Isolation in the Nation

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S1: This show may contain words that would offend the sensibility of certain habitual ways of monasteries.

S2: It’s Thursday, March 26, 2020, from slated to just. I’m Mike PESCA. Today, the president, within the first few minutes of addressing the nation, found himself discussing the issue that was top of mind for most frightened Americans.

S3: His relationship with Tom Brady, we had a it was a terrific meeting, tremendous spirit among all of those countries. We had 20 countries plus the other people that I mentioned. And tremendous spirit to get this over with. After that meeting with the world leaders, I spoke with the governors of our 50 states and territories. Our team has been in constant communication with the governors. And we had a we had a terrific meeting. Somebody in the fake news said that one of the governors said, oh, we need Tom Brady s again.

S4: He meant that in a positive way, said we need Tom Brady. We did do it. And he meant it very positively, but they took it differently. They think Tom Brady should be leading the effort. That’s only fake news. And I like Tom Brady spoke to him the other day. He’s great guy.

S5: Eventually, the president moved on to perhaps more urgent issues, the country’s status of having the most corona cases in the world and the staggering unemployment number of more than 3.3 million jobless claims last week. His response to that number.

S3: So when I heard the number, I mean, I heard it could be six feet and could be seven million.

S5: So, again, his response was it could have been more for context. The weekly claim was the worst weekly jobless figure in history, eclipsing the last record of six hundred ninety five thousand Americans out of work set in 1982. And what the president wants us to know is that the current number, although almost twice as bad as the existing record, could have been 10 times as bad. But it wasn’t. That is his message for us. The American people. So these are numbers representing, of course, people who are suffering. And the spiel will be about numbers and how they can clarify. But first, let’s do a quiz and numbers based quiz. Why not? So Cauvin, 19, where does the 19 come from? In covered 19 A it was the 19th ever discovered strain of corona. B it was discovered in twenty nineteen. Or C 19 is an unlucky number in Chinese and it roughly correlates to a swarm of insects. The answer is big covered 19 so named because it was discovered in twenty nineteen. All right. Up next and 95 masks Y N ninety five A. That was the project designated name by 3M, a company just like Post-it Notes were once called J ones in-house at 3M. B the N is for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the ninety five means it filters out ninety five percent of all particles or c radiostation and five in Milwaukee had an outbreak of streptococcus and staff had to wear these afterwards. The answer is b ninety five percent of particles. Ninety five. Finally, the forty fifth president wants you to know a he is carefully monitoring all the statistics every day. B he has been calling family members of some people who have died to wish his condolences and tell them he’s doing all he can to help so that others don’t suffer. See, he knows Tom Brady. The answer is C on the show today. That spiel about the glory of numbers and how they lead us to good conclusions. But first one is the loneliest number, unless you’re with two or three other people who’ve been driving you a little crazy during the pandemic. We are often in tight quarters. We’ve been advised to stay there. So I thought we talked to someone who has experience in this matter. She was part of a NASA funded project which looked at the effects of a Mars mission on the human body and the dynamics of human interaction.

S6: She was isolated along with five other crewmates in a geodesic dome on Hawaii for four months. She lived. She learned. And Kate GREENE is here now to impart some lessons that she took away.

S7: Now that we’ve all had the conditions of Corona thrust upon us, we are left to deal often by ourselves and by our own devices, quite literally, we are left to deal with the question, well, how to isolate, how to live alone or with one or two or four other people. There is a community of hermits who has advice for us. Kate Green is such a person for NASA. She went to a isolation type community with a few other people to plan for a mission to Mars. The idea was that the space agency, apart from studying how to send a rocket to Mars that could sustain human life, had to think about how those humans aboard the ship might get along. So she embarked upon an experiment. She wrote about it for Slate. And she’s here to give us some advice. Hello, Kate. How are you?

S8: Hi, Mike. I’m doing well. How are you?

S9: This is 2013. How’d you get tapped to be in this program?

S10: Well, I can think my boredom for this.

S11: One day I was scrolling through Twitter and I saw an article about astronauts loving Tabasco sauce, and I wondered why.

S12: And I clicked. And it turns out that astronauts in space on long duration missions tend to lose interest in food over time. And scientists didn’t really know why.

