quinta-feira, 31 de dezembro de 2020

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My best friend and her youngest daughter both have Covid-19. They got it when they were visiting a friend in Florida with whom they stayed. It is hard to believe, but thankfully the symptoms have been mild. Still, it's like living with a knife on your throat for a while, as things can change and some people have serious side-effect that linger after they recover. She has been having video calls with her doctor in Maryland, so if things turn sour, I am certain she'll be advised to go to a hospital.

The last time we had spoken on the phone, I had told her about all my appointments at the dentist and she had replied that she was too scared to go, it seemed like a very risky thing to do. I have the opposite opinion: at this point, dental medical facilities are some of the safest places because there is a very tight safety protocol, much tighter than at the regular doctor's office, much tighter than at any place where you might go and meet other people. Plus, I am careful about putting my mask on as much as possible, not that that is 100% virus-proof.

On Sunday, the new members of Congress will be sworn in, but today Congress is in mourning: Republican Representative-Elect Luke Letlow, from Louisiana, has died of Covid-19; he was only 41 years old and is the first Congressman or Congressman-Elect to die. He leaves behind a wife and two small children. As far as anyone knew he was healthy, so all the complications that led to his death were virus-related, according to the doctor cited by Politico.

Two of my friends who are nurses have already been vaccinated. One is in NYC and the other one is here in Memphis; they both got the Moderna vaccine. The husband of the one in Memphis seems very happy, he jokes that she is a Moderna girl now. I hope it keeps them safe.

quarta-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2020

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Always having to look for a silver lining, a glimmer of hope, is an American thing. In the aftermath of having spent close to two hours in the cold, waiting to get into the building to get my driver's license renewed, I was informed that I had to do the written and driving exams again because it had been more than six months since my previous license had expired. To say that I was stunned is the understatement of the year, for I felt a kind of cloud falling all around me, a mix of disbelief and onset of depression. I did not understand my reaction; it felt too overblown considering the circumstances of 2020.

When I got home, I texted a friend to tell her what had happened and I finished my text with "2020 blows." Besides comiseration, I got the silver lining from my friend regarding our current calendar time: we hung out more, worked on the garden, and acquired yard birds. All true and very fulfilling, thus it hs not been total loss or, as some people say, chin up.

Sometime in my afternoon, I finally decided to browse the manual to study for the Driver's License exam that I was given at the Department of Motor Vehicles. It turns out that, if my previous driver's license expired more than 6 months ago but no more than 5 years have passed, I have to pay a $10 late fee, which is double what I would have to pay if it had expired less than 6 months ago. Lest you think that it is a ridiculous amount, it is for me; but for countless other people, this money is a meal or more for their themselves and their family.

The same mistake can be devastating for a poor person and a minor nuisanse to someone who makes a comfortable living. How does one go about fixing that inequality?..

terça-feira, 29 de dezembro de 2020

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Maybe I am growing soft with age, but I do not feel like commenting on how ridiculous the news have been out of Portugal. I was reading Alain de Botton today and he mentioned how historians tend to fall on the side of history, as if things could not have been any other way. That is partially because historians have access to records of what happened, as the records of the things that did not happen either were not kept or did not even exist. But now, with the Internet, more evidence of could have happened but did not happen remains and it is digitized and easy to search.

There is a less positive point: because publishing is now so easy, i.e. marginal cost close to zero, many things that are not newsworthy become newsworthy, like a Fact Check of a Facebook user statement, when the user remains anonymous, as if anyone on Facebook were a public figure or a jornalist, for example. I don't know, maybe it's just me going soft with age or the fact that I'd rather stare at the birds. But silly pretty pictures I can handle those for endless hours.

segunda-feira, 28 de dezembro de 2020

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The Nashville bomb was the work of a suicide bomber, whose remains were found in the explosion. I do mean to sound calous, but isn't there a better way of killing oneself than to perpetrate a bombing of a public space? We should not complain, as nobody else seems to have died, but there was an element of luck. Clearly, the person was mentally impaired.

In the evening we got word that President Trump signed the stimulus bill, hence much ado about nothing. God knows what went on in the background to make him sign it, but we will see the extent of the negotiation: if there is leverage being used against him, he will not try any other stunts.

During the day, I mostly gardened and I think I made progress, although it feels like very little was done. Besides finishing planting the bulbs, I continued to build the rock border and trimmed the jasmine, which had spread too much. I had not realized how invasive it is, but I did not plant it, so I never researched it.

The birds have emptied the white house bird feeder again, which makes me happy. It is not uncommon to see 12 or more birds around the garden. One time, I counted 9 mourning doves pecking at the ground. In the branches of the Japanese maple, more that 10 birds jumped and flew around. Common visitors include cardinals, house finches, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, yellow-rumped warbler, Carolina chickadees, and the mourning doves, of course.

domingo, 27 de dezembro de 2020

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Since President Trump did not sign the relief bill, some people's unemployment benefits might run out today. Hopefully, benefits will be retroactively restored and nobody will have to suffer for this. In the meantime, we found out that Steve Mnuchin negotiated with Congress without informing the President of the details of the deal. Of course, since the President does not read his daily briefing, it is entirely possible that he was informed, but failed to consume the information.

