Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Duty of Care

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Weathering the storm will no longer be available as an option
The mitigation plans will likely include revenue-generating units.

Permanent reductions in force provides you with time to pause,
Making the best of this unprecedented challenge,
Facing declines in the weeks and months ahead.

Today, we are announcing the next phase: very difficult steps
Financial mitigation measures likely include furloughs
Due in large part to your dedication, resilience and leadership

And we will closely monitor this unprecedented challenge
Reaching out directly for all you've done
We've always come through in order to mitigate emergency leave
Plans will likely include dedication to employees without work

We've been forced to make the shifts to our world-changing mission.
Leadership in these units has been through hard times before
But the university cannot extend this leave indefinitely

We can't thank you enough
And your understanding and commitment
Has touched every aspect of our learning

Our community has done research and operations
Where needed, adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis
Any budget shortfalls reflect upon our shared journey
An outstanding job with a strengthened sense of purpose



After Second Phase of Financial Mitigation Measures (May 19 2020)

a mask on each of us is a win for all of us

See previously The New Variant

This patchwork is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Pandemic Dictionary

Towards a pandemic dictionary, a few covidious definitions and a usage guide...

science - always said to be followed, always the best available, always grounded, and always ignored in practice. An incantation invoked to the point of rapture especially by chancers and politicians (these last are often synonyms)

tiers - the tracks thereof. Cry the beloved county your tier belongs to, for your irresponsible friends, the town over, are always somehow living in a less restricted tier. Ergo, a social regulation designed to assess the prevalence of the sin of envy in human affairs

stages - of grief and of lockdown, these proceed in lockstep and always pass through denial

corridor - ephemeral travel route between increasingly shrinking paradises

protocol - always said to be observed yet found to be wanting or fatally flawed in reality, a duty of care denied.

bubble - fictitious totem of protection, most often promoted by wishful thinking and pierced by delusional practice

pod - an upper middle class organization ostensibly designed for learning and fraternization but ultimately destined for liability and fracture

steps - trampled by lack of precaution

levels - of risk and of threat, a visualization of plans, or lack thereof, potent and inherently unstable, a perilous mixed metaphor

restrictions - safely ignored. In extremis, when questioned about a corresponding breach, best practice is to refer to the need to visit an optician at Barnard Castle.

mask - when referring to the American face, an affront and a symbol of oppression. In other countries, a cheap public health intervention.

zone - never satisfactorily delineated, whether infectious, torrid or danger. Out of control

strategy - missing in action

preparation - see plan

plan - undefined

Easter - a verbal ejaculation e.g. "just raring to go by Easter". Hubris.

distancing - a socialist threat promulgated by soi-disant epidemiologists and sundry killjoys, proudly ignored in South Dakota, Tennessee and similar (see mask)

rule - of six, of four, of law - cheerfully ignored (see Cummings, Dominic, Johnson, Boris, Trump, Donald etc.)

regulation - in the USA or similar, loudly proclaimed and rarely enforced, a weapon to be wielded when you plan to do nothing but need to be seen to be doing something.

support - promised early but only ever grudgingly provided after considerable foot dragging and then in wholly inadequate proportion. Also: ephemeral

moratorium - porous rule typically subverted due to inadequate support. Dangerous to extend because of unspecified reasons.

rent - just deserts for oligarch class, price of entry for others (see essential)

eviction - just deserts for losers and suckers even in a pandemic and without a social safety net (see bank)

bank - of food, an Anglo-Saxon growth industry during a pandemic; of finance, a growth industry to be protected at all times even against itself (see bubble)

accountability - fiction. archaic and obsolete

social - there is no such thing

antisocial - recommended normalcy

meatpacking - of a plant, a venue for the wholesale slaughter of meat, human and otherwise, of a business, a modifier synonymous with age-old greed (see essential)

capacity - always critical and in danger of being overrun, pace ICU. A phrase and concept often uttered by bureaucratic naysayers of doom - safely ignored (see rule) until breached

priority - an ordering to be circumvented post-haste with smugness, ingenuity or bribery (see vaccine distribution)

essential - early designation of cannon fodder, to be applauded profusely at the outset but never rewarded or, indeed, supported. synonym: human capital stock

immunity - the promised land, a state of grace devoid of shame. When prefixed by herd, refers to bubble

rainbow spectrum of colors

This lexicographer welcomes your additions and corrections to this offering of toli.

