• Archive of "Other Ideas" Category

    Dreaming of a White, Yellow, and Black Christmas?

    January 3, 2022 // 7 Comments »


    “Well before diversity in merchandising was a thing, my mother, like many black parents in the 1980s and 1990s, always MacGyvered peach-skinned Christmas figurines into mirror images of our own family. Mom carefully colored in the faces of elves on ornaments, angel tree toppers, carolers on Christmas cards, and, most importantly, all iterations of Santa Claus himself got the brown marker treatment,” wrote a black woman in the NYT.

    As the parent of two biracial children (my wife is from Asia) I can’t imagine squeezing that much racial thought into our holiday. It never occurred to me to take a yellow highlighter to any of the kids’ dolls. Dolls were molded in some sort of horrific pink that matched no skin tone on earth, same way Bruce Springsteen from New Jersey sings in a Midwesty accent that matches nothing spoken anywhere. I think we understood it was all intended as some kind of generic, or that it meant nothing at all, the way in candy yellow meant lemon and green meant lime but neither of which had much to do with the actual fruit. Rather than assuming it was all meant as a racial assault, we kind of just didn’t pay much any attention to it. Pass the cranberry sauce, please.

    Now out there someone is saying “But it’s different! Your kids weren’t black.” This is true. But I wish people would make up their minds on Asians. Are they discriminated against POC and we all should cheer them on as they dominate university admissions? Or when it comes down to stuff like that they should be shuffled off into some broader category of pale people, only to be reinstated in the POC club when some Chinese guy for the first time beats out a white man for a city council seat? Maybe my kids wanted to feel hated and being left out at Christmas but just ended up confused.

    It could have been me. My children, unlike those in the New York Times article, were literally raised under the boot of white patriarchy. Me. I told them what to do, determined the initial course of their lives, and made them read Tom Sawyer. Well, sort of. My wife was there lending her more informed perspective. Indeed, she is an immigrant and does not speak English as her native language. That sort of makes her more woke on paper than anyone on The View times 100 Disney movies. I guess the kids were lucky to have her around so their Christmases were not spoiled by the lack of representation.

    The New York Times article pointed out another way I failed my children: they did not get a letter from Yellow Santa. The writer found someone on Etsy that for a few bucks would send a personalized letter from Black Santa. I rushed over, thinking perhaps though my kids are now adults I might still send them something from Yellow Santa to make amends. The thing is the Black Santa letter says exactly the same things our own fake White Santa letters once said, stuff about being a good kid, leaving out milk and cookies, all that. Um, there’s nothing, um, you know, “black” in the letter. The illustrated Santa does not even look like anything but the standard Santa with a tan. One would almost think this was a woke hustle. I checked with my Asian wife on this. She said “Santa lives at the North Pole. Why would he be anything but fair skinned? Doesn’t make sense.” Good thing she’s just an honorary POC or we’d be racists.

    The writer also details her joy in learning Macy’s has a top secret black Santa available on request. Accessing this Santa involves a code word that is passed around New York City orally, and printed in the Times. I don’t think Macy’s has an Asian Santa or Hispanic Santa. They would not confirm a black Santa on request but it seems true. Do they also have separate lines for the black and white toilets? But what is really funny is a person who is willing to trick her kids into the whole Santa myth, a complete lie from the reindeers on down, wants to uphold justice on the skin color. And lady, bad news: in a couple of years Santa is not going to matter at all to your kids.

    Still, if you’re shopping, there is BlackSanta.com which has all sorts of merch, including hoodies. Don’t bother with Asian Santa merch. The few things online don’t look Asian at all, weird considering most are made in China. I did find some bright red “Naughty Mrs. Claus” lingerie worn by young Asian models. That might be racist, too.

    I also found a Japanese-American guy who believes strongly in the concept of Asian Santa, actually at one point claiming Santa originated in Greece, which is in Asia Minor, and thus (I think seriously) made the claim Santa is indeed Asian. The Asian Santa guy was adamant “As a parent of an Asian American kid, I want to have him look up to people that look like him — even if they are fictional. I don’t want him to feel different, in a bad way. It’s important to expose him to Asian/Asian Americans he can look up to — Santa or someone else, it doesn’t matter.”

    It’s all fun until it turns serious. I don’t feel bad about the way my kids grew up. I explained to them (not on Christmas) their great great father was a slave. He died on May 7, 1943 alongside most of his loved ones in the Sobibor concentration camp, about 120 miles from Warsaw. Their grandfather, my dad, was a refugee, who came to America speaking no English. Discrimination in progressive New York City forced the family to change their name to something “whiter” and walk away from their religion. My dad spoke of being beaten up by the Italian kids on the block, and then by the Italian cops who came to break up the beatings.

    I don’t know how to measure horror. Does having relatives enslaved by the Nazis in the 20th century hurt more or less than having relatives enslaved in the 17th century? Does retelling the stories of Emmitt Till and lynchings trump the gas chambers? How to measure that against the Chinese who died building the railroads? The iron workers gunned down by anti-union thugs and federal troops? The coal miners who died horrible deaths from black lung? Race it turns out is not the only narrative, unless you live under the narcissism of contemporary wokeness transcending history.

    The answer to these unresolvable questions, if posed by a white Santa, is usually dismissal, an often not too polite statement of “it’s not the same.” I certainly did not win this “birth lottery” we whites supposedly benefit from, and I find it insulting when CRT people claim any portion of the success I have enjoyed in life is directly related to what other white people did to other blacks hundreds of years before anyone in my family arrived in America. I know whose back my success rests on.

    For all the garbage said about how American history is white-washed, we have no such illusions in our home. We understand how discrimination harmed our relatives, and we know what we all did to grow past it. It had a lot to do with education, sacrifice, and work, and very little to do with exaggerated claims to victimhood by association, the latest fad where any historical event that harmed a black person can be claimed as a lived experience by any living black person. The NYT writer brings up her mother, who grew up in the same town where some black men in 1949 were unjustly accused of murder and rape. She demands a black Santa, in part, to somehow rectify this.

    My family knew America was a rough and imperfect place, a place that systematically exploited many of its people. We knew America’s greatness isn’t about romanticizing a past that never existed; this country always pushed back against immigrants, always sent men and women to die for the wrong reasons abroad. But this still used to be a country that talked about dreams with a straight face. It was never supposed to be a finite place where parents teach their kids they will never get ahead because of the cap of racism. Or that maybe using a different Crayola on Santa was part of some solution.

    Update: it turns out the woman who wrote the NYT article about black Santa is promoting a children’s book called “The Real Santa,” which is “the black Santa Christmas story I wanted my children to read.” She works for the Times. So the NYT article is not in fact a deeply moving memoir of racial injustice. It’s a grift, a commercial, an ad for her book. So we can all feel better. Merry Christmas!

     

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Sotomayor and End of Roe v. Wade

    December 20, 2021 // 11 Comments »


     

    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. I do know based on the oral arguments recently heard by the Supreme Court regarding Mississippi’s abortion law that our country has problems that cut deeper into our national fabric than the specifics of any abortion law.
    The out-of-the-box role the Founders had in mind for the Supreme Court, basically a check the other branches of government were consistent with the blueprint laid down in the Constitution, did not last long. Almost from the get-go the Court claimed additional authority for itself to strike down laws (Marbury v. Madison, 1803,) the doctrine of judicial review.
    In the years since the Court has used its power to wrestle with Americans over how their country should work. The Court once confirmed slavery (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857), later pulled a reluctant public by the ear away from segregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 but only after it had earlier endorsed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 ) and trailed public opinion on same-sex marriage only to finally confirm it (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015.) As for precedent mattering, the underlaying laws supporting slavery and marriage had been in place much longer than Roe‘s 48 years and in their time were more broadly supported.
    But whether leading public opinion or trailing it, the Court assumed a role unthought of by the Founders, one in the absence of common agreement and/or laws passed by Congress, to decide how Americans would live with one another. Should we be a slave-owning nation? Should our schools be segregated? Should same-sex partners be allowed to marry? In case after case the Court took it upon themselves to determine a solution to a social issue, seeing the need for a nation-wide answer to a contentious question once left to each state.
    And that leads us to abortion. Abortion exists at the raw edges of human existence. It is a religious issue, it is an issue intimately tied to liberal and conservative politics. It can decide elections. In cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother, it is a moral issue. It is a states rights issue. It is women’s health issue and a societal burden issue. It is a socio-economic issue, with the population of women who seek abortions skewed by economics and race. It is healthcare or murder.
    The Court tried in 1973 to pry Americans from one another’s throats over abortion via Roe v. Wade. When the case was first heard, 30 states had complete bans on abortion. Sixteen states had full bans except for rape, incest or the mother’s health. Three states allowed most abortions, but only for residents. Only New York allowed abortions for out-of-state women, but capped them at 24 weeks unless the mother’s health was in danger.
    With Roe the Court took it upon itself to create a kind of compromise out of all that: during the first trimester a state cannot regulate abortion beyond requiring the procedure be performed by a licensed practitioner. During the second trimester a state can regulate abortion if the regulations are reasonably related to the health of the pregnant woman. And during the third trimester, the state’s interest in protecting the fetus outweighs the woman’s rights, so a state may prohibit abortions unless an abortion is necessary to save the life or health of the mother. Roe v. Wade did not legalize abortion per se. What it did was change the way states can regulate abortion.
    Roe also said abortion was a constitutional right, a claim which forms the basis for many who claim the case was wrongly decided. Critics acknowledge while the Court tried to do its best with an impossible problem, nowhere does the Constitution say anything close to abortion being a right, alongside say freedom of speech or due process. They argue the Court should never have essentially written via Roe the law Congress would not. The basis of the right to abortion seems to rest in the 14th Amendment, which otherwise is concerned with equal protection for freed slaves. This bastardization, which allowed the Court in 1973 to create an abortion policy for the entire nation without any democratic input, may prove the basis for Roe‘s undoing. Even one of the Court’s greatest liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, knew Roe was bad law, writing “Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
    Roe‘s other shortcoming is in saying states could not outright ban abortions in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. The number was something of a compromise; Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the majority opinion in Roe, once called the line arbitrary. The question of where to draw the line for abortion, at Roe‘s 24 weeks or Mississippi’s 15 weeks begs the question of why a line exists; aren’t the legal interests (aside from religious/moral ones) basically the same throughout a pregnancy?
    In subsequent cases, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992 and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016, the Court modified Roe in response to many states imposing laws trying to limit abortions by making the process too complicated, expensive or cumbersome. The Court said in the cases above “such laws could not impose an undue burden,” defined as one having “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
    For all that is unclear, three things are clear: 1) Roe always allowed for regulation; it was never abortion without restriction; 2) if the Court can reverse itself on the issues of slavery and segregation it can reverse itself on abortion, and 3) almost no one thinks Roe forever settled the issue of abortion in America. America will ask, and answer, the question anew.
    The current vehicle for asking and answering is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which concerns a 2018 Mississippi law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks. Its version of regulation is a direct challenge to Roe‘s (Texas’ latest attempt to restrict abortion, SB8, will be heard separately.) The Court heard oral arguments on Dobbs in late November. A decision will be announced in 3-6 months, and will likely have more affect on the midterm elections than any other factor.
    The Court can decide to keep Roe as it is and tell Mississippi to get with the program, it can accept Mississippi’s version (i.e., no abortion after 15 weeks) and upend Roe, or it could ignore Mississippi’s version and re-write Roe to create new rules for each trimester. Any of the three would be consistent with the way the Court has acted for some 220 years.
    What is troubling are some of the statements made during oral arguments by the so-called liberal judges, particularly Justice Sotomayor. Sotomayor went as far as to question whether the legitimacy of the Court itself would endure if it overturned abortion rights. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” She accused Mississippi of moving forward with abortion restrictions only “because we have new justices,” referring to the three Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” Sotomayor continued.
    The other liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, were equally vehement in their support for abortion as a constitutional right. Alongside Sotomayor, they continually claimed that Roe was “settled law” and was thus somehow above being re-examined. It was left for Justice Kavanaugh to point out to any first year law students in attendance the long line of celebrated cases in which the Supreme Court overruled precedents. If the court had adhered to stare decisis in those cases, he says, “the country would be a much different place” (to include segregation and slavery.) Kavanaugh finished his lecture by noting every current member of the Court has voted to overrule constitutional precedents in various past cases.
    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. Since Congress has steadfastly refused for decades to legislate on the issue, the Court has been left to glean the boundaries among religion, public policy, and individual rights. The compromises and weaknesses in Roe are because of what Congress has avoided doing. Any decisions the Court has made in the past, and the decision they will make in the instant case, will be imperfect. But that’s only the beginning.
    The deeper problem is the Court has taken such an overtly political, partisan turn. Sotomayor in particular embarrasses herself with a fan-fiction quality take on settled law, and her claim that a decision which does not fit her political beliefs will destroy the legitimacy of the Court. She believes in precedent when she agrees with it and does not believe in it when that suits her better. She has suggested the last president’s appointments to the Court are somehow wrong because their mere presence allows Mississippi to challenge Roe. Americans have been trained to claim anytime a court decision or an election goes against their personal preference that means the system is unfair. Shame on Sotomayor for fanning those flames by suggesting her fellow judges are biased and she alone is not.
    Sotomayor is a zealot who sees politics above justice. In that sense it is unclear Sotomayor actually understands how the Supreme Court works. If Roe falls, its supporters may wish to re-examine their champion’s role in so poorly defending it.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Ode to CVS

    December 12, 2021 // Comments Off on Ode to CVS

    At some point in my later adulthood I came to realize what I thought of as my children’s precious childhood memories were actually my memories, of them. As they got older, I came to realize they remembered little of the details of family vacations, or the long museum treks we made them go on in the name of education. Those were my memories.

