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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The Bare Minimum

A few months ago, I had an interesting interaction on the dating site OkCupid. This woman’s pictures were nice and her write-up made her seem promising, so I liked her and sent her a note. It wasn’t anything special, but she responded. We exchanged a few messages. It was the usual small talk. Then, she did something different.

OkCupid is set up to let users know how compatible they are, in theory. It has thousands of questions that users can answer, and uses those answers to come up with a compatibility percentage. Some of the questions are important, like, “Could you date someone who already has kids from a previous relationship?” Anyone who answered no to that questions wasn’t likely to be a good fit with me since I have a kid from a previous relationship. Some of the questions are inane, like, “You are interested in someone and you discover they were a nerd in high school. How does this affect your opinion of them?” High school was a long time ago, both for me and anyone in my age preferences. I can’t imagine caring how popular a person was in high school at this point in my life. I didn’t even care much when I was in high school. Some of the questions are very personal, about sex and intimacy, some are political, and some are puzzles. I have answered well over a thousand of these questions. I have no idea how OkCupid’s algorithm figures it out, but this woman and I were supposed to be 94% compatible.

Getting back to the unusual thing she did, she said that she wanted to read through all of my answers and she would let me know if she had any questions about them. After a few days, she got back to me with a question. For the question, “Do you believe that men should be the heads of their households?” I said no. She wanted to know if I really believed that.

I was a bit taken aback, I didn’t know if she was serious or not. Erring on the side of caution, I didn’t make a joke, I answered her truthfully. I said that I felt the idea of a man being the head of the household was really old-fashioned, outdated, and sexist. What about single-parent households, same-sex marriages, and things like that? And even if it is a traditional male/female relationship, I don’t think it’s right for one person to have more authority than the other. It should be a partnership. I don’t want to have a boss/employee relationship in my personal life. Plus, women are just as capable as men at leading a household if you do need a leader.

She disagreed with me. She felt that it was important that men be the strong one in a relationship, set the direction, and take care of the family. Men should be paternal, even with their partners (Let’s set aside the fact that I completely disagree with her views on masculinity. That’s the topic of a whole different post.). Our conversation fizzled soon after, but it got me thinking.

What kind of disagreement were we having? Who should be head of a household isn’t a question of objective fact. It’s not like the number of atoms in a water molecule. On some level, it is a sociology question. But I don’t think we were talking about sociology. I guess it was really a question of values. We value women and relationships and families quite differently.

The question then became, was my reaction OK? What am I supposed to do when faced with a disagreement about values? Obviously, it depends on how important the particular value is. If someone doesn’t value baseball as much as I do, I’m not going to give them a hard time about it. That would be silly, and the person could rightly accuse me of hectoring. Feminism and relationships and families are a lot more important than baseball, though. For the important values, do I have a duty to try to convince others?

A big part of me wants to say yes, I do have such a duty. It makes me think of people who try to convert others to their religion. It makes perfect sense. What kind of horrible person lets others burn when they have an opportunity to save them? I had an opportunity to try to improve someone’s life, I feel like I should have done more.

The problem is that the act of persuading someone conflicts with other values I hold. I value other people’s agency and rationality and feelings. Telling another person what to think or feel denies those values. I guess the idea of importance comes back into play. I’m comfortable denying someone’s agency if that person uses their agency to abuse children. I guess I just don’t see the same kind of obvious harms from someone who has an old-fashioned notion of family structure.

Ultimately, I think I did the bare minimum. I explained my position and gave her reasons to support my position. I didn’t follow up or show her the flaws in her position. Given my other values, and the fact that I barely knew her, I think the bare minimum was the most I could do. I just worry that I’m wrong. Every day I see examples of sexism (and racism and other horrible things) and I can’t help but wonder if I should be doing more to stop it.

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Cars and Contacts: Two Things the Pandemic has Changed for Me

One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic is trying to predict the future we’re going to face. So many aspects of our lives are going to be affected that it’s impossible to guess how things will turn out.

But some things have already begun to change, in both big and small ways. I’m already living through dramatic changes- I went from learning how to be an in-classroom teacher to learning how to conduct distance learning in about two weeks. There have been other changes to my thinking though, even after only two months of the pandemic. I want to explore those changes below.

1) I am buying a car. Before the pandemic, I had zero interest in buying a car. I’ve gotten everywhere I need to be without one, so why take on the extra expense and hassle? Riding the bus ain’t great, but it’s so much cheaper than owning a car that the inconvenience is worth it. Besides, with Uber and Lyft as ubiquitous as they are now, I’ve had ready access to a car whenever I needed it (that someone else is driving, paying for and maintaining).

