official language; in fact, if she went to Chinatown, the street names would be in Chinese. If you go to East Providence, RI, there are street names in Portuguese. In the U.S., you can get by without speaking English, if you wish. Lots of people do it.

When I started my current job, one of my co-workers was Brazilian and she was spending a few months in the U.S. to familiarize herself with the American business. Our company hired someone, an American person, to drive her around and take her to places like the bank for her to open an account, the Social Security Office, etc., even though she spoke perfect English. Yes, there are people here who make an honest living helping others navigate the bureaucracy.

Even when I came to the U.S. as an exchange student, almost 25 years ago, one of the Study Abroad Office assistants drove me around campus to get a room in a residence hall, buy a meal plan, enroll for classes, open a bursar's account, sign up to take the TOEFL, etc. Then, in my dorm, there were student volunteers who would walk with us around campus to show us where our classes were. This is the way America works. There are lots of people willing to help others and the system is based on people helping each other.

But let's turn the tables and see if the Portuguese live up to the standards that they demand of others. Is it common practice in Portugal to facilitate the life of Ukrainians or Germans, for example? Do hospitals and government offices offer access to translators and interpreters? And how is the expat community in Portugal faring in this pandemic?

segunda-feira, 11 de maio de 2020

O #EstudoEmCasa

Depois de três semanas de #EstudoEmCasa é possível uma tentativa de primeira avaliação, na generalidade, à iniciativa do Ministério da Educação como resposta à continuação da proibição de abertura das escolas e, portanto, de aulas em regime presencial. Essa análise, porém, limita-se apenas às peças transmitidas pela televisão, não considerando (por desconhecimento) que apoios tiveram os alunos, com ou sem internet, como suportes escritos para professores e alunos, e outros.

É certo que vou deixar sem resposta um dos motivos da minha curiosidade, que era, como disse em texto anterior, saber “como vão ser integrados os elementos fornecidos via TV na programação que os professores irão gizar nas suas disciplinas”.

Version 2.007

Today was Mother's Day in the U.S. I saw several families outside, sitting in the gardens, rather than spending their time indoors. Yesterday, I drove around the city, since I was concerned that the battery in my car might die, and saw so many people driving. At Shelby Farms there were also lots of people out and even families having picnics. Surprisingly, Coastal Fish Company, a local seafood restaurant by Hyde Lake, on Shelby Farms, was jam-packed. Most of their sitting is in a covered outdoor patio, but still it was impressive to see so many people out.

Memphis started to shut down about the time 10 cases had been identified, some of them in people who had not traveled. But before that, the local community started to limit large gatherings. The Memphis Economic Club was supposed to have an event at the St. Jude campus, but it got canceled back in February and we were informed that it was too risky for the children. St. Jude is one of the leading research hospitals for the treatment of infant cancer.

The City Mayor (the County also has a Mayor) keeps us all informed via NextDoor and on the city's website. At some point, when the weather started to warm up, he had all the city parks shut down and policed and we were admonished for wanting to be outdoors. I am almost certain that having St. Jude made the city extra-careful managing this virus. The plan to re-open the city is available online. It is a phased approach and there have to be certain conditions met to proceed from one phase to the next.

Last Friday, I spoke to my boss. Per corporate's orders, we are to work from home until the end of May, but the decision to return to the office will have input from the local teams, so it must be what is right for each community. I hope everything goes well, but I am always obsessing over what can go wrong.

domingo, 10 de maio de 2020

Version 2.006

"Bicabornato de sódio." When I read it I thought that it could not be right, "sódio" doesn't seem right. Isn't it baking soda in English? Maybe it should be "bicabornato de soda" or "sodo"? "Sodo" is definitely not right. But there's "sodium," so maybe "sódio" is indeed right... I cannot tell how many times I go through conversations like this on my head. I am one of those people who constantly has an on-going dialog in her head.

Many months ago, I was reading Nicholas Kristof in the NYT and he said that the easiest way to know if someone is proficient in a foreign language is to ask them to say the words to door knob, clothes hanger, and electrical outlet. OK, how do you say those in Portuguese, I asked myself. For several minutes, I had no idea. Well -- I was beginning to resign myself to being ignorant --, when in doubt, one can always revert to calling something "coiso" or "coisa." But even as I write "coisa," it looks foreign. Not foreign in the sense of a foreign language, but foreign as is alien.

When I was in 12th grade, we did not have a textbook for English. Instead, we would read articles from Time magazine or Newsweek. I subscribed to Newsweek for a while, then. If you were learning Portuguese, what newspaper or magazine would you subscribe to? Which one would improve your chances of becoming fluent in the language?

