April 10th, 2020

mom walk

the bubble is popping

The best thing about the last week of coronavirus coverage is that some people in the west have gotten over their initial panic and are starting to write critically about the response.

My favorite article of the past week was in the Journal of Medical Ethics blog: The vital contexts of coronavirus.

Money quote: Take Scotland: here, the death rate had averaged between 6 and 8 people per day before increasing to 16 on the 1st of April. But the typical death rate in Scotland is 160 people per day, with about a quarter of them dying of cancer. This means that the virus is currently increasing the daily rate by 10% (and before that around 5%) – a substantial increase, but not as massive as many members of the public are probably assuming, given the press coverage. Reporting the increasing number of deaths in isolation without this context is likely to increase people's stress about the virus, because people are unaware of how many people normally die each day.

This is the one thing i wish most that the media would change about their coverage. Stop putting this arbitrary number of cases front and center. Give people the context to understand the problem by comparing actual hospital admissions and deaths to the baseline.

Obviously this virus is much worse than a normal cold or flu. However, seeing it in relation to other massive killers makes it easier for me to conceptualize. The worst case scenarios say tens of millions could die around the world - similar to the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. That would be terrible. But it also would still "only" be twice as many people dying around the world as normal for a year. This isn't an extinction event. Humankind will prevail.

I lost my mother to cancer last year. My godfather died of cancer a while back, as did my sister's godmother and one of my aunts. Three of my grandparents have passed away. My closest friend committed suicide. Several other friends have also taken their own lives, or died from a drug overdose. People around me die, maybe one every couple years. So the odds are that someone around me will die this year. One of my friends in the UK already got the corona. He recovered. Others will get it and may not. I could get it and may not.

I don't want to die, but i also don't want to remain trapped in one country, unable to quit or move, while tens or hundreds of millions around the world lose their jobs, their incomes, their schooling, their ways of life. And i really don't want to live in a world that chooses to come out the other end of this like China did - with notably heightened xenophobia and a retreat to the comforting embrace of authoritarianism.

While there were some people in the anarchist and libertarian worlds that complained about this stuff from day one, the past week has thankfully seen more opinion pieces coming from the political mainstream that also face the reality of what these lockdown policies have done to society. People are starting to cotton on to how bourgeois a mass lockdown policy is.

As expected, lockdown means many blue and pink collar people lose their jobs immediately while most white collar people continue to collect a salary and work from home. I am still waiting for the day when the headline is not "coronavirus puts 6 million out of work" and is instead more accurately expressed as "government lockdown puts 6 million out of work" or "employers lay off 6 million working class people".

People who can afford property enjoy the fresh air and space of their back yard or balcony while those of less means are cooped up in cramped apartments or share accommodation. In places where going outside for a walk has been banned, the disparity is compounded. Even where going outside hasn't been banned, the hysterical masses have supported police and private security engaging in brutal enforcement, often targeting the poor.

Here is Edward Santow, Australia's human rights commissioner with an opinion piece in the Guardian: We must combat Covid-19 but creeping authoritarianism could do more harm than good.

Meanwhile, to get everyone over the hump, the government suddenly finds buckets of money that for years they claimed weren't available when it came to using them to pay for other social welfare programs. Naturally, big business is enjoying the spoils already, while the newly-unemployed still wait for their cut to trickle down.

Matt Stoller wrote about the challenges getting money to the people yesterday in his newsletter: The Cantillon Effect: Why Wall Street Gets a Bailout and You Don't.

Extract: [Cantillon's] basic theory was that who benefits when the state prints a bunch of money is based on the institutional setup of that state. In the 18th century, this meant that the closer you were to the king and the wealthy, the more you benefitted, and the further away you were, the more you were harmed. Money, in other words, is not neutral.

Aside from lockdowns, the other outrageous policy the whole world is living with right now is closed borders. Here in China we're dealing with it on the micro level - all neighborhoods are still fenced in and closed off to outsiders - but countries everywhere have effectively shut down their national borders. This is some kind of medieval bullshit that goes against everything i hold dear. It's like Brexit++, further stripping me of my identity as a human, a migrant, a wanderer, and not a citizen of any particular state.

But the assault on my identity is a first world problem compared to all the actual refugees, economic migrants and stateless folks caught up in the middle of this mess. The UNHCR is reporting on their plight: Live blog: Refugees in the COVID-19 crisis. It can tend a bit toward fluffy feel-good stories, but they post links to harder hitting reporting too.

