Here Are The Rules…

Liberty, meet nemesis

My beloved Los Angeles has crossed the rubicon. The stay in your house,  keep the economy on life support,  we love telling the little people what to do ethos has been made semi-permanent. The Wuhan virus restrictions shall remain in place until there is a “cure”.  Because science this woman says so.

And this guy.

What began in the name of flattening the curve now continues in perpetuity, or until there is a vaccine.  That’s not the premise we began with, is it?   See how quickly that happened?  Once surrendered, civil liberties are not easily regained.

In all likelihood, there will not be a vaccine before the end of the year. It is possible we may never have one.  There has never been a cure for the flu or any other variant of coronavirus.   There is only mitigation.

A warm climate and car-oriented sprawl prevented a spike in the curve in Los Angeles. So what now is a power-tripping, virtue-signaling bureaucrat to do?

Mandatory Face Coverings!  Anywhere outside your house! Let a militia of Karens go forth to inform on their neighbors…

The LA Times continues to act as though its proper role is that of Mayor Garcetti’s PR firm: “Here Are The Rules” squeals the headline proclaiming his new dispensation. No questions of why, or how long, or what data is underpinning the decision making.  No mediating of the public interest, just diktat from court eunuchs.

Let us ask a few questions the Times is incapable of.

-We have never before quarantined healthy people.  Why are we doing it now?
-In March, we were told masks were unnecessary. We were also told specifically to go forth and enjoy the sunshine.  Why now the masks and restrictions?
-Our only lasting defense, absent a vaccine, is herd immunity. The lockdown prevents that. Show the math that proves we will be healthier at years end without it.
-Has any disease ever successfully been locked away in a cupboard?
-Are the secondary health outcomes of lockdown: depression, substance abuse, sedentary behavior and delayed preventative care, exacting a greater cost than the virus itself?
-If the risk pool is easily identifiable: i.e.; 80-year-olds and obese people with co-morbidities, why isn’t the quarantine limited to them?
-Why are the 58,000 homeless people in LA exempt from the rules, and what does the absence of an outbreak among them tell us?
-Gov. Newsom has set a benchmark of “no deaths for two weeks” before strictures can be lifted. Is such a target possible? What statutory power is he drawing from?
-There are clinical findings coming in daily from around the world that contradict WHO/CDC guidance. Why is clinical data labeled “misinformation” if it is found to be effective?

Speaking of eunuchs…here’s Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania health czar, mandating, as did New York, nursing homes accept Wuhan virus patients. But not before removing her own mother from a nursing home.  In what dystopian novel did the villains look like this?

Los Angeles is two cities now.  Elites who work from home and rely on delivery while mocking the concerns of the rest of us who have to mix with others in order to obtain a living.   For how long is that sustainable, even in a one-party state?

Mr. UpintheValley is full of questions today.

Islamic Republic of Van Nuys

I went to MacLeod for a beer run and encountered this woman shuffling across Victory…hunched…clutching her mask to her ears as though warding off demons…fearfully navigating the sunshine.   This is what we’ve allowed the media to do to us. We veil ourselves as though we were living in Tehran, 1982.   What are we really afraid of?  I don’t think it’s the Wuhan virus. Being Karen-ed by a neighbor, on the other hand, seeking to collect her snitch reward…being ratioed by the Virtue Police on social media…these are our modern terrors.

Trader Joes is one of the few permissible places we are allowed out of doors.  How quickly we have acclimated to lining up like this.   Let’s roll back to February for a moment.  If you could be put in a time machine how confused would you be by our present submission?

It’s nearly May. The dreaded curve is in the rearview mirror. Our zealotry has exceeded any data-driven health concerns.  All is now a public demonstration of obedience to rules handed down by the Clerisy.

I feel I’m being a bit of a bore writing this for the third time. But neither the Mayor nor the Governor have the statutory power to suspend civil liberties. To hear them speak of the conditions which need be met before the economy can resume one is given the impression of a royal personage considering the granting of a favor.

Sweetheart, if you want to wear a mask and confine yourself to your rooms, no one is stopping you.  Which of course you are not doing. Nor are you going without a paycheck while you outline your terms of Our New Normal.  The rest of us, on the other hand, could do with some herd immunity.  You know what else?  We have centuries of good public health policy on our side.

We will regret letting the government bribe us with our own money to not work. Trixie likes a good belly rub, but she’d rather be climbing Runyon.  So would I.   So would you. Even if hiking isn’t your thing, liberty is.

