[O]minous no longer fits what we’re observing in the data, because calamity is no longer imminent; it is here. The bulk of evidence now suggests that one of the worst fears of the pandemic—that hospitals would become overwhelmed, leading to needless deaths—is happening now. Americans are dying of COVID-19 who, had they gotten sick a month earlier, would have lived. This is such a searingly ugly idea that it is worth repeating: Americans are likely dying of COVID-19 now who would have survived had they gotten September’s level of medical care.

The U.S. Has Passed the Hospital Breaking Point, The Atlantic

Doubly tragic and utterly infuriating with mass vaccination mere months away.

Film star Elliot Page, known for Juno and Umbrella Academy, has announced he is transgender. If you are less familiar with how to refer to a person who is transgender, this guide from GLAAD is helpful. I like the framing of someone embracing or discovering their “authentic self”. As with so many things, it is easy to embrace Page’s new identity by simply having compassion and seeing them as a whole person and by not getting caught up in the irrelevant specifics of “masculinity” or medical procedures.

Our fast march to fascism

It is hard to write when the world is so bleak. We’ve just come out of a political convention season in which one side put forth concrete policy proposals and consistent messages while the other flooded the zone with shit. The sheer volume of lies, illegality, corruption, and distraction is overwhelming — as it is meant to be.

You can’t have a functioning democracy when one side refuses to participate. And you can’t have a discussion when facts no longer matter. And, and you can’t have a functioning society when the President actively works against the elimination of a pandemic virus that has killed nearly 180,000 Americans and counting. And, and, and you can’t have a free and fair election when the mechanisms of the Federal government have been expertly arrayed to subvert it.

We are closer to fascism than at any point in our modern history, aided and abetted by every mechanism of information distribution, from social media to cable news to the so-called “mainstream” press. Today’s example? An extensive article documenting dozens of instances of rightwing extremist militias stifling free expression and inflicting violence on peaceful protesters while the police refuse to intervene, all framed as a traditional “both sides” narrative.

Even so, the article is a good read, because it shows clearly the thinking of racist extremists who have come to believe that a massive and amorphous “anti-fascist” threat is nefariously organizing to descend on their various tiny towns to attack their “way of life.” No logic can be brought to bear on this paranoia, but the flames of it, fanned by the entire Republican party, is spurring the rapid rise of large groups of right-wing militias bent on violence against anyone with whom they disagree.

I’m constantly amazed by how quickly it has all fallen apart. How does a country succumb to authoritarianism? Slowly at first, then all at once.

One of the strangest things about living through a pandemic is the lag in understanding of how bad things are, an awful mirror of the lag in deaths that come like clockwork after a surge in coronavirus cases. All along, this disaster has been simultaneously wholly shared and wholly individualized, a weird dissonance in a collective tragedy that each person, each family, has to navigate with intricate specificity to their circumstances. The despair that has seemed to crest in recent days represents another kind of lag—a lag of realization—and the inevitable end of hopefulness about what life might be like in September.

Adrienne LaFrance, the Atlantic

Optimism, Hope, and Gratitude

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. For one thing, it occurs right after my birthday, and I might secretly still believe what I was told as a little kid — that the fireworks are for me.

My love of fireworks aside, the Fourth is not tied to any religious observance except the amorphous religion of patriotism, justice, and freedom. What those words mean in America, and to whom they apply, has constantly evolved over the course of the 244 year American experiment. My belief, my constant hope, is that the arc of history, aided and abetted by good people, bends towards justice.

But if you share the same principles I do it can be hard, upon waking up each morning, to face our present world with optimism. For the past few years, and particularly since the start of our most recent (pandemic) nightmare, America has felt darker and further off course than ever.

It is hard to be optimistic, but it is important to see hopeful signs.

While the current occupant of the White House stokes the flames of racial animus, millions of Americans marching for justice and equality presage a shifting tide.

While perverted national institutions reject science and good policy, state and local leaders try, valiantly if imperfectly, to keep their citizens safe in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.

While a minority party with fascist impulses has erected nearly insurmountable barriers to voting access in their quest to maintain power, an energized opposition has the glimmer of a path to retaking the halls of government and reinstituting democratic norms.

On the climate — well. I don’t know. I’ll keep looking for hopeful signs there.

And even as the world may be burning, I have immense gratitude for the many people and circumstances that make my own life a good one.

In just a few short years I have completely rebuilt my life.

I have a good job where I can work as a leader to make a positive impact through engaging work. I met and married an incredible life partner who makes me a better person and brings me joy every day. I am happily settled into a wonderful new home in a safe neighborhood. I have adorable animals whose antics bring me joy.