Anyway, it's Friday morning for me and i am staying home so that i have time to do grocery shopping. The supermarket's restricted hours during lockdown have been lifted, but it still closes early at 8pm which means i don't have time to shop after work. After posting this i will walk around to my village checkpoint and then loop back to the wet market near my house to get some supplies. Then do the whole loop in reverse, come home, brew coffee and jump onto Outlook and Zoom and Slack to do my last day of work shit before the weekend.

My life is not too bad right now, relatively speaking. I've spent 2+ months keeping my head down and doing everything the government told me to do. I've done my bit for flattening the curve. Doesn't mean i'm not still upset about it all.
mom walk

totally insensitive furlough party

This morning when i checked my work email i got just about the best email i have ever received.

Voluntary furlough, y'all.

Let me share a bit more about my job.

I work at a tech company, but our industry is travel. Our business has been completely decimated by the travel bans and mandatory quarantines now implemented all over the world. Lockdowns mean people are not even traveling inside their own countries any more. Our revenue dropped pretty much to zero in the space of a few weeks.

The recovery will fucking suck. While other industries will come back online in their local regions as lockdowns are lifted, travel will be utterly fucked until mandatory quarantines are over. There will still be a few people who need to travel, of course, but the vast majority of people are not going to be able to spend 14 days in quarantine every time they arrive in a new destination. And that's assuming they would even be allowed in - right now many countries have a blanket ban on all non-citizens entering.

So. My company is in the shit. We will probably make it through, but my guess is it'll be 6 months or more till we even get close to bringing in enough to cover our monthly costs again.

Because we are a tech company, our costs are largely the people. Getting an email asking for volunteers to take paid furlough, reduced hours or unpaid leave was not a big surprise. Four other tech companies i have worked at before this one have all gone through their tough times and oldtimer colleagues often tell war stories of "back when we all took reduced hours to keep the company afloat".

I didn't even read the FAQ, i immediately volunteered for the options to reduce to a 3- or 4-day work week, and emailed that i'd be good to furlough as well as long as it doesn't affect my visa status.

This shit is made for me. My lifestyle is so simple that over the past 12 months of working at my current job, i have literally spent none of my income. I am still living off the income from my previous jobs in China. And starting at this company doubled my salary!

I have written a lot in this journal about how disgusting it is that tech workers get paid so much money. It is truly shameful how much we are paid, given how cushy our work is.

I couldn't believe it when my company decided to subsidize private vehicles as part of their "come back to work" perks for Shenzhen employees. They gave everyone a coronavirus bonus too, back when they thought the virus wasn't going to make it out of China. It was some kind of weird gift to show their recognition for the stress we all went through. Needless to say, i did not claim the bonus because you had to bring in receipts, and the wet market does not give receipts.

Also. The principle of the thing. Coronavirus bonus. Like, are you fucking kidding me? We are some of the highest paid workers in the whole city. Tens of millions of people spent the lockdown with no income whatsoever, we sat at home on our laptops like life hadn't changed a bit, then we got a free corona bonus, then people still complained that they didn't want to take public transport and managed to wangle even more money out of the company for taxis and parking expenses. It's fucking disgusting. I actually wrote to HR a few weeks ago expressing my anger at the whole thing. It still makes me sick to think about.

Well, joke's on them because now the company is asking people to furlough to survive.

Fuck, whatever. I was ready to quit anyway. How perfect would it be if i could get 3 months off work without losing my work permit, and still receive furlough pay of 1.5x the average salary in China? That would be utterly ridiculous, the most tech company bullshit ever, but at least i'd get the 3 month holiday in China that i could never enjoy under normal circumstances.

In reality i suspect i will just get the reduction to a 3 or 4 day work week, but even still, finally! All those companies i worked at where people did reduced hours, i never worked there during the tough times. I never got that chance.

Since Occupy Wall St, every single performance review at every single job i tell my manager that i do not want a raise, and that every raise just pushes me closer to quitting. I use company feedback sessions to ask for a part time option, or for the opportunity to take sabbaticals/unpaid leave. No company would ever give it. Small company, big company, they're all the same. Growth is all that matters, because capitalism.

But now i got a company that's backed into a corner, and i just got the dream opportunity.