The Sixth First Day of School

Photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash

Each year, I mark my daughter’s first day of school with a blog post. (You can see past ones here, here, here, here, and here). She started fifth grade today. Her last year of elementary school. That’s crazy. But, much like last year, school and grades and things like that aren’t uppermost in my mind as she starts the year. Instead, I’m dwelling on the fact that we’re starting our second full year of Pandemic Schooling. Oy.

On the positive side, the kids are used to masks and social distancing and all the protocols by now. Last year, starting school during a pandemic was big and scary. This year, it’s kind of ho-hum. On the negative side, many adults are not being as vigilant as they were a year ago. It can be hard to get kids to do the right things when we’re not setting a great example.

There has been less communication from the school and district than I’d like. I suppose there are probably parents who think there has been too much communication, so maybe I should be thankful for what I get. And, the communications I do get feel like they’re hemming, hawing, and hedging every chance they get. There’s a simple rule when dealing with kids (or customers or voters or anyone really), it is easier to start off too strict and then relax things than it is to start off too lax and then tighten them. It shouldn’t have taken weeks for the Governor to decide that masks were necessary for a month. Go into things assuming it will be the whole year. If we can take the masks off early, good for us.

Hopefully, when they approve the vaccine for younger kids, I’ll be able to relax myself. I might even get curious about whatever math, history, and science my daughter is learning about. Right now, I just want her to stay safe. I really, really, really, really hope that this isn’t even a concern when she gets to middle school.

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Some Thoughts About Protesting

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

I recently started working for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England as a writer. Due to the pandemic and the nature of my work, I’ve been working from home for most of the last three weeks. I did go into the office once though, to get my laptop and meet with my new coworkers in person. That’s where I encountered the protesters.

It was a small group of people, maybe three or four. I’d already been informed of the company policy: we do not engage with protestors. So I kept my eyes squarely focused on my phone as I approached them. At first, they thought I was simply a passerby, and offered me some pamphlets about the evils of abortion. I said no thank you, and turned towards the building’s entrance. That tipped them off that I worked there, and their demeanor instantly changed.

“How can you support what they’re doing?”

“Abortion is murder!”

“Don’t you know they’re committing Black genocide?”

That last one almost got a response out of me, but I decided that I wasn’t ready to get fired on my third day on the job. After I calmed down a bit though, I realized that this was my first time on the other side of a protest. I was the one who was being morally admonished for participating in an unspeakable evil.

Here’s the thing though- I don’t think I’m doing something evil. I think that women should have the right to an abortion if they want one, but even that’s not typically at the front of my mind as some moral lodestar that guides me every day. Mostly I’m just thinking that I’m going into work to do what my boss asks of me, and I wish these people weren’t here yelling at me. It’s not an enjoyable experience.

It made me think of the conversations I’ve had with my old roommate who works for Homeland Security. The federal building in downtown Hartford consistently has protesters out front, and they’d yell at him as he went into the office. He had a pretty good sense of humor about it, but he also made it clear that it would be better to not get yelled at just for doing his job.

I’ve stood outside and yelled at people doing their jobs. Having the shoe on the other foot really makes me reconsider my own sense of moral righteousness in those moments. It really all is a matter of perspective, and as morally unsatisfying as that is to say out loud, I can’t help but feel that way now. If I extend the same level of thoughtfulness I have to the people I’ve protested, then no, they’re not going to willingly commit acts they know are bad. They either don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, or they don’t think about it at all. They’re just going to work, like me.

I’m not arguing for moral relativism where we all just agree to disagree and let everyone do what they do. But I do see that the same moral imperative that has motivated me against others now motivates others against me. It is what it is, even if it sucks to experience it.

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Quick Questions: Language and Measures

It’s common to hear people complaining that America doesn’t use the metric system. It’s easier, it’s universally understood (outside of America), it brings the scientific community together, and on and on. Do these same people believe that everyone should just start speaking the same language? If not, what’s the relevant difference?

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Quick Questions: Retribution

There was a bombing in Kabul as America is trying to evacuate people from Afghanistan. At least 30 people were killed. President Biden said, “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” I know that’s the type of thing that presidents say in these circumstances, but I can’t help but wonder: Why? Has any good ever come from retribution? Isn’t forgiveness a good thing?

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Quick Questions: Climate Change

Does anyone else remember a while ago when they were saying that an easy thing we could do to help mitigate climate change was paint our roads and roofs white? They said that more of the sun’s energy would be reflected back into space, slowing the rate of warming. Whatever happened with that? Why didn’t we do it?

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Damn, Things Cost More Money!

Photo by Frederick Warren on Unsplash

The first time I became aware of inflation was when the price of a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie jumped from 25 cents to fifty cents. I loved the pies when I was a kid, and I especially bought alot of them when I was visiting Georgia and lived right down the street from a corner store. It was easy enough to scrounge up a quarter, and I had a snack that lasted for the afternoon.

But 50 cents? That’s a little harder to come by. It’s like the difference between a $1 lotto ticket and a $2 one- I sometimes found myself with an extra dollar in my pocket and would play for the hell of it. But $2 is much more of an investment. I rarely have two lose dollar bills at the same time, and it seems like a foolish choice to break a five, or God forbid a ten, to play a game I’m virtually guaranteed to lose. Similarly, I just never seem to have two quarters at the same time.

