Thursday, April 23, 2020

What Next?

I declared a Covid-19-free week on my Facebook wall, and that's helped, a little. I've withdrawn, by and large, from the news, checking it quickly each morning just to make sure something truly awful hasn't dared to happen while I slept, and then activating a mental trap door each time I see coronavirus mentioned. That's helped a little more. But -- call it masochism, call it idiocy, call it what you will -- my mind insists on engaging with this on some level, just so it can say see, I'm not entirely ignorant. I was raised in an environment where willful ignorance was a mortal sin: my mind craves information.
I don't want to talk about the personal toll right now.  For one, it's private and for two it hurts too much. I also don't want to speculate about who else close to me is going to get this. Letting my mind loose in that direction is not productive in the slightest. (That's where it wants to go, perversely.)

No, I'd rather engage with this, since I seem to have to, on an abstract level. Let's tackle the bad shit first, get it over with.

Would that we could get it over with. That's the first bad thing: this isn't going to end anytime soon. Lockdown restrictions will ease...and then come back again, likely harsher, when the second wave hits.  Current reckoning by those in the know suggests that if we ever do get a vaccine, it won't be for MINIMUM a year yet. And maybe never: there is no guarantee we'll be able to find an effective vaccine at all, although an unprecedented amount of scientific know-how is going into the search for one, so we'll see. As of yet, we don't even know for sure if Covid-19 is like

  • measles (get it once and survive  = immunity for life)
  • dengue fever (get it once and be lucky enough to survive, get it again and you are a guaranteed corpse)
  • chicken pox (get it once, survive, and you won't get it again but you might get something entirely different)
Absent a vaccine, as I have alluded to, the only way he can in good conscience even relax the current lockdown is with extremely intensive and reliable testing for Covid-19, coupled with contact tracing. Such tests, on the scale needed, are still months away. Creating a reliable test for a novel coronavirus is almost as difficult as creating its vaccine.

There will be a second wave. And probably a third. Let's just hope that the virus doesn't mutate the way the Spanish Flu did, because if that happens, the worldwide death toll will go from a million or so into the billions.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are going to be casualties. It's already starting: one of my favourite places to eat in the universe, called At The Crossroads, is shuttering permanently. Another institution called Anna Mae's has adapted by staging contactless deliveries to cities and towns in their surrounding area, and by all accounts is going great gangbusters. I suspect this will, sadly, further hollow out our landscape such that mostly large chains survive.
Terror for one's livelihood is almost as existential as terror for one's life, and so I don't want to dwell too long here, either. Suffice it to say the retail and service  landscape is going to see some very dramatic changes. Large chains will consolidate their holdings. Small family businesses will have to band together, or perish. I can also see the government, as a condition of bailing a business out, buying a percentage of its stock. That would help with tax revenue, of which there is trifling little at the moment.

A word on bailouts. If your company is registered in some other jurisdiction to dodge taxes, no bailout for you. If your company made enough money in the past two years to cover this year's shortfall, and chose instead another fucking stock buyback, no bailout for you. Learn to budget properly like the rest of us, you pig-greedy corporate assholes. Bailouts need to be reserved for (a) people and (b) family businesses that already run close to the edge of solvency.

Moving on. You might consider planting a garden. A nice big one, with lots of vegetables. The food supply chain might not break down, but there have already been ominous cracks. A pork plant that puts out two percent of the entire American pork supply shuttered for at least two weeks. Two percent doesn't sound like much, but there have been several other shutdowns and I do suspect there will be more yet.

And the final terrible thing I must mention, but will try not to dwell upon, is civil unrest. It's going to get bad. Bad enough that I've been gently telling my American friends to consider relocation to a country with a functional government. It is not inconceivable that country could be in full-fledged civil war by high summer. It will be less severe in Canada, which will undoubtedly be a great comfort to those killed in it.
(Aside: this past week, for the first time in two months, Covid-19 did NOT headline the website at Awful was replaced with horrific: the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, committed by -- to hear the media tell it -- yet another truly nice white guy who snapped. Isn't it odd how there's no mental illness in people of colour? I wonder why that is. I'm still waiting for a white terrorist. I wonder if I'll ever see one.)

