Category Archives: The Quarantined Life

So What is the White House’s Official Position on the Virus?

Can anyone tell me what is the White House’s official position on the virus? Is it a deadly virus and national security threat or no biggie, like a flu that kills lots of people too? If it’s not a big deal, then how were the Chinese government and WHO underplaying its significance?

If the virus is not so deadly – at least not for White people or those with optimal health like the Healthiest President in History™ then why does the president say he needs to undergo an experimental preventive treatment that has yet to be approved by the government that the president himself administers?

Do we need more testing to be safe or not? If we don’t need testing, then why is everyone who works at the White House tested on an ongoing basis? Is that for their protection or for the president’s? Why should White House personnel be tested and not, for example, workers at meat packing facilities?

And if the virus’ threat has been over-hyped by the lame-stream media, then why must the U.S. close its boarders. Are we supposed to be afraid or not?

So if 90,000 dead isn’t such a big deal, we don’t need to wear masks or be tested, and we should drop all these silly restrictions, then:

  • China and the WHO did not do anything wrong
  • White House personnel don’t need tests either
  • Trump does not need to take preventative medication
  • We don’t need to close the boarders, and
  • Obama is definitely not to blame

 

 

 

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Filed under The Quarantined Life, Trump 45

Confinement and Ramadan

UPDATED BELOW

At the beginning of confinement back in March, one of my first thoughts was that lockdown was going to be a lot like Ramadan, just instead of not eating, we wouldn’t be able to go outside. One clear difference, though, was that with Ramadan at least you knew it would last no more than 30 days.

This is only my third year observing Ramadan, but my wife who has celebrated it her entire life always says (and I can now corroborate) that the first week is hard because your body is adjusting. The last week is hard because of the anticipation of it being over. During both the first and last weeks, you are very vocal. You spend a lot of energy speaking to friends and family, first about what you are preparing for evening meals, and then later about what you will do when Ramadan is over. It is that middle period – the in-between days where no one is as excited about what they are cooking and no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel – that is the hardest. Things get real quiet and fasting becomes tedious, losing its celebratory luster.

When confinement began, I switched what I was reading at the time and re-read Camus’ The Plague. One of the things that struck me the most was this comment from one of the characters:

At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there is always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth. In other words, to silence. So let’s wait.

That is exactly how I have felt during this prolonged period of confinement. At first, it was about adjusting to the staying inside, and now it is about what the new normal will be like as we try to slowly reopen. In the middle, it has been real quiet and tedious.

Today is day 15 of Ramadan, so I am in the midst of the silence, routine and grunt of it (and also the secondary effect of lots and lots of hunger-induced typos and grammatical errors). On the bright side, I have shaved off a couple of pounds/kilos.

UPDATE: Continue reading

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Filed under Literature, Living la vida española, Married to a Moroccan, The Quarantined Life

The US is Not Leading and No One is Asking

One of the most newsworthy but least reported stories to come out of Covid-19 is the geopolitical irrelevance of the US on the international stage, signaling the demise of Pax Americana and the US’ role as the indispensable nation.

I have already written why I believe that China will emerge as the new global leader in the same way that the US did after World War II. Surely the Chinese government has its degree of responsibility for this outbreak (without getting into a debate about the virus’ origins). Nevertheless, China is now taking advantage of the vacuum in US leadership to wield soft power in ways that the US used to. China is sending supplies, experts, and aid throughout the world. The US is at home, making a fool of itself.

Think about every major geopolitical and humanitarian crisis since World War II and how the world has looked to the US to lead. But now for this first time since World War II, the US is playing absolutely no leadership role in alleviating the global crisis, and quite frankly, no one is asking.

Some of this makes perfect sense. First, right-wing populists have always played the anti-multinationalism and isolationist game. This has generally been lip-service. A huge part of US hegemony has been making sure the world is absolutely dependent on our disproportionate military, financial and commercial muscle. So while we may whine about the US having to play global police or subsidize more than our fair share, it has always been in our selfish, best interest to pay that price and maintain our dominance. But because Trump has mainstreamed populism – ignoring the leverage that we have had, pulling out of treaties and threatening to pull US financial and logistics support to NATO and international organizations – the rest of the world is simply moving forward without us.