Soundtrack to this note

This lexicon is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Covidious Playlist

I give you a covidious playlist, a soundtrack for life in a covidious time. Music, as ever, is a comfort suite or, as per the pandemic dictionary, a support bubble, I trust this playlist could be yours. (spotify version)

Don't Stand So Close To Me by Sting, The Roots and Jimmy Fallon

This self-isolating Zoom remix of The Police's timely message nicely sets the tone. It's a tune I had in my head the last time I was in line in a grocery store in Austin back in March. I suppose I was early to wearing masks but I had fair warning of the danger. By the second week of February, the servers at the Chinese restaurant that my work colleagues preferred were all wearing gloves and masks. Also, I am married to a historian of science who teaches the history of disease and whose friends all work in Centers for Disease Controls all over the world; they were all crying Cassandra in February. I was early to despair but it appears that many others are still debating the point.

U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer

The album was titled Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. Doing a spot of long delayed covidious spring cleaning, I came across a pair of baggy trousers that aided my running man histrionics circa 1989-1990. A friend also blackmailed me with a 3 second clip of the kind of youthful indiscretion that you are wont to get into at boarding school. The virus has made us all untouchable.

Close to You by Maxi Priest

Maxi gets to the heart of the business, the frustration felt by many separated from their loved ones. I miss all of you.

Tempted to Touch by Beres Hammond

The golden voice of lovers rock yearns for contact.

Touch is a conversation in another language.

Reach out and Touch (Somebody's Hand) by Diana Ross

Homo sapiens are social beasts and our desire for connection is both a source of our vitality and, in this pandemic, a public health disaster. The most emotional rendition of this song was at the close of the Motown 25 show, a fitting letdown after the Billie Jean histrionics. The things we have lost.

Positivity by Prince

A few US governors contributed new lyrics to a covidious remix of Prince's funk epic. Their wishful thinking met the reality of rising positivity rates and, well, uncontrolled community spread. He ended the song quite aptly

Hold on to your soul
We've got a long way to go.

Breathe Life into Me by Mica Paris

Preach it Mica. This song has been my soul therapy for the longest. It can now serve as a ventilator in extremis, perhaps the W.H.O. can prescribe it against the disease, it is far more effective than Presidential bleach. The album is aptly titled So Good. Indeed.

Touch You by Al B. Sure

This was the lead track of the Touch playlist and it was fitting. There was no sophomore slump for Al B and the album title is timely: Private Times and the Whole 9. We are all having a lot of private times these days, he prepared us for the second wave.

in a covidious time

They Long To Be Close To You by Dionne Warwick

Keeping things mellow, this is the ballad of the grandparents and hangout zoom skype facetime afflicted. This b-side opener harkens back to Maxi Priest's message.

Drop Dead Gorgeous by Entouch

Moving things uptempo, the most distressing footage early on from the streets of Wuhan, Lombardy and especially Ecuador gave a sense of the grievous damage being done to humanity, a parade of beautiful bodies dropping in the streets, or neglected in hospital waiting rooms and floors.

Too Close by Next

If there is a song that captures the club grind date experience this is it. I had never seen the video until recently but it is exactly as I imagined it. And imagination is all we'll have to draw on for the foreseable future. What paradise have we lost?

When You Touch We Touch by Omar

A superspreading neo-calypso groove as my man typically conjures. It's a matter of public health.

The Sweat Drops by Timmy Gatling

He split with Teddy Riley early on and his contributions to Guy are lost to history but in the one album he did release, Timmy Gatling was on point. Keith Sweat drops in at the tail end of the tune to drop some ad-libs to punctuate the down and dirty business. This is grown folks' music. This is the anthem of the essential worker, those laboring in meat packing plants for our benefit.