Flu D’Etat

Pop quiz: Is skateboarding social distancing compliant? A: Why, yes.
Are skateboarders a risk group for Wuhan virus? A: Not at all.

If skateboarders can shred about in the spring air, then the edifice of submission and compliance is pretty well mocked, and mockery is one thing the tyrant can’t bear.  Someone call public works!

How dispiriting it is to see people in the Valley wearing masks inside their own cars because Mayor Yoga Pants told them to.    You would not know this from listening to local media, but he has ZERO statutory authority to do so. These are requests of the public presented to us as binding commands from the state.   There is no municipal code called Thou Shalt Not Defy Garcetti.  

The Wuhan regulations have little to do with public health and everything to do with our Liberty.  We submit to them at our peril.

We snuck into Fryman Canyon over the weekend to discover a small fellowship of hikers edict defiers skulking on the trail with masks around their necks, which they hastily pulled over their noses when they saw us, lest we report them.

Every model of viral prediction has proved wrong, not by a percentage, but exponentially.  As we descend the right side of the bell curve,  the will to power has not been leavened by the fragility of prognosis or the absence of a tsunami of demand on the hospitals, nor the revelation the morbidity rate is far lower and seroprevalence far greater than assumed.  Those details shall be memory-holed.  Crisis is the order of the day. May the wealth-leveling panic continue, command the Clerisy. No herd immunity for you! A poorer electorate is a submissive one.

Sometimes an act so small as swinging from a tree can be restorative of citizenship.  Where the feet go, the mind follows.

Simon Says Snitches Get Rewards

Our very recent future was a blank canvas on which opportunistic politicians projected gleeful doom scenarios. Speculation was served up as certainty.  Grim was not dire enough a term. We needed a whole new vocabulary to do justice to the unfolding horror to come.

A last will and testament from my father in Mendocino County landed in my inbox, outlining protocols for his when they put me on a ventilator end of life choices. Ten days ago the county health commissioner predicted 1800 deaths, from a rural population of 100,000, when there were two cases in the entire county. Want to know how many there are today? One. Zero hospitalizations.

Our present is a War Against Facts in which the Clerisy, very much enjoying wearing the shoes of power, have doubled down on their edicts, extending them into June and enlarging their scope to include travel between residences, the closure of all parks and trails, stepping into the sunshine without a mask, or arresting paddleboarders alone on empty waves…and doing so as though the original predictive model remained valid.

In New York harbor, epicenter of Wuhan virus,  the hospital ship USNS Comfort sits nearly empty, as does the 2500 bed makeshift hospital at the Javits Center. Total patients seen as of yesterday: 118.  Last week was the peak of the bell curve.  Discharges outnumbered admissions. Thankfully we did not come close to running out of ventilators. There was no ICU care in the hallways, no triage under a tent in the parking lot.  The high-water mark was reached and the levees held with room to spare.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London, the Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow of viral prognostication, posited 2,2oo,ooo death in the United States.  Ferguson had a history of erroneous publicity-seeking disease modeling but this didn’t deter the media from airing his claims or lead to questioning governors in the U.S. who used his charts, the exact same chart for every state, to serve as a visual backdrop for shelter-in-place orders.

So we are now at 19,000 deaths in America, and will probably top out around 40,000, well within the range of a bad flu season.  Wuhan never really took off in Los Angeles with, blessedly, only 242 fatalities in the county.  Sprawl and auto dependency worked in our favor for once.  It’s also possible the virus is not as lethal and more widespread than assumed.

Prudence: postponing Coachella
Caution: closing bars and restaurants
Folly: shutting down the economy

The running tally on the cable news chyron doesn’t differentiate between recovered cases, asymptomatic ones, those who have the flu, and the very small percentage who will need hands-on medical care.  The hospitalization rate is the key metric, but one has squint to find it the furious gloom.  A run on the hospitals is the only medical and politically justifiable reason for shelter in place. Once that threat passes we need to re-open the economy with all deliberate speed.  In most areas of the country, it should not have been shut down to begin with.

Instead, we are treated to governors and mayors and functionaries declaring themselves regent, in an escalating competition of Simon Says, both in what they demand and how long they intend to demand it.   This is not being conducted in a spirit of shared sacrifice, for those insisting on months-long lockdowns are not doing without a paycheck.

We have arrived at an inflection point in Democracy, amputating our arm to cure an infected fingernail.