I do not have any subscriptions to a Portuguese news outlet. In the U.S., I subscribe to the NYT, Bloomberg, and the WashPost; but sometimes, I also donate to NPR, in fact, I used to contribute to MPB, which is an affiliate of NPR. MPB stands for Mississippi Public Radio and they are located in Oxford, MS, where there is a Portuguese bakery, called Lusa. No, I've never lived in MS, but they're poor, so I figured they could use some of my money.

I visited Lusa once, when I lived in Memphis the first time. The drive is very boring, but it is rather worth it, even though I've only been there once. (It's hard to go places when you have a dog, you always feel super-guilty about leaving them behind; at least I do...)

Ah, but this to say that I spend over $700/year on American media and I spend nothing on Portuguese media. I get depressed reading Portuguese news. It is such poor quality and it requires that I stop thinking, plus I don't understand the language. I barely speak it these days.

sábado, 9 de maio de 2020

Version 2.005

I woke up to a rainy day and even though it was pouring, it took me a while to realize it. I had seen the forecast yesterday and yet I was shocked at my surprise of how much it was raining and how dark the day was. And it was also chilly; the temperature has been unpleasant all week long and I often go to the air system setting to see if I made a mistake.

The morning was mostly spent on conference calls since 7:30 AM. We all cheer that it's Friday, but time is going by so fast that the rest of the week becomes a blur. During the third conference call, I hear the cardinals outside and I went to the window to see if I could find them, but I could not. For a few weeks now, a couple of cardinals have been coming to the garden to feast on our bird feeders. The male watches the surroundings and the female eats. Very seldom does the male eat and he only does it when he approaches the female and she puts food in his mouth. They seem like a nice couple.

The U.S. unemployment rate is at 14.7%, but it could be 5% higher, since the margin of error is much wider than the data indicates--there aren't that many observations with similar conditions to validade the estimate. But leave it to Americans to freak out about an unemployment rate that is trivial in other parts of the world. It is hard to imagine that health insurance will not be decoupled from employment after this pandemic or, at least, an affordable basic insurance will have to be available, no questions asked.

Yesterday, we learned about the killing of a black Georgia young man that took place in February. Why only now did we hear about it? Probably because the two white men involved, one of them a former police officer, were charged with the crime. And now we ask black folks to wear masks, when even with a bare face they are targets. It just seems like a catch 22.

sexta-feira, 8 de maio de 2020

Version 2.004

Tennessee made the national news today, as it is one of the states with a large stockpile of Covid-19 tests, since early on it asked the private labs to start producing tests. Access to a test has been liberalized and the state is paying for all tests, so the insurance companies will not even be billed.

One would think that everyone would be lauding TN, but in a world with people dying and and inadequate supply of tests, does it make sense to make the resource available for free? Furthermore, of the self-selected people who have chosen to get tests, 99% test negative. Thus it would be best to either assign the tests randomly to a representative sample of the population or do contact tracing and test anyone who's been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

It is quite surprising that TN is in such a situation. Prior to the pandemic, the plan of the governor for this year was to see if a TN case could be taken to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe vs. Wade. I guess one never knows what rabbit comes out of this hat.

quinta-feira, 7 de maio de 2020

Dia Mundial da Língua Portuguesa

Foi ontem o dia mundial da língua portuguesa. Lembremos como no século XVI havia uma  preocupação maior do que hoje com a nossa língua.

Floresça, fale, cante, oiça-se e viva
A portuguesa língua, e já onde for,
Senhora vá de si, soberba e altiva.
Se té qui esteve baixa e sem louvor,
Culpa é dos que a mal exercitaram,
Esquecimento nosso, e desamor.
(António Ferreira, Poemas Lusitanos)

'E verdadeiramente que não tenho a nossa língua por grosseira nem por bons os argumentos com que alguns querem provar que é essa; antes é branda para deleitar, grave para engrandecer, eficaz para mover, doce para pronunciar, breve para resolver e acomodada às matérias mais importantes da prática e escritura.
Para falar, é engraçada, com um modo senhoril; para cantar, é suave, com um certo sentimento que favorece a música; para pregar , é substanciosa, com uma gravidade que autoriza as razões e as sentenças; para escrever cartas, nem tem infinita cópia que dane, nem brevidade estéril que a limite; para histórias, nem é tão florida que se derrame, nem tão seca que busque o favor das alheias.
A pronunciação não obriga a ferir o céu da boca com aspereza, nem a arrancar as palavras com veemência do gargalo.
Escreve-se da maneira que se lê, e assim se fala.
Tem de todas as línguas o melhor: a pronunciação da latina, a origem da grega, a familiaridade da castelhana, a brandura da francesa, a elegância da italiana. Tem mais adágios e sentenças que todas as vulgares, em fé de sua antiguidade. E, se à língua hebreia, pela honestidade das palavras, chamaram santa, certo que não sei eu outra que tanto fuja de palavras claras em matéria descomposta, quanto a nossa. E, para que diga tudo, um só mal tem, e é que, pelo pouco que lhe querem seus naturais, a trazem mais remendada que capa de pedinte!'
(Francisco Rodrigues Lobo, A Corte na Aldeia)