Larry Summers thinks that Trump will disappear into the fog after he leaves office, which, in my view, is the American way. Once Americans get what they want, they move on. There is no point in dwelling upon something that has become a moot issue. We will see the true strength of Trump when the details of his Presidential library become known, although I would say there is a high likelihood that it will not be built.

Despite everything, the election of Donald Trump and his defeat shows that any country can end up with a bad President and it takes a lot of work to get rid of said person, but it is not impossible. The will of the people does matter in the end.

sábado, 26 de dezembro de 2020

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A couple of minutes before 1 PM, I got a message from a friend of mine in Oklahoma asking me if I lived in Nashville. I only read it after 3 PM, but I was a bit annoyed that he would ask, since I had told him where I had moved to; but I do move very frequently. I told him that I was in Memphis. He replied that there had been a bomb set off in Nashville and that he wanted me to be safe. He and I met in school in 1995, a few months after the Oklahoma City bombing. Events like this always have a bitter taste for people with connections to Oklahoma.

This bomb in Nashville, on Second St., was very strange. The location is a tourist hotspot, which I have been to. There are bars, restaurants, quaint little shops, concert halls, etc. It is a really great place to visit when there is no pandemic, but it was mostly empty at 6:30 AM on Christmas Day, when the bomb went off. Plus, the RV where the bomb was placed had a loud speaker system that first payed an audio recording of gunshots, then issued warnings that a bomb was to go off and it even had a countdown to the explosion.

The police had evacuated most people by the time it went off, but it seems that that had been the plan all along. The damage to property was very great and the front of one of the buidings collapsed. Then the power went out, even the natural gas supply was affected, which precluded the generator in an AT&T business from functioning, so communications were down up to 180 miles away. On my neighborhood Nextdoor, people are still complaining about the lapse in cell phone service.

The authorities are investigating the case and have no idea who could have done such a thing, but I guess it was someone who wanted to damage property while not hurting people. Maybe a desperate business owner who wanted to make a claim on his/her insurance. Hopefully, the FBI and the police will get a lead soon.

sexta-feira, 25 de dezembro de 2020

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A merry Christmas Eve was had by all, despite the blistering cold. We are expecting the temperatures to drop to -7C tonight and I just realized that I did not cover the faucets outside, but there is no freeze warning, so I guess we will be OK. Let us hope Santa does not develop frost bite on his way over.

My Christmas present was an antique Spanish Santos cage doll -- I was unaware such a thing even existed, but am very much intrigued by it. I shall spend some time tomorrow researching it.

For the first time in my life, I attempted to make a bolo rei and I made a gluten-free 5-minute version, which turned out pretty good, considering that I had no idea if the flour would be up to the task.I had some friends try it and they also liked it.

I am taking time off from work until January 4 and the plan is to try to read a book, walk more, and perhaps organize the house a little bit. I still have some bulbs to plant, but it is so cold now, that I don't really feel like getting my hands dirty. Perhaps I should store them in the refrigerator and plant them once it warms up.

quinta-feira, 24 de dezembro de 2020

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It is hard to imagine that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We could ask ourselves where did time go, but we all know that it's not a great question this year. A better one is what happened today. Well, today, President Trump vetoed a defense spending bill and everyone is still trying to figure out what he wants to do regarding the stimulus bill, which did pass with veto-proof majorities, but rules do not apply to this President.

Almost my whole morning was spent at the doctor, as I went to see a second allergist regarding all the reactions that I have been having to food. He thinks that we will not know what is wrong with me because there are lots of things that we don't understand and the reactions that I have to all the different foods do not fit a known disease. So I should just file it under food intolerances and count my blessings because, in his opinion, I am heathier than 99% of the people he sees, as I do not have to take any medicine at my age to function.

In any case, he did do some bloodwork, so maybe something will come up. If not, we shall resign ourselves to not knowing. And I suppose the fact that I was able to identify the problem was food-related is what keeps me healthy. I feel sorry for all the people who suffer, but do not know that the food that they are eating is what is making them unwell. I felt pretty debilitated and in pain before, but the solution was fairly straigh forward: do not eat the foods that make me sick.

Maybe due to the pandemic, medicine will change and become better more quickly. I think there are lots of innovations and potential changes that could happen. For starters, it will be a lot more difficult to go back to waiting years for developing a vaccine, so we will likely see more vaccines for lots of things more quickly.

Speaking of vaccines and pandemic, while talking to a coworker from another country, I learned that he had had Covid-19 earlier in the year. I was pretty much speechless. I still catch myself thinking we must be in a bad dream every once in a while.

quarta-feira, 23 de dezembro de 2020

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Mr. Trump is throwing a tantrum regarding the stimulus bill: he thinks it is a "disaster" and people should be getting checks for $2000, rather than the $600 that is in the bill, so he is threatening to not sign it into law. As if we did not see it coming that the lame-duck President would be going out with a bang. I got a feeling that my taxes are about to go through the roof and I do not qualify to get any stimulus, other than my alarm clock waking me up to go to work. We will be lucky if the stock market doesn't crash and takes the economy along with it.

