There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. This was the first week of several where most of the population is working from home or otherwise isolated. My parents haven't talk to anyone in over two weeks now; our entire family spends nearly the entire day in our house; businesses are either offering curbside pickup or are completely shut down.
It is hard to believe it has only been a week, and that the week before that was the real start of the preparation. Our family seems to be handling the close proximity and change of schedule well so far, but there are several weeks of this to come.
Economy and COVID:
As I mentioned last week, the economy is reeling from the shutdown stores and businesses and the hits to the global supply chain. Of particular interest to Albertans, whose economic well-being is nearly inseparable from the oil and gas sector, the price of oil continues to fall. Take a look at the next two graphics, and see if you can tell the difference between a barrel of Western Canadian Select crude and a Starbucks Iced Cocoa Macchiato.
Now I've never tasted either but I assume the Starbucks drink is more appealing to the palate. But even more disturbing that the thought of drinking crude oil, at least in terms of the Alberta economy, is that on Friday the Starbucks Macchiato cost more than a barrel of crude oil from our province. The impact to Alberta cannot be overstated.
Common wisdom is that conventional oil in Alberta costs about $40 per barrel to produce. The provincial budget for 2020 forecast oil to be at around $58 per barrel. A fifty dollar differential is the difference between having social programs that the government is looking to radically overhaul and not having any social programs at all..
We have already seen calls from US President Trump to "restart" the US economy, citing concerns that America “cannot” let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” I am certain that there are grave economic concerns in the US, but I doubt that the combined impact of COVID and low oil prices has a bigger impact in any jurisdiction in the US than it does in Alberta. So far, Alberta politicians have not called for economic considerations to take precedence over public health considerations. So far.
With that news, I am impressed that I only had one new beer this week. I have posted about Collective Arts previously and I contend that they are one of the best breweries in Canada.
It was with this pedigree in mind that earlier this week I tried their Lunch Money American Blond. A handsome looking beer in a beautiful can, so everything started out well. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't stack up with the rest of the Collective Arts lineup and was pretty generic stuff. It wasn't poorly done, but didn't have much to keep me interested. (3.0 / 5)
On a different note, I received the "Here's To You (Level 5)" badge from Untappd, signifying five years of logging my beers on that site. In those five years, I have logged 645 unique beers or an average of one new beer every 2.84 days. Since my first post on this site one year ago, I have logged 111 new beers or an average of one every 3.35 days. My beer consumption is going down, and at this rate, I'll never meet my personal quest of drinking one of every beer in the world.
Very little reading this week, so only a single new word.
And what a week it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. We are still in the throes of winter with temperatures well below normal, and with lots of snow and ice on the ground. Most years that would be enough to qualify for making a bad week, but of course this year is different.
We have now finished our first week after shit-got-real, with school closures, store closures, transit service decreases, and more.
There is definitely an impact to us locally, with 226 confirmed cases in Alberta and one death. The measures we are taking will hopefully limit the spread at best and at worst will flatten the curve so that our healthcare system can get through the presumed massive numbers of people who will require hospitalization.
What we of course want to prevent is the absolute terror of the situation in Italy. As I planned this week's entry over the past few days, I wrote myself a note that said: "Italy on track to have more COVID deaths than China." That milestone was passed on Friday and now two days later, Italy has greatly surpassed China. Looking back at what I posted last week, there have been 45 deaths in China in the last week, but a staggering 3,016 deaths in Italy. To put that into perspective, there have been almost as many people die in Italy IN THE LAST WEEK than have died in China since the start of this outbreak.
As has been reported in multiple media [1, 2], Italy is a well-developed country with excellent hospitals and healthcare, but the massive volumes are crushing the system. The virus is undoubtedly deadly but the compound effects of a crippled healthcare system are even more frightening. Measures being taken here in Alberta to ensure there is capacity in the hospitals include postponing elective and scheduled surgeries and opening drive-through assessment centers, The steps we take now can hopefully shield us from what Italy is experiencing and what China experienced.