As I said, though, that was before the pandemic. Since the quarantine began, I have only ridden the bus to go grocery shopping. It feels like riding in a coffin. There’s no social distancing to speak of. The overwhelming majority of people wear masks, but not everyone. Public transportation employees are dying from Covid-19, so these fears aren’t imagined.

I don’t want to get the coronavirus because I don’t breathe that well, especially at night. One step beyond that is my son, who has asthma. Without a vaccine, I can’t risk putting him on the bus again. That means finally getting a car, and all the associated headaches.

2. I’m going to buy contacts- I didn’t start wearing glasses until I was 20 years old, but I’ve always liked them. They’re a great way to accessorize clothes and give you the “smart” look while doing nothing but seeing. But with the requirement to wear masks now, I can’t see a damn thing because my glasses keep fogging up.

Or “Doing literally anything now”

Again, contacts have always seemed like a hassle. They require the same amount of work as glasses, except they’re tiny and clear. If they’ll make it easier to see for as long as we’re wearing masks though, I’ll just have to become more responsible with small things.

These changes might seem like a simple shift of opinion, but they’re going to have significant knock-on effects for the rest of my life. I’ll have to budget for a car, for as long as I have one. That’s an expense I’ve never had, and had been planning on never having. If, in another thirty years, I’m still putting my contacts into their case before going to sleep, then that would be a behavior of mine totally changed by the pandemic.

Those kinds of downstream effects are going to reverberate throughout the world for years, as people, companies and entire nations make changes as a result of the pandemic. Some of those changes may even be more important than whether I’m on the road or not.

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Trump and Comedy

The past four years have been pretty bad from almost any way you look at them. The world is less stable and secure than it has been since the eighties, at least. Racism and sexism and xenophobia and religious intolerance are all worse than they were four years ago. America is running concentration camps and there are kids in cages. The economy is a disaster. We’re all under threat from a pandemic. The world has reached a point where, normally, I’d say you have to laugh at it to keep from crying. But, one of the problems that has developed in the last four years, with the rise of Trump, is that political comedy and satire are no longer funny.

I’ve been a fan of humor and comedy my whole life. I became a fan of political humor and satire in high school. Whether it was Saturday Night Live or late night talk shows, comic strips, stand-up specials, or books and essays, I was a fan. It didn’t even matter who was in office. I stayed a fan for the first Bush, Clinton, the second Bush, and Obama. I’m generally of the opinion that everything can be funny, no matter how serious and depressing.

That changed when Trump started to be taken seriously in his run for president. On the surface, he seems like the perfect candidate for political humor. When he first announced his candidacy, I even tried to write a piece of humor about it. Everything about that press conference was absurd, from the setting to the claims that no one builds a better wall to the phrase “Make America Great Again.” It was positively begging to be satirized or spoofed. Only I couldn’t make what I was writing funny, no matter how hard I tried. So, I gave up and figured I’d see what professional comedy writers would have to say about it. None of them managed to make it funny either. Soon after, I noticed a pattern. Trump would make either a stupid, racist, sexist, xenophobic, or ableist statement. It would raise my anxiety level. I’d go to the comedians for help, there’s nothing like a little laughter to diffuse anxiety, and they weren’t able to make it funny. If anything, their talking about it added to my anxiety levels.

I’ve spent more time than I should have over the past four years, trying to figure out why no one can seem to make Trump or his administration funny. At first I thought that maybe Trump is just worse than any politician that’s come before and there is a line below which humor just doesn’t work. Then I realized that Hitler is still worse than Trump, and Mel Brooks can make me laugh at Hitler. That wasn’t it. I also thought about the possibility that Trump is too hateful for comedy, but there’s Hitler again. That couldn’t be it either.

Next I wondered if the problem was that I’m living through Trump, whereas the Holocaust was thirty years before my time. But, Hitler isn’t the only depraved person I can laugh at. I’ve laughed at Osama bin Laden, Vladimir Putin, and Dick Cheney. They have all been active during my adulthood. I don’t think that’s it either.

I had to at least entertain the idea that the comedians that have been around for the past four years just aren’t as funny as the ones that came before. If pretty much every outlet for journalism can be bad at the same time, maybe all the comedians are, too. But I don’t think that’s very likely. I enjoyed Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee and John Oliver when Obama was in office. I think they are funny people. I’m pretty sure they can get me to laugh about almost any other subject. I really think that Trump is the problem.