Hoje, depois do triste desfecho do acordo ortográfico que parece ninguém querer reconhecer, temos de nos contentar em relembrar os clássicos…

Version 2.003

After having breakfast, I took Julian out for the daily morning walk. I need to get into the habit of listening to my podcasts again, since without having to drive to work, I end up not listening to the radio. Marketplace was not out yet, so the Penguin podcast was it.

They had an interview with David Harewood, who has just finished a new audio recording of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and if that isn't apropos of our current endeavors, I don't know what is. Wells always reminds that, when I was a kid, I watched the film "The Time Machine" on TV. It was one of my favorites and it was in the subtitles of that movie that I learned the Portuguese word "soletrar." That is the only Portuguese word that I know when and how I learned it. In English, there are a few.

My nextdoor neighbor, who is a nurse, is in New Jersey. Last week, she sent me an SMS saying that she and her husband were on the way up north to do crisis nursing. I thought it curious that she would let me know such a thing, as I do not consider us to be friends and I do come across as very cold and unapproachable when people first meet me, but I often wake up with messages from her wishing me a good day, since I had crossed her mind during her insomnia, midway through the night.

It is odd, but not unlikely, in the U.S. to have people who are emotionally so available that they send loving messages to strangers. I, on the other hand, have been failing terribly at sending messages to friends. Work has been intense, especially because we have a big USDA report coming out next week. I am also not feeling as productive in the cooking department. The fridge is still rather full, but I look at it and feel as if I have nothing to eat. One could say that one's feelings towards one's wardrobe have been transferred to the contents of the refrigerator.

quarta-feira, 6 de maio de 2020

Version 2.002

Working from home is a little bit more stressful than going to the office. For starters, one always second guesses if we have put in the time. If the dog makes noise while on a conference call, one feels mortified. At home, grabbing a cup of coffee feels akin to slacking off. My overactive conscience is a pain.

I got two phone calls today. The first was from my boss checking on me to see if I needed anything and whether I was feeling well physically and mentally. He tries to call about once a week and always makes sure to ask about my family and my dog. The second phone call was from a teacher who is running for the Shelby County School Board and she was calling to request my vote on August 6 -- speaking of voting, I should update my voter registration address. The candidate asked me if I had been affected by the lockdown and was genuinely surprised to hear that I still had a job, thus I had not been affected financially.

She seemed to be on the ball in terms of her campaign organization, but I'm not sure her platform makes sense. She's justifiably concerned about the children who do not have Internet access and cannot participate in school activities during the pandemic. Her proposed solution to the problem is to create hot spots in the schools, so that the nearby houses can connect to the Internet. She assumed that I did not know what a hot spot was and tried to explain it by using the example of Starbucks; of course, she fails to grasp that Starbucks' hot spots go as far as their parking lot.

I suggested that she needed to organize volunteers to work with the children, but that's probably not a wise solution either. God knows all the weirdos who are out there waiting for such an opportunity. Plus, I am emabarassed to say that I basically repeated a variation of Governor Bill Lee's idea of asking volunteers to babysit the kids while schools were closed and their parents were working. As I said, I am embarassed that I uttered such a stupid idea.

My second idea was much better, though: ask the Internet service providers to donate dongles to the kids, but, alas, I didn't tell her about it. I considered it, but realized that it would take me a long time to explain, as I assumed she did not know what a dongle was.

In other news, which are basically the same these days, William H. Grey, the demographer with the Brookings Institution, has been tracking the spread of coronavirus by county in the U.S., using NYT and U.S. Census Bureau data. The map that he published on April 29 does not bode well for our health. The virus is spreading in rural U.S., in places such as the Texas Panhandle where temperatures have been breaking records, close to 40° Celcius, thus forget about the prospect of a summer respite.

terça-feira, 5 de maio de 2020

Version 2.001

The U.S. personal savings rate has jumped to 13.1%, the highest percentage value since November 1981. Of course, if GDP falls, it will be even higher. The 1981 recession was due to the Fed Reserve, at the time led by Paul Volcker, increasing the interest rate to fight inflation. In his letter to shareholders, Warren Buffet praised Jay Powell, the current Fed Chairman, profusely and said that he had always put Volcker on a pedestal, but that Powell's willingness to step into the market so early on had put him up there, close to the top of the pedestal.