    Because we lived in multiple countries during the prime child raising years, those memories are spread out geographically, so we do not encounter refresher courses every Thanksgiving when we visit the old house. I can’t say if we’ll ever get back to some of those places (I can say for sure we will never organize the hundreds of paper photos we took that now reside in massive shipping boxes) so they really do now only exist in memory.

    Like CVS, the drugstore. Or rather one specific CVS, in Arlington, Virginia, near the apartment in for one year. That was where, alongside TV, my kids learned about America.

    Both kids had been born in Japan, and raised in Japan and the UK up to that pre-school point. This was pre-Internet, pre-megacable TV, pre-free international calls with Skype or its successors. The kids grew up with what was where they were, and even in England that meant very few bits of American pop culture, with what did sneak through filtered by British cartoons and TV. My daughter knew Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, and Blue Peter before she knew Mickey Mouse and Porky Pig. It was a very big deal when a VHS tape of some Disney movie arrived from the US. We probably could have found more American pop culture to expose them to, even in Japan back then, but instead just allowed things to happen as they did.

    So in 1993 my kids knew almost nothing about American culture. It was the near-daily visits to CVS that filled it all in. CVS would constantly redecorate for the next impending holiday. Christmas was a massive occasion of course, but they did the right thing for events like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day as well. The candy aisle with its changing holiday theme was an important stop, and for awhile the kids knew the holidays more by color than name — the green holiday, the orange one, the pink one. CVS instructed them on what to buy outside of candy as well, so we had plastic pumpkins and cardboard turkeys and Pilgrims at home. In those less woke, politically correct times, much of all this was mirrored in my oldest daughter’s kindergarten classes and she felt right at home having her tutor at CVS help her keep up. The funny thing was that many of her classmates were from Central America, refugees from America’s warlets there, and were learning the text book versions of things like Fourth of July and MLK Day along with her.

    Alongside mother CVS was father TV. Since it was educational, the TV was usually on to PBS and they watched Arthur and Magic School Bus endlessly. Arthur then was sponsored by Juicy Juice, and the juice commercials were animated bits that flowed along with the main cartoon. One day in CVS my oldest child shouted “They have Juicy Juice!” as if she had just sighted land after months at sea. She had not understood the concept of “commercial” and just assumed those were less interesting parts of the show. The connection between advertising and what was on the CVS shelves was a major life event: you could buy that stuff.

    It was through this, and joining Girl Scouts, that my Japanese wife learned how a certain kind of American eats. She had never seen an open can of Spaghetti O’s, or a lunchables package, or made Hamburger Helper or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But as each of these miracle products was advertised on Blue’s Clues, or eaten at a Girl Scout event, it moved into our kitchen, at least for one try. The biggest disaster was the Hamburger Helper in that my wife did not know she was supposed to add meat; she thought everything came in the box. Dumping all that meatless goop on hamburger buns to make Sloppy Joes did not make things better. Baloney, pork rinds, and sugared breakfast cereals were purchased, sniffed, and discarded. There was a lot to learn.

    I should have been a better father, or at least a more American father, but instead I relied on CVS as a surrogate. I remember, even if my kids do not, the simple pleasures of rediscovering those “American” things on each visit to CVS. Thanks.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Wokeness Claims Another Institution; History Fights Back

    December 7, 2021 // 5 Comments »


    When will our intellectual life return to normal, the place Socrates, et al, once left it, where facts come together into conclusions? Today in service to ideologies like CRT a conclusion is established and facts are manipulated or just ignored to support it.

    You can’t argue intellectually against something so profoundly unintellectual but you can still take note of it in hopes someday we will want to untangle ourselves. That’s why we’re visiting today the Tenement Museum on New York’s Lower East Side.

    When I joined the Museum as an educator in early 2016 it was a small, elegant, good place. Inside a restored 19th century tenement apartment house, it told the story of some of the actual all-immigrant families who had lived there, from inside their actual apartments. Of the over 7,000 people who inhabited that building over its lifespan, researchers established who had lived in which rooms, detailed their lives, forensically reconstructed the surroundings, and we shared that with guests. Rule 1 was always “keep it in the room,” focus on specific individuals and how they lived in the room where you were standing. Over the years these included Irish, Jewish, German, and Italian immigrants. There had been no Bangladeshi’s, Spaniards or blacks; their stories lay elsewhere, “outside the room.” It is the same reason there is no monument to those who died on D-Day at Gettysburg. That didn’t happen there. That story is told somewhere else.

    Imagine the power of telling the story of an immigrant family’s struggle between earning a living in the new factories demanding labor in New York, and the pull of maintaining their own religious traditions from their living room where such family arguments took place. Think about explaining sweat shop conditions in a room that was actually such a place. No need to talk about lack of space and privacy, it was literally all around visitors. The Rogarshevsky family walked this hall. The Baldizzi family put their hands on this banister to climb the stairs at the end of a weary day. They came home to this evening light in their parlor. They smelled the rain as visitors did on a March day. You could literally feel history.

    After Trump’s election everything changed. Our mission at the Museum went from telling real stories to “fighting fascism and destroying the patriarchy.” With our focus on immigration, we were given tips on handling what the museum snidely called “red hats,” MAGA-capped Trump supporters, usually parents visiting a hip child in NYC who dragged them in for reeducation. I witnessed an Asian museum educator say out loud without any concern by management “No more Jews, I want to tell my story!” Her parents were university professors from Asia and she was born in a toney NYC suburb, so I’m not quite sure what her story was. Narratives were rewritten, so for example the Irish immigrants went from suffering anti-Catholic discrimination in Protestant New York to being murderers of innocent blacks during the 1863 Draft Riots. Never mind the Irish family spotlighted by the Museum lived there in 1869 with no connection to the Riots.

    The wokeness which drove me to quit is now poised for a new lows in a desperate move to shoehorn a black family into the mix because of course everything has to be about race. The Museum is planning for the first time not only to feature the story of a (black) family who never lived there, the family were not even immigrants, born instead in New Jersey. To accommodate this change, the Museum will do away with its current Irish family tour in lieu of a hybrid to emphasize black suffering and deemphasize the actual life experiences of discrimination imposed on the Irish by “whiter” New Yorkers. They will build a “typical” apartment of the time on the fifth floor for the black family, an ahistorical space they never lived in, an affront to those whose real life stories once did. It would make as much sense to build a space to tell Spiderman’s story.

    The existing Irish tour is particularly important because it supports a classist, not racial, basis for discrimination in America. It forces guests to think through the roots of inequality given that rich white people already established in New York discriminated against poor white people (the Irish first, then the Jews and Italians.) That narrative is problematic in 2021 because it spreads victimhood broadly, and chips away at the BLM meme that race is the cause of everything.

    The story is also problematic in 2021 because it emphasized how the Irish organized themselves politically to fight back and claim a more equal place in society. Many of the Irish had entered the United States before there even was any immigration law, simply walking off ships into the New World. Later, as nascent citizenship laws demanded proof of several years of residence as a condition for regularized status, many Irish could not prove it, the purest form of undocumented as no documentation existed when they went feet dry. The post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution designed to overnight change freed slaves into American citizens with the right to vote also scooped up masses of Irish immigrants. Aided by the sleazy needs of men like Boss Tweed who were willing to trade patronage jobs for votes, the Irish began to prosper.

    If you wanted to ask the question of how the Irish did that, and later the Jews, Germans, Italians, Hispanics, and Chinese, but not blacks, you were once welcome to do so. In better days the museum referred to this as “introducing complexity,” asking questions without clear answers instead of imposing a pre-written doctrine on guests. No more. The Irish are once again not popular among the rich white people running New York, this time in the guise of the Tenement Museum. Their story will exist only as a sidebar to a black experience that never really was. It is a literal rewriting of history. What a shame a place designed to help us remember wants to make us forget.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Post-Covid 2021 Thanksgiving Tips

    November 25, 2021 // 9 Comments »

    Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (Not in Iraq)

    It’s time to admit America is facing a crisis. Families are going to have Thanksgiving together this year.

    Nobody wants to admit “We may die of Covid” was a better excuse for not getting together last year than “I’m stuck in O’Hara.” Nobody wants to admit chicken tenders from the microwave and a Friends marathon was actually more fun and way less stressful than cooking a mutant breasted 27 pound bird for 12 hours only to find that it was still a little under done. Even the Friends episodes where Jennifer Aniston wore all her underwear were better than Grandpa Mark’s retelling of some event from his childhood or the War of 1812 or whatever the heck he was talking about after four Amarettos. It is thus little surprise seven out of 10 young Americans prefer Friendsgiving to Thanksgiving with the fam. Surveys show two out of five young people anticipate biting their tongue during Thanksgiving dinner. It is unclear if they mean holding back on saying something or actually looking forward to self-inflicted pain as a way to get through the day.

    No, this year, because of the Thanksgiving Mandate, it is gonna get ugly. This year it’s family of origin not family of choice. Here are some survival tips.

    For Everyone: Anything with three letters is off-limits: AOC, SNL, NFL, BLM, CRT, CNN, Fox, Joe, Vax. Same for anyone known just by a single name: Kyle, Karen, Fauci, Beto, Greta, Brandon, Pete, #, Maddow, Hannity, and unless you have immediate family named “George” or “Floyd,” just no. Same with Loudon County, unless you actually live there and even then it’s weather only. Anyone without an advanced degree in the subject cannot discuss how supply lines, inflation, vaccines or masks work. In fact, things are the way they are in America such that microbiology in general is banned as dinner table conversation. Same for anything to do with law in Texas, Atlas Shrugged, Handmaiden’s Tale, and 1984. Nobody ever really read To Kill a Mockingbird or Tom Sawyer anyway, we just heard about the racist parts somewhere, so skip those, too.

    For Younger Folks: This would be a good time to admit your old man was right when he told you for four years democracy was not dying in darkness, Trump was never going to set up labor camps for LGBTQ illegal immigrant POC refugees, and a few Nazi cosplayers were not the same as Kristallnacht. Set some boundaries for yourself. You are allowed only one eye roll and one snarky remark per holiday gathering, such as when your dad says “So Trump wasn’t so bad after all” you can reply “Neither was Hitler — at first.” Also youngster folks, just let the heaving carcass of the turkey sit untouched on your plate; do not say “I guess no one remembers — again — I’m vegan.” Your parents haven’t seen you in a year, so ease them into that additional ink you spent your stimulus check on. Remember, for your parents your #Medusa tattoo is to them what their Trump vote was to you. Save announcements regarding trans anything for later.

    If you play nice on all those things you are allowed one bonus exchange over pronouns. Put your phone down. Do not fact check your parents in real time. Spend time not being offended. Pretend it’s organic or keto or paleo enough, Gwyneth Paltrow will forgive you. Basically, lighten up for an afternoon. Accept your personal life is a side dish for this meal, so have a plan to deal with that. Edibles are a better idea than taking the dog for her fifth long walk of the afternoon.

    Psychiatrists tell us traditions and rituals help sustain happiness and family bonds. Remember, Detroit losing and someone making light fun of anything that combines the words marshmallow + salad is a tradition. Calling your parents fascist AF misogynist racists is generally not, even though you did it last year over Facetime. Same with ironic “I’m thankful statements,” so no to “I’m thankful the patriarchy didn’t murder Colin Kaepernick this year.” Similarly, there is no need to remind the table that “kids in the third world are starving while we eat ourselves into a coma again, I hope everyone is enjoying dessert. I’m not.” Thanks in advance for not introducing the colonialist roots of Thanksgiving and the genocide of the Wampanoag tribe to your younger nieces and nephews over at the kids table. If you can’t handle when grace is being said, just close your eyes and think about how funny Pete Davidson is. Also, sorry, 1/6 did not change the world.

