Toilet Paper

I bought toilet paper today. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this is 2020. We had the great toilet paper shortage this spring. I was baffled at the time. I get the milk and bread runs when people are panicked, but toilet paper? I never did hear a good explanation for it. I did have the thought that maybe there are people that purposely only go number two at work so they can use the company’s toilet paper instead of their own and when the pandemic forced everyone home they had to buy TP since they couldn’t use the work supply anymore. That just seems crazy to me, though. I consider it a personal failure if I have to poop at work. Not to mention that the toilet paper they have is terrible. I think it has to be an OSHA violation.

I didn’t purchase any toilet paper during the shortage. When I buy toilet paper, I get the big package of jumbo rolls. I had plenty of toilet paper in March and it has lasted easily into August. When I bought it today, I started wondering if I’m the only person that buys toilet paper less often than the seasons change.

The thing I can’t figure is how people go through toilet paper much more quickly than I do. Sure, it’s just me and my daughter in my house. I get it that a larger family uses more, but even a ten person household ought to be able to go at least a month without buying toilet paper.

Does it have others uses that I’m not aware of? I only use it to get clean after going potty. And I only use enough to get clean. That’s not a lot of TP every day. One roll lasts a while. Are my bowels less active than others’? Do people typically use more than they need? I just don’t know.

I don’t know why I felt the need to share this. I guess it lets you know where my mind goes as I wander the aisles of the grocery store. But since it’s out there, I am genuinely curious. Should my toilet paper become some kind of multitasker? Am I missing out on something?

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The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Heard

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

During an interview that was broadcast on July 19th, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump if he would accept the election results if he lost the election. Trump refused to answer, saying, “I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.” It’s irrelevant what he did last time. Last time he wasn’t the sitting president of the United States. Now, he is the sitting president of the United States, and he refused to say he would accept the results of the upcoming election.

It’s impossible to overstate how bad that is. It’s easily the most anti-American thing a sitting president has ever said. But, it’s not really what scares me. People have been openly suspicious for years that Trump won’t accept the election results if he loses. My partner, Jamil, even wrote a post about it. What really scares me is the collective shrug we got as a response. The two top stories that came out of the interview were about Trump’s taking a cognitive test and how good a reporter Chris Wallace is. I had to go to the third page of search results before I found someone talking about Trump’s potentially not accepting the election results.

I would have felt much better had there been an immediate and loud response from the Joint Chiefs, or at least a couple of generals and admirals, saying that the military would ensure that Trump accepts the results. I would have felt much better if every member of Congress had spoken up about the fact that a sitting president has no choice but to accept the election results. I would have felt much better if I heard something from the Supreme Court saying that it’s unconstitutional to refuse the election results. Heck, I would have felt much better with a statement from the United Nations or some foreign governments saying that they will monitor the US elections and do what they can to ensure a smooth transition of power. Instead we got virtual silence. That’s terrifying.

We’ve gotten to this point because the press, and others, have been normalizing this administration for more than four years now. I warned them not to do it, but they did it anyway. Now, Trump can say anything, it doesn’t matter how outlandish, and people seem to think, “That’s just Trump being Trump.” Trump being Trump must not be seen as normal.

We need people to speak up. We need to let the world know that the sitting president must not undermine the integrity of American elections. None of us should accept the status quo. Silence is frightening. We need to be reassured that our basic institutions will survive this horrid presidency.

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Red Lipstick

This is the July story for the 12 stories in 12 months challenge. You may have noticed that I haven’t published one of these in a few months. Between the pandemic and starting a new job, life has just been too crazy. But, hopefully, I’m back in the groove now. This month’s prompt was “red lipstick” and the word count was 300. It’s not my best work, but it’s good to be writing again. And it’s short enough to be painless.

***

He carried the bus pan into the back and put it on the counter to the left of the dishwasher. He put a tray in between and started unloading the dishes. He looked down at a set of lip prints on a white mug.