This crisis is strange not just for the implications to our health, but also because, after we've intentionally inflicted the biggest beating to the economy since the Great Depression, the overall demeanor of people does not seem as desperate as during the subprime crisis. In my personal case, the only times in which I have felt sheer panic were when I had been walking the dog and people would strike a conversation and start to get close.

As soon as someone looked my way and smiled, I could feel the beginning of an anxiety attack. I was taken back to my childhood, when I would walk outside and pray that no neighbor would speak to me. I was perceived to be rude and stuck up, but what I suffered from was fear, extreme fear of talking to other people. So I was taken aback by the resurgence of my early childhood phobia.

I worked on overcoming my panic by reverting to what seems like a more logical approach. I am five feet tall and the social distancing guidelines indicate at least a six-foot separation between people, thus I began to measure in my head the distance between myself and others by evaluating whether I could comfortably fit between the other person and myself, were I to lie down. It still feels overly contrived, but things are settling down.

Since I began working from home on March 16, I have gone shopping three times and today I ordered Uber Eats for the second time. It ends up being quite expensive, since I make sure to tip the driver well and I also put extra money for the restaurant, but I am not spending money going out to eat or even driving to work, so I still come out ahead. Other than that, I always make my own meals and I have been really good about not wasting food.

I did run into a minor snafu on the food front, though. There is some leftover quinoa that I cannot bring myself to eat. I am not a big fan to begin with, but I noticed that the other time I had it, I did not feel well. My face started burning and itching, so I am wondering if I am allergic to it or it could have been contaminated with rice or gluten. I should just dump it.

J. Crew filed for bankrupcy today. I cannot imagine life without J. Crew, so I hope they are able to get the company's affairs in order.

segunda-feira, 4 de maio de 2020

De desconfinado a desconfiado: reflexões de um velho

Há quarenta e sete dias que não saía de casa. Saí hoje, uma vez que disciplinadamente me foi permitido fazê-lo: fui desconfinado! Não o digo com azedume. Compreendi muito bem que o que me pediam tinha fundamento e abdiquei, com pena mas sem esforço, do hábito que há uns três anos criara de caminhar, todos os dias, perto de cinco quilómetros. Isto a bem da minha saúde futura. Porque, apesar dos meus 84 anos, continuo a pensar que tenho futuro. É evidente que eu sou um privilegiado: estou na minha casa, suficientemente ampla e confortável, com todos os meios de comunicação actualmente disponíveis, com a minha Mulher, e com a assistência da Filha que, embora a distância, continua diariamente connosco, partilhando até, via Skype, as refeições festivas das datas que calharam neste tempo esquisito, os dias do Pai e da Mãe e o dia dos meus anos. Penso muitas vezes em quem não tem esta sorte, os que vivem em lares ou sozinhos, sem família, em condições precárias. Reconheço a dificuldade em tentar resolver o problema, mas esse teria de ter tido, porventura, maior atenção.

Version 2.0

"Only Rita would start a sentence with 'I was planning to go to Paris in June'" said my neighbor, followed by laughter, in the middle of our second pandemic birthday party in the neighborhood. We got together in the service alley between the backs of the houses, had Straw-ber-Ritas, gluten-free cupcakes, chocolate marbled cake, and Brazilian cheese bread, which I made. We talked about my newly acquired biography of Dora Maar, hence my reference to Paris, gardening, pets, real estate, and the pandemic. All conversations lead to the pandemic: it has become the Rome of topics.

Some neighbors feel that we need to get this over and done with, just follow the Swedish model, but I feel that reality is more nuanced than just building herd immunity. Perhaps Dan Patrick, Texas's Lt. Governor framed it best when he said that many senior citizens would be willing to take a chance and sacrifice themselves so as to not hurt the country. But who are these people? There is a cartoon that I find fitting. In one frame someone asks a crowd who wants to change and all reply that they do, then in the next frame the crowd is asked who wants to change and nobody raises their hand.

Everything that we stand for as a society is that those that are strong sacrifice to protect the weak. That's one of the main differences between us and other animals; that's what makes us human. In other species, the weak are often sacrificed to protect the group because instinct drives the survival of the species, not of the individual.

Over the last 100 years, we have built modern man on exactly the opposite paradigm through the development of medicine, agriculture, safety standards that protect the individual, etc., even if that means that we as a species become weaker because we have ensured that many unfit individuals survive. And now this microscopic creature shows up and forces us to declare a preference.

My neighbors who advocate the Swedish model are convinced that they had Covid-19 at the end of February. Their premise is that if made it through and they're in their early 70s, it can't be that bad. I wonder if they would have the same opinion if one of them had died.

In the end, all of this is quite pointless. We are all going to die anyway, thus we merely manage the time of death, not death itself. Each of us remains insignificant, regardless.