    For Older Folks: Sorry, 1/6 did not change the world. Set some boundaries for yourself. Only one Dad Joke (suggestion: What did Yoda say when he saw himself in 4K? HDMI.) You are allowed two “I told you so’s” about Russiagate among like-thinking adults before the kids arrive from the airport, and only one in front of the kids. Be magnanimous in victory; serve avocados. Put them on everything. Millennials love avocados. It’s their cat-nip. Sigh and accept your kids do not know any history predating Obama. Just let go of any pop culture references or hip hop stars’ you do not understand.

    One exception is Pete Davidson. If any of your children can explain why he is a celebrity, write down their answer and share it with others of us olds. Don’t panic, however, if they retort with “So you explain why your generation thought Jack Black was funny.” Just be the bigger guy and say no one knows. Only Joe Biden can use the word negro unironically. “When are you going to get a real job?” is better stated as “So, your Cousin Mandy said Indeed was a good way to find work in her field but then again she studied engineering.” Don’t ask “Are you dating anyone?” unless you’re prepared to know more than you really want to know about pansexuality and fluidity over a carb-heavy meal. Instead, try and make your kids feel at home — use terms like fulfilled, give back, and impactful, and say “research” to mean Googling something. Don’t claim music was better in your day. It was. Your kids will come around to admitting it in a few years but let that slide this holiday season.

    For Everyone: For gawd’s sake, remember, they’re your kids. They’re your parents. Kids do stuff, probe boundaries, overreact thinking they’re the first young person ever to notice the Constitution uses only male pronouns, and think podcasts make them experts. Your parents mean well, mis-abled as they are having grown up without social media and irony. They are your kids, good kids. They will figure out the people on late-night TV are comedians not prophets well-before your second stroke. Your parents tried hard, packed you horrible lunches they thought were nutritious, and thought they were doing the right thing not letting you have the car that night.

    Thanksgiving is just one meal built around food nobody likes enough to eat twice a year. It’s a Ron holiday, one for the fun Trans-Am Uncle Joe, so save witchy Nancy and the necro-animated Joe for another date and cut everyone some slack. You never know, next year you might not get to see them. Make it count and save the culture wars for the next phone call.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Old Old vs. Old Valuable

    November 23, 2021 // 1 Comment »


     

    I’m looking at a knife my grandfather gave me when I was in 6th grade. I’m about to use it on a new project, some 50 years after. The question it brings up is when does something change from being just old to being important?

    A lot of stuff just gets old. Clothing wears, the blender suddenly stops blending, paint dries in the can. I guess one idea is the thing was hanging around to be used and when it was no longer useful it just became old. This could also apply to people but that is a nastier road then we’re on today. We’ll stick with things.

    New York was a great place to wonder about this sort of thing because nearly everything there is old. The subway dates back 120 years, many of the apartments about the same, and a lot of the public infrastructure like park benches is in the same age group. They had all been patched and repaired over and over, usually just to the edge of working again without being “restored.” The subway system, for example, employs people to hand-make electrical parts from the 1950s. Newer stuff won’t work in the ecosystem as a whole so until someone rebuilds the entire switching network someone else is going to be hand-making old-new parts.

    The entire city is made at its core of old stuff that is tolerated as payment to live in the Greatest City in the World and all, but is mostly just an inconvenience. At some point a lot of stuff gets so old it becomes an antique, in a museum. For much of the rest, it is just old, not valuable, and everyone would like to have a modern subway like Tokyo or Singapore.

    Same for housing. It is nothing in NYC to have to walk up five flights of stairs to an apartment whose walls are only held together by cobwebs interlaced in with the asbestos. The tub is in the kitchen and the toilet has been used by literally thousands of assholes over its lifetime. If the lead paint is peeling it is just old. If the lead paint has been over-coated then the place becomes vintage. There seems to be such rules that can be discovered through observation, like what physicists do with the universe.

    The peak of all this old old and old valuable thing is the famous High Line on the west coast of Manhattan. Around the turn of the century it was a stretch of elevated railway spurs designed to move cattle from the docks into the nearby slaughter houses (the area is still called the Meatpacking District though many young people think the name is a nod to the area’s once-thriving rough gay sex clubs) and then the same tracks would then take the dressed meat off to market. It was a pretty clever system actually that eventually fell into disuse when animal slaughtering near to residential areas was seen as a kind of health threat.

    As the area fell into disuse absent the under-the-radar sex clubs, it proved to be too expensive to tear down the elevated train tracks, so they were just left in place. Nobody cared whether they would eventually rust and crumble or survive to be discovered by future archaeologists. They were just old.

    Then somewhere along the 1990s in one of those only-in-New-York stories only New Yorkers tell themselves, a group of locals still clinging to the cheap rent and gritty ambiance of the area decided to turn the elevated tracks into a park. They battled city hall, they cleaned up trash, they planted flowers, and they birthed the High Line.

    The thing about the High Line is on the one hand it is just a narrow park one floor or so above the street. It has benches and nice plants and you can walk there. The walk is mostly from one random location to another; only last year did a developer create a destination at the north end of the Line, Hudson Yards. Stairs to get on and off the Line seem randomly located, so the idea of walking nowhere just to walk is kind of baked in from the start.

    Walking on the Line is basically no different in theory from walking on the street below it. One’s first impression is “Cool!” quickly followed by “So this is it?” The secret unspoken real answer is the High Line is New York as New Yorkers want the city to be. It’s much cleaner than the street. The homeless and other street evils do not seem to go up there, instinctively staying below. Some of the last benches you can still lie down on in the city are on the High Line. It is thus not old. It is valuable.

    The knife my grandpa gave me 50 years ago is an X-Acto handle with a replaceable blade. You can buy a similar one in most art stores today for a few dollars. The range of hundreds of blades made for these knives means you can cut all sorts of stuff but the cool factor is a blade from 50 years ago will fit in a modern handle and vice-versa. They never needed to update or change anything; they got it right the first time.

    Sadly however, quality is an issue. My old handle is made of machined aluminum, and has acquired a patina after having been handled by me for thousands of hours. It is now a slightly different color about half-way up, right where it fits in to the fold between my thumb and first finger. The new handles are some kind of cheap chrome-like metal and will not change with human contact. The old handle has some heft to it, so you know it is in your hand, but it is not heavy. The new ones are too light.

    Same on the blades. I actually have a few 50-year-old blades as well. They are sharp enough to shave with (bloody but the experiment was once done by a younger me) and made of real steel. They rust. Newer blades do not hold their edge and do not rust. They are not as sharp and are too thin. They tend to bend on long cuts, producing a wavy edge.

    One major design flaw has never been corrected. The knife handle is round, a tube. It rolls around whatever surface you place it on and with all the weight in the tip with the blade and tightening collar, it will absolutely always fall point first. It has pierced my thigh more than once, went into my bare foot more than once. Anyone who uses such a knife puts tape or some kind of bit of foam rubber on the end to stop the knife from rolling. You can always tell the newbies by their knives.

    Grandpa originally gave me the knife for a science fair project. My topic was volcanoes and the plan was to create a large, 3D map-model of Hawaii to show how volcanoes formed the land. Hawaii was chosen because Hawaii was everywhere in the media at the time, focused on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV show. My plan to free-hand sketch the islands on a piece of wood and then glop some plaster into little lumps of hills was intercepted by my grandfather. He thought of himself as a craftsman, and decided this was a learning opportunity for me.

    We got a small map of Hawaii and he taught me to take measurements with a protractor and drawing compass off the map. We’d then do math to enlarge those measurements and transfer them to the large piece of heavy paper that would be a template for my science fair display board. So with the compass I would measure say the distance from Honolulu to the airport as 1/8th inch on the small map. We’d then multiple that by say 5, and on the big piece of paper I’d reproduce it as a distance of 5/8ths of an inch. It would be 100 percent accurate!

    I was expected to create these 5x maps for all the major islands. Then, using the X-Acto knife grandpa gave me, I would carefully cut each island out of the heavy paper and glue it to a big piece of plywood. We would then mix up plaster to sculpt all the volcanic mountains on top of that. The problem was that doing this all the way my grandpa suggested would take approximately one million years. I may or may not have painstakingly outlined one of the smaller islands this way but as the science fair deadline came closer and closer and I grew more bored and frustrated by the process, Hawaii did not form from my plaster sea.

    I am ashamed even now to admit my grandpa finished the thing for me. In the end he sketched the islands by hand, mixed paint with the plaster so the islands would at least be brown, and used a sponge to texture the “ocean” portion of paint a bit so you knew it was the ocean. The plaster was barely dry when I carried the project to school. I got a shitty grade because I had left no time to do anything science-like, just built the board, sort of. I might as well just have crayoned “Hawaii” on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall as a project.

    The good news was I got to keep the knife. I used it for all sorts of school projects and crafts, hundreds of models, as a letter opener, and of course dangerous plaything. I held on to it through a series of moves that started with me leaving my parents’ house at 18. The knife is a valuable thing. It is useful and still does its job well. It holds many memories. It is one of a small handful of things I have from my grandfather, most of them tools he used that I still use. That is old and that is valuable.
       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Appearance of Action is Not Action

    // 1 Comment »


    It’s bad enough when someone actually thinks reposting a “I Stand With…” meme is an act of woke resistance. But when the problem is enlarged to societal-scale, it hurts us all. Nothing actually broken actually gets fixed, and a deep sense of cynicism is injected into the souls of once-believers when they realize they’ve been conned. We live in an age where the appearance of action is mistaken for action.

    So we are left to wonder about the point, other than setting the stage for more future cynicism, of the Google “doodle” this past Veteran’s Day. The illustration showed various vets, all appropriately racially ratioed, drawn half in uniform and half in civilian garb. One’s a painter, one’s a baker, and the Marine is shown as trans. The figure has a man’s face but half his body is in dress blue and half in a civvie dress. We’re left to wonder what the point is. Are Americans more sensitive now to the needs of male Marines who wear women’s clothing? Or is the illustration just a naughty stunt like a gay kiss on The Simpsons, a way of angering some made-up version of a conservative who was never invited to the barbeque in the first place?

    The same question begs with TV commercials, seemingly all of which now feature either black actors alone, or as part of interracial LGBTQBLT couples. Just like white folks used to, they suffer from bloating and tsk tsk over which paper towel picks up better. Google and Apple don’t seem to even let old people use their products anymore. It’s all very hip youngers with I-didn’t-comb-it hair skateboarding or creating or influencing. Movies and streaming series’ are exclusively about people struggling with coming out, going out, or staying in. Every POC who has ever suffered has had his/her/their story made into a mini-series with the tag line “Against all odds…” As time goes by, perhaps more older movies can be remade with black actors digitally replacing white performers, like colorizing old B&W movies.

    All the bad statues have been torn down. All the bad high schools have been renamed. Most Americans now know Thomas Jefferson was little more than a rapist, albeit with a way with words we will not longer talk about. All the bad companies we were asked to boycott on Twitter for donating to the wrong candidates or promoting transphobia are out of business. No one ever shops at the Home Depot or Chik-a-Filet or purchases racist bed pillows. And Dems, kudos. You got more women, like Kristen Smyrna, into office. In each election the media tally the faux progress telling us how many whites were replaced with POC, how many female Asians bested men, and so forth towards a mythical Übermensch trans black disabled left-hander who refuses to speak English, the language of the patriarchy.

    But what happens when an entire generation realizes one day it is full of baloney, that none of that changes anything? What happens when people realize after a summer of BLM violence Minnesota did not defund its police, and rising crime in New York lead to bringing back an anti-gun task force once disbanded as a racist tool? When people realize the Glasgow climate conference wrapped up with no real plan to reduce fossil fuels?

    Yet people still too deep into the con to see the con cheer openly for awareness being raised, conversations being started, dialogues opened, and all that as it it mattered. Black Lives Matter took over the hivemind of American media and academia. Major corporate institutions fell over themselves to “go black,” assuring Colin Kaepernick will never have to work a day again in his life. BLM became a third rail — criticize it and lose your platform, your job, maybe your freedom. But not much changed for the good and if you’re counting black-on-black gun violence things got a whole lot worse. Black men are systemically shot and killed in, for example, New York City, and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. New York saw its bloodiest week in late April, with a 300 percent surge in shooting incidents from the same week in 2020. About the only thing left for the movement is to arrange the lynching of white supremacy poster child Kyle Rittenhouse.

