Correct impulses

A couple of impulsive things from earlier this year that I don’t regret in the slightest:

We decided to prioritise experiences over things for birthdays, which is very hard now, but was very correct in January. For A’s 6th birthday we went to see the Flying Fruit Fly Circus which might have been more of an adventure for me personally: I feel like acrobatics has moved on to the point where the kids in training are doing tricks that would have been world-class 30 years ago.

We promised V that as his 10th birthday present he could go and see a Big Bash game anywhere in Australia which was initially complicated—people remember the fires in January and the pandemic in March, but there were also flooding rains in February, and they meant the final was at risk in Sydney—but we impulsively pulled the kids out of school and flew down to Melbourne on a Thursday afternoon in order to see a semi-final somewhere where it wasn’t raining.

We had business class seats to Melbourne (the only points seats left), resulting in the following in the lounge:

Me: see all this food kids? it’s all free!

Kids: WOOOOOOOW!!!

[Five minutes later] Kids are sitting at the table with plates piled high with… plain crackers.

We stayed within walking distance of the MCG which meant I could take grumpy A home from the game early (although she was sad not to see “the big things”—team mascots—up close) and Andrew and V could see out the game. Then we went to Brunetti which both kids thought was the fanciest restaurant they’d ever seen, and Legoland, and flew home.

A colleague had tickets to The Necks in February and couldn’t make the show, and the show date was exactly Andrew’s 40th birthday, so I bought them at half price, and we had dinner at Bennelong prior. It will be at best months before fine dining is a likely thing, and may be years before stangers can sit together in auditoriums and listen to experimental jazz.

What I learned from this: impulsive hedonism, because it all could be taken away at any time. Maybe not the most sustainable approach to life to have learned.

The best thing of the last week

It was jalapeños, in Cantina Bar‘s menu, for my birthday dinner. I have a chilli tolerance such that jalapeños are not painfully spicy, but a reminder that they could be painfully spicy and have chosen not to be.

Right now, getting invited to my birthday dinner is quite the accomplishment: if you haven’t been married to me for (checks notes) nearly 13 years or spent some portions of your life living inside me, you don’t meet the public health bar. I’m 40 next year, I hope for more of a “we have met several times” level of intimacy for that birthday.

5×2: more news from the organisations

I spoke to several more 5×2 organisations about what they’re working on (several of them, by waiting to call me, had the advantage of discovering the blog series):

UNICEF (day 4) is working to make sure that children receive other vaccines: measles vaccination campaigns have been (hopefully) temporarily interrupted and without good tracking and catch-up campaigns, they risk cohorts of children who go unvaccinated for other diseases.

The Haymarket Foundation (day 2) have worked to move many people who were sleeping rough in Sydney into hotels. They’ve also secured PPE so that they can visit these folks rather than have them staying all alone in hotel rooms indefinitely and have been able to distribute some to other agencies too. They’re working on supplying devices too so that people can access telehealth services. They’re not accustomed to donor outreach or publicity and are working on a way to connect with donors without compromising the privacy and safety of their community.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ACON (both day 5) are both working to transition a very in-person based and community-centred service model to a one-on-one, low contact model, while working with community members who have previous traumatic experiences of confinement (asylum seekers) and pandemics (LGBTQ people).

The ASRC writes:

People seeking asylum are often denied the right to work and simultaneously denied the right to safety nets such as Centrelink and Medicare. Right now this means that thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia are being left stranded and forgotten by cruel Government policies. It is clear that people seeking asylum will be among the hardest hit by the impacts of COVID-19.

We are still open and this is why

ACON has a clearinghouse of resources for LGBTQ people during COVID and is providing information on drug and alcohol use in this context at their Pivot Point site.

If you have the capacity to support your community by finding frontline organisations working with Indigenous people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, homeless people, people without food, disabled people, chronically ill people, children, elderly people, and other vulnerable and at-risk groups, please support them today.

