Bezos, Smalls, and Bray: A Microcosm of Capitalism

Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world, is my neighbor (give or take a dozen miles). Not that I’ve ever met him, or ever will. I don’t travel in those circles, and I wouldn’t want to.

Another fun fact about Bezos is that, according to this article, as of April 15th, he had made 24 billion dollars (yes, with a B) more than he normally does, off the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we’re all stuck in our houses, we’re doing a lot of ordering on Amazon, and that lines Bezo’s pockets. Heaven only knows how much greater his earnings have been in the past month, since that statistic came out.

I would say good for him. It’s not his fault we’re bored silly and impulse buying online to remain socially distant. He deserves to profit off his company just like any other capitalist.

But.

He’s thriving while all the mom and pop stores are struggling and/or going belly up due to this virus. And I don’t see him stepping up to make any kind of a difference there. And his warehouse workers are treated abysmally, and they’re not being adequately protected in the workplace.

Enter Chris Smalls. He was a former manager assistant at an Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island. He saw that workers were not getting proper protection. He saw they weren’t being informed of active cases of COVID-19 in his building. He requested that work be stopped just long enough for the workplace could be properly sanitized. He led a protest. Not only was he fired for his trouble, but also a memo was leaked that was encouraging Amazon executives to lead a coordinated effort to say that Smalls was “not smart or articulate.” As if that means he doesn’t deserve to have his health protected. Insane.

Check out an interview with him here. He may not be a toastmaster, but I think he gets his point across just fine. And he’s not the only employee to have been fired from Amazon for organizing.

And then, enter Tim Bray. This former Amazon Vice President quit on May 1st. The final straw for him was the firing of workers who were organizing regarding their poor working conditions during the pandemic. He said there was “a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” He said he’d “neither serve nor drink that poison any longer.”

Read more about his reasons for quitting in his blog post here.

So there you have it: three men who represent the three typical tentacles of capitalism the world over:

  • Bezos, the heartless capitalist who will squeeze every ounce of value out of the little people who make all the money for him, and then cast them out when they become a nuisance.

  • Smalls, one of the little people in question, who gives his heart and soul to a company and only wants safety, decency and reasonable pay in return, but rarely gets it.

  • Bray, the middle man, uncomfortable with what’s going on both above and below him. In this instance, he chose to take a stand, and I admire him for it. It’s people like him, those middlemen with a moral compass, who often cause companies to change whether they like it or not.

I just don’t get why Bezos can’t see his way clear to throw a couple of those billions at the problem, to improve working conditions, health, and safety, and increase morale. He wouldn’t even miss them, and in the end, he’d benefit too.

But he’s like a racoon caught in a loose trap simply because he won’t unclench his fist and let go of that crust of bread. Greed is like that. So in the end, Bezos is the biggest loser. He’s pathetic. At least Smalls and Bray have integrity.

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Roamin’ Holiday

As I’ve posted in the past (more than once, such was my disappointment), I was supposed to go to Italy on my most recent vacation. But no. Of course not. COVID-19 has made victims of us all, in one way or another. I’m just grateful that me and mine are all alive to date.

But I couldn’t stand the idea of rotting away on my couch, watching the socially distant parade pass me by, as it were. And the truth is, I have only lived in the state of Washington for less than 6 years, so there’s a lot of this area that I’ve yet to see. So we planned 3 day trips and one overnight jaunt.

Traveling during a pandemic is an entirely different animal. We didn’t go inside any shops. Souvenirs were all but nonexistent. We didn’t make any new friends. We survived on homemade sandwiches and drinks, and occasional takeout food, mostly pizza. We masked up for any public bathrooms or anytime anyone looked like they’d be getting within rock throwing distance of us. Our hands were washed within an inch of their lives. We stayed in the car the majority of the time, and took pictures out the windows. But frankly, most of the places we went looked like ghost towns. I half expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down main street. We did see deer every single day of our travels. (I suspect that deer are loving this pandemic.)

I’m really enjoying living in a state that is so varied. We saw canals and sounds and islands and valleys and mountains and deserts and forests primeval. We saw a volcano and the unbelievable destruction it left in its wake. We saw farms and orchards and industry galore, all quiet, all empty. We saw one charming, deserted town after another. We put about 1500 miles on the car.

So I guess you might say that instead of a Roman Holiday, we had a Roamin’ Holiday. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but it was good. These days, it’s just good to be healthy and see new things. That’s more than enough. That’s everything.

Watch this space for more detailed descriptions of our wanderings in coming days!