Humanity (Love the Way it should be) by Prince Lincoln

A monster track, a monster album. The falsetto is impeccable, the groove is peerless. Love never felt so good.

Pressure Drop by Toots and The Maytals

We lost Toots Hibbert on September 11th 2020 during this pandemic and we all paid the cost. The chocolate voice - the Otis Redding of reggae and the Godfather of musical grit, he is sorely missed.

Just to be Close to You by The Commodores

Lionel Richie's songwriting was always effortless and he caught wist with this tune.

Your Touch Is So Warm by Hi-Life International

You'll have to dig deep in the crates for this one, I daren't put my copy online. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Blame the copyright police. From the Music to Wake the Dead album, the horns on this guitar-inflected groove are delicious.

Drop a Dime by Charlie Hunter

I've been frankly shocked by Republican and Tory unwillingness to even do the bare minimum to tackle the pandemic and nickel and dime their way through this shambles at the cost of so much preventable human suffering. I guess I was overly optimistic about the possibility of a return of some semblance of a shame culture in the anglosphere. The cruelty must be the point.

But back to the music, this elegiac joint appears on the aptly named album: Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid. Rent is due, losers and suckers. There's a live version I came across where Charlie segues seamlessly into the legendary groove he concocted with D'Angelo, The Root.

Every Breath You Take by The Police

The original ode to a ventilator by way of surveillance and contact tracing.

Everything Must Change - Quincy Jones ft. Benard Ighner

The longer this covidious interlude goes on the more apparent it is that the new normalcy cannot be anything like the old one, and that the underlying conditions of iniquity, now thoroughly exposed and laid bare, need to be addressed. This is the soundtrack of the challenge ahead and the road to freedom.

Emergency on Planet Earth by Jamiroquai

The acid jazz soundtrack of the climate change crisis is of wider applicability.

Everything Must Change - Randy Crawford

The message is so essential that any number of remakes could be added to this playlist, there's joy in repetition and Randy Crawford's voice should be a daily treat.

San Salvador by Prince Lincoln

How my heart weeps at the unecessary deaths all over the world. And then they call it excess mortality.

As he sings:
Down here in San Salvador
There's a way of life overwhelming us, the poor
I had my own take:
A surfeit of mixed metaphors in a covidious time
Still, the second wave is coming, as is the bread line
Rent is due, and what about those evictions?
Moratoria were mooted without income support provisions

For Want Of A Bolt
the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

And the band played on...

A Covidious Playlist


This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Monday, January 04, 2021

The Old Man Who Lives In The Park

The old man who lives in the park now has a dilemma
That's causing you and your neighbors further heartache
Not, paradoxically, that he sleeps under the benches,
For he's blessed, he always says to confound any pity
"I'm blessed to live in this here world"
"The Good Lord watches over all his creations. He is indeed my witness"
No, it's that Parks and Rec, just weeks ago, removed the porta potty
That has been serving as his bathroom and privy
For what seems like the past couple of years
And now, with no stand pipe or running water,
We can only expect a trail of tears

The park was ostensibly closed at the outset of the pandemic
But this new development ups the ante of discomfort
The practical questions mount: where will he relieve himself?
You're all facing the pressing matter of public health
You wonder if the flying toilets of Labadi Beach
Will make their appearance on these Austin Texas streets
Well, at least the garbage is still being regularly cleared
Appearances must be kept up, even as lockdowns take their toll
The prospect, however, is of walking through discarded toilet roll

He's always kept himself clean, tidy and well dressed
Dignified, with a sense of possession and no trace of stress
One has always wondered: where does he take his showers?
Still it's a consolation that the park benches
That he sleeps under at night are still there
For what it's worth, they provide some protective cover
He moves out early in the morning from this place he shares
To allow the yoga and exercise crowd to take them over