The willingness of my fellow Angelenos to succumb to hysteria thus far is disheartening to me.  There is a difference between Law and tyranny and good citizenship is knowing the difference.  Stop wearing a mask when you go on a walk, people. We are not sheep.  The more healthy folk are out and about, the sooner we develop herd immunity.  Staying inside is only prolonging matters.

This Good Friday, instead of turning in our neighbor, let us celebrate resilience. When you get back out there, cough on someone. Do it for America.

Things To Do In The Valley When You’re Not Yet Dead

Here’s something you can do. Queue up at Whole Foods first thing in the morning and consider the novelty of economic martial law…only to find the bread aisle empty.   I have rather pointed thoughts as to the motivation of the hacks who diverted my beloved Los Angeles down this road.  In the spirit of shared sacrifice and heeding the counsel of Mrs. U, I am putting my inner Tom Paine to the side for the time being.

Shorter UpintheValley: Toilet paper is the new bottle of wine.

Instead, let us consider the glory of homemade bread.   Did you know you can make an entire batch of dough for $2?  I didn’t.  One batch = three or four loaves. Shape to suit your whimsy. Warm bread fresh from the oven tastes like nothing else, and for 65 cents a loaf makes the house smell like nostalgia for a childhood memory you never had.     Why didn’t we always do this? Free Time, our abundant new houseguest, that’s why.

Maybe overall health will improve, she said optimistically. Perhaps people will get tired of empty calories and consume less processed food from the market.  Maybe they’ll model reading for their children and both parents will tuck them in at night. 

And he replied: People will continue to be themselves, only more so, and in a righteous mood.

You can also do this:  rent a 20-foot bin, break out the sledgehammer, the pick, and the prybar and dig up your asphalt driveway.   House arrest is the panacea for long-postponed projects. Taxing on the lower lumbar,  restorative of the animal spirits.

You can take to the mountains with the dogs to discover five hundred other people were inspired to visit the same trail at the same time. Maybe I should try baking a banana cream pie, you hear a woman announce to her husband as she passes. No, you really shouldn’t, he replies.  I promise I’ll eat it, you butt in, to collective laughter, and for a moment our metropolis is a curious polite little village where everyone lives six feet apart.

You can read and read and read. I wanted to get back into John Le Carre but the Los Angeles public library has him under lockdown, so I’m settling for E.M. Forster, who has not aged as well as the film adaptations.

You can watch and watch and watch, and soon enough Narcos: Mexico and Mindhunter are done, and then one is left thinking of Nemesis and Hubris and their role in our self-inflicted moment.

Yeah, this guy. Mr. 56%. But that’s a whole other essay I promised I wouldn’t write.

Days of Wine and Slow DSL

When the sun returns we’ll feel differently, but for the moment it’s like we’ve fallen into the pages of someone else’s unfinished novel.   Our lovely week of rain has softened this unfamiliar oddity of mandatory hooky. We have new struggles, like remembering the Hulu passcode so we can watch Contagion.

We rediscover guilty pleasures and then realize our schedules overlap a bit too completely. I predict a spike in births around Christmas. Also divorce petitions.

Flowers will soon riot across the Valley, and our pent up cabin fever will shake us from this sheep-like submission to madness.

In the meantime, we teach To Kill A Mockingbird from the safety of the bedroom.

We expel all members from LA Fitness until April 1st. Effective in five minutes.

We flatten the curve in Echo Park.   Not so unreasonable. A happy middle ground.

Photo by John Sanphillippo

Thank goodness someone is flouting shelter in place orders in San Francisco.  Blessings be upon he who beta-tests.

The Distance Between Us

There are, as of yesterday, 39 Wuhan Coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.  Twenty-two were in a single nursing home in Kirkland, WA.   The median age of victims: 80.  Most had correlated health problems. But now you can’t buy canned soup or bottled water in Van Nuys.  There is no rice left at 99 Ranch market.  Our answer to the long odds of infection is consumer-driven scarcity.

Since Wednesday:
-Broadway
-Disneyland
-MLB spring training
-and the NCAA tournament have gone on hiatus.
On Monday, LA Unified is joining them, setting the table for an unprecedented child care crisis among hourly wage earners.

We are in the grip of maximal measures.  We won’t be using any more toilet paper should the virus reach the San Fernando Valley than if it didn’t, yet we buy out every roll in the store anyway because it feels like we are doing something.  We are under the sway of cable news, where catastrophism prevails, everyone is a Fake Expert for Five Minutes, and all roads lead to the Oval Office, as though there was a special button underneath a desk called Pandemic Wing Attack Plan R, press here to release whup-ass.  