Ugh. Red lipstick. I hate red lipstick. It never wants to come off.

Besides, it doesn’t even look good. If you’re going to make your lips look fake, why red? What about yellow or blue?

He finished loading the tray. He lifted the handle on the dishwasher and slid the tray in. He lowered the handle and the cycle started.

Gram used to wear red lipstick.

Yeah. It always smudged on my cheek. I’d be rubbing it off forever.

She never went out without makeup. Had to look presentable, even if she was just getting the mail. It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of her daughters wear any makeup. Must be a generational thing.

It was shocking seeing her in the hospital. No makeup at all. She must have been mortified. All those doctors and nurses and attendants going in and out, and she didn’t even have her face on.

The cycle finished. He pulled the tray out of the right side of the machine and watched the steam dissipate. He started collecting the dishes to put away. He picked up the white mug. They were lighter, but the lip prints were still there. He chuckled.

Like I said, it never wants to come off.

He rubbed the stain with his thumb. Nothing happened. He wet a cloth and put some soap on it, then rubbed the rim of the mug. After a minute, it was white again. He put it with the other mugs and sighed.

I miss her all the time.

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Flags (And Other Symbols) Are Important

On June 30, 2020, the Governor of Mississippi signed into law a piece of legislation that will, finally, remove the Confederate battle flag from Mississippi’s state flag. This is a big deal, and an unequivocally good thing. It comes during a time of intense debate about all kinds of symbols, from statues and monuments to names of schools and other buildings to sports mascots. This is an important conversation for several reasons.

I’ll start with the most obvious reason. Adopting a symbol is the same as endorsing what that symbol symbolizes. Mississippi, by having a Confederate symbol on their official flag, has been endorsing racism and treason for over a century. Those endorsements are both blameworthy and shame-worthy. It’s sad that it took Mississippi 126 years to feel that shame, but at least they do now.

Another reason the debate around symbols is important is because there is a difference between remembering history and commemorating history. Remembering means knowing what happened. Commemorating means celebrating what happened. A statue displayed in a public place is commemorating, not remembering. Every statue of Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis is celebrating what they did. They are celebrating traitors who fought for the right to enslave other people. The Civil War is well documented in books, movies, and museums. There’s no danger of people forgetting what happened. It’s long past time to stop celebrating the bad guys.

The third reason the debate is important is probably the most contentious, but it shouldn’t be. Certain symbols offend groups of people. Many people will dismiss this as being overly PC, but we should worry about offending others. It’s basic morality. Offending someone is hurting that person. Intentionally hurting an innocent person is clearly immoral. Intentionally using a symbol that offends a group of people, especially a marginalized group of people, is clearly immoral. It’s possible (although unlikely) that when the Washington football team adopted its name and mascot, they didn’t know they were hurting anyone. But that excuse is long gone. Continuing to use the offensive symbol is just being cruel.

It’s not always easy to tell which symbols are acceptable and which are not. Symbols have both intended meanings and unintended meanings. The intended meaning of the American flag, for example, is to commemorate the nation’s founding (with the thirteen stripes) and present (with the fifty stars). The unintended meanings are too many to list, but they include freedom, capitalism, democracy, racism, imperialism, and power. In other words, the American flag is complicated. My intuition is that it is acceptable, but I’m not afraid of having a conversation about it.

When talking about the commemorative aspect of symbols, it is important to remember that many flawed people did things worthy of commemoration. There’s currently a debate in England about what to do with statues of Winston Churchill. On the one hand, he was one of the most important figures in stopping the Nazis. On the other hand, he was an unapologetic imperialist who was probably fine with Gandhi’s assassination. When commemorating someone, are were celebrating everything about the person? Probably not, otherwise there would be no one worthy of commemoration. We have to look at how big and important the praiseworthy things are compared to how big and important the blameworthy things are. With Churchill, I’m apt to say that beating Hitler is big and important enough to warrant commemoration. But I could easily feel differently if I were Indian. I welcome the debate.