S11: And so one thing that they thought they could do to figure this out is to see how a crew of six people pretending to live on Mars fared under the conditions of isolation, like on the space station. And they would ask them, what is it exactly? Is it simply that you’re in zero-G and you have fluid shifts in your body and it makes your nose stepped up and you’re not interested? Or is it something else? Is it something more about the isolation and the sameness everyday of the meals and that environment that causes an astronaut to lose interest in food? And the reason why it’s important to ask about, you know, astronauts appetite is because if an explorer is out there not taking in the calories they need, it can put their body at great risk for injury and like a broken bone on Mars. I mean, that could really make a mission. Disastrous part of the high seas objective was to try to answer some of those questions.

S12: Right now, the high seas, that’s an acronym that stands for high seas, stands for the Hawaii Space Exploration, Analog and Simulation.

S10: How many people were you with? So there are six of us living together in that dome. How big was the dome?

S13: Roughly 900 square feet. But it was pretty spacious, as voluminous because it was a dome.

S8: And there is an upstairs mezzanine area where there were six of our rooms and our bedrooms were about the size of Walk-In closets. And then there is a bathroom up there as well. And then we had an open space down below that we were able to modify to fit our needs, move furniture around. What have you.

S9: What were the rules for going outside?

S13: You could only go outside if you were wearing a space suit like suit. So we didn’t have actual space suits, but we had simulated space suits. And so we had to put on these getups and they were really bulky and cumbersome and it took multiple people to help you get into them.

S12: And then someone had to sit back at home and be cap com essentially with the walkie talkie. You know, we communicated using walkie talkies and and only then could we go out and take a walk outside.

S9: What were the rules about communicating with the outside world? Skype face time, so forth.

S8: The rules for communication were based on the fact that there is going to be a communication delay between Earth and Mars for any crew that goes on this journey. And it’s anywhere from four minutes to 24 minutes. And for our mission to simulate that actual isolation from Earth.

S14: We used a 20 minute communication delay, which meant that you would send an email and then the soonest you could hear back from someone would be in 40 minutes. So that really made everyone feel so distant and so far away. And that’s a very different situation from what we have now. You know, we have so many technologies that are able to keep us in constant contact with people. And, you know, it’s it’s a lifeline. It’s going to be a lifeline moving forward.

S9: I want to hit you up for some of the lessons that you took away. But let’s establish a baseline going in. What did you anticipate? Did you say, all right, I’m going to bring a large cache of books maybe on a Kindle because I’ll have time to read. Did you have a lot of assumptions going in? And what were they?

S10: Well, my role on the mission was as crew writer and second in command. And so as crew writer, I definitely brought a bunch of reading materials. Some were digital, some were actual books. And I was pretty keen on getting a lot of reading and writing done. And I did do that. But I also knew just in general, isolation is pretty hard.

S12: What’s already known is that a number of things crop up over time, like the little things, the micro stimuli that get bigger over time and. Become particularly irritating the way your crewmate clears her throat or choose his cornflakes in the morning. Just the little things start to really great on your nerve.

S7: Things that make him so cute in the beginning just drive you crazy at the end.

S12: Exactly. And so, I mean, that’s just one thing. We also know that there’s something called a crew ground disconnect, where the crew begins to sort of trust each other more than they trust anyone on the outside.

S13: And and that’s particularly dangerous if you have a mission support or mission control that’s trying to provide helpful information. But the crew has reason to suspect that maybe that information isn’t the right information that they need right now, you know. So that’s something that people have to look out for and that can be overcome with very clear communication and just good faith that everyone is truly doing their best. And then there’s something about the. There’s an us then them phenomenon. It’s the SDM problem where the crew sees themselves as the only trustworthy entity and they don’t trust people from the outside, but the crew. Ground disconnect is when people on the crew just can’t communicate effectively with the people outside and the people on the outside can’t communicate effectively with the people inside. So no matter what you say, it’s misinterpreted and it causes problems and strife. And the fact is, I think that people are quite familiar with this anyway, using most modern technologies like email. You can never quite tell the tone that a person’s using an email. And when you’re in isolation, those little thing is just amplified. They blew up to kind of a huge degree and they can really cause problems.