It is important to understand that Italy is not the only country in trouble right now. Reported cases are spiking in Spain and the US as you can see on the image above, and Spain is warning that the "worst is yet to come". There is an extensive lockdown in Spain right now, much more than what we are experiencing.
Even measures as strict as what Spain are instituting might not be enough though. The Washington Post opened the story that image came from with a warning from the World Health Organization saying that "such measures alone are not sufficient" and "that the disease could jump back after movement restrictions are lifted."
And then there is the impact to the economy.
All those store closures, and the impact to the global supply chain that Harvard Business Review predicted at the end of February, is killing economies around the world. The Indicator from Planet Money is only talking about COVID-related indicators and stories now, and their episode on Friday was particularly telling. The Indicator is a pretty light economics show, much more so than EconTalk or even Freakonomics so I don't expect major pronouncements or severe warnings on the show. On Friday however, co-host Cardiff Garcia said he was "terrified" of the impact to small business. His economic indicator for Friday's episode was that most small businesses only have 27 days of cash flow. After that, they have to shut down. To prolong their survival past 27 days, they could cut costs but that means more people unemployed, which means less money circulating in the economy, which means less spending, which means more impact to the economy.
The question then is to forecast how big the impact will be to the economy of a country. If the analysis from Goldman Sachs is accurate, the US economy is set to shrink by 24%. Think about that. A quarter of the economy of the United States, the largest economy in the world, will be gone. A quarter. I don't have any more words to describe this.
With all of that, with the impact to the entire world and the global economy, we humans still find a way to hate each other instead of pulling together. Some of it is overt, and some of it is more subtle, but none of it is good.
Less problematic if only because of his much smaller presence and influence was Scott Adams' use of the #WuFlu hashtag in his daily podcast updates. To be fair to Adams, he stopped using #WuFlu hashtag a week ago, and he only stopped calling it coronavirus for a few days. but for days he did paint the virus with a particular epithet that could only inflame some people and insult other.
Why come out now after weeks of coverage and call it the "Chinese Virus" or #WuFlu? What is the benefit of tagging this pandemic to a country or a people? I should listen to all of Adams's recent podcasts to see if there is a hint on why the changes were made.
I will leave you with some good news. My friend Tomas highlighted this list of organizations that are doing things to support employees, customers, and people in general, from paying hourly workers even if they are sick, to companies opening up their paywalls to offer content for free. Thanks to Scott Monty for coordinating this work.
I can imagine many of my non-existent readers remotely verbally lambasting my decision to post about the new beers I have had in the past week. The end is nigh, and this yahoo wants to talk about beer?!
I get it. My (tongue-in-cheek) personal goal to drink one of every beer in the world is trite and silly, but it was never meant to be anything more than that. I came up with what I thought was a catchy phrase and I've been using it for five years when I talk about beer. That's all it is meant to be, and that was something that was interesting and important to me in the past.
And that's why it is so important now. The world is different, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on everything. In fact I would argue that we have to hold on to what we had and still have to anchor us and get us through our isolation, our fear, and our anxiety. Recognizing what we have, being content with who we are and what we have, and living in the moment are some of the greatest goals of philosophers from ancient times to present. It is with that that I unabashedly present to you the new beers I had this week.
The first beer was the Prairie Pirate Black IPA from Ribstone Creek Brewery. It was not bad, but had a less texture and taste than I had hoped. I also thought it could have been been hoppier. It was a beautiful looking beer though. (3.25 / 5) The second beer was another Alberta Beer Week collab, this one between Town Square and Sawback out of Red Deer. The Glaze of Glory brown ale was supposed to be full of donut-y flavor, salted caramel, and bacon. I didn't get much of any of those and so was left with just another brown, which is really not a style I like that much. (3.0 / 5). Last up was the Patience Pale Ale from Legend 7. This is the last beer out of a Legend 7 sampler and it unfortunately was my least favorite of the bunch. It was a beer, yes, but wasn't memorable in any way. (3.0 /5)
The vocab muscle didn't get much exercise this past week, and I have a vague recollection of having looked up a couple of them in the past.