When it comes to the offensiveness of a symbol, we need to remember that you can probably find someone out there who is offended by anything you can imagine, no matter how wholesome it may seem. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use symbols. Since someone will always be offended, I think a type of contractualism can help. Under this we can say that a symbol is offensive if it can be considered offensive under a set of principles which no one can reasonably reject. I don’t have time to get into all the details, but the Confederate flag is offensive because no one can reasonably reject that it is a symbol of racism. Black Lives Matter signs are not offensive because anyone can reasonably reject that they are offensive. It takes some racist mental gymnastics to find them offensive in the first place.

That leaves us in a place where many, if not most, symbols can and should be debated. But it also leaves us in a place where many symbols should be removed or changed immediately. The Maryland state flag is an example. I’ve written about this before, but the red and white parts of the flag intentionally symbolize the traitors who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. That is not something Maryland (or anyone who cares about the United States) should endorse or commemorate. Not to mention that it was adopted during Jim Crow, so it was probably intended to intimidate the black residents of Maryland. Plus, it is offensive in a way that no one could reasonably reject. Any symbol that endorses or commemorates the Confederacy is offensive and has to go now.

So, I applaud Mississippi for taking a long overdue step in the right direction. If Mississippi can do it, it can be done anywhere. Let’s all join them taking steps in the right direction.

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What Can I Do?

This is a question I ask myself all the time. What can I do? I’m not asking it in the resigned way, as a way of saying there’s nothing I can do. I’m asking it in the sincere way. I actually want to know what I can do. The world is all kinds of messed up. What role can I play in trying to fix it?

Unfortunately, there are no clear answers to the question. I might be privileged, but I’m not rich and I’m not powerful. I have no way to give the less fortunate jobs or raises, and I don’t have much money after paying my bills to give to charity. (I do give a little, and I try to donate old clothes and things like that.) I work two jobs, one of which is physically demanding, so it’s hard for me to attend meetings or rallies or protests. I can’t even donate blood. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to remain conscious while doing it, so they told me to stop trying. In other words, I’m limited, at least when it comes to things that will make a real impact. But I still want to do something, so what can I do?

I don’t have a large platform (although if this blog got to be big, I’d be awfully happy, so feel free to share), but I can write. I can put my views out there. I have no way of knowing how persuasive I am or how open-minded my readers are. I like to think they’re quite open-minded, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know. So, I don’t know that my writing has much of an impact, but it is something I can do. At least I’m not silent.

I can vote. And I do vote. I’ve voted at every opportunity I’ve had since turning eighteen. I also encourage others to vote. I believe it’s important. Real change doesn’t happen without a sympathetic government (which is something worthy of its own post). I have to admit I sometimes have doubts. I live in a medium sized town in a small state. Everyone I voted for last November lost. But I try to stay positive about voting because it is something I can do.

I’m pretty sure the most important thing I can do is everything in my power to raise my kid right. A large part of that is talking to her openly and honestly about the issues that matter, even when the conversations are uncomfortable. Another big part is living my life in a way that is consistent with my values. Children learn at least as much from how we act as what we say. I can try my best to be a good role model.

That doesn’t feel like a lot. Are there really only three things I can do? I honestly don’t know. There’s probably more, I just don’t know where to look. Although, now that I think of it, this is a fourth thing I can do. I can keep struggling with these questions. It keeps me up nights wondering if my values and opinions are right. I’d hate to be fighting for the wrong things. Questioning helps keep me honest, and, hopefully, pointed in the right direction. Maybe it can even show me some more things I can do.