Second, the US failure to take the lead globally with Covid-19 relates to the fact that this is the first time in our country’s collective memory that we have faced a sustained and significant threat on U.S. soil. Even Pearl Harbor and 911 were one-time attacks and we were able to mobilize against them by fighting abroad with the vast majority of fatalities occurring abroad. Ironically, a small group of Americans are protesting the lockdown, social distancing and confinement as unduly hindering their personal freedoms without considering that what they are living through is a mild peaceful version (without constant bombings) of what people in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to endure when the US took revenge on the wrong people after 911. The US has always been able to fight its battle without feeling the imminent threat at home, and Covid-19 has changed that.

In her recent article, “The Rest of the World is Laughing at Trump,” Anne Applebaum describes how Trump has left a “leadership vacuum” being filled by China and how we have becoming a laughing stock. Even in Spain which has been one of the hardest hit countries with dismal numbers, the Spanish vice president was able to defend her administration’s response by contrasting  it with a “country who was recommending ingesting bleach.”

Most of the world still remembers the lies and fraud leading to the Iraq war, so imagine how those in the rest of the world perceive the absurdity of Trump’s press conferences, binge tweeting and more importantly the total absolute lack of an American plan even after months. This may likely be the nail in the coffin. Applebaum writes:

I wish I could say for certain that a President Joe Biden could turn this all around, but by next year it may be too late. The memories of the prime minister at the airport, welcoming Chinese doctors, will remain. The bleach jokes and memes will still cause the occasional chuckle. Whoever replaces Pompeo will have only four short years to repair the damage, and that might not be enough.

And if Trump wins a second term? Any nation can make a mistake once, elect a bad leader once. But if Americans choose Trump again, that will send a clear message: We are no longer a serious nation. We are as ignorant as our thoughtless, narcissistic, ignorant president. Don’t be surprised if the rest of the world takes note of that, too.

Most likely the geopolitical impact of Covid-19 will be that countries tighten borders – as the biggest threat to countries that have best controlled the virus will be from those entering the country from abroad – meaning more domestic travel and trade, less transboarder transactions, and increased nationalism. This sounds very much like Trump and his supporters worldview.

But as I wrote previously, the world didn’t want American style democracy after World War II because of its ideals. They wanted to live prosperous American lives with big cars and big houses. They wanted to live in a country not destroyed by war. When a country — especially a developing country – looks at who is prospering and who they want to become, they will see two models. One will be where there is lots of political bickering, childish insults, partisanship, gridlock, nepotism, gerrymandering, inequality, and social unrest. The other will be a utilitarian and authoritarian regime that prioritizes the economic growth over individualism and was the first out of running. And most likely, they’ll remember the airplanes full of supplies, not the conspiracy theories from the one that sold them WMDs even before their Reality TV star was pushing miracle cures.

Not convinced? Yes, everyone is hoping the US quickly develops a vaccine or treatment, but dozens of other countries are also hard at work. But in the meantime, the red phone in the Oval Office isn’t ringing, and no one is knocking on the White House door to come to the rescue. That in the past 100 years is unprecedented.

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Filed under The Quarantined Life, Trump 45

Esto no es vida but it’s the only one we’ve got

Last Sunday was the first day that my children’s feet touched the street in forty-five days. Tears came to my eyes as I watched them sprint down the sidewalk. Freedom, albeit limited.

On the Monday, we went out when there were much less children and found a quiet path beneath some trees. At first, I felt like I was living in a chapter of The Road, but then I had my own feeling of freedom. In Spain, there is a saying when things are bad: “Esto no es vida” or “this is no life”. But this is our life. It is the only one we’re living, so we have to enjoy it. Who knows what will happen next? Right now we are healthy, tomorrow that may not be the case. Let’s enjoy the small freedoms and all the other ways life is worth living.

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Filed under Friends / Family, Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

Walking Around

During the past 50 odd days living under the strict confinement rules here in Madrid, Spain, I have often looked out from my balcony towards the horizon where I would have previously seen a constant flow of airplanes landing. These days I have only seen empty skies. When I look down towards the streets where I would have previously seen traffic and people walking around, now the streets seem liberated of human activity save for the stray dog-walker and the occasional empty bus with its lone driver. Except for birds chirping in the early hours of the day and the 8pm applause of neighbors, more than anything else confinement in Madrid has been defined by silence.