I have a yard, a hammock, a vegetable garden, and, currently, some amazingly juicy heirloom tomatoes. I am building a new woodworking shop, and am excited about all the fun projects I have planned. I am financially secure in a time when financial security is sometimes hard to come by. I have far-flung friends who I care about and who care about me. And I even have an awesome new toy, a spaceship cleverly disguised as a battery-powered four-wheeled driving conveyance.

My spaceship, I mean Tesla Model Y

Some days it is hard to get out of bed. Some nights I am up for hours just worrying about where this will all end. But in so many important ways, my life is good. And I need to recognize that more, and be grateful for it.

A “second wave” was never a good yardstick, because the “first wave” that struck the greater New York area this spring was a disaster beyond reckoning. Consider that New York City, population 8.4 million, saw more than 22,300 confirmed and probable deaths from COVID-19; one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, in the Lombardy region of Italy, population 10 million, saw about 16,500. In three and a half months, in other words, a new virus killed one in every 400 New Yorkers. Among the elderly, the toll was even worse: One in every eight New Jersey nursing-home residents died this spring.

The Atlantic

Cases are rising exponentially in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, where mitigations were patchy and limited. But cases are also rising — albeit more slowly — in California, which had comprehensive and wide-reaching mitigation efforts. So it is hard to draw clear conclusions. One thing is certain: the ongoing lack of a national strategy is a key failure. Viruses do not obey state lines.

Coronavirus in America now looks like this: More than a month has passed since there was a day with fewer than 1,000 deaths from the virus. Almost every day, at least 25,000 new coronavirus cases are identified, meaning that the total in the United States — which has the highest number of known cases in the world with more than a million — is expanding by between 2 and 4 percent daily.

Coronavirus in the U.S.: An Unrelenting Crush of Cases and Deaths

Much as the Trump administration squandered the months leading up to the pandemic, it is increasingly obvious that all of the incredibly painful and economically disastrous sacrifices made by millions of Americans to shutter businesses, curtail activities, and stay safe at home has been squandered as well.

While we have temporarily flattened the curve and avoided overwhelming hospitals in most areas, we are likely no better off at the national level than we were two months ago. We have no national testing system or contact-tracing framework, we have not secured adequate supplies of necessary protective equipment, and the various emergency economic measures were too limited, too complex, and too slow to roll out. While the story is different in each state and locality, nothing has fundamentally changed. Cases and deaths continue to rise while Trump and his enables disband tasks forces and push to “reopen” America.

I just don’t understand what their endgame is, and how our society will adapt to the new reality of unending death and suffering.

The Never-Ending P1

Don’t worry, this diagram is explained in thousands of pages of documentation

As a computer systems administrator at a large organization I was introduced to a library of procedures and best practices for managing technology services called ITIL that originated in the mainframe era. ITIL is huge, complex, unwieldy, and bureaucratic. It is also a brilliant and incredibly useful resource for understanding how to manage and optimize large systems. And I am very much a fan of optimizing large systems. It’s sort of my jam.

I mention this because at a contention and stressful meeting a few days ago I was accused of being a “process person,” the implication being that I was out of touch with the reality of the situation. The situation being how to make reasonable business decisions during a global pandemic of a scale unprecedented in the last century.

Our business is keeping our community healthy and safe through effective cleaning, and that has never been more important than right now. There has been a huge surge in demand for a scarce pool of cleaning and personal protection supplies. Every day we are overcoming countless challenges to source and stock products, to manufacture disinfectants and other chemicals, to take orders, manage expectations, and to make deliveries, all while ensuring that our staff are kept safe from unnecessary risk.

In the ITIL model, incidents are classified on a scale based on urgency and impact. Our business (and our society as a whole) is facing a priority 1 incident, and, as a senior Systems Engineer, I am very familiar with P1s.

In ITIL, service requests are prioritized based on urgency and impact

How do you typically handle a P1? First you wake up, because it is probably the middle of the night. You push away the grogginess and embrace the adrenaline rush. You assess the situation, triage as best you can, then figure out who else needs to be woken up and how to brief them. Next you work to analyze the problem, determine the corrective action, and implement the fix. Then you monitor the result.

It is rare in the sysadmin world for a P1 to last more than a few hours, or at most a few days. But dealing with the business impacts of coronavirus feels like a P1 that never ends. I’ve been on that groggy/adrenaline combination for a couple weeks now. I can’t sleep at night, and I can’t stop thinking about all the things we need to do.