    Same with climate change. Delegates from around the world, including President George H.W. Bush, met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for a first “Earth Summit,” promising to stop wrecking the planet. A new global treaty was made, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And yet… And yet Glasgow is the 26th time delegates from around the world met to again discuss change, without change. About the only thing left in the movement is to arrange the symbolic coronation of climate change poster child Greta Thunberg.

    It is important to understand these movements did not fail. They were never intended to succeed in the sense of actually ending racism or changing the climate. They were designed as political stunts, fund raising slams, a way to promote some person into celebrity status with the help of a compliant media. That’s the flim flam being pulled.

    We live ever deeper in a fantasy world where progressives convince themselves destroying old symbols, or creating new ones like Greta, will change real life. They have convinced themselves maintaining white supremacy requires having a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the courthouse and expect somehow with the statue gone so are all the problems. Way back when an old girlfriend did me wrong I threw out all the photos I had of us together. I felt better in the moment but learned a hard lesson: symbols are not real life. Getting rid of them does not fix things.

    The failure of peace, love, drugs, and rock and roll to change the world in the 1960s eventually gave us the cynical and self-centered “Me Generation” of the 1980s. That era’s deeply embedded sense of greed and bland acceptance scarred us as a society. It is no surprise then mired in cynicism pretending to be resistance a generation today defines people like AOC and her squad as a success. In their terms of office they have passed no legislation or done much of anything but self-promotion and fund-raising; AOC voted against her party’s infrastructure bill to make some vague political feel good point instead of helping her constituents. Attention is treated as political currency when it’s just narcissism. Welcome to America, where everything ends up a grift.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    The #MSWL: Where Wokeness Starts Its Day

    November 18, 2021 // 4 Comments »

    When sociologists look back on how Woke Theology helped turn earth into a world of talking apes, they will discover the #MSWL. Hidden away on Twitter, this is one of the actual headwaters of all things woke, the way the mighty Mississippi begins as a shallow stream.

    #MSWL is a hashtag on Twitter meaning “manuscript wish list.” For anyone interested in publishing fiction, the road to a book deal is complex. Publishers aren’t interested in reading manuscripts sent directly to them because most are truly horrible. They will only consider reading manuscripts from agents, who are forced to root in mountains of garbage to find something “good” so they can sell it to a publisher and claim a commission. The agents don’t want to read whole books submitted because they are mostly awful, so they ask instead for a query, a short summary in a prescribed format. But even these are so uniformly awful most agents want to be pitched with a tweet (it’s called #PitMad, pitch madness.) So for Harry Potter, the author might have written “Boy wizard and friends learn life lessons defeating evil with owls and a big fat guy helping.” The actual Harry Potter query was rejected by nearly ever publisher in the UK, so the system needs some work. It is a poor way to evaluate anything more complex than directions to 7-11.

    So the agents now simply tell writers what to write about via the manuscript wish list. That way they would hopefully never see anything too original to fit into a tweet and they could shape the world of literature. That’s where we get to wakey-wakey time.

    Big time agents do not need to troll Twitter like pedophiles offering candy in the park. Instead, if you are a recent or maybe not so recent AmLit grad who can’t work at the New Yorker because they stopped hiring Caucasians, you can be an agent. On Twitter, the mass of these agents are white, straight female or gay male, with a tendency toward pink or blue hair, and liberal to the point where it physically hurts. Their bios (here’s a typical one) seem to describe the same person, just switching Sarah Lawrence for Oberlin and favorite TV show from The Office or Friends to “anything with queer representation.” They love cats. They love coffee. They love pronouns. They just hate racism, you guys.

    Just because their dreams were crushed when the trumpet player in high school band turned out to be just weird, not gay, they want to take it out on your kids. Through the #MSWL they demand only books with BIPOC characters, or LGBTQIA+ stories. They beg for marginal representation in tales, and often combine themes so the actual request is for a fantasy magical realism story featuring queer vampires who also excel on the school lacrosse team. Here’s one actual list: “anything set on an HBCU campus, all of the magical realism, mythological retellings, romance/love stories, all the millennial joy and adulting hardships.” They don’t like things, they “celebrate” them. They don’t promote women, they “champion” them. Oddly, often their comps — comparisons, things that they want to see more of — are based on TV shows and movies instead of actual books. So it is “send me the new Avatar” not “send me drama like Hamlet.” If they do list Hamlet as a comp, it’s only because some modern version appeared on Netflix with Lady Gaga playing the prince. One asks for books that will remind her of Nancy Drew computer games, seemingly unaware of the iconic book series.

    Some agents don’t even get around to the actual subject for a couple of subtweets, instead leading with “First and foremost, I’m looking to partner with folks from traditionally marginalized groups to help elevate their voices.” Others call for books that no one would possibly want to read, based on this week’s buzzwords: “I’d love to see more urban fantasy/paranormal romance that doesn’t rely on traditional government bureaucracy or law enforcement structures!” Sometimes wanna-be writers will tweet from their mom’s basement at the agents seeking more details, as in “How do you feel about the unseelie taking the form of conservative Christian preachers to start the apocalypse?” The agent responded “I’m really, really picky about apocalypse stories to be quite honest” to which another would-be writer replied “Honestly, this was an element in an urban fantasy setting idea I was fleshing out. Vampires had just gotten out of a civil war where the old vampire patriarchs were toppled and a crop of women vampires were in charge now and trying to both figure out how to survive ethically.” Better to write to this prompt: “I want a story with this vibe: Three women discovered they were dating the same man. They dumped him and went on a months-long road trip together.” Just lean hard into sisterhood and you’ll hit most of the #MSWL requests.

    They have no idea how shallow it is the say they “only want books that are compelling, with great characters and plotting” like they discovered that insight. They know nothing about hypocrisy, how demanding a narrow list of subjects is supposed to be supporting diversity, or how marginalizing white writers is a poor start toward championing others. Straight was boring until gay was scary and now that gay is dull it has to be trans.

    So when you wonder how we got from Clifford the Big Red Dog to drag queens reading children’s books about anal sex out loud in public libraries, it starts with the #MSWL and its over-schooled and under-educated agents imaging their role is to be the shock troops of social justice. Never mind that most of what they do contributes little to social justice, that’s not even the point. The point is to win feel good points and prove you were sincere in that winter semester same-sex fling, not just experimenting. And make no mistake, yep, they’re coming for your kids.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)

    November 6, 2021 // Comments Off on Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)


    Pre-Covid I walked into a café in Florence and said “Expresso, please.” The waitress replied “No, here we say buongiorno first, we smile, then we order. Try it, it is nice.” That is a civil place. America has become an uncivil place.

    Almost all of us are convinced this is a broken place; the problem is we differ violently over what is broken never mind how to fix it. Most of us are sure our schools are broken. This is a very fundamental thing for a society, as schools teach kids how to live with each others (“values.”) But we can’t even come close to agreeing which books to read in English class, never mind whether the whole education system is simply an expression of systemic racism, with racism baked into everything else from whose history to tell, to the role of demanding precision in math, to which historical figure’s name is on the school building.

    The result is schooling by ideology. The wealthy choose among private schools, neat because it also means their kids don’t have to mingle with the poor kids. You can find a private school based on ideology, religion, a grab-and-go set of choices. Outside urban areas, middle class families buy their homes based on the public school that comes with them. If a family can move interstate, they can choose between the most conservative Texas public school and the most liberal school in the Bay Area, assuming conservative and liberal mean something clear enough anymore to act on. American children now get very different content educations, never mind qualities of education.

    One thing schools used to universally try to do was teach “citizenship,” the role an individual plays in a democracy. The concept must have failed, because few of us believe our elections have much to do with democracy. Too many have simply given up to the point where if more than half of eligible voters show up for a presidential election it is newsworthy. The election outcome is only fair when our person wins, or when the winner is a woman or a POC not Dave Chappelle over a white man. The system for choosing has become so complex few of us fully understand it, from registering to vote to districting to the Electoral College. The result is a large number seeking ways to manipulate the system (some justifying modern manipulations because of past manipulations they find unjust), and a large number giving up and voting based simply on social media propaganda. That describes a dying democratic system.

    Nobody expects much and is even then disappointed interacting with government. The lines are long at the DMV, the software to sign up for government programs doesn’t work, pressing button one for a representative is a fool’s quest. The only thing that generally works in day-to-day life is buying stuff. But buying things requires you to be on full alert lest an unchecked box commits you to a subscription, or an extended warranty you don’t want, or some ridiculous convenience fee. Of course even when the buying is easy the ending is broken. Signing up for cell service is swift online; ending that service requires long phone calls preceeded by long waits followed by “errors” which keep billing you for months.

    Each of us at this moment is party to hundreds, maybe thousands, of legal agreements. We do have the choice of reading a multi-page contract in detail before renting a car, assuming of course we have the legal knowledge to actually understand the full implications of what we are agreeing to. We can refuse to sign, but find quickly living without a phone, car, home, or credit card in 2021 is borderline impossible. The choice is no choice.

     

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over black lives matter or the now scrums at political rallies. We don’t know how to discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas dear. What were once sincere beliefs now come in packages conveniently labeled “progressive” or “conservative,” no substitutions please. Commentary is just name calling and junior high-level mocking.

    We’re often alone together. We avoid physical contact or even proximity with each other, even loved ones. We don’t share things. Our communal spaces like restaurants are divided up into mini-bubbles. We don’t speak to one another about small problems, we call the manager. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. The range of topics of conversation closes down more and more for fear of offending someone, facing a summons to HR, or a lawsuit. People are more hesitant to give advice or discuss an opinion for fear of getting in some sort of trouble, or being canceled, or being told they are mansplaining. We casually discard real world friends on “social” media over the smallest thing.

    We got rid of landlines because their primary purpose morphed into demanding we listen to ads at inconvenient times. Our cell call screening is spoofed so the phone’s primary purpose is to force us to listen to ads. Email is a struggle to use because much of it is forced advertising. We don’t check our voicemail because most of it is just forced advertising. We’re afraid to click on an article about insurance for fear our web experience will be clogged for days with forced ads. We have come to understand there is no way to opt out. We can no longer civilly just ask to be left alone.

    I worked a minwage retail job that required getting used to women screaming at me because some item in the weekly ad wasn’t in stock. Previously, the last time anyone screamed right in my face was in high school, when a psychotic football coach thought it was the solution to a missed catch. We join in today classist sport testing how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally. People devote hours to digging through years of someone’s history to find something politically incorrect to destroy what’s left of their life. Complete strangers profanely yell at me because I wasn’t wearing a mask, or had the wrong mask, or wore it improperly in their opinion.  People I didn’t know accused me of wanting to kill their children with a virus I don’t have. Others accuse me of hating them, or wanting them dead, if I make a bad word choice (even with the best of intentions, it seems purposefully hard to keep up) to describe their gender or race. Everyone not only thinks this behavior is OK, they believe it to be righteous. They assume ill intent on my side.

    Force us together and we attack one another. Our masses of crazy people turn like the Walking Dead toward attacking Asians. Hate crime grows like mold. Road rage is our national sport. We refer endlessly to “communities” which are just anonymous associations of people online who claim to have been victims of something similar. Our discourse often begins with “As a…” to make clear the separateness of being one gender or another, or of having had the same disease. Our differences become the fuel of victimhood and we loathe solutions that make those victims feel less special. The most spoken sentence in America is now “You have no idea what it’s like to be me because I’m a…” despite some 300 million of us sharing the same living space.

    More often than not the conclusion is violence. In a typical year, the FAA sees 100-150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. But in 2021 so far the number jumped to 1,300, ever more remarkable since the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels. Fliers know cabin attendants have become less civil alongside their passengers. What they take in abuse they return in passive aggressiveness.

    The lack of civility spills over into communal living settings, like condo associations, which come up with increasingly complex rules on how to interact with each other as a stand-in to civility. Condo boards, elected to handle simple community business like renewing landscape contracts, have turned into bitchy little Vaticans. They respond to residents’ complaints with pages of rules about masks and gym use, never mind those multiple pages already in the handbook about pets and stuff hanging from the veranda railing. The answer always seems to try to quantify civility instead of asking for it. As the rules multiple the residents divide those with the vice principal’s voice backed up by the condo’s jailhouse lawyers versus those who stop reading after page 49 and just don’t care.

    I’ve always loved the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson” that asks “Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” as the best example of what writers are supposed to do, show not tell. The line sums up a feeling in America that a more ordered time passed without demanding the listener chose if that was good or bad.