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Black-Owned Businesses

Current events have led to a call to support Black-Owned Businesses. This has always been a good idea, so it’s nice that people are catching up. But I’ve got a small problem. News outlets, bloggers, and people on social media keep posting lists of Black-Owned Restaurants. That’s fine, but where are the black-owned law firms and insurance agencies and accounting firms? Where are the black-owned plumbers and electricians and auto mechanics? Are there any black-owned publishers or news outlets out there? With the coronavirus still lingering, I don’t exactly feel safe going to restaurants yet. But the next time I need something other than food, I’d like to help.

I spent some time searching and found two resources that are helpful. Official Black Wall Street has an app and website designed to help you find Black Owned Business nearby. And Black Enterprise has a list of the biggest Black Owned Businesses, in case you’re searching for something with a national or an international presence. I also thought that we here at Nutmegger Daily could try to help. If you know a Black-Owned Business we should support, put it in the comments to help spread the word. It’s even OK if it’s a restaurant.

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Understanding

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

A lot of white people who support Black Lives Matter have been using a slogan lately. They use it on signs, in posts, in memes, and in tweets. It is, “I understand that I will never understand, but I stand with you.” I get it. I know what it’s trying to say, that as someone who has never been the direct victim of racism, I can’t understand what it’s like for those who have. I even appreciate the sentiment, that we can stand in common cause with people even though we haven’t been through what they’ve been through. But, the statement sets too high a bar for understanding, and it ultimately highlights what separates us instead of underlining our common humanity.

The slogan, taken at face value, is saying that the only way to understand something is to personally experience it. If that were true, none of us actually understand very much at all. The only things we can hope to understand are our own thoughts and feelings since they are the only things we have direct experience of. If applied to a more mundane topic, it’s like saying that no one can understand an internal combustion engine unless they have personally combusted at some point. That just seems absurd.

Taking it a little less literally, it could be taken in two ways. It could mean that you can’t understand something without witnessing that thing. People can understand internal combustion engines because they have witnessed combustion (and all the other things that go into an engine). But taking the slogan this way makes it really negative. Everyone has witnessed racism. That means that the only people who will never understand are people who refuse to understand. I don’t think that’s what it was meant to express.

The second less literal way to take the statement is saying that you can’t understand unless you have had a relevantly similar experience. Unless we artificially restrict what counts as relevant, this broadens the realm of understanding enough to make the statement false. Every woman (which is more than half the world’s population) who has ever experienced sexism has had a relevantly similar experience. Every Jewish person who has experienced antisemitism has had a relevantly similar experience. Every Muslim who has experienced anti-Islamic speech and actions has had a relevantly similar experience. Every LGBTQ+ person, disabled person, indigenous person, and little person has had a relevantly similar experience. I am a cis-gendered, straight, white male from the United States. To use the lingo, I have about every kind of privilege imaginable. Yet I have been harassed by law enforcement. I was even forced to get out of my car for about 45 minutes once while they searched it for drugs. I’ve never so much as had a sip of beer, let alone anything illegal. I don’t drive erratically. Or speed. But, I had long hair and a big, bushy beard, so they profiled me and decided I was on drugs. It was humiliating. I felt powerless. I’m not saying this as a “woe is me,” I’m saying it because if I’ve had at least one relevantly similar experience, I have to think most people on the planet have. And that means almost everyone can understand on some level.

Saying “on some level” is important. With anything, there are different levels or ways of understanding. A poet might understand metaphor on a deeper level than an actuary. That doesn’t mean that an actuary can never understand metaphor. When I’m saying that most people can understand racism on some level, I know that they don’t understand it as viscerally or as completely as black people do. But if you can’t say you understand something unless you understand it completely, no one would understand anything. Even black people wouldn’t understand racism since they don’t know what it’s like from the side in power.

This was a somewhat long-winded way of getting to my point. I really don’t like people saying, “I understand that I will never understand,” because it seems to me like a way of othering a group of people. Sympathy and empathy are ways of understanding that are vital to morality. I don’t just try to understand things as an intellectual exercise. I strive to be understanding at all times. I have to object to any statement that says my empathy is impossible.

