Covid in Ketchum

April 16th, 2020

We follow the Idaho Mountain Express online to maintain indirect contact with Joe and his family who are sheltering at home in the middle of the highest per capita infection rate location in the country. The news there doesn’t tell us much about what’s really going on and neither do his reports but Jan came up with a long article in Buzzfeed, a national outlet, that gave us a fuller picture–both about the course of the spread and through a number of interviews with rich and poor victims, about the range of human impacts.  This quote stayed with me and dominated my morning quiet time in the bathtub and while meditating:

The infectious disease doc came in and said, “You have COVID, and I don’t think you’re going to survive, because you only have 61% of your lung capacity.” They asked him, “Do you still want to have this DNR [do-not-resuscitate order]?” He said yes. “Do you want to be put on a ventilator if needed?” He said yes.

Meanwhile, my dad was gradually improving. He said it was so hard to be alone, with the only people he came into contact with wearing full protective gear. He said it felt like they were scared of him. But he’s a tough cookie. He couldn’t get out of bed or go to the bathroom for nine days, but when they let him out, he took a shower, and came home — that was March 29 — and surprised everyone on the family Zoom call. It was my parents’ 51st anniversary. My mom was just totally taken aback and so happy.

My most persistent concern over the last several years has been the dual business of departure and legacy.  The “Better End” talk I wrote for the Sangha and the updating of our estate and advance directive documents last year addressed the first.  The effort I’ve put in to scanning photographs and retroactive updating of my blog with uncatalogued writings and documents address the second.  But both tasks are far from finished, the opposite of the kind of closure they intend. The ongoing Pandemic adds to my age and health status to make completing them more urgent, and the lockdown should provide the opportunity to get it higher on my list of priorities, but so far that urgency has issued only in procrastination pressure rather than action.

The questions, answers, and subsequent outcome of the old man in the Buzzfeed article captures my confusion about the  advance directive.  At the moment of actual decision he reaffirmed his DNR, but rather than abjuring any heroic artificial lifesaving efforts, as included in my directive, he asked for the ventilator, which then saved his life and brought happiness to his family. This goes against the news that I read lately indicating that those embattled ventilators have the desired effect only in a small  proportion of cases. When writing the directive, I didn’t envision Covid 19, but rather something like a stroke or heart attack after which any recovery would only prolong infirmity. But since then I’ve been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, suffered a (tiny) stroke and a syncope and agreed to the installation of a pacemaker.  And life is good. So if I become infected how will I answer those questions?

Zoom + Seder = Zeder

April 8th, 2020

It took the initiative and planning by Jan and the enthusiasm of Claire, the two shikses in the family, to overcome my reluctance and that of Claire’s partner Gregg Loberstein, and make this wonderful celebration go forward. Also onscreen are Gregg’s son Michael and Claire’s son Lucas.


I’ve been taking heart from Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms:


April 6th, 2020

“The Economy” is supposed to provide a matrix of relative rationality and predictability for the relations among human individuals and the billions of their fellows that make up civilization. It’s also supposed to govern the hundreds of specific choices each of us makes daily—shop at Costco or Whole Foods, get the conventional bananas or the organic ones, work hard in school to qualify for a good job. It provided the success narrative for my parents’ achievement of the American Dream through hard work and thrift, starting with no money as refugees from the Nazis in 1937 and ending with their substantial bequest to us upon my mother’s death in 2003.

Having grown up sheltered by their steady progress, financial security never seemed urgent for me, and having my adult values largely formed as a high-achieving student at an Ivy League university where concern for money was considered plebian, I got more gratification from giving stuff away than from acquisition. That attitude was part of what led me to attempt to live off the land in a Thoreauvian “economy” in patrician poverty.  A couple of years of mortgage anxiety and mill work brought me around to a craving for any job that could generate a steady income.  When that finally arrived in my forty fourth year with a tenured position as professor and civil servant at a state university, I again lost interest in money. When the inheritance from my parents came through, my inclination was to donate  it all to charity. But I was dissuaded by my wife.

Her attitudes about money always diverged from mine.  The daughter of a banker, she was interested in me as a good prospect when we first met—PhD candidate at Stanford with secure academic career ahead. After several decades of disappointment of that expectation, she went to law school, passed the bar, and started her own law firm dealing with business law, employment law, trusts and estates, whereby success and failure was all about economy.

Despite being able to purchase whatever we wanted—new cars, real estate, a therapeutic private school stint for our daughter,  international travel, and tithing for charity—our assets grew.  We still maintained habits of relative thrift—drinking cheap wine, sleeping in Motel 6 on the road. Jan spent a good deal of time managing the portfolio.

The expansion of our wealth made me uncomfortable, especially in light of the attrition of the middle class and the growing gulf between rich and poor, making us part of the hated one percent.  Habits of thrift seemed absurd unless the money saved was being put to meaningful use.  I looked at our investments only once a year while preparing reports for our tax accountant and calculating our tithe.

In November 2019, I discovered that in the course of one year their value had ballooned by 25%, largely due to the influence of the despised Trump administration. I hunched it would soon drop. The moral thing would be to liquidate the ill-gotten gains now and turn them over to charity and righteous political causes.  The practical thing to do would be to turn them into cash and spend as much  as possible on things with tangible value.

The latter is what we chose. We purchased a new mobile home for our daughter, bought two electric vehicles and a Powerwall, donated to the Community Foundation for City Farm SLO and left enough to cover what we expected would be a large tax liability from the profit taking.

By the end of January after our accountant filled out the returns,  it turned out that we were getting $18,000 in refunds.  Most of the securities Jan had selected to sell were losers over time and the rebates on the car and Powerwall as well as the charitable contributions made for yet more credits.

Three months later, as the Pandemic has eclipsed all other concerns, personal and public, the significance of our economic windfalls keeps shifting.  The stock market continues reeling from the assault of the plague.  The hyper economy that tied together the whole world in a feverish gold rush sickening ecosystems and climate and draining wealth from the poor and funneling it to the rich, seems to be falling apart.  The majorities living paycheck to paycheck in tight quarters can’t possibly maintain social distance or shelter at home, while we are encouraged to exercise generosity by ordering takeout meals from favorite restaurants. The government’s decision to print and hand out trillions of dollars to everyone may either start limiting the damage we’ve been causing for the last fifty years or may simply accelerate collapse.

Death in the Afternoon

April 5th, 2020

From Katie: “The fox just ran through my plot, coming from the direction of your plot. It came through the fence just behind the hoop house, headed southwest to the creek.”

Reply: “Before we talked  yesterday, I gathered up the dead but unmutilated chickens and laid them in a tote inside the run for burial today.   When I arrived this morning they were strewn all over, all partially eaten.  My deduction, based on the fact that their feet were still warm yesterday:  I must  have scared  the fox off when I first came out, and he must have returned to finish the job after I left and before you sent the above text.”