He had a good run this summer by every measure
The birthday party crew were stymied by the park closures
Thus he could sleep in, even on the weekend mornings
No anxious parents trying to stake out the benches
And mark their territory with prefab themed balloons
And other plastic decorations with which they festooned
No disposable tablecloths that they would tie down
No cups, coolers and fluffy pom poms
No banners and photo booths nor burgeoning cheer
For the show they later planned to put on
No bouncy castles, at least for the first few months
No barbecues, the smell of which draw out a great longing
Indeed for those months there were no gatherings
Of friends and family and their spawn

He must do odd jobs during the day for the folks at the restaurant
Perhaps they repay him in kind with their choice soul food
The sign says that they even serve meat from alligators
Or perhaps it's just his company that they enjoy that makes him a fixture
The owner raises a weary eye and his expression grows stark
Whenever you happen to mention the old man who lives in the park
There's a pause, then a sigh, born of longstanding concern,
A shake of the head, it's really a long story
Believe me, we've long since involved social services
At this point, it's not even a matter of charity
Interventions galore, there's no doubt a fraught history

zinnias flower garden

When he disappeared for a month,
You wondered if he was lost to the pandemic
That was back in July, when that new urban soundtrack
The near constant sound of ambulances, almost made you panic
The Governor, despite the positivity rate,
Was hell bent on the grand reopening
You could only hang your head in dismay
At the fecklessness, will they ever learn?
So it was the most misbegotten kind of relief
When the old man who lives in the park made his return

We'd circled each other uneasily ever since we moved in across the park
The real estate agent couldn't have known he'd be our neighbor
The head nods proffered were only occasionally returned
There was indeed recognition, but always a pregnant silence
I later learnt that he was half blind
Which perhaps explained the diffidence
And his uneasy and languid way with locomotion.
Albeit he has a white cane that he twirls merrily,
But he seems to only use it as decoration
Thus he crosses the street willy-nilly
Invariably causing near crashes and commotion.

Came to find out that he was a veteran
There's a hardness under what you observe
You wonder which was the American
Foreign misadventure he was drafted in to serve
The word on the street is that his sister takes all his benefit checks
Such is the mystery of the arrangement, for he seems quite happy
And even compelled to spend his nights sleeping under the bench
So perhaps it's not about money but rather about penance
For sins past. Who knows the backstory of this kind of repentance

We first talked one August evening
As I watered my flowers and plants in the front yard.
Limping, he'd crossed the street from the park
As usual, ignoring the passing cars
He approved of my low tech approach
But suggested installing a sprinkler system
I didn't have the heart to show him the one right there under his nose
Given that I preferred getting out and about with my garden hose
Back to basics, Nyame had suggested, choose manual over automatic.
Such were the nuts and bolts guiding me through this pandemic
So while we live in this digital world, I prefer analog connections
The necessity of touch and meaningful conversation

Nevertheless he approved that I was taking care of the earth
And digging up and weeding on my hands and knees
"If all goes well, young man, with the passage of time
There'll be plenty of monarch butterflies and bees"

There's a musical quality to the cadences of his speech
As if, in another life, he could be moved to preach

"I'm blessed, Sir. I have two young ones, I couldn't be prouder.
The Good Lord is in control, don't mind that weather forecaster
You know, he had it wrong, claiming rain and thunderstorms
But what could he know about His ways and directions?"

"It surprises them when you call them Sir, but it doesn't cost you none.
Keep doing what you're doing, above all, be true, young man"...

"I see you have a couple of children, I can tell they bring you joy.
I'll be off now. Pleased to meet you, Sir, my own name is Delroy."

And so I turned off the water and coiled up the garden hose
And took off the homemade face mask that covered my nose
I made to turn on the light in front of my home
And walked back up to my study thinking of a poem
I gazed across the street at the incipient dark
Thinking, as I do at night, about the old man who lives in the park.

front yard

The Old Man Who Lives In The Park, a Playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

See also: Frank and Frances (or 500 Steps)

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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