And each day, I have thought about Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around”. Sure, I want my kids to leave the house, go to school, soccer practice, and play with their friends. They need other kids more than anything else right now. And sure, I would love to be able to go to the grocery store or walk out the front door and not fear that inhaling or touching my face were life threatening. I do not want to live in fear. I do not want to breath into a piece of cloth. I do not want to question if and when I will see family again.

But I am not ready to go back. I don’t have any need to ride the bus to work or get into a crowded elevator. I don’t feel nostalgia for the office, for meeting rooms, or dropping by someone’s desk. I don’t want to share the same door handles or bathroom. I don’t miss button-down shirts or proper pants. I am getting along with out them very well. I could use a haircut, but like Neruda’s man who is sick of being a man, I don’t want to walk into a barbershop.

But then today, after seven weeks of silence, adults have been allowed out of their homes, albeit on a limited basis. And suddenly, I look over my balcony and finally everywhere there are people … walking around.

Continue reading

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Filed under Friends / Family, Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

My Children’s Mental Health is what Terrifies Me about Covid-19

 

We live in Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19 and with some of the strictest confinement rules around. Covid-19 has affected people here in many different ways from

  • the health care works living through war-like conditions with war-like causalities,
  • to sick and dying wondering whether they will leave this earth without ever seeing the face or feeling the embrace of a loved one again,
  • to the family-centric Spaniards watching from a distance as their parents and loved ones die without being able to do anything to comfort them or even bury their bodies,
  • to those single people who haven’t had a physical human interaction (other than at the grocery store) in over 50 days,
  • to families like mine trying to juggle work and homeschooling with their children’s extreme cabin fever.

My family has been very fortunate that we haven’t been sick yet and that as non-Spaniards we haven’t had to suffer the predicament of elderly relatives.  So while I recognize that Covid-19 has been much harder on other people here than on us, watching the impact on my children’s mental health and not knowing how to help has been worse than the sleepless nights, the worrying about the future, or when I will see my parents again.

Even when the government lifted the strict restrictions on children leaving the house after 45 days of total confinement, the one hour/day walk they’re now permitted to do isn’t doing the trick. I still witness my children unravel – from one moment to the next – before my eyes. And it terrifies me. More than going outside, they need to interact with other children their age. The need space from their brothers and sisters, from the parents. They need to be with other people that do not live in their same home, and they need to be with them in 3D, not on a flat screen with a blue light.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time in the near future. More than wanting my life back, I want theirs back.

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Filed under Friends / Family, Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

Hit Me with Music !

With everything thing – big and small – we’ve lost during these days of confinement and that we will lose in the days to follow, I have constantly turned to music: to make domestic choirs and exercise bearable; to sneak in moments of joy with housemates and neighbors; to mute the fear and despair that invade my thoughts.

I keep thinking about Bob Marley’s greatest and most profound lyric:

One good thing about music: when it hits you feel no pain, so hit me with music!

Where would we be without music?

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Filed under Digressions, The Quarantined Life

Spanish Leadership, Casa de Papel and Covid-19

This is my twentieth year living in Spain, and during this time I have learned to appreciate Spaniards for their modesty, compassion, intelligence, tolerance, family values, kindness and generosity. Spaniards are as forgiving as Americans are vindictive. They are great colleagues and great neighbors. Spain has an incredibly competent workforce with a high level of expertise and excellent professionals, including doctors and scientists. In many ways, the government works surprisingly efficiently with many processes like paying taxes almost fully digitalized.

But where Spaniards lack is in leadership. Culturally — with high value placed on consensus, modesty and conformity — it is very difficult for a Spaniard to raise her voice. Standing out in a crowd and being noticed is vulgar. Where Americans all dream of being the guy who gets to take the penalty kick or the last second shot to win the game, Spaniards never want to be the trigger man. Prior to the generation of Pau Gasol, Iker Casillas, and Rafa Nadal, Spaniards were losers. Not because they were worse athletes, less skilled or didn’t work as hard, they lost because they were afraid to succeed.

This inability to lead and to make the hard decisions also translates into a management culture of passiveness and indecision, where a crisis is not met with urgency but with paralysis like a dear in the headlights. The bosses are more worried about getting it wrong than focused on getting it right.