    The yield of our behavior is a place where people don’t talk to each other, cannot agree on what their mutual problems are never mind how to solve them, a violent place, an unfriendly place, an uncivil place. Who wants to live like this? Judging by our actions, Americans. Ciao!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Old Laws Never Die, A Tale of Covid and the DMV

    October 12, 2021 // 4 Comments »


    Two weeks to flatten the curve became 18 months of masks and vax mandates with no end in sight. New powers to regulate lives seized from the people by government. Rules which make no common sense dominate our lives, experiments in compliance not science. How do Covid restrictions end? They likely never will.

    I learned this at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) My re-education started when I was told to prove as an American citizen in an American state that I am “resident” here, not simply being an American in America. I’m a good sport and wanted to comply, just like I try to keep up with the latest rules and Purell my hands 600 times a day against an airborne virus. I knew threats weren’t inherently political, right, and you just can’t be too careful.

    For proof of residence the DMV wants some sort of olde timey paper trail, returned check stubs and paper utility bills. No one at the DMV seems aware all this stuff went to “the online” a while ago, and that it is sort of normal to reside in one state with an online bank in another state and no paper bills or statements from anywhere with only a cell phone from an area code from two moves ago and which banks still return cancelled paper checks each month anyway? They growled at me for even raising the question.

    Like the waitress who had no idea how to explain why I needed a mask to walk to my table but no mask when I sat at my table, the DMV clerk said she was not allowed to look at my phone screen or scroll through my apps to see evidence of me paying local condo fees, having a local address with a distant bank, etc. I was told to go home and print out everything and she’d take a look. And because of Covid, next available appointment is, let’s see… never. I will have to keep my old McLovin’ license a while longer. I timidly asked why?

    “Because of 9/11” the clerk said in that voice used with really stupid children. It was clear she did not know more than that about why she was demanding these things of me, so no point pressing it. It took me a moment to remember 9/11 as 9/11 was twenty years ago. I asked the clerk where she was on that fateful day and she said “In fifth grade.” I can easily imagine my children 20 years in the future having a similar conversation about why they had to prove their 35th booster shot to go bowling.

    I said a silent thanks that our vax passports are all electronic now, handy on the same phone my movements are tracked by so if I get lost someone can find me. Think how silly jokes like “Papers, bitte, mein herr!” will sound in the future when there’s no paper! LOL.

    The problem with old laws that once were enacted for our safety amidst an emergency is they never go away. They don’t adapt to new realities. Power taken is not returned. Fear becomes the standing justification for everything. I realized while threats aren’t necessarily inherently political, the responses sure are. It’s easy, and politically fun, the claim all the fears over Covid restrictions on our liberties are just conspiracy theories, deplorable gasping. It is easy for the media to ignore the many people opposed to masks are not anti-science but anti-politically charged public policy. The media forget once upon a time a driver’s license was just so you could drive not an excuse to gather personal information.

    The Real ID law was where my problems at the DMV started, the 2004 law a result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, who discovered 18 of the 19 hijackers obtained legit state IDs. Fun fact: the hijackers were all legally present in the United States, most fully resident and able to prove it, holding legitimately issued student visas for their flight schools and would have passed the Real ID speed bump had it existed then. Nonetheless, in the interest of safety Something Had to Be Done, albeit the equivalent of a cloth condom. Or a poorly fitting dust mask.

    So America’s 245 million license holders had to make an in-person visit to their DMV with all these bits of paper in order to obtain a Real ID compliant license. Your local DMV now gathers more information about you than your mother knows and stores it nationally accessible to, well, not sure who, but a lot of people, at an estimated implementation cost of $23.1 billion. But we’re safer, right, can’t put a price on that. Actually, we will be safer. Though proposed in the smoldering ruins of 2004, delays and rolling implementation mean Real IDs were not required for domestic flights until October 2020, and full enforcement does not begin until May 2023. Until then, keep an eye on your masked seatmates.

     

    The best part of all is the last time anyone actually tested my ability to drive was in 1976, when I drove my mother’s car around the block and then parallel parked it to the satisfaction of an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. In getting my new driver’s license in 2021, no one actually checked if I could safely do the actual thing the license was in place to allow me to do.
    I can almost hear the voice of the Twilight Zone guy, saying “And therein lies our cautionary tale. Rules proposed, let’s allow, in good faith often fail to accomplish that what they were originally intended to. Rather, they empower small bullies disguised as clerks and waiters who in the name of safety taunt us to provide bits of paper from the scavenger hunt of our lives to entertain them. But that’s the least of our troubles. They are but background players in a bigger game: governments collecting more and more information, placing restrictions without accurate explanation, claiming it is for our own good when clearly it is actually for their own good. We’ll check back in 20 years, to see how many of the Covid restrictions still apply here, at the DMV, or elsewhere… in the Twilight Zone.”

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    The Last Question About 9/11

    September 18, 2021 // 5 Comments »

     

    History rarely falls between neat bookends. The Sixties didn’t end until 1975 with the fall of Saigon, for example. The New Millenium really started on September 11, 2001 and now, two decades later, is wrapping up with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the New York awkwardly bumping into the endgame in Afghanistan.

    I was working for the U.S. State Department on 9/11/01 at our embassy in Tokyo. My job was to look after the interests of private American citizens (ACS work to the informed) and the summer had been abuzz with warnings and threats of some sort of terror attack. Everyone was certain it would be aimed at us overseas, the way the 1998 Nairobi and Dar es Salaam attacks had been.

    Because of the “No Double Standards” rule, despite being a fairly low-level staffer in the embassy, I was better informed than many of my colleagues. The “No Double Standards” rule grew out of the 1988 terror bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. Because some members of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had been tipped off to possible danger to that flight, and chose to change their plans and live, and because the public was left in the dark and were destroyed in mid-air, the rules were changed.

    The new rule said if the government shares information with the official U.S. community that could also affect the safety of non-official Americans, the info has to be shared with the public. This lead to many complicated situations that summer; if the embassy wanted to tell its staff to stay off flights into the Philippines, it had to also tell the public, with all the resulting panic and media guff. A lot of the warnings and threats were therefore found not to be credible and thus not released individually even as the growing storm was hard to miss. I was a silent partner, seated in the classified space with the big boys as CYA insurance that they had considered the needs of the American public in their decisions.

    Late afternoon on September 10, 2001 Tokyo time I was called to review a highly classified document detailing an imminent attack at a specific location in Japan. The acting chief of mission had already decided to release the information to employees and thus I was required to release it to the public. The warning was sent out publicly via our-then very limited FAX system. By 2021 an archived copy has been removed from the embassy website and even the Wayback Machine-Internet archive can only find a place holder. Believe whatever you like to believe but within eight hours the first plane struck the World Trade Center in New York. The summer was over.

     

    Sometime that autumn we learned some of the widows of those among the 25 Japanese men killed at the World Trade Center were having a difficult time obtaining death certificates from New York and making insurance claims. The bureaucracy was finally catching up on the events of that terrible September Tuesday and despite all the talk about “anything we can do to help” the issue of working with the widows became a third rail inside the embassy; nobody wanted to touch it. It ended up in my office, specifically in the hands of my local Japanese staff. It was treated as a paperwork problem, same as when more mundane widows needed some help filing for their American spouse’s Social Security benefits. We were told to help where we could, be a point of contact, an office others could refer pesky phone calls to.

    I initially stayed away from it all, not as much because I had other things to do but because I had no idea what I would do. I would see them come in to our conference room, the widows, many with small kids. Then one of my local employees would disappear inside, too. Afterwards there would be a near-empty tissue box on the table, maybe some papers for me to perfunctorily sign, and a very quiet office for the rest of the day.

    One afternoon I just walked in and sat down. Then again, then again on another day. It had been by this time a couple of months since the attacks, and that awful feeling all this was normal now had set in. Not all of the eligible widows came into the embassy. Some made the journey to New York, some hired lawyers, some received more help from the husband’s employer than others. They did not need to see me, they had to choose. I could pretend to be busy at my desk with paperwork. I, too, had to choose.

    I listened to my local employee ask the questions, and then the routine answers while the elephant in the room whispered “We’re talking about a man burned into nothing, aren’t we?” Sometimes the widows would ask me why I was there. They meant I guess what was my job, me being an American and all, but I could not escape the broader question. So we talked. Many had never been to New York, they had in the Japanese way stayed home in Tokyo with the kids. So they asked about Brooklyn, where their husband had lived. Had I ever been to the World Trade Center? Yes, I have a favorite photo of some old school friends and me taken on the outdoor observation deck. Was that on the North Tower where my husband was killed? Yes.

    Only one widow grew angry. I was the first and likely only U.S. government official she had spoken to. That line in the State Department job description about representing America abroad bit hard that day. She, demurely and ever-so-politely, hated me. She hated my country. She forced herself to repeat how much she hated everything about me in limited English, then repeated it in Japanese and demanded it be translated even as I understood every word. You, knowing none of the Japanese language, would have understood every word. After that I had to somehow finish the work day and go home to hear my own kids tell me about how hard multiplication was and appear like I was still part of the human race.

     

    A problem developed in New York. Never before had the city had to issue thousands of death certificates so quickly without any remains, any actual proof that the person was indeed dead and not just missing. That bit of official paper was the key, however, to all sorts of insurance claims and death benefits and condolence money and the like, never mind being the one document which would explain bureaucratically how Mrs. Tanaka had become a widow and her children now fatherless. It seemed every bank, elementary school, and employer in Japan needed a copy to update their records.

    The NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) had begun the very long process by classifying all 9/11 deaths as homicides. No death certificates would be issued for the terrorists and they would never be included in any count of the dead. DNA and other technologies were not as advanced as today so out of close to 3,000 certificates issued, DNA at the time accounted for only 645 identifications, dental records 188, fingerprints 71, and found personal effects 19. We had been asked at one point to collect dental records and then DNA samples from the widows on behalf of their husbands but this proved of little value; some sort of human remain had to have been found at the Trade Center site to make a comparison match and some 40 percent of the victims left nothing of themselves behind. They just disappeared. The initial explosions, massive compression as the Towers imploded, and the fires destroyed most completely. Those death certificates simply stated “physical injuries (body not found.)”

    I have no memory of whose form it was, but one of the widows presented it to me. I was supposed to place her under oath and ask her why she believed her husband had died on September 11 given the absence of evidence — neither his body nor any evidence of it had ever been found. I had come to know this woman and her young children a bit; her claims somehow all were complicated and we had developed an odd workaday relationship. Easier to just get things done at this point I guess. So I asked her the question. How does she know her husband is dead?

    She said he was only to be in New York for a few months, and she and the kids stayed behind. But he missed his children and maybe her, a brave joke for her to make to me under the circumstances, and vowed to call every evening Tokyo-time to say goodnight. Tokyo-time night was New York-time in the morning, and so he’d make the calls from his office in the South Tower after he arrived at work. He called every morning/night, sometimes chatting, sometimes in a hurry. He called early the morning of September 11 (the plane hit at 9:03 am) and said goodnight. Now my phone never rings anymore, she said, so I know he is dead. But I still do not know why.

     

    I don’t think I saw the widow more than once or twice after that and I don’t know what happened to her. Her husband’s name is the one I visit when I am in New York at the Memorial. This year, 20 others having past, watching the results of our generational revenge war on Afghanistan and having experienced a year in the Iraqi desert myself for an equally pointless war, I still cannot answer her question. I still don’t know why and I’ve been thinking about it for almost 20 years.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    An Olympics Without Joy

    August 21, 2021 // 10 Comments »

     

    I am glad the Olympics are over. There was little joy in them. The closing felt more like a mercy killing than a ceremony.

     

    The absurdity of holding the Games at all when in most countries people suffer under various restrictions was enough. Was this all really, really necessary, now? The silliness of Japan keeping the “2020” on all the signage and the announcers calling them the “2020 Games” was too cynical. Japan barring foreign tourists while allowing in athletes to live like hermits so they could pay off TV contracts (NBC presold over $1.25 billion in advertisements) even more cynical. When athletes celebrated a victory, they by mandate drank alone. Everyone play acting like all this was normal even as only 22 percent of Japanese wanted to games to happen at all was the most cynical thing of all. It was like everything hypocritical about Covid was rolled into one event — how can a wedding in St. Louis be a superspreading event but gathering athletes from around the world, 20 percent of them unvaccinated, not be? Quiet now, and go about your business, Citizens.