These are innocuous examples of inflation, the bane of all our existence. Our homes and cars all cost more, and we don’t seem to be making enough money to keep up. I find myself looking at apartments for the first time in over a decade, and I’m genuinely surprised at how expensive decent housing is. I want to get a car soon too, and I can see that I’m going to be squeezing every penny to try and make those things happen together in a short period of time.

A friend of mine remarked on how expensive oxtails had become recently, reflecting general increase in food prices too. The pandemic seems to have kicked inflation into overdrive, and while the causes may be short term, it seems unlikely that these price increases will come all the way back down in the long term. The only somewhat positive outcome from the changes is that I can now legitimately say that things were cheaper “back in my day,” without sounding ironic about it. As a writer, I’m always looking for new phrases I can use.

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Quick Questions: Vaccines and GMOs

Before you get mad, try to think about this in the abstract. Don’t worry about what’s happening in the world, your political affiliations, or anything like that. What’s the difference between being anti-vaxx and anti-GMO?

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What Happens When There are No Consequences?

Hofbräuhaus am Platzl beer hall in Munich, Germany

I was listening to a podcast yesterday which was discussing the current state of American politics and democracy (I think it’s worth listening to, and can be found here). Historian Heather Cox Richardson, among others, has compared our current state to the United States in the 1850’s, just before the Civil War. Ms. Richardson also made a comparison to the immediate decades after, where the traitors who formed the Confederacy faced almost no consequences for committing treason and starting a war. In her opinion, this led directly to the violence and terror used to maintain political power in the south from the end of Reconstruction through to the Civil Rights Act.

I think this is a compelling argument, and it’s easy to see the parallels between the refusal to hold political leaders accountable then to the refusal to do so now. There is zero question that members of Congress, political appointees throughout the federal government, and the former President himself knew that violence was going to occur on January 6th. They invited the rioters to the Capitol for that explicit purpose. While there have been many arrests of people who stormed the Capitol that day, all of law enforcements efforts so far have fallen on the little people- the ones who stormed the Capitol- instead of the people who helped plan and incite the attack. Those people get to show up to work at Congress and in government every day as if nothing happened.

Maybe law enforcement will get around to holding the people at the top accountable eventually, but it seems unlikely. As Ms. Richardson pointed out, since the pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974, we’ve essentially been unable to hold elected officials in the highest offices accountable. Multiple presidents, senators, congresspeople and appointed officials of both political parties have committed immoral, unethical acts, if not outright crimes. Perhaps it’s not feasible to put those people in prison; as my father once said, even if former President Trump was arrested, what prison could you realistically put a former president in? But accountability can take many forms: disqualification from running for office again, civil penalties, even simply public shaming and ostracizing. Yet bad actors always return, always find some talking head position on a cable news network, always get a job at a college or think tank and end up right back in the political mix. In fact, everyone seems resigned to the fact Trump is going to run again in 2024, despite the fact that he arguably committed treason.

It’s that last point which makes me favor a different political comparison than the one Ms. Richardson uses. It seems to me that we’ve just witnessed the American equivalent of the Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler’s first attempt at coming to power in Germany (I know, I know, Godwin’s Law, but follow me on this one). Long story short, Hitler and several allies attempted to overthrow the German government by force. They were defeated and eventually arrested, tried and convicted of treason, and sent to prison. Hitler himself was given a five year prison sentence, but he was released after eight months. The rest, as they say, is history.

There was almost no actual consequence to Hitler for his actions. I’m not saying that he should have been locked in prison for the rest of his life, but he was still able to run for political office afterwards, and eventually be appointed chancellor of Germany. Again, he was convicted of treason. How could a man convicted of attempting to overthrow the government then be allowed to lead said government? The lesson that Hitler learned was that it was more effective to seize power through democratic means, then solidify his hold through force.

We are seeing that same playbook play out right now across the United States, as state legislatures use democratic means to deny the vote to people across the country, and in the most extreme cases, allow local officials to simply overturn results they don’t agree with. Most damming though is our inability to prevent a President who encouraged violence against the government from becoming president again. Trump may or may not win again in 2024, but all the people who supported his coup attempt will still be around then because no one seems ready or willing to punish them for what they’ve done. There are several examples from the past which show what the catastrophic results of letting these kinds of people off the hook can be. We seem unwilling to learn from any of them.

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Quick Questions: The Afghanistan Withdrawal

Since American troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban began retaking the country, people have been talking about it a lot. However, no one seems to be talking about how to ameliorate the situation, or even explaining why the situation is bad. Instead, everyone is pointing fingers and assigning blame. The usual suspects are Bush, Cheney, Trump, and Biden. (I don’t know why Obama isn’t included. He did preside over the situation for eight years.) The question is: Why is that? Even if we could definitively assign blame, would that do anything to make the world better?

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Quick Questions: The Delta Variant Response

A month and a half or two months ago, we were told by those in charge and the experts that, thanks to the vaccine, the pandemic was basically over. We could lose our masks, gather indoors, travel, hug our loved ones, and enjoy the summer. Now we are struggling to control the pandemic again, running out of hospital beds, seeing people die and all that. Leaders and experts are begging people to wear masks, social distance, and everything else. This raises two questions. Why did civic leaders and experts give such bad advice a couple of months ago? And why would anyone accept, “We didn’t understand the Delta variant like we do now,” as a valid excuse? I’m struggling to understand.

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