According to a machine learning model developed by Youyang Gu, the U.S. will reach herd immunity around July 2021. By then, it is expected that 30% of the population will have had the virus and 30% will have been vaccinated, thus reaching the 60% needed to reach herd immunity. I expect to be in the 40% group that will still be waiting to get a vaccine.

The virus is getting closer, though. One of my friend's is a nurse at a school and she had to self-isolate because one of the children in her school got coronavirus and the two had been close in the same office. Her daughter also had to quarentine herself because she was in close contact with a victim. Poor children and parents...

terça-feira, 22 de dezembro de 2020

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"Can you all see the convergence?" That is how one of my friends texted to remind us to look at the sky to see Jupiter and Saturn in the great conjuction. From the balcony I saw something, but it was so odd that I thought it was some sort of airplane, so we headed out to the lake to see it. It was the same thing that had been visible from my balcony: two dots, one bright and one faint, very close together. It is said that this was the "Christmas star" when Jesus was born and it was also present at the time that Newton discovered gravity.

As I write this, the news outlets are sending notifications that the Senate has signed into bill the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, which had already passed the House earlier today. Talk about another great covergence. I am not surprised that the Democrats passed it in the House, as the President-Elect is a Democrat, but I am surprised that Republicans voted for it before the run-off election in Georgia. I don't think Republicans care that much anymore about keeping control of the Senate. They will strengthen if they are in the minority and they have a way of not being responsible for what is about to happen.

But there were more things in the bill: the Smithsonian is to create two more museums, one for women and one for Latinos, and the U.S. affirms that the choice of the successor of the Dalai Lama should not be subject to political interference, a clear jab at China. I wonder whose idea it was to put that in the text.

segunda-feira, 21 de dezembro de 2020

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I received an email from the Brooks Museum announcing that they are shutting down until January 6 in anticipation of what they expect will be decided by the local authorities in Memphis. Tennessee is one of the states with the highest progression of cases and, in Memphis, we have a positivity rate in excess of 28%.

Our early success has become our downfall, as peope met their families over Thanksgiving and the number of cases started to take off. What this feels like is being in one of those domino chains and seeing the pieces before us falling off in sequence until at some point it gets to us. I hope it stops soon.

According to the news, Congress reached an agreement to implement another $900 billion stimulus bill. The euro is at $1.22, while before the pancemic it hovered around $1.10, so that tells you which side has pumped more money in the economy since the beginning of the pandemic. It's the right thing to do, as there are a lot of people struggling. During the first round of stimulus, poverty in the U.S. declined a bit, but then as the money ran out, it started to climb up.

The silver lining of this pandemic is that we have never learned so much so quickly about how the U.S. economy works and what is effective and what isn't. We are entering a new age of economic analysis, in which there is decentralization of data collection. We will see how long it takes to spill over to Europe, if it ever does.

domingo, 20 de dezembro de 2020

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All day it rained. Julian refused to go out, but insisted on running some errands with me in the afternoon. He stayed in the car while I returned an item to Banana Republic, but then started to get restless so we stopped at the Regalia Shopping Center. I unbuckled him and he hopped on my lap, ready to exit, only to remain frozen as soon as he realized it was raining and everything was wet.

I carried him to the shopping center and we walked around under the walkway. That was his only outting for the day and he got frustrated because I did not take him inside the stores. Oh well, it's still 2020--you should be used to it, buddy...

At Williams Sonoma, I did not find another bouchon pan, which was most unfortunate, since that means I will have to half the recipe for popovers, since they don't turnout as good when baked in muffin pans. Half is better than none, so chin up. Plus that would be an excuse to stop by Sur La Table, except I did not realize that they had permanently closed the store in September and something else had already replaced it.

To be honest, the last thing I bought there, a French crêpe pan, is still in the cupboard unused. I haven't even seasoned it. I was going to make crêpe complète with it, emphasis on was going...

At the liquor store, I managed to find Portuguese wine, so I bought 8 bottles. That's what I'm giving some friends for Christmas. I must be showing my age, because I did not get carded at the store. I had even taken my American passport because my driver's license is expired and I only realized it the other day. My Portuguese driver's license says that it's valid until 2037, but that's a lie. I am not allowed to have a Portuguese driver's license because I do not live in Portugal, which is such bullshit.

Well, I have been so enthused about Portugal lately that even my passport is expired. Not that I could renew it, as the consulate has not been answering calls or replying to emails. The only thing I get, actually, are emails telling me to pay my taxes and emails asking me to invest in Portugal, but I'm more leaning toward divesting before it crashes again. In the meantime, I'll settle on enjoying my outcast status.

sábado, 19 de dezembro de 2020

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Friday, one week before Christmas. And then we wait to do it again on New Years'. In three weeks we will see how we will have fared. Sometimes it feels that all we do is wait. Not that it would be different otherwise.

