Things shutting down, a leadership vacuum and sports leading the way to a quieter next few weeks brings up a lot of possibilities that fall on the interesting/frightening continuum. What will be the new normal that follows this different normal?
Virtually every activity that entails or facilitates in-person human interaction seems to be in the midst of a total meltdown as the coronavirus outbreak erases Americans’ desire to travel. The NBA, NHL, and MLB have suspended their seasons. Austin’s South by Southwest canceled this year’s festival and laid off a third of its staff. Amtrak says bookings are down 50 percent and cancelations are up 300 percent; its CEO is asking workers to take unpaid time off. Hotels in San Francisco are experiencing vacancy rates between 70 and 80 percent. Broadway goes dark on Thursday night. The CEOs of Southwest and JetBlue have both compared the impact of COVID-19 on air travel to 9/11. (That was before President Donald Trump banned air travel from Europe on Wednesday night.) Universities, now emptying their campuses, have never tried online learning on this scale. White-collar companies like Amazon, Apple, and the New York Times (and Slate!) are asking employees to work from home for the foreseeable future.
But what happens after the coronavirus?
In some ways, the answer is: all the old normal stuff. The pandemic will take lives and throttle economies and scuttle routines, but it will pass. Americans will never stop going to basketball games. They won’t stop going on vacation. They’ll meet to do business. No decentralizing technology so far—not telegrams, not telephones, not television, and not the internet—has dented that human desire to shake hands, despite technologists’ predictions to the contrary.
Yet there are real reasons to think that things will not revert to the way they were last week. Small disruptions create small societal shifts; big ones change things for good. The O.J. Simpson trial helped tank the popularity of daytime soap operas. The New York transit strike of 1980 is credited with prompting several long-term changes in the city, including bus and bike lanes, dollar vans, and women wearing sneakers to work. The 1918 flu pandemic prompted the development of national health care in Europe.
It seems like a good time to wonder: do you have stuff to Read? Write? Paint? Plant? Play?
Work on other stuff, or just yourself. Rest, and stay healthy. Think about what ‘different’ might be like, how it could be better.
A city in Texas is grappling with being a city in Texas, and the questions are coming in existential batches:
Making sure ITC isn’t spewing toxic fumes doesn’t require fining it out of existence. It requires a serious commitment to safety and transparency, which are sorely lacking in this state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a history of lax monitoring and enforcement. And Texas has refused to require widespread public disclosure of chemical inventories and Risk Management Plans of facilities that would improve journalists’ ability to inform the public during a crisis. A reporter who wants to see a facility’s RMP has to make an appointment with federal marshals to view it.
Patrick Jankowski, senior economist with the Greater Houston Partnership, told business reporter Jordan Blum: “We need these facilities here because it’s how we get our products to market.
Of course. But what is a booming economy without quality of life? Without peace of mind? Parents sent their children back to Deer Park and La Porte ISD schools Tuesday, but they couldn’t have felt great confidence when school officials restricted outside activities. Houston ISD took the same precaution. Good to err on the side of safety, but no parent should have to fear that just walking to school might endanger their child’s health.
Nothing that calls for fatuous comment or commentary. It’s just a situation reduced to its plainly naked reality. Companies do what they want, the public has no say. Regulations are too onerous. We need these companies here for our products. And what’s up with the air?
Prayers and overly-stylized prayer services aside, this is not funny.
Raging wildfires destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Texas over the weekend and thousands of residents were evacuated from the most-threatened areas. Ten new fires labeled “large” by theTexas Forest Service cropped up Monday night across the state.
Drought conditions, high winds, and large amounts of dry, combustible brush are ultimately to blame for some 21,000 wildfires that have hit the state since December.
The loss of homes in the rocky hill country highlights how the addition of 2 million residents every five years has pushed urban sprawl into wildfire danger zones, or as former Austin assistant fire chief Kevin Baum calls it, the “top of a matchstick.”
Apparently, Dallas, Houston and SA are all in some extreme fire zone. And housing developments sprawling into wildfire zones does not a sustainable economy make. It doesn’t even do much for a non-on-fire economy. These failings are indicative of many thing, not the least of which is the easy-to-mischaracterize issue of climate change. Easy to demagogue. Easy to childishly refute (It’s freezing in Florida! in February!). But the earth is just as dry and the fires just as hot, as the climate changes and the effects thereof are just as severe and damaging – whether they choose to believe in it or not.