     

    The idea of holding events like the opening ceremonies in an empty stadium created new frontiers of absurdity. People waving at empty seats, fireworks shot off with no one to watch them. It would have been better to have done the whole event in a studio in front of a green screen, the way some knuckleheads think the moon landings were faked.
     
    With all the world’s problems, somehow only Team USA had so much political commentary to share. It seems racism is only a thing in America, and only black (American) lives matter much. That they backed it all up with so many dreary performances made them seem like braggarts. It is really telling when the biggest story from the Games was about someone quitting, not someone competing.
    All the self-proclaimed victims along the way, same thing. They might have dropped out with their lifelong issues a few months ago and given someone else the chance to compete instead of waiting to do it on international TV. If it’s really a personal matter don’t announce it on TV then ask to be left alone. No one needs your awareness raising anyway, we all get it by now. Funny, but being a green-haired shot putter does not give you any special insights into society. Your job is literally just to throw a heavy thing, so just do that and be quiet. And a note to all those protesting: black athletes have been protesting against the same things at the Olympics since the 1960s. According to them, not much has changed. That might be a hint to how effective the protests are. 
    It wasn’t any better in the media. ESPN’s William Rhoden said he couldn’t enjoy the opening ceremony because the American flags reminded him of the Capitol riot. “I saw a lot of, you know, U.S. flags.”
     
    Same for all the extra-virtue of winning something while gay. That is soooooo 1980s. Gay people have been winning and losing since the Greeks invented the Olympics, we just didn’t have to have it rubbed into our faces as some sort of extra special achievement that straight medalists can only envy. Same for women and trans people; each victory does not really mean something significant in the advancement of human rights. Everything does not always need to be about social engineering all the time. Same for other forms of suffering; most athlete profiles focused on how hard it was training with a single parent, or a dead aunt, or while being black, or the only ____ on your high school team. Does the U.S. Olympic Committee screen for miserable biographical details as part of the selection process? Do athletes who just work really hard at their sport hire consultants to gin up bad childhood experiences the way rich high school kids suddenly start volunteering at the end of junior year so they can write weepy college entrance essays about giving back?

     

    Media, stop telling us a kid whose family had enough money to move cross-country so he could work with a specific coach (elite training in Olympic gyms can cost $500 a month, plus about $1,000 a month for coaching), or whose parents spent the $100,000 a year needed to train as an Olympic swimmer, overcame adversity to excel. The media might however ask why a parental decision to hyper-train a child without their informed consent from age 3 into a superhuman ubermensch gymnast, messing with her growth along the road to sacrificing her childhood to Mommy and Daddy’s show pony dreams, is not a form of child abuse. And what happens to these children, bred to excel at an obscure sport? Is there some island they are sent to to live out their days because except for the tiny handful who endorse something most are never heard from again. This bizarro-world running Matrix-like just below the surface of our own is enough reason to shut down the Olympic forever.
     
    And enough with the representation thing. As a kid the athlete I looked to for representation was Jesse Owens, the black runner who called out real Nazis and their myth of racial superiority simply by running faster. He and I did not look alike, but I did not care because what mattered was his courage and heart, not his skin color.

     

    But as much as any of that, the Olympic were… boring. With the time difference the TV coverage ended up focusing on sports like kayaking that few follow. Endless heats repeat and repeat, tiny heads in kayaks moving from the right side of the screen to the left for a few seconds, repeat. Other junk sports like surfing and skateboarding simply fill time. A whole catechism of points and ratings was invented to allow judging simply to shoehorn these pastimes into the Games, presumably to attract an audience of “young people” unlikely to be watching network television anyway. To get karate into the Games, the fighters were punished for fighting too well. Pull your punches to win, kids, that’s the new Olympic spirit.
    There is little joy in any “sport” that depends as much on technology as athletic skill. The fastest (i.e., most expensive) Olympic bicycles cost $80,000, suggesting a rider can buy his way into a higher place finish. But that’s nothing compared to shooting. Professional shooters in training run through 500-1,000 specially made rounds a day. That comes to $5,000-7,000 a day for targets and ammunition in full training. A gun can cost anywhere between $6,000 to $300,000. Sailboats run $500k, a jumping horse like Springsteen’s $100k.

     

    And that’s before we get into the real money of developing performance enhancing substances that can slide under current testing. Like in bodybuilding pre-Schwarzenegger, look at some old black and white photos of the Olympics, where all the very best athletes had rounded, in-scale muscles. Where did the over-broad shoulders in women’s swimming and the blocky square heads of juiced up champions come from anyway? The idea of pure amateur athletes went out of fashion years ago, but now the Olympics is now a financial sport.
    And a note to the Olympics: the Cold War ended three decades ago. Enough with national medal counts. Our current state of the planet needs more nationalism to promote harmony and world peace?

     

    Many of us are tired of all this. At this point, waiting four years isn’t long enough. What? You say it’s actually only three more years until the next summer games, Paris 2024? Oh joy.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 3 Comments »


    Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?

    Tourism is a part of our islands same as the ocean and volcanos. It won’t go away, should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs, and properly managed creates little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let’s look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.

    -Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature has created confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.

    -Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable.

    -The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoor are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today?

    -Same for other events planners. Concert promoters looking to fill arenas once again said Tier 5 does not do much for them. Rick Bartalini, the promoter who recently brought Mariah Carey and Diana Ross to the Blaisdell said, “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”

    -The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply (finally) refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?

    -Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) super fun beach vacation, guys.

    -In their arrogance, leaders of the state House and Senate said the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.

    -COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, and car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors can’t find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. A rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.

    -Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage and make visitors happy. The state’s move? Tax the new business to death, same as AirBnB, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms who have fewer customers anyway because of the government’s COVID shenanigans. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the one which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.

    -How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi or car.

    -Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there’s a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.

    -Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels won’t change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. Then wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.

    -The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired by the state to handle Safe Travels screening and verify documents summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”

    We’re seeing now the influx of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere,  but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Comic Book Toy Soldiers

    July 13, 2021 // 4 Comments »


    I had some great toys as a kid.

    Favorites included various sets of blocks, a huge collection of wooden ones, Legos, blocks that looked like Legos but were made by someone else, and all sorts of other variations. As a kid I won some sort of contest for building things out of Tinker Toys, wooden rods that interconnected with special hubs. Near the end of my childhood run there was an all-metal Erector Set assembled with nuts and bolts, Lincoln Logs, and some sort of electrical set.

    Alongside these were toy soldiers. Every kid has them, often in the hundreds. They came in clear plastic bags from the grocery store for 59 cents up to massive “playsets” that included vehicles and clearly were of the major Christmas present or birthday gift from grandpa variety.

    Whenever some new patch of dirt was discovered in the neighborhood all the boys would haul out their toy soldiers and hours would be spent digging holes and making forts for them. Actual “war” rarely happened, as the extensive preparations and setting up hundreds of soldiers always seemed to take until peace was declared because it was lunch or dinner time.

     

    There was always one bridge ahead too far. The comic book toy soldier sets.

    These sets have acquired an almost mythical quality among men of a certain age. In the 1960s nearly every boy wanted them due to the never ending advertising in comic books. Every comic included at least one full page color ad for these things. There were army, navy, and air force sets. Cowboy and Indian sets. Knights, Civil War, and Revolutionary War sets, the exact same sets advertised as “games,” and every possible variation.

    Each set contained “good guys” and “bad guys,” even if they were just the same figures molded in green or grey. Some also included sections of a fort or wall.

    The key was that the cartoon-like ads depicted the toy soldiers in epic battles, with them standing like mushrooms to the painted horizon. The ads were often drawn in exaggerated perspective, so the soldier in the foreground was 20 times the size of those in the distance. He usually was shouting. Holding the ad in your hand pre-puberty, you could feel the earth vibrate beneath you.

    I later learned the best of the ads were drawn by a renowned comic book artist, Russ Heath, of DC Comics. He certainly created the two most well known, the 100 Piece Toy Soldier Set ad, and the 132 Piece Roman Soldiers Set ad, for which he was paid $50 eachIt is unclear if all the others were drawn by Heath, or by others who just mimicked his style. 

    The reason the figures in the ads had no relation to the flat two-dimensional atrocities that came in the mail is because Heath never saw the actual product, and created the ads out of his imagination. He claims man-children of many ages would stop him at comic conventions in his later years to complain about how they still felt cheated. Nonetheless, the bright colors and flash and bangs in the illustrations matched exactly the images we had in our heads when we set up our own pathetic armies in the dirt patch in front of the O’Conner house.

    (Aside: that dirt patch was a gift to us from a benevolent god. Sometime in the mystic past a sewer repair had been done, requiring a decent-sized hole. Years later, despite the efforts of Mr. O’Conner, grass simply would not grow there. It was like a bald spot on his tree lawn and the site of most of our battles. I wish to believe it is still there, defying the laws of biology to not allow anything to grow. An archaeological excavation would likely produce hundreds of buried toy soldiers left outside during a hard rain only t be swallowed by the earth.)

     

    Back to those toy soldier sets from the comic books. They were not expensive, ranging from maybe 99 cents to $1.59. The problem was we kids, even if we had the allowance money saved up, could not order them on our own. We could carefully clip out the tiny coupon, squeeze our primary school block printing into the spaces for our address, maybe even find an envelope in the kitchen drawer and address it. The problem was the financial media: the coupon clearly said “No Cash, check or money order only.”

    That meant convincing an adult to write you a check in return for your handful of coins. This was very difficult somehow to accomplish. Pleas of “But mom, it’s my own money!” were met with stone cold refusals to send a check to some unknown address. Mail order in general in those days was considered a sleazy business, best left to “martial aids” and “health magazines” advertised in places other than comic books.

    For the rare kid who overcame all obstacles (usually with the help of a sympathetic uncle) it always seemed to end in disappointment. There are even online/Facebook groups today devoted to this, a kind of group therapy several decades removed. For all of what must have been tens of thousands of orders placed, few were ever delivered. Mom was right; the checks for $1.59 were cashed in what was clearly one of the least efficient scams in history and the soldiers were usually never delivered.

    I finally got my mom to write a check for me one time when I was home from school sick. My whining took on some sort of special urgency I guess, and she broke down. I was to receive the Modern Army set.

    I checked the mailbox daily for months. One day a small box, ironically about the size of the boxes paper checks used to come in from the bank, arrived, tired and battered. Inside was a handful of loose cowboys, each about an inch high. They were bright yellow, not a cowboy color, and flat. Unlike even the cheapest toy soldiers from the drug store, which were round and sort of 3D, they were flat as playing cards to I guess allow more of them to be crammed into a box. They barely would stand even on a stable, flat, table top, and certainly were of no use on the O’Conner battlefield.

    This was the actual moment of the end of my Childhood Innocence.

     

    Where did all this joy and angst come from? At first glance it looked like these flat soldiers were the work of Lucky Products Inc., which had its headquarters on Long Island. The sets themselves were made in Hong Kong. The problem is that the ads as I find them online now all list different addresses – Long Island, upstate and various other places in New York, and even Atlanta. The ads ran over a 20 year span. Was it all the work of one company?

    Maybe not. The fuller story begins with Milton Levine, who, just out of the military after WWII, decided his future lay in plastics. Levine formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, E. Joseph “Joe” Cossman and the pair formed a mail-order toy company. They connected with NOSCO Plastic of Erie, Pennsylvania, a supplier of plastic toys to Cracker Jack, and that’s where the first flats soldiers were made before the process migrated to Hong Kong. 

    It would take a year before the first flats were ready to ship, even though Levine was running ads in comic books the whole time. He hired a staff of women to open the huge amounts of mail and process the checks that arrived each day, al of which finally explain the delays which plagued many a childhood.

    Soon ads from other companies began appearing. Mastercraft, a Boston company, sold “100 Toy Soldiers for $1.00,” but did not include the important pasteboard “footlocker.” Levine and his brother-in-law it turns out themselves set up a number of separate companies (all with East Coast P.O. Boxes) as well as selling the flats wholesale to other, competing, mail-order companies. So everything sort of did come from one place all those years.

    Today even the original ads themselves are considered collectibles and sell on eBay. Never mind the ads, depending on condition, you can pick up an actual set of flat toy soldiers for $30-$50, which of course originally cost $1.59. Actually the highest recorded original price was for the 132 Roman Soldiers set at $2.98, plus postage and handling of course.

    But looking through the ads for sets for sale today I left smiling. Given all that are for sale today, that means a lot more got delivered than I ever believed as a kid. My friends and I may never have seen our soldiers arrive in the mail, but apparently lots of others did. Those kids treasured their flats, and kept them through many spring cleanings, moves to college dorms, and the like. They are moments never to be seen again frozen in cheap plastic.