Wash your hands.  Cover your cough. Stop touching your face.  Settle in for some binge-watching.   First principles, from actual epidemiologists, now arouse scorn. That’s all?  There has to be more to it than that!   Don’t tell me about washing!  What’s happening? Who do we blame?  

Mrs. UpintheValley just poked her head in the door, greatly agitated, to announce the LA Public Library system will be closed for the rest of the month.  She gathered the books on the coffee table into her arms like Diego Rivera’s flower girl, assessing by touch if they were sufficient to last the duration.

This just in: MacLeod is no longer serving peanuts.   Social distancing has officially begun in earnest.

That looks to be about six feet apart.  Like contented canines let us disappear inside our homes…for the places we normally gather for solace are now off-limits. Let us use this crowded fortnight, after the diversions of wine, fornication and Netflix are exhausted, to consider how isolated we have become from one another. Maybe this contagion can be repurposed.

From Wuhan, With Love

In January, when I reported for jury duty there were a number of older Asian women in the pool wearing masks, which I found a bit paranoid, though polite.  I chalked it up to cultural differences, but now you can’t buy one.  My nephew this week is in the desert winds of New Mexico wiring a cooling tower without a dust mask in violation of OSHA regulations. Masks are great for industrial particles. They don’t do squat against the pandemic, but he waits on Amazon to fill backorders.

On Saturday I picked up a woman in Marina Del Rey a bit miffed at developments. She owns a condo in Palm Springs which she AirBnBs for Coachella.  It’s certain to be canceled, she said, and soon she’ll have to refund the $5000 she’s already collected. Was she worried about taking an Uber, a natural vector for infection? Of course not. “No one under 60 needs to worry about COVID-19”. Is she right?  Yes…but there are caveats.

Mrs. UpintheValley went to Trader Joes yesterday to discover a run on canned goods.  She settled for pasta sauce.   She went to Target to double our reserves of toilet paper and tissue.  They were all out of bacterial wipes.  I went to the gym and had to stand in line to use the treadmill. The Zumba class was full. All the dumbells were in use, one sweaty hand after another trading off on the same damp bacteria encased grip.  Tame Impala played a sold-out show at the Forum last night.  Snctm, the $75,000/year Beverly Hills sex club, will be proceeding with its scheduled orgy this weekend.

We are free with our fluids in month two of the pandemic, then we reach for bacterial wipes and wonder about our neighbor’s cough. We go to the Laker game and then blame the President for not doing….well, something more.  He stopped flights from China in January and they called him racist. Tonight he embargoed flights from Europe for 30 days and the media is in an ecstasy of sanctimony: Too late! Our American Chernobyl is upon us!  Get the widow on the set!  Get me B roll of people on ventilators!

Except…its not happening. Yet. The seasonal flu kills 50-80,000 people every year, mostly the very elderly. Wuhan virus, we’re looking at hundreds.  So far, all elderly.   But…the vectors have been established. The bacteria has breached our shores, and if the epidemiologist math is correct, its spread should peak on March 21.  If there was a time to self-quarantine it was now. Naturally, I went out for a beer.

MacLeod was not wanting for business. Andrew was there and confessed to anxiousness.  We had entered a time of madness, but there was no way to wash your hands of it, he punned. On cue, the bartender brought me a ten-dollar bill I had mistakenly folded into a pile of singles I had given him.  It was a gesture of honesty, and I accepted it from his bare fingers, which had handled dirty sweaty cash all day, and then I put my hands into a bowl of peanuts and helped myself.  Everyone who came to MacLeod before 7 pm was now in my mouth.

I stopped at Target on the way home, just in case there were provisions for the siege not yet obtained and was greeted by an exodus of carts piled high with bleach, the wipes having sold out.  Alternatively, you could simply sing “Happy Birthday” twice as you washed your hands and achieve a better result.  I happen to be both a thorough hand-washer and at the same time an indiscriminate muncher of free grub from sneeze bowls. That is my particular dementia.

The last generic DayQuil in Van Nuys…for now

Get some DayQuil, Mrs. U advised, you never know.  I’m not entirely sure what good that would do in the event of respiratory illness but I scrounged the very last box in the store, forgotten on the bottom shelf.  When I got home she announced school was canceled for the rest of the month, all the private schools in LA,  and she would be undertaking “distance teaching”.  The NBA was suspending games until further notice.  Coachella was postponed to October.