S9: We know about the micro stimuli. Maybe that helps a little, but what do we do about it? Are there strategies to not be annoyed or to make someone else less annoying knowing that we all have our own micro stimuli?

S12: Well, for our crew, one of the most important things was just to have an open communication channel. So we would talk about these things and believe that no one wanted to truly annoy another person so they would do their best to not annoy another person. Another thing is you can really pick and choose what you’re going to be annoyed with.

S15: You can notice that you’re annoyed with something, but then you just have to let it go because people can’t help. Little habits, little tics that they do. And so sometimes if you observe it, it’s it’s really best to let it go. Some tactics that you can use that can help you with that are to journal. And this is something that NASA uses with its astronauts.

S8: Often those journals are a great way for researchers to determine what the tricky parts of isolation are and try to make them better on future missions.

S12: But you can also just try to distract yourself.

S16: You know, this is an environment where there is not a lot going on, but you need to find ways that you can get your attention elsewhere instead of just focusing on those little things that have grown larger over time.

S9: Yeah, like one of these people I’m stuck with. He’s always being overly optimistic and saying the word tremendous and talking about the benefits of chloroquine. And I don’t know how to stop him, but I guess I could just block it out.

S17: Yeah, I guess. Know that got me stuck with that guy, too. No, I’m not. Yeah, that guy seems to come in over the airwaves.

S9: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like regular times. Yeah. Was there anything going in that you said to yourself, this will be a good routine or this will be something to do and it just didn’t work out?

S12: Well, I was really hoping to get a lot of reading done very early.

S10: I just I had a lot of things I wanted to read, but I found that in the first even three weeks to a month, I wasn’t able to focus on a novel very well at all.

S18: I couldn’t I couldn’t read any text of any length. And at first, I was really frustrated by that. And I think that that’s something that happens in isolation. Generally, you have an idea of what you want to do and then it’s not working and then you get frustrated and then it becomes even worse. I kind of I worked to just step back and observe that and just let it be what it was. You know, if I’m not able to focus on reading a longer text, then maybe that’s okay. I don’t have to. Right now, you know, and so it’s just telling myself that I’m doing what I can do and to not be too judgmental is really helpful. And then I discovered one of the books that I brought was Allison Battles Are You My Mother, which is a graphic novel. And I just one night decided to sit down and read that. And something about the text and image combination really calmed my mind in a way I hadn’t realized that I had. My mind was pretty active. You know, this is a whole new environment, a whole new situation. And like a lot was going on internally. And there’s something about having to focus on text and image and and the way that that book was written in particular, that was really cool mean to me. And after that, I was able to read any number of novels that I brought with me.

S9: Did you emerge with any newfound skills?

S18: I mean, one of the things that I learned about myself coming out was that I do get bored and this is something that I did not think I did going in. And it’s something that astronauts really aren’t supposed to do. Astronauts are not supposed to get bored because if they’re bored in space, they’re not going to be asked to go back to space.

S12: You know, and and also that’s a very expensive trip. And one shouldn’t be bored on such an expensive trip. I thought, well, I’m I too don’t get bored. No problems there, you know, send me to space.

S15: But I learned, actually, that I’m pretty often bored. Like I’m always casting about for something new, some new stimulus, some new ideas, some new thought, just just keeping myself busy.

S16: And I didn’t know that until this mission and not that it was necessarily boring. I to clarify, we were all busy all of the time. But there is something about a lack of change in an environment that like works on a person at this very low level and it can kind of create this this underlying boredom state. The thing that knocked me out of that was toward the end of the mission, mistaking one of my crew members for an intruder because he had shaved his beard and slicked his hair back and was wearing a shirt that I wasn’t expecting anyone to wear. You know, you get used to what people wear all the time.

S12: Yeah. And so if you wear just like something a little different. I saw him and I was terrified that there is an intruder using the bathroom. I thought, why? Why is there some stranger using our bathroom? And like, I had not felt that sense of dislike, excitement in my body, throughout my entire body for a very long time.

S16: So that was something that woke me up to the fact that I had been operating at a low level boredom state.

S9: Interesting. Any other piece of advice that you think people could benefit from? Or people are missing?

S5: Given our current condition?