I took a pause last week mainly to let the impact of coronavirus aka COVID-19 sink in. It is easy to think that there is nothing else to talk about, and that is largely true. However, I am concerned that our new single-minded focus on the urgent will distract us from the important. I wrote the following in early December:
The trouble with working incredible hours and having a single-minded focus is that there is no mental capacity for anything beyond the focus of the single-mindedness. My brother-in-law apparently sold his house and moved cities. Vague recollection. A colleague is starting the next round of chemotherapy. Ringing some bells. The new Star Wars movie opens mid-month. Yeah, I think I saw a trailer for that.
I wrote that fourteen weeks ago, a couple weeks before the first case of coronavirus was announced. At that time, the single-minded focus was the result of work and a major system deployment. Now a global pandemic is focusing our thoughts to our health and safety, to stockpiling and hunkering down..
If it is possible to think about this objectively and intellectually, it is really fascinating how COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our lives, including the mundane and subtle. Think of the new entries into our lexicon as a result of this pandemic, like social distancing. I wonder if 1,000 people in the entire world had spoken that phrase before last month, and just last week, three major media outlets all felt obliged to define it for their readers. Social distancing is too new to make the March 2020 update to the OED, but I suspect that it will be in the June 2020 update.
A quick scan of media is a good way to gauge how much impact any topic has. My podcast feed has been dominated by COVID-19 and what-the-hell-happened-to-the-economy episodes for the last two weeks, and I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
The data nerd in me is fascinated by good GIS maps and useful data visualizations. The most useful map I have come across for COVID-19 info is the one published by Johns Hopkins University. The combination of geography-based reporting down to the province or state level (for China, US, Canada and Australia) and the day-by-day breakdown of infections is particularly helpful for gaining understanding of how big this really is.
But then of course someone has to prey on the chaos and fear, and decides to produce a fake JHU map that downloads malware on to computers. The Hacker News reported on this earlier this week. If you do look for the COVID map, make sure you are going to the official Johns Hopkins site. (You could trust the link I shared above, but your best course of action is to search for it yourself.)
In the words of my 12 year-old daughter, "2020 sucks so far."
The "reading" lately has all been almost exclusively podcasts. I won't do a recap on any of the recent episodes because they are all very timely and specific to COVID-19 or the economy and as such have likely very little utility in the future. .
As far as actual reading goes, I have fallen terribly behind in my reading clubs for "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". If I don't get back into those two books soon, I fear that I won't be able to get back into a rhythm and catch up with the group. I do have a few books in progress and I hope to get back to them this week.
Last week, I finished a YA novel with my 12 year-old daughter. Book #11 for 2022 was "I, Q: Independence Hall" was a super enjoyable spy novel, full of intrigue and threats of violence, without all of the typical tropey YA garbage about how the adults can't save the world and how the kids are so much smarter than their parents. In the end, the kids are central to the plot - it wouldn't be YA if that wasn't the case - but they aren't invincible and they desperately need the adults to help in certain situations. This is a series with author Roland Smith delivering six novels in six different historically significant settings in the US. I'm not sure if I will read all six by myself, but I will certainly read at least one more with my daughter.
There were only three new beers in the past fortnight. I am rapidly closing in on my five-year anniversary on Untappd, and in that time have logged 641 unique beers. My pace is for a new beer every 2.84 days, which is down from 2.74 days as noted in my first ever post on this site.
The first beer was the Steamworks Pilsner from Steamworks Brewery in Vancover. I found it to be decent but not great, with nice lacing but a bit too much fizz. (3.25 / 5). The next was the Moosehead Grapefruit Radler. It was nice and juicy, and pretty lightweight but that's to be expected in a radler. Good stuff and definitely something to consider for hot summer days. (3.5 / 5) Last up was my second beer from Odd Company. Their Carrot and Blood Orange Sour was good, but definitely not as good as their Mulled Lambrusco that I raved about a couple weeks ago. Still, I think Odd Company is worth looking for based on the first two of their beers that I have tried. (3.25 / 5)
Not a lot of reading in the past fortnight translates into not a lot of new words.
car·a·bi·neer | \ ˌker-ə-bə-ˈnir , ˌka-rə- \
(variants: or carabinier)