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During the trip, we saw this rainbow. It was so vivid that it looked like hard candy. I’ve never seen anything like it. We snapped a picture, but the picture didn’t do it justice. I had to tweak it in editing to make the colors as intense as they actually were. So yes, sorry, the photo is altered, but this is an excellent representation of what we really saw.

A Bridgetender Thanks Frontline Workers

About two months ago, I decided to blow my bridge horn every night at 8 pm, to thank frontline workers for all they are doing in the face of this horrible pandemic. I’ve been doing it every time I work swing shift ever since. I’ve blogged about it in more detail here.

I’ve gotten some positive feedback from people in the neighborhood. And often, when I blow my horn, some of the larger vessels in the area join in. It’s all very gratifying.

But the sound of my horn only goes so far. And mine is a humble little blog, only read by a limited number of people. And I really want to thank all the frontline workers that I can. It’s the very least I can do.

So I made this video and posted it on Youtube. You can tell I wasn’t exactly made to be in front of a camera. I’m nervous. The words aren’t  flowing smoothly. Hitchcock and Tarantino would not exactly be jealous if they saw this thing. But hey, it’s heartfelt.

Please, if you know any frontline workers at all, whether they’re in the healthcare field or are first responders or are considered essential workers in any way, it would mean a great deal if you would share this video with them.

Thank you. Stay safe.

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Spring Fever in the COVID Era

I just watched two people get into a shoving match on the sidewalk of my bridge. Apparently the masked one felt that the unmasked one had gotten too close. But now the cautious one just touched the incautious one with his hands. That was probably not the best idea.

I’ve also seen two women get into a shouting match over the last bag of flour at the grocery store. I thought they were going to throw down right on the spot. I beat a hasty retreat before the flour had a chance to fly.

I’ve had several absurd misunderstandings with friends on social media this past week. Some were a matter of me losing patience with ignorance that I’d normally let slide. In some cases I suspect alcohol was involved, and there’s no reasoning with that. Still others were the result of me shooting off my mouth and having to apologize afterward. It’s as if everyone’s nerves are on the surface of their skin.

This year’s spring fever is more about the fever and less about the spring. The usual excitement this time of year has turned into restlessness and frustration. Social distancing is turning into emotional distancing. People are really starting to lose the plot. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much I can take.

We have to remember that we’re all afraid. Some of us fear for our lives, others fear for their livelihood. Many fear for both.

Many of us realize that the scary statistics only relate to confirmed cases, and not very many of us have been tested. Have you? I sure haven’t. That, and a lot of countries are under-reporting because they feel that the truth would make them look bad. And a lot of people are dying at home, and the health care system simply can’t keep track. No one really has a clue as to how flat the curve actually is.

No matter where you stand on the issue, one thing is certain: we all want this to be over. If only wishing could make it so. If only declarations from our so-called leaders would make COVID disappear. But there’s no happily ever after in our immediate future. This will not be a sprint or even a marathon. It will be a long, heavy slog.

We’re just going to have to make an extra effort to be patient with one another. We’re going to have to avoid shoving matches and flour fights. We need to engage in radical self-care. We need to realize that there’s no force on earth that will make the deniers do the same, so we’ll just have to give them a wide berth and hope that the fittest will survive.

And for those of us who feel we’re not coping by intestinal fortitude alone, there are resources out there, and I strongly urge you to take advantage of them. A longtime reader of this blog (Hi Lyn!) sent me a very useful link entitled COVID-19 and Your Mental Health, and it’s full of a ton of helpful advice and lists of organizations that are waiting to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

We can do this. It may not be pretty and it definitely won’t be fun, but we can do this. I promise.

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Are We Living in a Dystopia?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dystopia originally meant “displacement of an organ.” But the word, based on our current understanding as an “imaginary bad place”, was first used in a speech by J.S. Mill in 1868.

That this word is so young surprises me a great deal, because human beings have always been rather good at imagining the worst. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a dystopia as “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” We’ve been either living such lives, or imagining them, for many centuries, it seems.

Thanks to our current pandemic, we are all definitely living fearful lives, and for those who are unable to work, life is becoming increasingly wretched. But have we become dehumanized? We have if you’re craving dried beans, toilet paper, or Purell, I suppose.

But I’m encouraged by the many ways we’ve come up with to remain connected to one another. I’m impressed that so many people are making some noise, every night, to thank health care workers. I love the number of people who are behaving responsibly by staying home and by wearing masks in public. I think, if anything, we’re more human than ever before.