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Talking About Racism

Photo by Hayley Catherine on Unsplash

Racism is a difficult topic to talk about. There are all the obvious reasons. It’s a sensitive subject that can be triggering for many people. Plus, it is hard for many people to be honest, even with themselves, about it. It can expose a disconnect between the person you are and the person you want to be. Psychology and sociology aren’t my areas of expertise, so I’m not going to talk about a lot of these obvious reasons. Instead, I want to look at why racism is hard to talk about by focusing on the language itself and some philosophy.

Like most words, racism can mean different things in different contexts. Merriam-Webster gives four definitions (Disguised as three):

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race 2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles b: a political or social system founded on racism 3: racial prejudice or discrimination

According to the first and last definitions, anyone can be racist. According to the two in the middle, racism requires power. That’s an important distinction. I tend to look at the difference as systemic racism vs. personal racism where systemic racism is a societal problem that touches everything and personal racism is the antipathy too many individuals feel towards people of another race.

Unfortunately, these two senses of the word racism tend to get confused when people are talking about it. One side of the conversation will be talking about systemic racism while the other is talking about personal racism. And sometimes, the speakers switch back and forth between the different types of racism throughout the exchange, making it hard for anyone to know what’s being discussed.

How many times have you heard (or read) some variation of this exchange?

Speaker 1: The police are racist.

Speaker 2: Not all cops are racist.

The conversation is bound to end in frustration or acrimony since the two speakers are talking about different things. Speaker 1 is correct, the act of policing in the US is racist. Just look at the history and the societal power structure. Think of the racist laws they enforce. I don’t have time to get into it here, but any American institution that has been around as long as the police is probably racist. However, saying the police are racist doesn’t say anything at all about any particular police officer. It is very likely that Speaker 2 is also correct. It would be shocking if every one of the thousands of cops, including the many African-American cops, turned out to be racist. But, that says nothing about the police as an institution. Speaker 1, of course, is talking about systemic racism while Speaker 2 is talking about personal racism. It only sounds like they are contradicting each other because they are using the same word.

I’ll grant that, too often, Speaker 2 is being disingenuous. The statement is made to cause confusion or derail the conversation. But, I have to give the benefit of the doubt that some of the people who say, “Not all cops are racist,” are sincere. And if both speakers are sincere, it’s important that each know what the other is trying to say. The point of talking about racism is to try to come to understand each other. For understanding to happen, we need to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

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Anti-Racism

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

I’m not very active on social media. I use it to promote things I’ve written and things that my friends have created. Maybe once a week, I’ll log in and scroll through people’s posts. Since George Floyd was murdered, I’ve been logging in more often. I’m not exactly sure why. I think it has something to do with wanting to follow the story, but being less interested in the traditional facts of the case and more interested in people’s reactions. I know social media isn’t perfect, or even very good, at giving a fair representation of people’s reactions. It’s clouded by the fact that it’s only the people who choose to post that are represented, making the reactions seem more extreme, but it’s the best option I’ve got.

One of the sentiments I’ve been seeing a lot says, “It is not enough to be quietly non-racist. Now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.” I find it to be misleading. It’s true, but it implies that there is something special about now. Every moment of every day is the time to be actively anti-racist (I prefer saying actively rather than vocally. Not everyone is good at being vocal, that shouldn’t stop them from helping in other ways.) I know that George Floyd was recently murdered, but if we only get actively anti-racist following specific atrocities, things won’t change. Now is a special time, but not a special time for anti-racism. It is a time for people to express their rage, fear, hopelessness, and sadness. Those emotions are always present, but they are focused after these types of events. Dealing with these emotions now is healthy, but we can’t let the anti-racism relax once the moment has passed.