    I thought about buying one. Whereas once upon a time $1.59 represented real money, today I can afford $50 if I want to spend it. But it would not be right. The set I’d buy would be heavy with someone else’s memories. It would be sent to me by FedEx,with minute-by-minute tracking. There would be no waiting by the mailbox every afternoon for months. It wouldn’t be right, would not be true to the myth. Some things are better left alone.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Renaming the Past to Cancel Thomas Jefferson, Rapist and Slave Owner

    July 10, 2021 // 5 Comments »


     
    Falls Church City in Northern Virginia decided in the midst of last year’s George Floyd open season to rename two of its public schools. On the block were George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

    George Mason was a Founding Father, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the basis for the full Bill of Rights. Nearby George Mason University is still named after him, but the city of Falls Church is stripping his name from its schools because in addition to all he did to create the United States, he was a slaveholder. Same for Thomas Jefferson, Founder, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President of the United States, and famously, rapist and slaveholder, Joker without the makeup.

    The people of Falls Church who made these changes probably mean well in a 2021-ish kind of way. The city is 72 percent white (and only 4.5 percent black.) An amazing 78 percent of adults in Falls Church have a Bachelors degree or higher, and most work for the Federal government in nearby Washington, DC (George Washington and six other presidents held slaves.) The city has a energetic farmer’s market with a proposal pending to add an “informational booth about how communities of color have less access to healthy foods” and votes solidly Democrat.

    The process of canceling the Founders was deliberate, with 13 meetings stretching over a year to come up with final school name candidates. For the high school, only one related to history at all, a name related to a local site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was located. The other choices were could-be-anywhere Metropolitan High School, Meridian (the eventual winner), Metro View, and West End. Same for deleting Mr. Jefferson’s name: the same local historical site came up, as did the name of a local white historical figure who started a school for special needs kids, along with a lot of geographical references  — the winner, Oak Street Elementary, “recognizes how trees are important natural elements.” No argument there, trees are good.

    What stands out is a devotion to keeping the point out of the renaming. As political the motivation was, it seems no one wanted an MLK high school, or a Rosa Parks elementary. Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s rape victim and slave, did not make the cut. Truth and Justice Elementary School was seen as a “nod” to Jefferson and thus rejected.

    Left undiscussed is how the renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary School still abuts George Mason Road. The renamed George Mason High School itself is located on Leesburg Pike, near Custis Parkway, named for the slave owning daughter of George Washington’s adopted son and the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is hard to get away from history.

    At this point it is tempting to drive over to Whole Foods, park among the herd of Prius’ and mock the earnest people of Fall Church with their PBS tote bags. A wealthy, nearly all white community making a splash about renaming two schools to cancel a couple of Founding Fathers while carefully avoiding any teachable moment by replacing the slaveholders with the blandest of non-political names. Everyone’s white liberal guilt is assuaged with few feathers ruffled. And did you see the new artisanal cheeses in aisle eleven? Carol sent another $50 to the ACLU for us after George Floyd, you know.

     

    The thing is that as hard as it is to take these people seriously, it is equally hard to not take them seriously. They really believe themselves. And that poses 2021’s question.

    America did not invent slavery, racism, or discrimination. We can point to a moral struggle hundreds of years in process including a civil war that remains the most costly conflict to Americans in body count and brutality. The Founders struggled over how to deal with a system most knew was unsustainable, Jefferson among them. We tried.

    Yet alone in history we haven’t figured this out. South Africa, with an apartheid system designed to be as plainly racist as possible, found a way to untangle itself. The ancient world was built on slave labor and made the transition. The Germans found a way to deal with their relatively recent attempt not just at enslavement but industrial scale genocide.

    We fail because we refuse to admit crying racism, and making faux-fixes as in Falls Church, is as profitable politically as doing racist things is. Getting yourself elected calling out racism with righteous rage is not far away from using racist voting laws to get yourself elected. There is too much to gain by maintaining and then exploiting a racist system. If you heal the patient, what’s left for all the doctors to do?

    There is also what we’ll now call the Falls Church myth, this near-idiotic belief that insignificant changes add up to something significant. Changing the name of a school, or tearing down a statue, does not change history. That is why everyone is still “raising awareness” about the same problems after decades. It feels good, though.

    Same for the “first…” people, the ones who celebrate the first black this or the first woman that. That we chased that idea all the way into the Oval Office and two consecutive black attorneys general to see nothing much come of it answers the question of what it is worth as a change tool.

    We thrive on polarization, thinking somehow calling someone a white supremacist based on little more than his skin color or political party is going to… help? The critical catechism of MLK and the civil rights movement — that race should not matter — is turned on itself to humiliate those who struggled. Sorry folks, it turns out it is all about the color of your skin after all, except that we mean black people should get stuff for being black.

    Alongside are the everything-is-racist scorekeepers. These people point out since about 13 percent of us are black, anything that has less than that (colleges, certain jobs, SAT scores) or more than that (prisons, poverty, police shooting rates) is racist. The simplicity is attractive but the reality of ignoring the complexity of every other factor and explanation is where the argument fails hard. At the risk of offense, it is not just black and white out there.

     

    I used to walk past the statue of Marion Sims in Central Park. When I first looked him up in 2012, he was the father of modern gynecology, the founder of New York’s first women’s hospital, the 19th century surgeon who perfected a technique that still today saves the lives of tens of thousands of third-world women. When I checked his biography again in 2018 he had become a racist misogynist who conducted medical experiments without anesthesia on enslaved women. His statue was removed from Central Park while protesters chanted their “ancestors can rest” and “believe black women.” I’m glad they just got rid of the statue instead of putting up a modern plaque “explaining” it in woke-talk.

    The thing is Sims did all that he was said to have done. He developed surgical tools and techniques still used today. He did surgeries on both free white women and enslaved black women, mostly without anesthesia in part because anesthesia was not in wide use at the time and in part because he subscribed to the racist theory of his time that blacks did not suffer pain the same way whites did. His often life-saving surgeries (on blacks) have been memed into “medical experiments” to connect them to Nazi horrors, purposefully ignoring the difference between non‐therapeutic and therapeutic procedure and leaving his white patients out of the story altogether. Easier that way.

    Left out of the ranting is primary documentation suggesting Sims’ original patients — black and white — were willing participants in his surgical attempts to cure vesicovaginal fistula, a condition for which no other viable therapy existed until Sims invented it. That meant they would have died without his surgery.

     

    I’ll confess there are times I, too, struggle with Jefferson. No one is anyone but a beginner on the road to Galilee, but Jefferson’s gifts make him among the hardest to understand. With such an extraordinary mind, he could turn on a pinpoint towards the cruelty of owning fellow human beings. Yet Jefferson the slave owner did not pass that portion of his ideas to our future. He, Mason, and the other Founders created a system which would eventually eliminate slavery and correct itself. The evil of slavery was defeated at great cost but we seem unable to let it die.

    We crave simplicity in our history when there is only complexity. It is ridiculous to ignore world-changing accomplishments thinking that will somehow fix our racial problems. We just don’t want to grapple with the questions of personal responsibility and the problem of intergenerational victimhood as a lifestyle. We want the simplicity of reparations, imagining we can buy our way out of racial troubles. We do not question the value of changing a school’s name or knocking down a statue because that promises a simplistic fix that protects us from hard questions. We like it that way and it is unlikely anything that needs fixing will get fixed until that changes.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Tale of Three Travel Destinations (Florida, NYC, Hawaii)

    July 4, 2021 // 2 Comments »


    As a fairly new resident of Hawaii, I bring an outsider’s perspective, and maybe a bit of uninvited advice. If Hawaii wants to regain its place as a popular tourist destination, it needs to think more like someone from Ohio than Oahu.

    Asian travel is at a standstill, and will be for some time. Should someone from Japan decide to visit our beautiful islands, in addition to our COVID requirements, upon returning home he would face a 14 day quarantine, a two-week ban on using public transportation, and location tracking via cell phone from his own government. If he breaks quarantine, among other penalties his name would be made public as someone “contributing to the spread of infection.” You would have to really, really love poi to build all that into a vacation.

    That brings us back to our potential Ohio traveler as he weighs his vacation options. He did the right thing and got double-vaccinated right away, and has been happily living and working without a mask for months. The pandemic as we still practice it here ended for most Americans months ago.

    Florida looks good to our traveler. Florida dropped all of its COVID restrictions about a year ago, and appears to have survived two Spring Breaks and beyond. Visitors can enter the state without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. Disney, et al, are welcoming guests. Cruises look like they are about to restart. Instead of fretting, the governor is hosting a conference in September to bring together tourism professionals, advertising agencies, and state leaders to build on opportunities. They’re looking at $95 billion in revenues from tourism, the good stuff: people drive or fly in, use few governmental resources, and leave behind money. It is a sweet investment, as every $1 put into their tourism promotion agency, Visit Florida, yields a $3.27 return to taxpayers. Visitors save every Florida household more than $1,500 a year on state and local taxes. Florida gets it.

    New York City was ground zero once again, the hardest hit COVID site. The city faced some of the nation’s worst COVID management, slamming the door shut on what was a tourism industry that created  400,000 jobs and $70 billion in economic activity pre-pandemic. But slowly the place awoke to discover it was not Judgment Day 2020, but summer 2021. Visitors can enter without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. As of mid-June, almost all COVID restrictions were dropped, and the Governor announced the state of emergency was over. Broadway is reopening with Bruce Springsteen, the Garden with the Foo Fighters, and the city is running a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign funded by stimulus money. After a year of some very bad decision making, the pols seem now to get it. Even the neo-socialist mayor says “building a recovery for all of us means welcoming tourists back.”

     

    Hawaii stands alone among the 50 states simply refusing to admit the pandemic is over. Hawaii alone requires not only COVID testing for unvaccinated visitors, but a complex regime of “trusted partners” who in the end administer the same tests through the same national labs as the untrusted partners. Let’s hope some of them are within a day’s drive of would-be tourists. Until a snap decision changed the rules as of July 8, Hawaii stood alone in treating those vaccinated in Hawaii differently from those vaccinated outside of Hawaii. It was always easier for dogs; as of today you can import a dog into Hawaii with an out-of-state rabies vaccine but not a tourist with an out-of-state COVID vaccine.

    The funny things is the only thing Hawaii worries about in human travelers is COVID. It neither tests for nor asks for proof of vaccination for yellow fever, malaria, ebola, AIDS, polio, Hepatitis A, B or C, leprosy, dengue fever, or hundreds of other diseases more problematic to the general population than COVID. And of course there is no science saying something magical happens at 70% local vaccination levels that does not happen at 69% or 59%. They’re just arbitrary numbers to create the illusion of control to provincial voters.

    Hawaii also seems unaware tourists need to plan vacations well ahead of time. The ever-changing guidance out of the Governor’s office drove people away. Imagine our Ohio tourist approaching his boss a month ago for time off: “Hey boss, can I have my two weeks when Hawaii hits 70%? It might be August, might be December, or they may alter the rules again, so we can stay chill on the dates, right?” That’s one traveler; if you are booking group tours, forget about it and go to Disney. The Governor’s waiting until late June to acknowledge vaccinated people don’t get COVID just wrote off a second summer season.

    If our Ohio visitor dips into the local news he sees the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor arguing publically over what the new rules should be. He sees Hawaii is looking to defund its own tourism promotion authority and still can’t get its light rail running.

    He reads unwelcoming, almost contemptuous Op-Eds wondering if too many tourists are spoiling things for the locals. He is unlikely to feel welcome with the Third World-like two-tiered pricing regime at popular sites. He sees articles about people sent home from the airport over an innocent Safe Travels mistake, stories suggesting he’ll need to rent a U-Haul as no cars are available, $120 Uber rides in from the airport, taxes going up on accomodations alongside already usurious “resort fees,” and bars and restaurants capped at limited capacity so it could be Zippy’s again for dinner. Hope word reached Ohio reservations are required for Hanauma Bay, and good luck scoring them.

    All this accompanied by the Jugend mask patrols, scolding anyone from ABC to CVS who is not wearing a mask, vaccinated or not. Sound like a vacation to you? The July 8 changes are welcome, but are in the end too little too late.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Aloha New York (or, Escape from New York)

    June 12, 2021 // 11 Comments »


    It’s always the little things that tell the story. For me and New York, it is the dog poop.

    I keep wanting to love this city but it keeps fighting back. I finally realized it became an abusive relationship and it was time to leave. I no longer live there. My adult kids and quite a few of my neighbors bailed out months ago.