Things you’re allowed to be sad about, an incomplete list

  • getting seriously ill, or having someone close to you become seriously ill or die
  • not being able to see them while they’re ill or before they die
  • choosing between two of your patients’ lives because you only have one ventilator
  • being unable to hold or attend a funeral for a loved one
  • needing urgent medical attention at a time when it’s less available or when you risk catching COVID-19 while receiving it
  • being trapped in a house with your abuser
  • losing your job in the middle of an enormous economic crash
  • losing your home or your possessions likewise
  • shutting down your business you sunk all your savings and time and dreams into
  • having all your savings evaporate
  • living in another country from your loved ones in a time of closed borders
  • planning labour, delivery, and early parenting without the guarenteed access to pain relief, Caesearean sections, midwives, or home support you’d been relying on
  • not being able to care for close friends or relatives in need of help
  • cancelling or postponing your wedding
  • getting uncomfortably ill, particularly if you don’t have good access to sick leave and medical care
  • living alone and dealing with the prospect of not seeing anyone face to face for weeks and weeks
  • not being able to see close friends or relatives for an indefinite period
  • needing to look after your children while holding down a full time job
  • needing to lay other people off and knowing that they face long-term poverty
  • listening to a bunch of people you trusted opine about how “only” sick people (like you) or elderly people (like you) are at serious risk
  • watching news reports about people who were happy and prosperous weeks ago dying alone in hospital corridors
  • being cooped up in your teeny, dark, noisy house for months
  • not being able to fix up problems with your house because handypeople aren’t essential services
  • cancelling your holidays, and telling your kids you cancelled your holidays
  • explaining to your kids that the new normal is that most days there will be bad news about schools, jobs, friends, holidays and you don’t know when the news will stop getting worse
  • cancelling your birthday party or regular board games night
  • liking Milan, or Rome, or New York, and not being sure whether or when you’ll be able to visit them again or what you’ll find if you do
  • liking cruising, and not being sure it is a thing that will exist in the world after this year
  • not being able to hook up with strangers
  • not being able to go to the beach during some of the best weather you’ve seen lately
  • being subjected to people on social media wanting to take whips to “juveniles” seen outside their houses, or wondering why you even bothered to have children if you aren’t thrilled to be locked in a house with them for a few months at a time at short notice

Yes, not all these things are created equal, the list is loosely ordered and of course you don’t want to complain about taking time off from surfing to someone who just missed their mother’s funeral.

But, at the same time, they’re all sad. You have the right to acknowledge if only to yourself and hopefully to fellow less affected friends that it sucks that your holiday is canceled and that you liked your regular board game night a whole lot actually.

This is important for two reasons, one is simply for peace of mind, insofar as such a thing exists right now. A whole lot has changed in the world in the last four weeks. You’re struggling to keep up and you’re grieving. It benefits no one, especially you, for you to pretend to yourself you’re suddenly all cool with anything short of imminent death.

The other reason is that eventually we want it all back. We want to be mostly free of the looming threat of infectious disease, and for hospitals to be safe, and to be allowed to leave our houses whenever we damn well please, and to have jobs (even if we have children!), and to be able to retire, and to see our friends, and to have new sex partners, and for people on social media to stop hating children so much.

Being deprived of all this is a really serious imposition on civil liberties and while we’re certainly called upon to go along with it for the sake of our communities, and it’s useless to be angry or sad about it non-stop or to heap stress on politicians and public health officials in difficult times, it’s also not a good idea to convince ourselves that we like it this way.

We don’t like it this way, and we’re not supposed to. It’s really really really sad.

Fiction: better together than alone

Lots of requests right now for fiction recommendations for folks who need escapist or collectivist themes. For me these are more or less the same theme: when I summarise my fiction recommendations they tend to be “and this one is… another found family dealing with trauma and emerging better together than alone! Optionally with a chosen one who wishes they weren’t!”

Note that the trauma theme means that several of these contain on-page violence or recollection of it, etc.

Without further ado:

The Good Place, my only televisual recommendation: a woman dies and goes to The Good Place by mistake and begins to learn how to be a good person. And how to have friends and be a friend. Complete with moral philosophy classes. In a network comedy. And there’s a Rashomon-style episode. There’s also an episode-by-episode podcast, note that you should watch the first two seasons of the TV show before beginning the podcast. After that, they were taped at the same time.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison: an isolated and abused teenage boy already has good instincts about how to be a good person, and they’re sorely put to the test when he unexpectedly becomes His Imperial Serenity Edrehasivar the Seventh and has to learn to navigate court politics, his absolute control over the fate of all his female relatives, being half-black (goblin) in a world of snow-white elves, suddenly having life-or-death power over his former abuser, and not knowing how to dance. This one is a pinnacle of good people finding each other in a difficult world.

The Wayward Children series, by Seanan McGuire: a series of novellas about teenagers who each found a secret door to the fairyland of their heart, dwelt there for a time, and then were cast out for various reasons, and have come together at a survivors’ boarding school to form an uneasy version of found family, the found family you have when your real found family are in a different universe. It alternates between stories set at the school, and stories set in the fairylands.

The October Daye series, by Seanan McGuire: you’ll need a more substantial runup at this one, there’s thirteen full-length novels in it, several novellas, and probably another couple of novels worth of short stories on top of that. And it’s probably a bit more than half done. Secrets and lies of the fae of the San Francisco area, as slowly revealed to the half-fae and all-grumpy protogonist, the least pleased of all Chosen Ones. The found family here is more multigenerational than many found family stories, which I appreciate: the protagonist and her closest allies are middle-aged adults, but their crew contains many teenagers and also several immortal beings.