During the day, when I come downstairs to grab coffee, I look out the windows to see the birds in the garden. Sometimes there are none; others it feels like a huge party, with quarreling and flying from branch to branch. I could stare at them for hours, even though they only stay a few minutes. But while they are here, they fly with such eagerness as they search for the juiciest morsels of food. They are free, while we are not.

My neighbor and I ran some errands this evening, including picking up two parakeets that she is planning on offering to her Mother. At the pet store, standing in front of the cage full of animals waiting to be bought, I felt sheer horror, even though these are not animals that would survive in the wild. It felt more humane to only look at the wild birds, rather than keeping captive ones. But it is actually the other way around: capitivity is what humans do.

sexta-feira, 18 de dezembro de 2020

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It appears that Mike Pence will be going out of the country after the Presidential inauguration. I wonder where he will be going. Maybe a Middle Eastern country where men have the same respect for women that he does. But maybe this is all testing the waters, as they usually like to do.

Christmas will be a week from tomorrow and my ability to track time has flown out the window. This year, I am looking forward to Spring, so that I can see the garden in bloom. And maybe we will start seeing green shoots early, as this year we have La Niña.

One of the first things I heard this morning is that Mr. Macron has Covid-19. I am looking forward to the Portuguese President getting sick with it. It will be a rather comical situation, as the Presidency has been reduced to the whims of a self-centered man.

quinta-feira, 17 de dezembro de 2020

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Congress, it appears, is pretty close to reaching an agreement on another stimulus package. I wonder if a final version gets announced before the run off elections in Georgia or if we'll stay in a low simmer until after. There is lots of chatter about what a President Biden should do: some want him to forgive student loans, others are talking about changing the tax structure of 401k accounts and switching them to post-tax accounts, similar to Roth accounts.

In a traditional 401k, people are allowed to set aside income for retirement pre-tax and they pay taxes on this income and any appreciation when they withdraw the money, thus the payment of taxes is deferred until retirement. If the money is withdrawn before a certain age, then besides the tax, the person must pay a 10% penalty. In a Roth IRA or Roth 401k, people have already paid taxes on thr income they save, so no other taxes are owed, not even on the money generated in the account.

Such a switch would give the current administration a big boost in tax revenue, but it would also have tremendous implications for savers, so I am really curious to see what will come out of it, as tax-deferred accounts are rather popular.

quarta-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2020

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The Atlantic has a very interesting piece on Facebook, in which the author calls it a Doomsday Machine. I agree that it is quite powerful, too powerful, even, and anything that is too powerful can be too dangerous under the right conditions. Call me naïve, but I had never thought about the dark side of Facebook in the terms that this article describes it. To protect us from all this, Facebook employs moderators:
"Facebook has enlisted a corps of approximately 15,000 moderators, people paid to watch unspeakable things—murder, gang rape, and other depictions of graphic violence that wind up on the platform." ~ Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

I have trouble understanding what leads someone to have such a job, but I suppose that everything has a shitty side, if you search in the right spot. Maybe these people think they are protecting someone. And yet, we, the protected ones are always complating about how the service is lousy. Maybe it censored the picture with a piece of art thinking it was pornography. It is hard to teach an algorithm to know the difference, but people can. Hence the Facebook moderators. But, still, it is so disturbing.

terça-feira, 15 de dezembro de 2020

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Let us file today under "Coincidence!" We woke up to news that several of Google's services were down. Even Pokemon was not working because people use gmail addresses to sign in -- what a strange thing. I have never played Pokemon, so it did not affect me. Then, throughout the day, the Electoral College voted and, surprisingly to some, Mr. Trump still lost the election. Oops...

Now, as I lay myself to sleep, I keep getting updates on the massive Russian hacking of several federal agencies and other large players, something in the magnitude of "dozens," although a dozen at a time, you can make it to infinity. It just seems mighty strange, but this hacking business has been going on for several months now.

In other news, my dog fell asleep under the Christmas tree, which is the whole reason why I go through the trouble of decorating one. It does make me all fuzzy inside to see him on the Christmas tree skirt.He sure lives up to "All I want for Christmas is You."

Merry Christmas, y'all..

segunda-feira, 14 de dezembro de 2020

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The Christmas tree is finally done. Perhaps it is the pandemic, but it felt like an undesirable chore at some points. I don't remember it being that difficult last year and this year I don't even know if I am happy that it is done. Perhaps, I have been working too hard and have little patience for anything else.

One of my friends asked if she could drive from Houston to spend a few days at my house, like she did last year. I did not make her feel welcome, so she gave up on the idea. She is too restless and is always going out to events in museums, galleries, concerts, sailing club, etc. Although she wears a mask, I don't think a mask is enough. You have to wear a mask and curtail contact with others to lower your probability of getting this virus. If you wear a mask and continue with business as usual, you will have a higher chance of getting sick.

