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Chronicling An Infectious Disease Quarantine

The door of my high school locker had a magazine ad pasted on it. Orange background, a minimalist plastic chair and the words SEE YOU IN 2020. It was 1992, the internet was coming alive, I was learning to write email in vi and had just discovered Project Gutenberg, and the future was going to be connected, accessible and superb. So why wasn’t my Generation X happy in the early 1990s? Why did we innately not buy the promises of the future, as we simultaneously built one? It’s probably a combination of the confident optimism of youth and that not many of us thought 2020 would come. Surely, our parents would wipe the planet off the face of the solar system by 2000.

Not only are we in 2020, it is neither the dystopian Sprawl imagined by the likes of Gibson and Stephenson nor is it a better and braver place. It’s an altogether different thing held together by the unimaginable events of the last 30 years, but one we would have seen coming had we heeded the words of those who warned against the increasing privatization of the commons, power gathered and wielded by fewer and fewer, modernized but not eradicated colonialism, global absorption of bad western habits, and the resultant lack of leadership and vision when we need it the most.

When I re-christened this blog From Kuwait To Katrina And Beyond in 2006, little did I think yonder would be a virus-related pandemic. At some point, I joked that two data points do constitute a trend for large values of each datum. After losing one home permanently to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait of 1990 and temporarily losing another to Katrina in 2005, I am going to build my home into an underground bunker and march in there in 2020. Welcome to America, COVID-19. Are you going to question my trend game now? Terrible and anecdotal correlations aside, it is a bit eerie that we are now in a quarantine likely headed into a lockdown with a large number of Americans in zombie-apocalypse mode. And there’s no disaster so bad that can’t be made worse through fear, panic, denial and the lack of reliable, actionable information.

Few people read this long-form medium and particularly this space any longer and I admit to growing large audiences on social media sites I don’t own (again with that Why Do We Build It As We Resent It?). So, I took to Facebook today to share a thoughtful piece by Radio Open Source: COVID-19 and Incompetence with the following preface.

As this virus passes through, my hope is that Americans become more reliant on science, data and reason, and less on magical thinking. Prayer is personal and a great source of calm, but prayer as policy is dangerous and will only make us sicker. I enjoyed this Radio Open Source podcast. May it get us all thinking about educated, informed and strong public health.

Facebook informed me a few hours later that this post violated their community standards against spam. How I can spam my own feed is beyond me, but what I find more annoying is that Facebook wrongly blocked legitimate CV-19 websites because of a bug in their spam filter. All of the post-Katrina, post-Flood, post-Macondo, during-Trump frustration with the disruption of valuable discourse, when we need it the most, came rushing back. Yet again and at least, this is my space where I can post all of the information and thoughts I want in the order that I want and in the medium and format that I want without interruption by ads. (Another prediction I made about the emergence of our AI overlords by 2020 has been proven wrong.)

So, it’s March 17th 2020 – St. Patrick’s Day and Day 2 of the Houston-wide mandate to socially distance, work from home as much as possible, and help the city flatten the curve. Houston is a globally-revered medical mecca, but Texas has about 2.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people ”less than one-fourth the rate of South Korea.” We are also at the mercy of our failure to prepare as a nation, which is already taking its toll. On the plus side, no in-person work meetings that could have been emails, virtually chatting and reading books with friends to stave off cabin fever, and, man, my home office has never been cleaner.

If blogs are not your thing, find me on Twitter and Instagram (see sidebar). Slightly different styles of updates at each place, but the message remains the same – Peace, love and hand sanitizer. Stay informed. Stay well. Stay.

And help me increase the signal to noise ratio by leaving comments anywhere and everywhere with numbers and links.

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