Another reaction I keep seeing is a quote that people are attributing to Ben Franklin, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” It’s very unlikely that Ben Franklin actually said this. I’m glad for that because I don’t like the quote. When applied to the current situation, it says that there are people unaffected by police officers committing monstrous acts of violence against people. That’s simply false. We are all negatively affected by racism in any form. That we is all inclusive. Even Klan members are hurt by racism. I’m not saying that everyone is hurt in the same way, or with the same level of severity, but no one is better off after an injustice. Not even the perpetrator. I often say that politics is not a competition. I say that because in politics, there is never one side that wins and another side that loses. Either everyone benefits or everyone is harmed. Everyone is worse off because of the murder of George Floyd. The more people who realize that, the better off we’ll be.

The other reactions I’ve seen run the gamut from defending the police to justifying arson. Some seem honest while others seem to be trying to provoke a reaction. They’re pretty much what you’d expect from social media and I don’t have much to take away from them. I singled out these two because they both came so close, but missed the mark. We need to be anti-racist not just now, but always. And anti-racism will never really work as long as people still think racism is a problem that affects others. Anyway, that’s my reaction to George Floyd’s murder.

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“The Darkest Winter”

I was starting to feel slightly optimistic.

Yes, it’s true that over 80,000 people had already died, but mourning the dead and being outraged at their deaths doesn’t preclude optimism. And as I watched Dr. Fauci’s testimony on Wednesday before Congress, I allowed myself to feel better. Aside from the usual political grandstanding, there were several thoughtful questions posed by the senators, and thoughtful answers given in return. I started to think, “This has been a shitshow so far, but at least there are some reasonable people doing good work.” Things have been bad, but they could get better.

Four things have happened since that testimony that have not only evaporated that hope, but convinced me that this may get significantly worse.

Dr. Rick Bright’s Testimony

Dr. Rick Bright

Dr. Rick Bright was the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, until he was removed from that position. On Thursday morning, he testified before Congress about his experiences and his removal. I listened to all of Dr. Bright’s testimony. I also read his whistleblower complaint. In both, he outlines that his resistance was to administration officials flooding states with hydroxychloroquine before its safety could be established. Yes, he signed an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, but to test its efficacy and safety. Administration officials attempted to go around the traditional process, and when Dr. Bright objected, he alleges in his complaint that he was transferred. The government found cause to investigate his claim of retaliation, by the way, and an investigation is ongoing.

It took three hours of testimony, 80+ pages of the complaint and several news articles to piece that together. Meanwhile, the President responded to these serious allegations with this:

Yes, he leaked because he was silenced and punished.

In his testimony, Dr. Bright also shared several examples of the failures of the Trump administration in preparing for the onset of the coronavirus. Even with those failures, the Trump administration could acknowledge those mistakes, learn from them and do better to mitigate the coronavirus going forward.

Instead, President Trump attempts to discredit a public health official in the middle of a public health emergency, and categorically dismisses his concerns without acknowledging them. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar assures us that they’ve already done what Dr. Bright insists needs to happen, despite the evidence to the contrary. How can our leaders learn the lesson if they refuse to even concede that mistakes were made?

That refusal to learn from mistakes is going to run right into human lives this fall. Despite statements from leadership to the contrary, Dr. Bright is concerned that a coronavirus resurgence may occur at the same time as seasonal influenza, and overwhelm hospitals. That’s where the eye-catching headlines about this winter potentially being “the darkest winter in modern history” come from.

I want to focus on that phrase for a moment. It sounds wild, right? Like something out of a movie or fantasy book series. It sounds so wild that many people might be tempted to shrug it off. But I listened to Dr. Bright talk for three hours. He’s a boring speaker- so boring that I almost stopped watching his testimony. He does all of the equivocating about blame and responsibility that career bureaucrats do when politicians ask them questions. There’s no pizzazz or wow in his public speaking style. He just talks.

That’s all to say that, from my admittedly brief time viewing him, he does not strike me as someone who uses flashy phrases or doom-filled language often as rhetorical devices. I think he’s using those words because that is his true assessment of what could happen in the fall. He’s in the position to know- he worked inside the administration and saw what was happening (or not happening, to be more accurate). Trump’s refusal to acknowledge mistakes and change unfortunately make me think Dr. Bright may be right.