A few weeks ago, in a completely different context, I came across the old rule of comedy to “always punch up, never punch down.” Basically, that means to only attack those that are above you with comedy. Punching down isn’t funny, it’s bullying. Under normal circumstances, that means that politicians and the rich and famous are fair game. They are richer and more powerful than the rest of us. The poor and powerless are off limits because it isn’t funny to bully people. It also explains why Chris Rock can make really funny jokes about racism, but Conan O’Brien can’t.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with Trump. He’s rich, he’s famous, and he’s the president of the United States. He is as privileged and powerful as a person can be, of course attacking him is punching up. But, even though those facts about him are technically true, power and privilege don’t exactly emanate from him. If I had to pick an adjective to describe him, the vibe he gives off, it has to be pathetic. He evokes feelings of pity and disgust, and that’s about it. He is in no way impressive.

The result of Trump’s being so pathetic is that any joke about him feels like it’s punching down. When the jokes are made, they seem to be picking on a man-child without the ability to handle it or fight back. Instead of being humorous, the best the jokes can do is create a sense of superiority. That’s fine, I guess. The vast majority of us are far superior to Trump, and many people like feeling superior. But, it’s not for me. I’m looking for funny. I want to laugh. And, I hope I’m not being greedy, I want those things while being engaged in the world around me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get what I want. At least not until that sad, pathetic excuse for person is out of office.

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Human Challenge Trials for Coronavirus

My dad sent me this article. I’ve studied ethics pretty seriously, so he was curious about my opinion. Since I’ve been on the lookout for topics to write about, I figured I should write a post about it.

Before I start, I should warn you that I’m no expert on medical ethics. I don’t know nearly enough about medicine. The closest thing to a class I’ve taken on medicine was high school biology. So, I’ll take you through my reasoning, but make up your own minds about it.

The article discusses the prospect of doing “human challenge trials” for a Coronavirus vaccine. Basically, what that means is that they would recruit young, healthy volunteers, give them the vaccine, deliberately expose them to the virus, then see what happens. The people working on this already have over 7,600 volunteers lined up. The participants would be young and healthy so that they are low-risk patients if the vaccine doesn’t work.

Ethically speaking, this comes down to a risk vs. reward situation. If the potential risks are greater than the potential rewards, the trial should not happen. So, how do they stack up? The most obvious reward is that, if it works, we would have a vaccine for Coronavirus, and could save thousands of lives. The most obvious risk is that participants in the study might become seriously ill or die. This looks like a stalemate, some people with latch on to the potential lives saved and others the potential lives lost, but it’s not really this simple.

Human challenge trials are not the only way to develop a vaccine. They aren’t even the normal way of developing a vaccine. They are a method of getting the testing done faster. So, the reward isn’t really the vaccine itself. The reward is really the time saved. It makes a big difference how much time that is. If it’s days, then the human challenge trials are clearly unethical. If it’s years, then there’s a chance that it’s worth it. The article didn’t explicitly say how much time would be saved, but the feeling I get from reading it is that it would save months. That’s a much smaller reward for some pretty significant risks, and those are just the most obvious risks.

There are a bunch of other risks. For starters, when dealing with a self-selecting group of volunteers for the test, there’s no way to know if the results will apply across the population. Even if it is successful in the trial, there’s no way to know if it will be effective in older people, children, or people with underlying health conditions. There’s also the risk with a potential vaccine that instead of preventing the disease, it makes the disease more severe. And there’s the risk that the results of the trial will be unclear. If the people who take the vaccine only develop mild symptoms, is that because the vaccine mitigated the worst of the virus or is it because it is often mild in young, healthy people?

If you haven’t guessed already, my feeling is that the risks outweigh the rewards and they should not use human challenge trials to develop a vaccine faster. I have one other point I want to make, though. When doing a study, it is important to let the participants know the risks and to get their informed consent. The article almost dismisses that aspect. Since they are all volunteers, of course there is informed consent. I can grant the consent part, but I’m unsure of the informed part. One of the maddening things about this disease is how little we seem to know about it. I understand that may be the fault of the press and the politicians, but how informed are the volunteers really? I don’t have an answer, but it’s an issue that should be taken seriously.

So, that was my basic thought process. I should reiterate that I am not an expert in medical ethics. But, with the information I have, I don’t think human challenge trials are worth the risk. Hopefully, whoever makes the final decision will be much better informed than I.