I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian novels. I like to be reminded about how good I have it, relatively speaking. It’s gratifying to see how resourceful people can be when they have to struggle to survive. I must admit, though, that I haven’t been able to appreciate this genre quite as much lately. Things are getting a little too real.

But I have to believe, for my own sanity if for nothing else, that we’re not in a dystopia yet. Our infrastructures are relatively intact. We have access to good information if we employ a bit of critical thinking. We may not always be able to eat exactly what we would like, but we definitely have access to food. Sane people haven’t felt the need to board up their windows and spend all their waking hours clutching shotguns. We still have Netflix.

We may be forever changed when we come out the other side of this, but I truly believe the majority of us will, indeed, come out the other side of this. Hopefully we’ll have learned how to better cope with the next crisis as a result.

Stay safe everybody. Wear masks. Wash your hands.

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The Consequences of This Pandemic

I can’t shake the feeling that this pandemic is going to change the world in ways that we don’t even anticipate. What will life be like after the dust settles? What will we have learned?

I must admit that I’m loving the reduced traffic. I’m hoping that many companies will realize that yes, in fact, they can continue to do business with a lot of their employees telecommuting. And will this habit of consolidating all one’s errands into a single day rather than rushing out whenever the mood strikes have any staying power? Fingers crossed.

What will the psychological impact be? Are we raising a generation of agoraphobics? Will we ever get past the increase in depression? Will anyone ever feel that they had a chance to properly grieve those they’ve lost during this age of social distancing? Will there be a spike in divorces? A spike in unplanned pregnancies? Will we ever lose our quarantine weight?

As horrible as this is to say, I suspect that the tragic decrease in baby boomers due to this virus will reduce pressure on senior care facilities the world over. I suppose that can be interpreted as a good thing. At least from that perspective, if not from any other.

The economic impact is still hard to gauge. Will we bounce back quickly, or will the consequences be dire? Is the age of small business completely over? This pandemic seems to be killing small shops, while package stores are thriving. I know as a landlord I’m feeling the pressure, and I fail to see how my poor tenant will ever catch back up.

And what of travel? Will we ever be able to comfortably travel overseas again? And have we lost our taste for large concerts and sporting events? I know I’ll never feel quite as comfortable sitting cheek by jowl with total strangers again.

Now that we’ve seen nature bounce back ever so slightly due to our inactivity, will we appreciate it more? Will we care for the environment as we should have all along? Having realized what a cesspool we’ve made of the planet, will we make more of an effort to clean it up?

These things are but the tip of an enormous COVID-19 iceberg. But just as with the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, a hundred years from now people will have all but forgotten what we have gone through and how things were before this pandemic washed over us like the invisible tsunami from hell.

Out of curiosity, I decided to read the Wikipedia page about the consequences of the black death. Other than the few minutes it took for our teachers to instruct us of its existence back when we were in school, most people don’t really think of the black death, and yet it changed the world permanently in many profound ways.

Here are some of the scariest and/or more fascinating bits of this Wikipedia article:

  • Historians estimate that it reduced the total world population from 475 million to between 350 and 375 million. In most parts of Europe, it took nearly 80 years for population sizes to recover, and in some areas more than 150 years.

  • The massive reduction of the workforce meant that labor was suddenly in higher demand. For many Europeans, the 15th century was a golden age of prosperity and new opportunities. The land was plentiful, wages high, and serfdom had all but disappeared.

  • Christians accused Jews of poisoning public water supplies in an effort to ruin European civilization. The spreading of this rumor led to complete destruction of entire Jewish towns, and was simply caused by suspicion on part of the Christians, who noticed that the Jews had lost fewer lives to the plague due to their hygienic practices.

  • Renewed religious fervor and fanaticism came in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims, lepers and Romani, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis.

  • Much of the primeval vegetation returned, and abandoned fields and pastures were reforested.

  • The Black Death encouraged innovation of labor-saving technologies, leading to higher productivity. There was a shift from grain farming to animal husbandry. Grain farming was very labor-intensive, but animal husbandry needed only a shepherd and a few dogs and pastureland.

  • In England, more than 1300 villages were deserted between 1350 and 1500.

  • After 1350, European culture in general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism, and contemporary art turned dark with representations of death. The widespread image of the “dance of death” showed death (a skeleton) choosing victims at random.

  • The plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671.

What can we learn from the aftermath of the black death?