Tesla

Elon Musk revealing himself to be the asshole he is has been one of the few positives from the pandemic. But even I didn’t think that he would defy a stay-at-home order, or that the local government would accede to his demands shortly thereafter.

Yet that’s exactly what happened last week. Elon Musk reopened his Tesla factory on May 11th, in violation of Alameda county’s stay at home order. He acknowledged it himself when he tweeted that he hoped only he would be arrested.

The shelter-in-place order which Musk defied does in fact call for penalties:

Source: http://www.acphd.org/media/572718/health-officer-order-20-10-shelter-in-place-20200429.pdf

Which begs the question: why wasn’t Elon Musk arrested?

Not only was Musk not arrested, but on Tuesday, May 12th, he and Alameda county struck a deal to allow for the plant to open. That’s one day after Musk broke the order. As the Mercury News notes,

On Tuesday night, Alameda County health officials said they had reached a deal to end the standoff, which would allow Tesla to lawfully reopen the facility as soon as next week. However, employee parking lots at the plant appeared to be full earlier in the day, and Musk tweeted Monday that production was starting against county health orders.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/05/13/coronavirus-tesla-alameda-county-reach-agreement-to-continue-operations/

Musk was aided in his decision to violate the stay at home order by politicians across the country and the political spectrum. President Trump offered direct support through Twitter. And governors of other states, by taking Musk’s “moving out of California” bait, undermined Alameda county’s ability to enforce its own laws. Both Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado and Republican Greg Abbott of Texas reached out to Musk.

Every parent knows the frustration of trying to enforce rules with a child, only for another adult to undermine you. In the case of competing governors though, the consequences are far more dire than a temper tantrum. Alameda county allowed workers to return to potentially unsafe conditions, under duress, because management demanded it. They were pressured into compliance by governors more interested in pursuing industry and jobs than public health. The alliance between business interests and government, at the expense of workers and the general public, is certainly not new, but rarely is it on such naked display.

In the end, the local government folded, Tesla reopened, and Elon Musk walks away with evidence that his petulance has produced the desired outcome. Keep an eye on that clown throughout the rest of the pandemic.

Michigan Statehouse Closure

Protestors try to enter the Michigan House of Representative chamber and are being kept out by the Michigan State Police after the American Patriot Rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty protest for the reopening of businesses on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 30, 2020. – The group is upset with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mandatory closure to curtail Covid-19. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

I went back and forth on whether this was the worst thing to happen last week. The CDC guidelines edged it out (as you’ll see why below), but I still think this was really, really bad.

The short version is that on May 1st, protesters entered the Michigan state house, some with weapons. Since weapons are allowed in the state house, there was no legal way to remove the armed protesters as legislators worked. A similar protest was planned for Thursday, May 14th. In the days leading up to the protest, the Detroit Metro Times ran a story about online death threats against the Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, including from people who claimed they would attend the protest. People within the government proposed banning guns inside the state house. Republicans denounced the threats of violence, but declined to ban weapons in the state house. So legislative sessions were cancelled and the state house was closed, despite typically being open on Thursdays. The protest went ahead as scheduled.

I’ve read several articles from several sources to try and make sense of what happened here, because this situation seems like the most fertile for overreaction. No matter how I read the situation though, the reality seems clear: with credible death threats, and no way to legally keep weapons out of the state house, the state government decided to shut down in order to keep people safe.

Extreme right wing elements succeeded in intimidating government, with help from the “mainstream” right. The state attorney general said it would be fine to ban guns in the state house, and yet the Republican-controlled committee which would have implemented that ruling declined. Republicans had the opportunity to put the brakes on this situation and didn’t. As a result, a statehouse which was scheduled to be open, was closed.