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What Concerns Me About Coronavirus? The Long Term

Obviously, the immediate concern regarding the coronavirus is preventing deaths right now. As I wrote in another piece though, it concerns me that the general approach to the coronavirus has been essentially week-to-week. Warnings about the virus came as early as last November, so there are few excuses for why we were so unprepared. Better preparation would have saved lives.

Despite official statements to the contrary, the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. As political leaders failed to plan for the beginning of the pandemic, I fear they are not planning for the rest of the pandemic and its aftermath either. There are many, many bad things that can happen as a result of poor pandemic mitigation. These are the three that concern me the most.

VULNERABLE POPULATIONS

Children in one of the Syrian refugee camps in the Beqaa region, Lebanon. Source: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2230156/mobilization-restricts-movement-syrian-refugees-lebanon

There are so many vulnerable populations that are going to be devastated by this virus that I could write an entire post about it. For now though, I want to focus on two groups: Black people and refugees.

I’ve already talked about the challenges Black people are facing now from the coronavirus. In the long term, my big fear is that coronavirus is going to persist in the Black community for decades, in the same way that HIV/AIDS continues to plague us. Coronavirus is here forever now, and so is racism. When the pandemic is “over,” we’re still going to be dying from this.

I have the same concerns about refugees, with an additional worry- refugee flows can destabilize entire countries and change governments. We’ve seen this already happen in Europe as a result of migration. When coronavirus starts ravaging refugee camps and migrants (which is a matter of when, not if), there’s no way to predict the long-term political and social consequences. The best thing governments and leaders can do is to rapidly improve conditions in refugee camps, commit the resources necessary to prevent spread and treat the sick, and respect the humanity of people already in incredibly difficult situations.

That seems very unlikely though.

THE U.S. ELECTION

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- Donald Trump is not going to concede the election if he loses. If he loses the immunity of being President, then he gets indicted by the state of New York and most likely dies in jail. All of his incentives are to stay in office as long as possible.

I believed that to be true under the best case scenario, with a clear, decisive win by the Democratic candidate. Barring some kind of miracle, we are not going to have a best-case scenario election in November. It will take place as people continue to die from COVID-19 and weigh whether they want to risk voting or not; or it will happen with mail-in voting; or it will be in the middle of a second wave; or it will happen in some condition we can’t imagine today. And there will still be the matter of Russian (and probably every other country’s) intelligence services fucking around with election stuff.

Suffice to say, it will not be ideal, and will give President Trump plenty of fertile soil in which to contest the results. After what we saw yesterday with armed white men storming a statehouse, I don’t think we should take ANYTHING for granted about how Election Day and the weeks after could go.

At least, that’s what I think is going to happen. My nightmare scenario, though, is that elections are postponed or, in the craziest outcome, cancelled. A second wave of coronavirus could absolutely lead to postponed elections (especially because Republicans have already made it very clear that they’re going to fight mail-in voting). In fact, states are already postponing and canceling elections. The convergence of the coronavirus and political expediency could even incentivize the postponing of national elections, especially as Republicans grow more concerned about their chances of holding the Senate.

CHINA

Source: https://en.wikinews.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_China.png

The rhetoric about China from politicians and other leaders has become more and more bellicose over the last five years. As I’ve written about before, many people in government and other fields see China as a great power competitor, and have shifted their thinking from cooperation to competition.

That thinking has experienced a major acceleration since the coronavirus pandemic. There have been proposals to limit Chinese students entering the United States, “decouple” our economies and bring supply chains home, and to “make China pay.” The anti-China statements are not exclusive to the right by any means; Joe Biden released an ad where he accused Trump of “rolling over for the Chinese,” and even our own Chris Murphy has written about Trump’s weakness on China as the reason for him targeting the World Health Organization. The implication is clear: where Trump has been weak, the Democrats would be strong. Both parties sound dangerous here.

But not to be outdone, Trump took it to the next level last night when he said that he’d seen evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. That’s quite a claim to make, especially when almost everyone else is saying it’s unlikely the virus came from a lab (even the intelligence community).

This is perhaps the part of this essay which risks sounding the most histrionic, but we’ve all seen the potential catastrophes that can result when the President lies about intelligence. With the already tense environment even before the pandemic began, I think my greatest concern is the continued deterioration of the China-US relationship.


These are all major challenges, and again, they are just a few of the ones facing us. I didn’t even mention the economy, because that’s so fucked I don’t even know where to begin expressing my worries. Our leadership failed to prepare for the virus, and the result has been 60,000 deaths (and counting). My fear is that if leaders don’t start planning instead of reacting, the result may be hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of deaths.

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