Some other changes that are not horrible, but which aren't exactly pleasant, either:

1) LIVE SPORTS ARE DONE FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE. The NHL is musing about opening again in July, in four or five sites only, without fans in the arenas. I will be shocked if this actually happens. The NHL is a gate-driven league: what good is opening the gates if you don't allow people to walk through them? And for damn sure nobody's going to want to walk through them. We take our sports seriously, but speaking only for myself, I'm not going to risk death to see a live hockey game.

2) DITTO LIVE CONCERTS. This one hurts. Kathy and I were going to see Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer in Toronto in August. I can't imagine a scenario by which this concert happens on anything close to its scheduled date, and I further can't imagine anyone, Kathy and I included, who would willingly set foot in the giant petri dish called the Rogers Center.
This doesn't hurt acts like Green Day, who have enough money to easily last them the rest of their lives. It does  hurt outfits like the Cory Band, the best brass band in the world. They, along with many other brass bands and orchestras, have resorted to "social distance banding", and it's amazing, but not exactly lucrative:

Seriously, give that a listen: it's not long, and it will put a smile on your face.
Many artists are putting out Facebook concerts are seeking money on Patreon; Andrew Lloyd-Webber is releasing each of his plays on YouTube on Fridays. Patrick Stewart is reading Shakespeare and Dolly Parton is telling bedtime stories.

In short, everything that possibly can is going to migrate online if it hasn't already. I expect grocery stores to close entirely to shoppers, such that you'll have contactless pickup or contactless delivery only. They've tried keeping stores open, with one-way arrows on the floor that nobody bothers to observe, social distancing markers that nobody bothers to observe, all because you demand the right to handle every piece of produce in the damned bin and infect whatever stockperson/cashier you want to. (Pardon the cynicism: I spent almost twenty years in that trade and believe you me, if anything I'm understating the level of disdain shoppers have for the people who process their transactions and keep their shelves full.  Grocery store workers are dying so you can get your potato chips. Under my system, day staff become pickers and cashiers become packers. Like to do your own shopping? Most of us do. Suck it up, buttercup.


They have to. Do you have any idea how many people are on the set of a movie at any given time? And social distancing is not an option. You're going to see a lot more animation, which can be produced from home. Your big movie blockbuster is on indefinite hiatus.


This is going the way of the dodo and the handshake. (Did you know, a fist bump transmits 95% fewer germs? And that an upraised middle finger (or a bouquet of 'em) is perfectly safe?) In Canada, more than 80% of our transactions are already on plastic, but this still presents some privacy concerns. But cash is unsanitary in the extreme. (At least Canadian banknotes can be submerged in a sink full of soap and water without disintegrating...)

SO LONG, LEISURE TRAVEL. You'd have to be a special kind of stupid to get on a cruise ship, after the much-publicized Diamond Princess debacle. Cruise ships are floating virus repositories as it is; Covid-19 is going to render them extinct. As much as I enjoyed the starter cruise Eva and I went on...good riddance. They are almost unimaginably bad for the environment, they get 30-50 gallons to the mile. the MILE. Our oceans could do with a cleanup, you know?
And airplanes...again, how does that work, when nobody is going to voluntarily sit anywhere near a stranger for some time yet to come?


I hope so, but I doubt it. The CERB is a mock-up of a universal basic income, and while fifty Senators did craft a letter pushing the idea, Trudeau has poured cold water on it. I don't expect this to go away any time soon, especially since (at a rough guess) half the people on CERB right now will not have a job to go back to.
A universal basic income is an idea whose time has come. Here's how it works: you pay everyone, yes, everyone, $2K a month. You then make the next $1K a month that they earn from a job completely tax free. After that, you ramp up taxes, such that anyone making over, say, $75K a year above and beyond the $24K  UBI has that UBI entirely clawed back in taxes. Why not only pay the poor? Two reasons. One, circumstances can change, either way. Two, this would keep a steady stream of tax revenue pouring in to fund the UBI in the first place.


Ecological activists are all over Facebook right now telling us that Covid-19 is but a tiny, tiny taste of what's coming when the climate change train really gets going. I'm entirely sympathetic to their cause, and even I want to give them a suggestion involving sex and travel. Nobody has the time or mental energy to confront the next crisis while this one still hasn't even fully defined itself, That said...there is absolutely no doubt this "pause" has been good for the environment. If we can find away to keep this going without collapsing society, we'll go at least a little distance towards mitigation (if it's not too late already; I do suspect it is).

As always, friends and neighbours, stay safe and healthy.

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