I texted my nephew. The power was out in the mountains. He was assembling an automatic rifle by headlamp.   No cough medicine for him.  To each his own prep.

So You Want To Cast a Ballot?

It might be a couple of hours…
Sepulveda Rec Center, 4:23 pm

We reported to our normal polling station today,  with the familiar poll workers and trays of supermarket cookies and easy parking and the short lines, to find it…closed.   I was vaguely aware the L.A. county polling system was undergoing a few changes, including early voting, but I didn’t realize this meant the neighborhood polls had been consolidated in favor of regional ones.

So we drove a couple of miles north to the new location only to find a line snaking around the building and no parking.   We walked a few blocks, and settled in at the tail of the snake, fell into civic conversation with the people next to us, (one of them a refugee from the long lines at Sherman Oaks) and after about ten minutes…we noticed something: The line had not moved at all.   I followed the snake around the corner and into the gym to find a dozen unoccupied polling machines and two poll workers doing intake, issuing ballots. Slowly. Only two people were voting.

Someone vaguely authoritative announced it would be a two-hour wait, and we might have better luck at Sepulveda Middle School, up in Mission Hills.

Goodbye Chad. 

Exodus, take three. To Mission Hills we raced, and as promised, greeted by a mercifully short line. We also found ourselves standing next to the guy from Sherman Oaks, to our mutual amusement. At check-in, they issued a blank paper ballot with a QR code that you feed into the machine, then complete by touch screen.

No more chads. No more ink dot. Lots of gooey fingertips caressing the names, sharing cooties.   Bacteria and democracy together at last. Not a germaphobe, I found it both recklessly intimate and weirdly impersonal.  Our ballot may be secret, but a pandemic we can share.  Here is a dystopian movie plot just waiting to happen.

The machine prints your ballot, offering a moment to double-check your answers, then you “cast” it by reinserting it.  Under the new VSAP system, the ballot is read electronically but retains a paper backup in the event of a recount. Suspenders and a belt, in theory.  There is a bit of wrinkle, though.  Your vote is converted to QR code in order to be counted. See that matrix of pixels on the left side of the page?  Those are your choices, all of them, squeezed into a 1.5 inch grid of dots.  Do the dots and names match up?  Let us hope so.  Does the printer ink ever smear, even slightly, altering your intent?   Could you recognize your own name in QR code?

A few things to consider as you fall asleep while wondering if anyone from your precinct recently visited China.

In a City of Manic Revision

This is my friend in San Francisco, five minutes after she realized she was going to fire her contractor.  Not this guy.   Another guy overbilling her for materials.

$60,000 to repair water damage in the bay of their living room, on top of $110,000 to replace the siding on the house. Heart attack numbers if you live in Van Nuys, but there is an entirely different math up there.

It is math that tells you to peel your house off the foundation and jack it up twenty feet on metal I-beams and slide two new units in underneath like a chest of drawers. So what if this costs you a cool million? You just raised the value twice that figure.  San Francisco Equity is a hammer insensible to caution.

It is a math that demolishes the venerable Sullivan Funeral Home on Upper Market, God’s Hotel of the AIDS crisis, and excavate deep enough for three levels of parking to accommodate the jewel box pied a terre above, to be leased by tech companies for their employees, who will live sealed from the wind and clank of the city by soundproof green glass.

Math which appropriates the narrowest triangle of ground at Church and Market, for years the location of a greasy spoon and a seedy bar and turn it into a jenga tower of extruded battlements, and in an admirable burst of developer inspiration name it Sonder.

From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
SONDER: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background.

Implicit in sonder is the labor of others without which the simple pleasures of the city can be summoned. Appeals for service work like this are ubiquitous in store windows.   Even if you found someone willing, how could they afford to live here?

The guys who are killing it in the construction boom, like this electrician I saw smoking a blunt in his van, can only contemplate the beauty of the city but never really drink from its well before driving back to the Central Valley or God knows where.

It’s all rather precarious if you consider the history of financial booms. But somehow being here in a city of facadomy and indestructible aesthetics, it doesn’t feel that way. Just because a building was born one-story, it doesn’t have to live so constrained forever. It can be reassigned another role. A spare-no-expense reach into the air can seem like the most reasonable thing in the world. Prudent, even. You can smell the money before you even cross the bridge.  A bouquet can render one exuberant.