The Simon Snow series, by Rainbow Rowell. It starts, in a way, with Fangirl, a novel about identical twin sisters in Nebraska who write fanfiction about the Simon Snow magical boarding school series that exists in their world, and how they cope with leaving home for college, loss, sex, not wanting to be a twin any more, and still wanting to be a twin. However the main two novels, Carry On, and Wayward Son, are actually set in the Simon Snow universe itself and are fanfic aesthetic with a lot of Harry Potter fic tropes: outsider Chosen One, insider aristocrat, mysterious pasts, questionably moral Dumbledore figure. And how you assemble a found family to avenge your mother.

The Hidden Histories series, by Karen Healey and Robyn Fleming. Son of a fisherman discovers on his father’s death that he’s actually the bastard son of a nobleman, moves to the big city and needs to deal with class and birth status discrimination. Yes, you know this trope, but the adults are brave and competent, the nobleman’s acknowledged daughters are also bastards (because their mother refuses to marry if it requires her to forfeit her property rights), the pirates have better sexual politics than the empire, and otherwise, this series never takes the easy way out. But it’s the formation of Team Bastard Half-Siblings (when you find your blood family?) that merits its inclusion in this list.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: if two time warriors from opposing undying galaxy-scale factions can fall in love through letters written in the blood of their enemies and the age rings of trees, who are we to doubt that there’s love in the world? It’s a novella, and it’s excellent, you have no excuse.

5×2: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ACON

Today is our final day of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis.

Our second last charity is the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre which provides a foodbank, legal aid, healthcare, and other services to refugees and people seeking asylum in Victoria. Their COVID-19 statement.

Many refugees and people seeking asylum are affected by poverty and lack of access to government resources (eg, some of ASRC’s community don’t have access to publicly funded healthcare). In addition, refugees and people seeking asylum often have experience of being detained (frequently by the Australian government) or having limited freedom of movement, and sometimes of infectious diseases spreading through their communities due to lack of healthcare or crowding or neglect. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, widespread illness, etc, are things many are familiar with, often deliberately and cruelly inflicted, and this time is re-traumatising for them.

Founded 18 years ago, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is Australia’s largest human rights organisation providing support to people seeking asylum.

We are an independent not-for-profit organisation whose programs support and empower people seeking asylum to maximise their own physical, mental and social well being.

We champion the rights of people seeking asylum and mobilise a community of compassion to create lasting social and policy change.

Take a tour of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre | ASRC

You can donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre online.

Our last charity is ACON, an Australian health organisation for LGBTQ people, founded for and focussing on people with HIV.

There have been other terrible global pandemics in our lifetime: 32 million people are thought to have died of AIDS to date, with hopes that only 500,000 people will die in 2020. That’s right, half a million deaths from AIDS in 2020 is the hoped for outcome.

And of course, since it’s an immunodeficiency disease, people with HIV are at higher risk from COVID-19, so the two collide. Here’s ACON’s COVID-19 statement, the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV in Australia does not yet seem well understood.

We are a fiercely proud community organisation. For our entire history, the work of ACON has been designed by and for our communities.

Established in 1985, our early years were defined by community coming together to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in NSW, and we remain committed to ending HIV for everyone in our communities. We do this by delivering campaigns and programs to eliminate new HIV transmissions. Supporting people living with HIV to live healthy and connected lives remains core to our work.

As we have grown, we have been proud to work with a diverse range of people to ensure their voice and health needs are represented in the work we do.

Who We Are — ACON

You can donate to ACON online.

I’ve shared my family’s donations this week in order to inspire you to think about the hardest hit people in your communities, and in the world, as COVID-19’s health and economic implications bite. If you’re inspired to support one of these ten organisations they can all use a great deal of additional help, but I also encourage you to look around your own community, and around the world for organisations at the frontline of providing services to vulnerable people, and to support them.

5×2: news from the organisations

Several 5×2 organisations have been in touch to share their stories about what they and their communities are going through at this time:

We talked with folks from Médecins Sans Frontières Australia (MSF) (day 1) and YoungCare (day 3) on the phone yesterday. Both organisations are very very scared for their communities. MSF is in Italy and Greece right now assisting with COVID-19 care, and particularly advocating for the evacuation of refugee camps on the Greek Islands. They are having a lot of trouble moving their staff between countries to where they are needed. YoungCare is naturally deeply concerned for disabled Australians with high needs in coming weeks.

Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation (day 3) wrote:

Everyone here is worried about the impact on our vulnerable clients, many who have multiple health problems and are living in overcrowded inadequate housing or are homeless. Today we are arranging transport back home to Communities for some of our elderly and disabled clients and board members. There is a lot of fear so we are also doing as much as we can to source and create information in local languages, as well as personally keep key senior people up to date.