S10: Well, I think that this has been said a lot and a lot of different ways. But there’s something about what we’re doing right now that’s very much like a mission. You know, the big difference is that we didn’t sign up for this mission that we’re on.

S16: We’re all on right now. But the thing about being on a mission with other people is what makes it easier, what makes it able to be successful is when you call back to your sense of purpose, why you’re there, why you’re all doing it together. And if you’re an astronaut on your way to Mars, that’s an easy purpose to pinpoint. You are going to Mars. You know, you’re you’re carrying the fire. And for us on our simulated Mars mission, it was a little harder because we don’t know when anyone is going to go to Mars. It’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. So what really is the point of filling out all those surveys and, you know, dealing with all those little micro stimuli that are getting more and more annoying? And, you know, what is the point of all of that?

S19: So you have to do a little bit of mental gymnastics in that scenario. And I certainly did to imagine that, you know what, this could potentially help humanity get to Mars someday. And I’m going to stick to that idea and use that to ground me and make me feel better. And I think that there’s something similar happening now because it’s really hard to see that just staying inside is making a difference, that you really have to do some some mental gymnastics to get to that conclusion. But if you can do that and if you can focus on that and know that we are all helping each other and make the sacrifice of being inside for the most part and isolating yourself, it gets hard and it feels terrible at times for such a greater good.

S16: If you could hold on to that purpose, then you can believe in the mission. And I think that the world can be a better place for that.

S5: It’s a great ending. And yet I will ask one last question. Why do they like Tabasco sauce?

S12: Because it’s spicy and it gives.

S10: It’s not entirely clear exactly why astronauts like Tabasco sauce.

S19: But some theory suggests that because your noses gets gets stuffed up in space, the spiciness is a jolt that can cut through that and give you access to more flavors. And it’s just spicy food tastes good.

S5: Keith Green was the second in command of the first high seas simulated mission to Mars. She now teaches at Columbia. And her forthcoming essay collection is to be titled Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars. Thank you, Kate. Thanks so much.

S20: And now the schpiel, it’s been said that a story of a death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. The quote has been attributed to Stalin, but it was first probably formulated by someone else. You know, it’s not so unique a concept that many different people couldn’t have thought the same or a similar thing at many different times, of course, when a single person formulates a thought. He’s a philosopher when several do it independently. It’s just conventional wisdom. But underlying the potency of the tragedy versus statistic, quote, is the implied use lessness or at least force lessness of statistics. The word statistic in that phrase stands in for a thing we do not care about or just cannot pay attention to a thing that isn’t as real as a story. But I’ve always been someone who’s quite driven by statistics. To me, statistics make concepts more vivid, not less. The numbers of the pandemic are what give it meaning and power. News of a specific playwright or a high school principal or player on my favorite basketball team dying from covered 19. Don’t strike me as any more real or any more meaningful than the numbers. Eighty one thousand cases in the US and more than a thousand deaths or jobless claims to look at jobless claims.