Stripping it down even further gets us to this: armed militia, with the help of local politicians, intimidated a local government into closing. Folks, this is literally what democracy is supposed to prevent.

I keep repeating this because I want to stress how FUCKING CRAZY this is. What happens if the protesters return? Will the state house shut down again? Or will the state house simply have people walking around with guns, and America will watch until an incident occurs? Those are scary questions.

Once a little imagination is thrown into the mix, things get way scarier. Open carry as an intimidation tactic is well-known, but now we’ve seen it work in the modern era on a whole new scale. Just as I see this as a concern, there are others who are writing about this as an opportunity (I hesitate to go into the parts of the internet where one would find that writing, but I’d bet anything it exists). The successful use of the threat of force to intimidate political opponents, WITH NO NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES, is extremely dangerous, and sets a tempting precedent for the future.

This is where I fear I might be overreacting. It’s a big jump from what happened Thursday to nightmare scenarios where uncertainty about election outcomes lead to violence in six months. Then again, if you’d told me in November 2019 that I’d be reading about 1700+ Americans dying from a pandemic the same day that armed protesters shut down a statehouse, I’d have called you insane. That would have sounded like a nightmare scenario then. And yet, here we are.

CDC Guidelines

On May 7th, a preliminary version of CDC guidance for ending lockdown orders was leaked to the Associated Press. The document was leaked because it was buried at the White House. Reportedly, a CDC official was told the guidance “would never see the light of day.” The White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, said the concern was that the guidance was “overly prescriptive”.

I read the preliminary CDC guidance for how to safely reopen schools. It was thorough, and outlined several steps to ensure that schools can both be open and be safe for students. But don’t take my word for it, look for yourself:

Excerpt from preliminary CDC guidance for re-opening schools (Source: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6883734-CDC-Business-Plans.html)

That level of specificity (the section goes for almost three pages) was replaced with this:

Released CDC Guidance for Schools (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/Schools-Decision-Tree.pdf)

The differences between these two sets of guidance is stark. Whereas the preliminary guidance offers specific suggestions for keeping virus spread to a minimum, the released decision tree skips all of that in favor of general questions. People’s lives will depend on this guidance, because schools will rely on it when making decisions. Closing schools helped to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Without proper social distancing and other considerations in the fall, when nearly 57 million kids eventually enter school buildings, things could get really grim.

America’s educators know that. Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the AASA, the School Superintendent’s Association, is recommending that schools follow the leaked guidelines when making decisions in the fall.

As bad as everything else that I described is, this is by far the worst because it demonstrates a lack of preparedness and concern that will exacerbate every other problem we’re facing this fall. The better school guidelines were leaked. LEAKED. If someone hadn’t essentially snuck them out, WE WOULDN’T HAVE THEM. We’d be left to figure out how to open schools based solely on the inadequate decision tree the White House released.

I’m focused on schools here because that’s where I work, but the same dynamic holds true for all the guidance in the draft document. Houses of worship, businesses, childcare programs- all had extensive guidance in the draft, which vanished in the final version. There was an entire section in the draft about protecting vulnerable workers (page 10) which does not exist on the employer decision tree.

I’m not even going to make any dire predictions about the outcome of hiding safety instructions from the American public. If even one person dies because this information was buried, then that’s one too many. The callousness of the White House is unbelievable.


I wrote this not as a harbinger of doom or depression, but because I know how much time it took me to watch all this testimony, read all these articles, and parse all the information that’s running in ten different directions. Hopefully, this information can be helpful to you to have in one place. These are the trends that stand out to me as most important, and I could be 100% wrong in my interpretation of what’s happening today, and what might happen tomorrow.

But writing is what I do, so I have to write something, because the price here is human lives. Those don’t come back if we fuck up. Despite the dark tone of this piece, deaths really have come down thanks to the lockdowns, social distancing and other policies finally kicking in. We CAN make a difference and save lives, but we have to know what’s happening.

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