When I moved to Maintex three years ago and started learning about the many aspects of running a business, it quickly became clear to me that process could solve a lot of problems, but also that my biggest problem was understanding all the things that cannot be easily formalized into a process. The physical world is rife with variables a technologist would not expect.

The physical world is rife with variables a technologist would not expect.

Fifty thousand bottles from a trusted supplier are fine, then suddenly a few hundred start leaking inexplicably. A step is missed in a sanitizing procedure and an entire 5,000 gallon batch of product is contaminated. A forklift driver accidentally smashes a fire sprinkler, flooding the loading dock. A shipping company returns an entire trailer full of product because a labeling machine with a dirty optical sensor placed a regulatory label two inches askew. An inspector with an imperfect understanding of building codes delays a project by 3 months before inexplicably approving it.

ITIL is a helpful framework for me because most other business processes are designed for incremental improvement, not crisis management. But a process is only as good as the people who implement it.

In the physical world, and in the world of people, the unexpected is routine, and no amount of checklists or procedures can account for every possible variation. So I have spent three years implementing systems and analyzing data, sure, but also learning what it means to manage an organization made up of people.

Attempting to maintain business continuity during a pandemic is like a P1 incident that never ends. And that means it is a problem I cannot just solve and then go back to sleep. Every day we need to make decisions and trade-offs that are uncomfortable and might not be the right ones, simply because a decision has to be made so we can keep moving forward.

A lot of my job is to make space so that the smart, hard-working people that work for me can do their jobs.

But most importantly for me as a manager, this P1 requires stepping back. Taking a breath. Checking in with staff to make sure they are okay. Listening to their concerns and figuring out how to help them to clear obstacles. A lot of my job is to make space so that the smart, hard-working people that work for me can do their jobs.

And that is decidedly outside my comfort zone.

But I’m finding it just as exhilarating and even more challenging than doing things on my own. Most of all, dealing with this crisis, and working with this team feels more consequential and important to me than any IT incident I’ve ever participated in. The coronavirus is an incredibly daunting challenge for everyone, and the effects are rippling across society and business in ways that are scary and uncertain. The best we can hope to do in our little corner of the economy is continue to conscientiously perform the valuable service of delivering critical cleaning and safety supplies where they are most needed.

I’m proud of Maintex, and of our team. I’m proud of the work we are doing to help keep society resilient in the face of an unprecedented crisis. And I’m more sure than ever that leaving my former career to start over was the right decision.

Tortoise-centered design

Hacienda de la Tortuga sits on a relatively flat 1/4 acre that came mostly devoid of foliage. Kip’s pen was constructed of chain link fence, as was our land boundry on one side. Mountain peaks poked tantalizingly through our dense ash trees. While the space is large, it felt penned in by the neighboring properties.

Taking inspiration from the British garden show Big Dreams, Small Spaces and wanderings around our neighborhood, we decided to pursue a reasonably priced transformation. Our goal was to gain a lush natural environment that would feel larger and more isolated. We wanted native flowering plants and grasses that would attract birds, bees, and butterflies. We were looking for something low maintenance and water-wise with meandering paths and hidden surprises.

Local landscape designer Susanna Dadd, who specializes in climate-appropriate “habitat gardens,” brought just the right perspective to this journey. She immediately identified our biggest X factor: Kip the tortoise. Many plants were out of bounds because they are dangerous to tortoises, and others wouldn’t work because he would quickly devour them before they had a chance to grow.

Kip explores his new maze-like environment

Sue’s design incorporates low-walled “islands” and “meadows” that serve to give Kip plenty of edible food and enrichment while allowing us to gain the dense, colorful vegetation we desired. To keep costs down, she found steel sheeting to act as the barriers, which will rust to a lovely brown patina over time. We also built a new redwood fence in front of the ugly chain link, and got the ash trees thinned and cleaned up.

This being hot California, there was no avoiding irrigation. Most of the garden has a sophisticated drip system, while some of the more open areas where Kip roams (and might chew the hose) have traditional sprinklers.

After a month-or-so of work by two very diligent gardeners, the yard is mostly done. We are incredibly excited to see how it grows and develops as the new plants fill in and others are added as the season progresses.

I also built Kip a new tortoise house with a nice heat lamp to keep out the chill. It is made of recycled material from the old owners’ garden shed.

Kip’s new hacienda

We were also able to reuse all of the old vegetable boxes in a new horseshoe arrangement. Next week we will get some veggies going, and before long we will have an edible garden for humans as well as tortoises!