Yesterday, there was a party in the gazebo of the neighborhood. People were outside, trying to be safe, obviously, but as I walked by, I saw some of them hugging each other. It is not safe to hug each other, even if you are outside. That should be pretty obvious by now, but there seems to be some cognitive dissonance going on. Not just here, everywhere.

The other day I had an argument with my nephew because I saw him hugging some of his classmates. He says he's being very careful, he trusts these people, yadda, yadda, yadda. We shall see how this will end up, but I told him that each of us has a responsibility to society to try to stop this disease from spreading. Trusting others is our weakest link: that's how this virus spreads from person to person.

domingo, 13 de dezembro de 2020

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It has dawned on me that I still do not personally know anyone in the U.S. who has had Covid-19. I know people in other countries who have had it. I don't think Americans advertise that they have it, but also many of my friends are super-paranoid about it; some of them are surprised that I go to the dentist, others that I go to the grocery store. You cannot eliminate all risk entirely, so the best course of action is to be thoughtful about the risks that you take and the precautions that can mitigate said risks. It's a bit like cooking, but I am actively trying not to get it.

Big crowds supporting President Trump have gathered in parts of the country and some isolated violence has ensued, with some people stabbed and one shote. Of course, many of the people who attended these demonstrations do not wear masks, so come Christmas day, they'll be ready to infect others.

This morning's "It's been a minute" had a really cool segment on an article that E. Alex Jung wrote for New York Magazine about all the cultural developments that have happened because of the pandemic. Art became all about the absurdity of our times, much in the same way that after World War I and the 1918 pandemic artists developed Dada. The current art movement has no authorship, it develops organically in the Internet. Society changed so much after within the decade after 1918; for example, women's clothes changed to reflect their empowerment. It is naïve to think that there will not be massive changes within the next decade.

sábado, 12 de dezembro de 2020

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Second day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. I did light the Hanukkiah again.

As I predicted, the SCOTUS has refused to hear another case regarding the election. The lawsuit was from Texas and the court dismissed it saying that the plaintiffs lacked standing. It is kind of funny that Texas, a state that is always complaining about the federal government overreaching its power, now wants to decide how other states should conduct their elections.

It has become quite apparent that the court of Justice Roberts tries to keep things above the fray and, so far, so good. On December 15, we shall see how the Electoral College will vote. I suppose that many Trump supporters have an inkling of hope that the presidential electors will go rogue. I do not blame them because four years ago, I too held on to that fantasy.

We, Portuguese, are about to make a fool of ourselves during our term ahead of the EU. I can already imagine the Prime Minister doubling down on his insults of the Dutch to try to bully them into allowing the EU to send more money to Portugal in the name of solidarity.

What solidarity can we invoke considering how much money we waste in corruption? And what moral ground will we have asking money from other countries who have lost far more people than what we say we've lost? We went into the pandemic saying that we were the economic miracle of the EU; they should just tell us to get on one knee and start praying.

sexta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2020

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There were two things that made me happy today: the first was lighting the Hanukkiah, for today is the first day of Hanukkah; then, at 7PM, my time, PALCUS had a webinar on Portuguese culinary traditions.

I started lighting the Hanukkiah after one Christmas that I spent in DC. On one of the days that I was there, my best friend, with whom I stay when I visit, started to set it up and lit it. I had never seen it done, but I really loved the ceremony and how peaceful it made me feel, so now I light it every year. I have several Hanukkiah, which I started collecting. I was inspired by a Hanukkiah collection on display at the Jewish Museum in NYC, when I visited a few years ago.

When I lived in Portugal, my Mother always made a selection of sweets for Christmas. The last Christmas I spent in Portugal was in 1998, when she was still alive. We always spoke on the phone every week and, many times we would talk about food. One day, I asked her to write me some of her recipes, one of which was for broínhas de Natal. They are these little breads, full of nuts and dried fruits, which are fluffy enough that you wonder how can it be possible, considering that the recipe calls for no fat.

Ten years ago, when I lived in Arkansas, I made it for my coworkers and one of them harassed me until I produced the recipe, as he liked them that much. I cannot have any using the original recipe, but I suppose that I could try making them with gluten-free flour, although it would likely take a few failed attempts until I got it right.

Anyway, happy first day of Hanukkah!

quinta-feira, 10 de dezembro de 2020

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This afternoon, I thought that I was getting a mammogram, but it turns out that they went straight to the ultrasound of my left breast, where I have a fibroid. That's the only thing they checked and at the end, the technician said that in 6 months I should get a mammogram and another ultrasound to get back on track. Utrasounds are expensive; If I recall correctly I am responsible for almost $500 for each breast, which is to say that's how much my visit should have cost me today.

After, I stopped by the grocery store for the first time in over two weeks. I saw one woman with blue hair, sashaying through the aisles without a mask. Everyone else had a mask on and it makes no sense that she would get into the grocery store without a mask, which is against a local Memphis ordinance. It makes even less sense that nobody told her that she needed one to get in. At this rate, we'll never get rid of the virus.

quarta-feira, 9 de dezembro de 2020

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Well, the SCOTUS refused to hear the Trump supporters' case that challeged the election results in Pensylvania and no Justices dissented. The court did not even justify its refusal. It's amazing how quickly the wind turns in the U.S. If you get too comfortable, things will likely not go your way.