  • Clearly, our knowledge of medicine and viral transmission has greatly increased, and our ability to communicate is much better, so COVID-19 will not take as many lives as the black death did. That’s a huge relief. But perhaps these numbers should be used to remind us of the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and the use of masks.

  • It would be wonderful if this catastrophe brings about a narrowing of the income gap between the rich and the poor. We definitely need that to have a healthy society.

  • I fear the scapegoating and violence that is already happening. This time it’s focused on Asians and immigrants, and it’s absolutely insane. As if anyone is responsible for the existence of a virus.

  • I hope we see major environmental impacts, in a positive way, and that we don’t all revert to our previous bad habits.

  • I am seeing evidence of all kinds of innovation, and I find that encouraging. I hope we keep that up.

  • There is a very good chance that COVID-19 will return year after year after year, just as the black death did. I hope we come up with a vaccine soon, but I suspect that when we do, we’ll be getting COVID shots every year, right along with our flu shots. This is not a virus that will simply disappear after a few months.

Welcome to the new reality. May we all survive and be made all the better for it. Anything less will be an absolute horror.

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N-N-1: The Quarantine Edition

For several years now, I’ve participated in a delightful photography/creative writing experiment that was created by two of my favorite bloggers, Anju, who writes This Labyrinth I Roam, and Norm, who writes Classical Gasbag. They thought it would be interesting to see what people all over the world were doing/seeing/experiencing at the same point in time. As Norm explains it, in N-N-1 the first N stands for the number of participants, the second for the number of photos (they should be the same), and the 1 stands for one time.

The subject I chose for this N-N-1 was Quarantine. Our worlds have been turned upside down by COVID-19. What are you and/or your family and/or your community doing to cope during these strange times?

I received a variety of wonderful submissions, showing that we each have different ways of living, which is as it should be, and in fact always has been. But I also found it very comforting to know that when all is said and done, we’re all in this together.

Thank you to everyone who participated! Stay safe everyone!

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n-n-1 picture

Driving for Grandma and Grandpa,

Running their errands, buying food

And picking up prescriptions,

Brightens my mood

And makes me feel valued.

It only happens once or twice

Every couple of weeks.

But it gets me out of the house

And away from their piques

Of anger over political critiques.

I love my Grands

And they love me,

But when politics arise

I would rather flee

And agree to disagree.

-Natalie Garvois  https://wildriversrunsouth.wordpress.com/

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N-N-1 Norm

I had trouble deciding on an appropriate photo for this N-N-1. I took at least half a dozen different pictures that dealt with different aspects of how I was coping with our lockdown. Then I thought that I could make a collage of the pictures and use that, but it didn’t feel right. Each of the photos were the same things I would normally do, only to different degrees, such as more time reading but no time in restaurants. Well, there was the picture of my mask, but it wasn’t a compelling picture. The only truly new thing that I’ve done is to start posting a link to a song on Twitter each day. The song matched my feelings about our situation each day. But then I realized that it was a pretty sad look at the world each day, so I started mixing things up. I’ve also posted songs performed by people who have died in these times. So, my picture is my laptop opened to my Twitter page.

Norm, https://classicalgasbag.wordpress.com/.

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N-N-1 Isolation

Isolation. Social distancing. Masks. Gloves. The world has been turned on its axis. There’s so much talent coming out. People are making sweets at home. Some are picking up new hobbies. Stories of this time spent with you and only you will ring out forever.

Nature is healing from what we have done to her. Wild animals are coming out of hiding. It’s their planet too. We can’t deny that.

As I walk back home, my footsteps echo. Birds on the pavement pay no attention. The silence is soothing.

When the noise comes back, will I embrace it or forsake it?

Ashesh Mitra – http://asheshmitra.blogspot.com/

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N-N-1 6am

6am – Already? Am I colleague or mummy this morning?

7am – Log on. Engage brain to squeeze out maximum productivity in the next 5hrs.

9am – Rest of team logs on, emails fly about, calls launched with vigour.

12pm – Leisurely lunch during her nap? Maybe I should nap too… No! Exercise and a quick lunch. Done.

1.30pm – Woken by 2yr old ready to seize the rest of the day. Parenting mode – enabled.

3.30pm – Pick play-doh out of the carpet and stop her eating strange leaves outside.

8pm – Toddler asleep after nightly battle. Movie? Quiz? Haven’t seen you all day, probably should.

11pm – FINALLY bedtime.