FoodCare Orange (day 2) wrote:

… such an unsure and concerning time for our community… As FoodCare receives no recurrent Government funding, this will certainly assist us to continue providing what we believe is a very needed service to those experiencing financial hardship.

5×2: UNICEF and Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council

Today is our fourth of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis.

Today’s two charities are again driven by the interests of our children.

Our first child was keen to support children who are left without stable homes, or possibly families, by COVID-19. For this one we chose a large and well-known charity with a global footprint: UNICEF. They have a COVID-19 overview page.

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working to protect and improve the lives of every child in over 190 countries.

Promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. We protect and advocate for the rights of every child in Australia and overseas. We provide life-saving support and protection for children during emergencies and crises.

UNICEF Australia – United Nation’s Children’s Fund

You can donate to UNICEF’s Australian arm or donate to your local arm.

Our second child wanted to help Indigenous Australians, so in addition to yesterday’s donation to Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation, we have made a donation to The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, which is an Indigenous governed peak body for Aboriginal health services. They already have COVID-19 resources in place.

The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) assists the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) across NSW to ensure they have access to an adequately resourced and skilled workforce to provide high-quality health care services for Aboriginal communities.

Who we are » Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW

You can donate to AH&MRC online.

What groups around you are scared of the impacts of COVID-19 and associated economic shocks? Can you help them?

PSA: very few businesses can afford to keep paying their staff without revenue

Apologies for treading into a space where I’m just another tech worker writing a public service announcement in a field I’m not an expert in (economists, either ignore me or hit me with your best links), but for people imploring small and medium-sized businesses to continue paying their staff while closed for lockdowns (or while those staff are out caring for children): they almost certainly can’t afford to.

In stable-ish economic situations, you can regard employers as having a huge amount of economic power relative to workers, although it can collapse very quickly even then (Enron was a house of cards, but they went from being one of the most valuable companies in America to bankrupt in under a month).

But here’s the thing: most businesses, especially small ones, do not keep months of cash around. They keep weeks of cash, or in some cases (more than you’d think), days of cash around, and rely on a mixture of revenue and loans to make their outgoing payments. Even many very large businesses rely on short term loans to make payroll (this is actually one place where Enron got into trouble, when they couldn’t renew the lines of credit they used for things like payroll). Being able to afford to make payroll, even once, without revenue is very much the exception even for what you think of as a successful, enviable, business.

Similarly, with regards to “pay your cleaner!”, people will only keep paying their household staff to stay home until they themselves are laid off, and then they will need to stop doing that, because like businesses, most individuals, even very well paid ones, also do not keep months of cash on hand. And likewise at the point where layoffs reach wealthy individuals, they will stop being able to support their local cafes or artesans or small businesses and so on, in fact a lot of them will be in bad trouble immediately (because their mortgages are sized to their incomes).

I don’t have a good solution to this, we will need to trust in the economic and public health advisers to governments to draw the right lines between short term economic shocks to save lives from COVID-19, and major economic collapses. Definitely pay your cleaner and support charities if you can afford to. But businesses aren’t going to save us for more than a week or so: many businesses will need to initiate major layoffs or go into bankruptcy without either renewed revenues or a bailout in the next few weeks.

Edited to add: it’s also not very intuitive if your usual model of a business is that it is venture-backed, ie, it has access to a bunch of cash that it does not have to repay in the short term, but a large number of businesses use debt and lines of credit instead. In these cases, inability to meet interest payments may result in creditors immediately sending your business into bankruptcy or administration even if you did make payroll. Layoffs are almost certain to follow swiftly. Yes, creditors could be generous here, but they are themselves hurting and have upstream pressure from their own lenders, etc.

5×2: Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi and YoungCare

Today is our third of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two charities are focused on two different communities in Australia.

Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation is an Indigenous women led organisation that works with people in the Central Desert region of Australia. They work with youth at risk of homelessness; with new families on basic supplies, nutrition and money management; and with elders on disability support. They facilitate art and culture traditions being passed between generations.

Waltja is a community based organisation that works with families from Central Desert indigenous communities to address major issues affecting their communities. Waltja’s work focuses on addressing the many gaps in service delivery for children, youth, elders and people with disabilities in the remote communities of Central Australia.

WALTJA | The Waltja Way

You can donate to Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation online.

Our second donation is to YoungCare, which provides housing for young people with high care needs including especially constructed housing, funding to live at home, and return to home funding. They’ve just had to postpone a major fundraising event due to COVID-19 risk.

Suitable and appropriate supported housing is one of the greatest areas of unmet need for people with disabilities in Australia. Currently, there are 12,000 young people being left behind in inappropriate housing simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.

The Issue – YoungCare

You can donate to YoungCare online.

In a global crisis, people without stable or suitable housing are hugely at risk: consider supporting these or other groups supporting particular communities at risk today.