There were other funny things in the news this week: for example, Mike Pompeo griping about the elections in Venezuela having been subverted. And even the President-Elect is not being spared in the media, as his administration is being accused of not being as diverse as expected, so to quell the critics he decided to appoint more Latinos.

If someone wants to be honest about diversity, they'll take the composition of the U.S. population and set up the teams accordingly. Personally, I was a bit disappointed that Biden appointed an all-women communications team, which by the way, Trump also did. I don't like it when men put just women in charge of defending them. Plus, why not put an all-women economic policy team? That would be transformative if that were the goal you were going for.

But, thanks to Trump, people are a lot more vocal about having things change and I think that is a good thing. I like the confusion, the competition of ideas, and potential paths forward. If we've already paid the price of having Trump, we might as well, squeeze as much out of it as we can.

terça-feira, 8 de dezembro de 2020

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Since the beginning of March, I have driven less than 3200 miles (5150 Km). Today, I drove a bit because I had some errands to run: buy some cookies for my neighbor, return some broken items to the hardware store, and go to the ATM. During my short little periple, I heard the 6PM news, where we were warned to not hug each other, not even with a mask. I can't imagine why anyone would be doing that, but since so many people still think that the virus is a hoax, it is not surprising.

A few months after the start of the pandemic, I saw some articles in the paper that were trying to put things into perspective: they asked us to imagine that 150 or 200 deaths a day was the equivalent of an airplane falling daily. If that were to happen, would we not be shocked? Yes, but that's because an airplane falling is a shocking thing; it's so rare in the last few years. But now, hardly any airplanes fly anymore and the number of deaths that used to be shocking are just a matter of fact from which we have stripped all emotion.

My neighbor who is a traveling crisis nurse is on assigment again, this time in Louisiana. She did not text me to let me know, but I need to text her to give her moral support. I have always wondered what it would be like to live through a war in our own soil. I guess this is pretty close.

segunda-feira, 7 de dezembro de 2020

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I cannot remember who was the first neighbor that I met in my neighborhood, but in the beginning, when I walked Julian, I would often run into one old lady who had lived here for decades. She spoke with a slight accent and later I found out that she was German, a holocaust survivor. She died two weeks ago, I learned today, while attending our neighborhood Christmas Tree lighting party.

There are times in which one is so busy or not wanting to think too much about things that one forgets to be present. There were a few encounters with my neighbor like that, where I can say that I was not fully present. The first one was fine, but then the second, third, and so on, were as if they were the first and I don't think I was as interested. She was very old and had beginning Alzheimer's, which I did not know at the time, but on our second encounter I knew that her memory was not good.

Her son was one of the nicest people I have ever met. Even though he lived in the Pacific Northwest, he would visit to check on his Mom. I would meet him while he walked her dog and I walked mine and he would always strike a conversation as if we were old acquaintances. How strange to be spoken to like that when one is new to the neighborhood.

My other neighbor in the back has dementia, but somehow manages to always remember me and her daughter tells me that my presence relaxes her a lot. At today's Christmas light pary, she was sitting in a car, so as to be protected from the cold and away from people, but still able to participate in the activity. When I walked to the car to greet her, another neighbor told me that she was asking about me a few minutes earlier.

Sometimes, at home, she'll ask "Where are the girls?" The girls means me and her daughter and we think that in her mind she thinks that we all live together in the same facility. And in a way we do, as we all live in the same neighborhood. Or maybe it's the other way around and this neighborhood lives in us, even after we die.

domingo, 6 de dezembro de 2020

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Segundo as estimativas do Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation relativas a 3 de Dezembro, ainda temos pelo menos uns 5 mil mortos pela frente até 1 de Abril. É cerca de metade de um mês normal pré-pandemia, mas se relaxarmos corremos o risco de acabarmos com perto de 15 mil mortos adicionais. Os números já têm em conta a vacina, mas até 1 de Abril poucas pessoas serão vacinadas.

Assim que a pandemia acabar, vai começar o período de calibração dos dados não só para tentar ver se as contagens estavam correctas, mas também para ver que países foram mais eficazes na implementação de medidas, que países os modelos conseguiram prever melhor, quais o que tiveram maior erro, etc. Não penso que Portugal fique muito bem visto se for sujeito a um escrutínio maior. Aliás, isso já aconteceu recentemente, quando Mário Centeno ficou à frente do Europgrupo. Antes era um génio das Finanças, mas o seu desempenho não deu credibilidade à reputação que tinha "conquistado."