Mwila  http://chisbingredblog.wordpress.com

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N-N-1 being

Being “outside” has meant staring at the sinking colors of the setting sun, sneaking a quiet moment in the balcony. Questions of how much the world has really changed tsunami up before receding… I’m equal parts hurting from the anxiety and recognizing still, the joy and wonder of all this time together with the person i love the most on this planet. Isn’t this how life is supposed to be? But how? How is any of this sustainable? And then the moment passes, just like the pink, orange skies melting into deep blue-black all too soon. This quarantine has taught me that nothing is truly ever in my control.

https://www.becomingneha.com/

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N-N-1 Anju

Over the weekend, we got up early to avoid the crowds, and went on a walk. About ten minutes into our new careers as walking enthusiasts, something fluffy lodged in my throat. Ironically, it was during a conversation about Trump and Masks. My brain told my body to cough. *I* told my body that it is going to do no such thing. “Cough and you’re grounded for TWO weeks!”. In the ensuing fight between our current cough-less public etiquette, and my body’s natural defence mechanisms, I nearly choked myself. And yet, I survived. Then, I treated myself to this view!

Anju Lavina   https://thislabyrinthiroam.blog/

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N-N-1 Me

I’m not going to lie. This is how I spend the bulk of my time when I’m at home these days. Sitting on the recliner, my husband beside me, dog in my lap, watching Netflix.  Sometimes I switch it up and watch Amazon Prime or Hulu or Youtube.

Killing time is killing me. I’m getting fatter by the minute. When I get up, my joints are so stiff I can barely walk. Depression washes over me in waves. I try to take walks, call friends, garden… but I’m more sedentary with each passing day. Quarantine sucks.

But at the same time, I’m grateful to still have a job to go to for 40 hours a week, and a paycheck and a roof over my head. No one I love has died to date.This is both a relief and a surprise.

I’m hoping this pandemic will cause us to change in positive ways. We’re learning to be gentler on the earth, and we can no longer take our relationships for granted.

These are good things, right? This makes it all worth it, right? Right?

Barb Abelhauser     https://theviewfromadrawbridge.com/

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N-N-1 Cris

On February 29th the Governor of Washington state declared a state of emergency due to Covid-19. In the following weeks, a “Stay Home – Stay Safe” order closed all non-essential businesses and we began our shelter in place. Gray, rainy days with temps in the 40’s and 50’s encouraged remaining indoors. By May 5th when the sunsets were nearing 9 pm, State Parks were reopened for day use. And after ten weeks of staying home, we received a preview of summer with three consecutive days of temps in the mid-80’s. This brought everyone outdoors. Mother’s Day 2020 saw busy roads as family’s brought Mom to the forests, trails and parks. This photo was taken as I drove into the town of Black Diamond on my way to the Green River Gorge.

Cris LeCompte, www.RealtorCris.com

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N-N-1 Is

Is there any more space in your heart- she asked?

I looked away, pretended I didn’t understand the question.

Well is there? She persisted- brown eyes staring at me unwavering.

I said there is plenty of space in my backyard.

You can hang there with Wendy, Jerry & Suzy.

All 6 feet under- converted to fertiliser for my jackfruit tree.

Yes, later. But now can I hang with you?

I looked at my father- NO- it was said with finality. I looked at my mother -no she said with future sadness.

I’m tiny! How much space do you think I’ll occupy?

Too much space.

Mary Alexander, (The background story is published here – https://thislabyrinthiroam.blog/2020/05/13/guest-post-midnight-all-day/ )

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N-N-1 Photo

Photo taken on a solitary walk through the woods on Mother’s Day

Change is hard. And spring is a season of change. It seems harder this year and it is taking longer. The flowers are having trouble rising above the blanket of leaves, remnants/memories from seasons past. A light dusting of snow in early May brought refreshment, a longing to return to a hidden comfortable world that no longer exists. Nature teaches that change is inevitable. It will happen and we will grow and blossom beyond what we ever imagined, in ways never known before.

Peace and Joy and Love and Trust

Linda Zeppa, www.intuwriting.com

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N-N-1 Sanctuary

My Lockdown Sanctuary

Before quarantine, I thought my little balcony was only just big enough to stand on.  On around day 20, while on the phone to my mum and searching for some sun in my flat, I discovered I could wedge my chair (part in, part out) and sit in what is now my favourite sun spot in Valencia.

As spring turns to summer, this squashed little space has become my sanctuary, during strict confinement.  Here I have felt free, at peace and so thankful for all the little things.  Which really do mean so much.

Lauren Molzahn, Laurencian Tales (site still under construction)