S7: In February, a weekly jobless claims two hundred eleven thousand, then two hundred nineteen thousand first weeks of March to fifteen thousand two hundred eleven thousand. Last week it starts go up a little two hundred eighty two thousand, and this week three million two hundred eighty three thousand three point three million people just filed for unemployment in New Jersey. One hundred fifty five thousand people in Ohio, one hundred eighty seven thousand people that used to be almost the national number. In Pennsylvania, there were 378 thousand people who filed unemployment claims. The entire country did not have a week of over three hundred thousand jobless claims since 2015. The country as a whole hadn’t reached Pennsylvania’s number this week since 2013, and more are coming. Currently, there are 21 states with stay at home orders. Restaurants can only do delivery or pickup. So we looked at the number of bartenders and waitresses in all of those states. I mean, California alone has two hundred eighty seven thousand waiters and waitresses, 66000 bartenders, New York, 44000 bartenders. Michigan is 80000 bartenders. Add it all up. And those states have one point six million bartenders and waitstaff in in less than half the states, just the states that already have imposed the shutdown order. Some of those jobs may be reflected in that latest gigantic jobless number, but not all. I’d wager not most, in fact. And they are gone. They are all gone. Many counties in Florida and cities in Texas also have issued shutdown orders. Not the whole states, though. Now, I don’t have statistics on the local level, but I do know that statewide over half a million bartenders and waitstaff work in those two states. Five hundred fourteen thousand, in fact. You’ve gotta think a majority close to a majority of those jobs gone. A few stray bartender facts. Indiana has a million more citizens than Wisconsin, but Wisconsin has fifteen thousand more bartenders nationally. The bartender to waitstaff ratio about four to one in Wisconsin, two to one. Wisconsin’s number of bartenders, like the effect of their bartenders, is just staggering. There are, by the way, 24:00 barbers employed in New York. They’re all going to be unemployed, retail sales, non groceries, stores and pharmacy grocery retail sales in California, four hundred forty four thousand in New York hits three hundred seventeen thousand now. Not every retail sales job is going to go away, but most of them are. Some can be converted to online employees, but most of those jobs are going away. And I only read two states that are currently under stay at home orders. Now, some of these states, some of the governors are saying you have to look at us. Case by case, you can’t make a bold national pronouncement to stay at home. And the administration is sure to echo this, saying, oh, yes, one size fits all. That approach doesn’t necessarily work everywhere. So to get a sense of what might happen with some of the states where the Corona virus is least spread. States with under 100 covered 19 cases. I checked out different countries. The Gist Data Project Team Mini Daniel and I noted that there were four or five states that had fewer than 50 cases as of this morning. But as of now, as of as I talked to you, only South Dakota has fewer than 50 cases by the time you hear this. Even South Dakota might be over 50. So what happens? What happens when an area, a state or country? Because they’re analogous. What happens when you. 50 cases, 40 or 50 cases. It seems like the governors of those states are saying, well, we’re in a good situation because we only have 40 cases. But look at the world. Look at the example. Every time you have 40 cases anywhere in the world, you hit 50 cases. Then you hit 60 cases and eventually you hit 100 cases and more and more and on and on. Norway, March 5th, only 33 cases, then 56, then 86, then 113. Now it’s 2900. Poland on 3 13. March 13th, only 49 cases. Then 68. Then 104. And now it’s a thousand. Paru, which has been handling this well, 43 cases March 15th. Then they had 70. Then they had 80. Now it’s at 400. Like I said, that’s a success story, but it still goes up exponentially in every country. We looked at whenever they had 40 cases before mid-March. So given enough time to expand, not talking about a day or two ago, in every country that had 40 cases before a couple weeks ago, they all had 50. They all had 60. They all hit at least the triple digits. So these governors or citizens of the states with few cases might think, hey, we don’t have a massive outbreak. They should think we don’t have a massive outbreak yet. Those numbers that I just cited inform the linguistic formulation that adds yet to the end of the sentence. And now I would ask a governor of such a state to forecast in his or her mind what what’s your state going to look like two weeks from now? Look at the data. Look at the numbers. We’ll just get a figure that you can you’ve got a great gut. You got to this position because you have instincts. What’s it going to look like two weeks from now? What’s it gonna look like if you fought Corona with aggressive measures versus what it might look like if you did it? I mean, what it looks like everywhere else in the world where they didn’t and you have a lot of cover if you want to close things down. There’s plenty of social and political cover where you could cite the president, cite your neighboring states and just do it. There will not be a backlash to caution.

S5: There will be a tremendous backlash to mismanagement and death. You don’t have an outbreak now, meaning you don’t have an outbreak yet. And whatever it takes to convince you the numbers, the words or just your gut that has gotten you to this position. Ask yourself this. Do I want to be known as the governor who was least concerned by Corona? What will be the benefit to that versus what could be the potential costs?

S6: And that’s it for today’s show, Priscilla Lobby, the just associate producer, lived alone in a specially designed enclosure she thought was a mall, but soon realized was a high profile, secure biological experiment. And Polly Schwa was there. That was actually just the plot of biodome. Daniel Schrader, just producer, was thrilled to learn that the attempted but failed catch phrase of biodome was Just because we’re stuck in a bubble doesn’t mean we can’t cause any trouble. Actual quote from the actual movie The Gist Impressed by Wisconsin’s 2.5 to 1 waiter to bartender ratio.

S21: Confused by New Mexico’s eight to one figure. What do I got to pour my own Gabay in Santa Fe. We poor desperate to Peru. And thanks for listening.