Em Janeiro, Portugal fica à frente da Conselho da União Europeia, logo irá ter corda para se enforcar, que é como quem diz, vai se ver se os europeus são tão tolerantes de gafes como os portugueses.

sábado, 5 de dezembro de 2020


“This virus has humbled me as a professional and a person,” said Michelle Odden, associate professor of epidemiology at Stanford. “I did not think this level of failure in a federal response was possible in the United States. We have a lot of work to do.” Fonte: NYT, 4/12/2020

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A few months before the pandemic, on January 3, to be exact, Jim Sollisch wrote a piece in the Washington Post exalting the act of shopping for groceries every day. And when he said every day, he meant deciding what to cook after visiting the grocery store, nay, grocery stores, for the author spoke highly of curating our grocery shopping experience at different venues daily. I often think of him during the pandemic and how often he shops now, not that I know whether he changed his habits any.

He does have a point that we should acquire produce from different supply chains, just because that would vary the types of soils that the vegetables came from, which also varies the types of microbes that may make it into our gut, as well as the concentration of nutrients. For example, a study of foraging people in Africa shows that they have guts with a lot more biodiversity than urban people, actually completely different guts. And they do not have diseases like Crohn's disease, despite having bacteria in their guts that we usually associate with it in Western societies. Of course, unless we move to this particular tribe and lead the same lifestyle, we're never going to get to that level, but let not best be the enemy of good.

I am a creature of habit at the grocery store and often end up buying the same thing over and over, but with my food intolerances, I have had to change my ways. With the pandemic, I shop more sporadically and I have not picked up or requested delivery of groceries, but, less than two weeks ago, I signed up for a mail delivery service of vegetables, the Misfits Market, which is similar to what, in Portugal, is Fruta Feia, but it is delivered by mail. When I was in Houston, I received produce via another service, which had its own delivery service, which dropped a thermic bag at my door with the goods. The Misfits Market box costs me less than $30, which I think is rather reasonable, but there are more expensive options.

There are a couple of ways to choose the service: one can select which vegetables we would like to be delivered or we can let the company decide what to send. I pick the latter for the simple reason that I want to be surprised and I want to try foods that I have never tried before. Except for okra, as I do not like it that much, but, if push comes to shove and I am ever in the possesion of a handful of this slimy fruit, I have a plan -- chicken gumbo, gluten-free roux, of course. Chicken is the only gumbo I know how to make because I learned the recipe at New Orleans Cooking School in 1999, right before Y2K. On Saturday, my first box came and it included broccoli romanesco. I was surprised that I knew the name, despite it being so rare to find. Needless to say that I had never bought it.

Before the pandemic, the epitome of a good life was to amass experiences: plan and do things. Now, we are limited in the experiences that are available to us, since we cannot travel and we must avoid each other or, at the very least, limit our contact with others. And I surmise that this will go on until next summer at least. But I am thankful that people are more willing to wear a mask when they are in close proximity of others. And I am also grateful for having a way of trying new foods at home.

sexta-feira, 4 de dezembro de 2020

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Ontem iam vacinar 300 mil portugueses na primeira fase; hoje disseram que afinal a primeira fase irá contemplar 950 mil almas. Continua a ser pouca gente e o pior é que Portugal passou os últimos nove meses a assobiar para o lado: se corresse bem, mérito do governo; se corresse mal, era inevitável e já agora precisam de apoio financeiro da UE.

A UE tem um vício muito grande, pois paga quando acontecem tragédias, mas se as coisas correm bem, não há qualquer compensação que não a do bem-estar dos cidadãos. Isso funciona bem com governos altruístas, o que não é claramente o caso do português.

O que é fascinante neste tempo em que as nossas vidas são medidas ao ínfimo detalhe e há dados para tudo, é a facilidade com que algumas entidades da comunicação social organizam esses mesmos dados. Por exemplo, há uns dias a Bloomberg publicou um ranking the resiliência dos países face à pandemia, que combina dados do contágio e mortalidade com dados económicos e qualidade dos serviços de saúde e do bem-estar dos cidadãos.

Os EUA, que toda a gente diz ter um sistema de saúde do terceiro mundo, ficaram em décimo-oitavo lugar e acima de vários países da UE, como Países Baixos (23), Grécia (31), Portugal (33), Espanha (41), e França (45). Nada mal para o país liderado por Donald Trump.

Já o NYT disponibilizou uma ferramenta para calcular qual a prioridade dos americanos no acesso à vacina. Podemos ver a nossa prioridade em termos nacionais e também em termos do estado em que vivemos e até do condado; mas é apenas uma possibilidade, pois ainda não foi divulgado qual a ordem de prioridade para receber vacinas.

Para mim, o mais importante é que a ferramenta mostra quantas pessoas há em cada grupo. Por exemplo, o estado do Tennessee, que é onde eu vivo agora, tem cerca de 365 mil pessoas a trabalhar na área da saúde e 81 mil em lares de idosos, mais 83 mil que trabalham em primeiros socorros. O TN tem 6,8 milhões de pessoas.