The Spanish TV series Casa de Papel (The Money Heist in English) — a story about a hostage crisis at the Spanish national minta — is the perfect microcosm of this culture. The show is excellent. The writing, acting and production are world class. The chief investigator in charge of managing an unprecedented crisis of national security, intense political pressure and non-stop press coverage nonetheless find the time to leave the war room to:

  • Take numerous coffee breaks during the day
  • Go to the bar to grab a beer and unwind
  • Go home for dinner every night
  • Fall in love with a stranger

There is a national crisis, yet the chief investigator does not interrupt the daily essentials of Spanish life: her coffee, her caña, her family obligations, and her personal life. There is no urgency. There is no concept of prioritization. The wealth of competence is interrupted by other earthly distractions causing an inability to focus.

Yes, like Hollywood, the show takes lots of liberties to make the story more entertaining. I get it, but this is in fact exactly what Spanish management culture is like. It is exactly how the Spanish government is managing the Covid-19 crisis.  Again, Spain is a country full of scientific experts, competent doctors, hard-working health care workers dedicated to putting their own lives at risk to save others, police and citizens ready to lend a hand. It is an amazingly praiseworthy society. These are people I admire. Nevertheless, the leaders are simply incapable of leading.

I don’t blame this particular government. I’ve lived here long enough to know that any of the other political alternatives would have failed in exactly the same ways. I also get that the politicians and experts are overwhelmed, exhausted and facing a once in a century crisis. I do not question their earnestness. But while the U.S. leadership is made up of sociopaths who make decisions out of malice or for self-gain, the Spanish government is simply paralyzed by its inability to act.

There is no plan. Just lockdown. After 40 days of confinement there is no end in sight. Just indecision and improv.

So where is the urgency? Where are the leaders? Where are the Gasols, Casillas, and Nadals convinced of their ability to win carrying them to victor? Just as they represented a landmark cultural shift in Spanish sports, we desperately need a change in Spanish leadership culture. It is a matter of life or death!

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Filed under Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

Either Trump is an Idiot or He is Convinced You Are

Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. will close its borders to immigrants. That was news to be me because I would have thought that in Trump’s infinite wisdom this was already the case. Most countries in Europe, for example, took those steps in March and have strictly limited not only the entrance into the country but even domestic travel.

Come on! What impact would this announcement have. Hasn’t almost all travel been halted?

But another thing confuses me. We keep hearing from Fox News and the president himself that we should immediately open up the economy and remove restrictions. They say things aren’t so bad after all. So we should open up, then why do we need to keep the borders closed?

Oh, there’s the jobs arguments. If we don’t let in foreigners, then they won’t take the jobs of unemployed Americans. But who is going to work the fields? Who is going to take the jobs that Americans don’t want or aren’t qualified to do? How can you get your economy back on track if your food supply chain is severely hindered by not having field workers or if your companies cannot compete with the best workers? Didn’t Republicans tell us for years that regulating the labor market was bad?

Maybe Covid-19 has finally lifted the veil of the American lie and has George Packer writes, “We Are Living in a Failed State”:

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

Jared – the expert – has become the poster-boy for the final nail in the American-greatness coffin:

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

. . .

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

You almost wonder whether the president is an idiot. Or maybe he just thinks you are the idiot who is going to buy one of his steaks or a degree from his university.

We need to being screaming “the Emperor is naked” at the top of our lungs or we’ll never survive !

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Filed under The Quarantined Life, Trump 45, We The People

How Quickly Everything Changes

One month ago

Easter weekend is coming up. We were supposed to be in Florida on vacation, but now we’re quarantined here in Madrid until further notice. My children have literally not left the house in 26 days. I leave my apartment building only to take out the trash, grab the nerf ball when it goes over the balcony, or to go grocery shopping which I aim to do only once per week (but it usually turns out to be once every 5 days).

Today

Today we are out of milk and bread. We have very little fruit or vegetables left, so I have no choice but to make a mask out of whatever I can find in the house, put on gloves and venture out.

I go shopping at the grocery store in Palacio de Hielo next to where we live. As mentioned previously, the ice-skating rink (which is located on top of the grocery store) has been converted into a morgue. Exactly one month ago, just days before schools were closed, my son was at a birthday at the ice-skating rink.

Every aspect of our lives and the world around us have changed. All very quickly.

 

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Filed under Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life