A área mais avançada de análise de dados em Portugal é as Finanças. Não sei porque é que não arranjam uma equipa do Ministério das Finanças e a metem a organizar a base de dados de Portugal. Se o combate à pandemia passasse por extrair impostos dos contribuintes, Portugal seria o país da UE mais bem organizado e preparado.

quinta-feira, 3 de dezembro de 2020

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De acordo com a Ministra Marta Temido, Portugal vai comprar 22 milhões de doses de vacinas por 200 milhões de euros. E hoje também foi anunciado que Portugal comprou doses da vacina Pfizer para 300 mil pessoas para a primeira fase de vacinação. E o NYT noticiava hoje que a União Europeia tinha contratado com a Pfizer 200 milhões de doses.

Há aqui umas coisas que eu gostaria clarificadas:

  1. A população de Portugal estava estimada em 10.28 milhões de pessoas em 2019 e os protocolos das vacinas indicam que cada pessoa deverá levar duas doses, logo qual a necessidade de comprar 22 milhões de doses, que dá mais do que duas doses a cada pessoa?
  2. Se se comprar vacinas a mais, não se corre o risco de o país ser acusado de esbanjar recursos que faltariam noutros países, especialmente nos países mais pobres?
  3. A DGS disse que a vacina iria ser facultativa, isso quer dizer que as pessoas não são obrigadas a tomar, logo quantas pessoas é que a DGS espera que não tomem e que efeito terá isso nas metas de imunidade de grupo?
  4. A população da UE é de 446 milhões de pessoas, logo o contrato da UE com a Pfizer, que contempla 200 milhões de doses, permite vacinar 22,4% da população da UE. Só que Portugal anunciou que no início vai só vacinar 300 mil pessoas com a vacina da Pfizer, o que é apenas 2,9% da população portuguesa. Porque é que não vacina mais pessoas com a vacina da Pfizer, se a UE contratou tantas doses?
  5. Como é que Portugal vai escolher as pessoas que vão ser vacinadas na primeira fase? E que hospitais têm condições para administrar esta vacina, que requer refrigeração a muito baixas temperaturas--só os das grandes cidades?
  6. Já agora, quem vai ser o primeiro vacinado do país -- o Presidente da República para tirar a primeira selfie? E o Primeiro Ministro vai ser vacinado quando e com que vacina?
  7. De acordo com a Reuters, cada dose da vacina da Pfizer custa 15,5 euros, logo as 300 mil pessoas irão custar a Portugal 9,3 milhões de euros, o que não é muito dado o orçamento de 200 milhões de euros, ou seja, ficam 190,7 milhões de euros para comprar o resto das vacinas e que Marta temido diz ser 21,4 milhões de doses, o que dá um custo médio de 8,9 euros por dose. A vacina da CureVac custa 10 a 12 euros por dose (ver peça da Reuters), será essa que Portugal está a contemplar comprar?

quarta-feira, 2 de dezembro de 2020

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Janet Yellen joined Twitter! And Senator Grassley, Republican and outgoing Senate Finance Chair, said that the committe needs to see her tax returns before he can make up his mind on her nomination to Treasury Secretary. All it takes is the prospect of a Democratic President for the GOP to care about tax returns. Too funny...

Speaking of finance, I was thinking about the cost of Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine shots themselves range between $3 and $37 per dose, with all the vaccines requiring two doses, but then you have to take into account the infrastructure needed to accomodate the vaccines (refrigeration at facilities, during transportation, data management, vaccination marketing campaign, etc.), plus one must also not forget training medical personnel.

There are also logistic considerations regarding timing. According to an NPR piece interviewing Angie Rasmussen, a virologist, some people feel really bad after taking the vaccine: not just a sore muscle where it was administered, but also feeling physically ill and not able to lead a normal life immediately and that happens after each dose.

So, what are the implications for vaccinating medical personnel, for example? You can't have all your nurses/doctors take the shot at the same time and risk many of them not being able to function for a few days simultaneously. There has to be a plan of staggering administration to people. Then, you also have to make sure that the side effects of the vaccine after the first dose do not discourage people from getting the second one.

It will be interesting to see how each country organizes and manages the vaccination process.

terça-feira, 1 de dezembro de 2020

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I had an interesting exchange on Facebook with a Portuguese man who has lived in the U.S. for 45 years. His argument is that the U.S. is over, that life was easy when he came to the U.S., but now that is not the case. If anything, life in Europe is easier. His comments were in response to a Portuguese young man's question about how to fund his college degree in the U.S., so this older gentleman was not so sure that the U.S. were still the land of opportunity.

That is also the argument of many people, who defend that the social elevator is broken. The truth is a lot more nuanced than that, of course, but there are still plenty of opportunities for people to thrive, but it is true that if you come to the U.S. with nothing, you have to really work hard to get opportunities. Americans like to help people who they see work hard, but they will not make your life easy, if they sense that you don't care.

In many states, access to higher education is more expensive and there is not as much funding for scholarships and on-campus jobs. With the pandemic, things will be even more dire because state governments need to balance the budget. But that young man can still make it in the U.S. and the funny thing is that he's the fourth person that I've seen recently asking about how one can move here.

I suspect that once the pandemic is over and people realize how steep the death toll is, more will come to America.