    The final straw was everywhere underfoot. I lived in a “nice” neighborhood. The fact that we so easily accept that we have nice and bad neighborhoods butted up against each other is part of the problem, too. But my neighborhood was nice, mostly residential, with a lot of pets. There was dog poop everywhere such that you learned to look down as you walked and developed a kind of skip and slide move to quickly reroute. You saw the brown skid marks where someone did not nail their landing.

    We had human excrement, too. A nice neighborhood means “good” edible garbage for the leagues of Third World homeless who live off our trash. A lot of people tend to throw out their recyclable cans instead of taking them to the recycle point for coins. The spud boy variety homeless who graze these streets can often scrounge up a few bucks in cans each night. Then they have to poop and there are no public toilets. After corporate Starbucks ordered all its stores to make restrooms available to customers and others, many in sketchy areas just locked up their toilets and stuck on a sign saying “Out of Order.”

    But I can’t blame the dogs for us leveling down. The issue is with the people walking those dogs who decision by decision choose not to pick up the crap. Every day so many neighbors decide not to pick up, leaving it for the people they live near to deal with. “I only care about me,” there is no better summation of why I left New York.

     

    But alongside the little things are of course the big ones. New York is a failed experiment. Massive public housing estates were built up the east side and northern end of Manhattan, as well as in the outer boroughs, starting in the 1950s. What was once seen as an expedient to get people back on their feet (alongside food stamps and the other A-Z of social welfare) morphed into inter-generational poverty, generations of people who have never really worked and exist on the taxes of those who do. Knowledge of how to best exploit these systems is passed on the way a father might once have passed on his skills as a carpenter to a son.

    Though the causes are complex, the reality is very simple. Poverty lines, like most of the city geographically, are sharply racial in division. People proudly claim New Yorkers speak 70 some languages, but in truth not often with each other. Broadly NYC is one of the most racially diverse places in America, but people live close but not together. Everyone knows where the white-black-brown lines are, usually by street (96th Street near me is a marker) but sometimes by housing complex.

    Even the magnificent Central Park is racially divided. Check real estate prices at the southern end of the Park, the so-called Billionaires Row, versus the northern end where the Park is capped by liquor stores with bars on the windows and walkup tenements poor people have been swapping out since 1900. Chinatown and Greektown sound fun for tourists, but nobody is comfortable admitting we also have Hebrew Village, Caucasianland, and Blacktown.

    The underlying financial system is unsustainable, far too few people (less now with COVID flight) paying too many taxes to support indefinitely too many others. The wealthy still enjoy NYC as long as they stay in their own layer, living hundreds of feet above the city, taking advantage of cheap labor for their needs, and scuttling to cultural events in towncars like cockroaches when the kitchen light flips on. They don’t live in NY, they float above it. Many play at liberalism, supporting the cause of the day espoused by the Daily Show and donating to PBS, but they really have no way to care. They literally do not even see what is happening around them.

    New York had great pizza, enough to have America’s only professional pizza tour guide (though the city has fallen to a disgraceful third place nationally for pizza.) Amazing bagels. Shopping to die for, the museums, the energy. Broadway. But the list of what one has to put up with on a usual and customary basis to access all that grows worryingly longer, even without factoring in COVID. Street crime. Homelessness. A deteriorating public transportation system that gets more expensive to use proportionally as it gets less pleasant to use.

    Take a non-rush hour bus ride and you will almost certainly be forced to navigate someone with mental illness. A police force that has either pretty much given up doing anything more than keeping the combatants apart or is a racist invading army, depending on where you think. I love a great slice of pizza, but I also got beat up on my own block in what the cops said was some sort of gang initiation and I was damn lucky not to get seriously hurt.

    Add in the black slush lagoons that form on every street corner after a heavy snow as the plowed snow accumulates in vast heaps. The co-op apartment system where each building is like a mini-Vatican with its own rules and eccentricities. Some of the highest taxes in the country. Creaky infrastructure that leaks water, steam, gas, and electricity, sometimes all at once, to blend with the street gravy of the homeless.

    And what is the city government focused on? Doing away with the rigorous entrance exams at its elite high schools in hopes of balancing them racially. And of course defunding the police and realigning pronouns. The inmates are literally in charge; NYC did away with bail in favor of catch-and-release in most cases.

    That NYC’s problems exist in some form in other cities across America is nothing to be proud of. Rather, the prevalence is symbolic of America’s stubborn and globally unique insistence on not providing universal healthcare, of maintaining a tax-stock-economic system which brews economic inequality,  not controlling its immigration, and of not creating infrastructure jobs to bust poverty. The focus remains on NYC in part because of the city’s constant bleating that it is the greatest in the world.

     

    New York has never in its history pretended to be a warm and fuzzy place. It has always challenged its residents to accept a certain amount of guff in return for the shoulder tab “New Yorker.” But the line between that and watching people suffer in the streets is one now for me too far. I’m not alone; people are neither moving in to the city nor staying. A realtor friend in Florida says every phone call these days is from someone in Boston, Chicago, New York or the like. “They ask about schools,” he said. In the last year over 33,000 New Yorkers moved to Florida, a 32 percent increase from the same period the prior year. A drop in the bucket some may say until they realize about that same number of high earners pay 40 percent of the taxes in the city. Florida has no income tax.

    If I sound frustrated, like I should be doing a Jeep commercial for next year’s Super Bowl, it’s because I am. I was born here in New York, and have seen these up and down cycles before. This one seems like it will stick for a awhile. That’s enough right there. But this round, driven by a near completely terrible series of COVID decisions, is so clearly man-made. Most of it did not need to happen but it did. Living through it, I can’t say it made me a better man, a happier man, a more caring man. I don’t like what it did to me. Us.

    New York, like other large cities in the U.S. fails to understand what was done to it via COVID is no temporary change, even if some of the tourists dribble back in. No one will blow a whistle or yell “cut” and everything resets to March 2020. A profound change occurred in America. For the first time in history, where one lives and where one works have been decoupled. New York City no longer holds the record for most billionaires resident. That’s in Beijing now.

    I’ll miss some of the hustle, as well as the symphony of overheard interactions which end with “And f*ck you, too!” And I know New York will be back in some form post-COVID, but it will need in the interim to have a hard conversation with itself along the way. Playground for the rich? Island prison for the poor? Stumbling social experiment while the towers literally deteriorate around us all? As that famous song goes, “it’s up to you New York, Neeeeew Yoooork!” Just do it without me.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Visit to God’s Waiting Room

    December 26, 2020 // 4 Comments »

    I just finished my last visit with my father. Hard words to write after sixty years of my life with him being around.

    I wanted it to go like this: We sat together, maybe for the last time, in the driveway where I went from diapers to parking the car returning from Iraq, sand from there caught in my boot treads mingling with the soil I near-literally sprung from. We talked about baseball, how cigars used to taste before Mom made him quit, “my old man” stuff.

    His memory was sharp in places, lost forever in others, so a lot of what was communicated crossed via some other wires we’d created over the decades playing catch, winking across the table at my wedding, arguing together with some car salesman to save a hundred bucks. He’s old school enough not to have cried at the goodbye forced on us. Bye, dad.

    None of that actually happened. It was what I wanted so badly. Instead it went like this.

    How the hell did my parents end up here, some “assisted living facility” in some god-awful part of Central Florida removed from planet earth if not time itself. God’s Waiting Room, the locals only half joke. The place was a swamp drained nine months ago and I got lost looking for my parents’ “home” because all the damn identical streets were named after trees that never grew here. Mom and dad had ignored long ago some good advice and made some bad financial choices and moved around; last I checked Zillow it seems my childhood home was going on its fourth owner since I packed out.

    My father was dying of dementia, which isn’t really death as much as erasure while you wait around for the Pneumonia Fairy to come as she finally did. It’s not the funny kind of memory loss where he thinks I’m someone else (“It’s me, Dad!”) Instead, the memory loss strips out the mental filters that let us all live together, and old folks like dad blurt out things. You tell yourself he doesn’t mean it and really doesn’t even know he’s doing it, but you also so badly want his last words to you not to be a slurred “I make poopy.” It’s a mean disease.

    Like any good writer I looked around at what other people wrote in these circumstances. It seems most stories take the high road, a man with flaws, sure, but one who, fill in the blank, served his country, worked two jobs to raise two kids, was quiet but fair, something like that. The writer reviews lessons learned, picks out some vignette from childhood to illustrate wisdom or some salt of the earth stuff. If the writer is going full drama, he builds it all around some talisman, a gold watch passed down, a family mystery revealed when dad finally explains the origin of that old pocket knife he always carried. It’s yours now, son, take care of it.

    Or the essay becomes the place to once and for all get it out. Bruce Springsteen build an entire career on this, rapping about how dad was not really a nice guy and he grew up to be better in spite of him. Dad drank, or whacked mom, or gambled, and life was about getting out. Optional: you made up in the end.

    But I sat in that awful small room angry as hell over mediocrity. Even the smell, that hospital cleaning fluid smell that never quite overcomes the old people odor, pissed me off. I never had enough to love or hate. My father was cold enough, uninterested in my sister and I enough, but that was kind of the extent of it. He never beat us, never squandered the family Christmas money.

    Instead, he was home almost every night frozen in his chair watching television. This was before cable  and he’d watch hours of whatever was on those handful of channels. Because this was also before remote controls and he didn’t want to get up to change the channel, he’d just watch whatever CBS had on Tuesdays from after dinner until when he fell asleep. There wasn’t so much to love and admire, and there wasn’t enough to hate and inspire. He was edgeless and his seeming goal was to pass that one on by example.

    I was determined to be the nerdy kid until I finally realized it was a terrible way to meet girls and a good way to get beat up. But in elementary and some of junior high I so wanted to be what I imagined was “educated.” I was the one who went to the public library after school and had a nodding relationship with the workers there, my semi-imaginary friends who feigned a little interest in how I was doing like paid escorts are so good at. I’d take out the classics, famous volumes I’d learned about in the World Book encyclopedia, and spend days turning the pages. I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying, and why it took these old writers so long to say anything I did figure out.

    So I moved on to plod through 10,000 pages of Ayn Rand because some stoner kid said the band RUSH got all their ideas from her. I so wanted my dad to tell me about things, to argue with me about whatever existentialism was (it seemed to be what RUSH was singing about) but nah, TV time. As I got older and our interactions switched to long distance phone calls, the equivalent was me saying something about my week and dad replying “OK, here’s your mom.”

    His one interest was a basic understanding of the American Civil War. I couldn’t follow the complex back-and-forth on the maps at an early point, but I found some dramatically illustrated picture books that were my first taste of what porn does to your brain. Dad planned a family trip to Gettysburg nearly every summer I can remember as a child but we never went. There was never any real reason, like money or work, we just never went and at some point he just stopped wanting to go. I had no idea if dad’s last wish was to see the place or he’d dropped the idea himself in 1972 and just not mentioned it.

    A very few times (OK, that once) when we talked about “fatherhood” with me as an adult raising two kids of my own he laid out his theory of it all: the dad earns money. That’s kinda it. In return everyone should basically leave him alone. It seemed at one glance practical, maybe stoic and even noble. Dad missed the school play every year (I did drama club, too, jeez I really had a need for approval and attention now that I think of it) because food isn’t free. And we always had enough, a decent life with the essentials for sure.

    But as I grew older and faced the challenges of raising kids myself I realized that was the easy part. Going to work was not so hard. Trying to find the right thing to say to an eight year old who just got teased at school is hard. You wanna leave a mark on a kid? Sigh and get out of the chair to go out back and watch her try to go around more than twice with the Hula Hoop.

    But time did pass. I remember how near the end he got to climbing out of the car like it was a space capsule, his biggest part of the day sorting out his pills for the week. It was those memories that made me angry sitting in Central Florida. What a terrible place to end any life. Assisted living and its ilk are just stopping off points for Americans to go and die. I don’t know if there is such a vast industry of such commercial places in any other country but they are everywhere in Central Florida, in every price range (the industry itself is worth $420 billion nationwide.)

    A couple of years ago I looked at a few and they are all the same. The more expensive ones emphasize the food they serve but I didn’t know until recently many dementia patients basically starve to death. They forget they are hungry, they forget how to chew, and at some point they forget how to swallow. They spit their food out, perhaps trying to communicate it is too hot and not knowing the words, or they are just not sure what to do with the stuff. It is really, really hard to force an adult to open his mouth, chew, and swallow and get anywhere near enough nutrition in him. It is not a thing you want to do for a long time and it is hard to find people to do it for money even once in awhile. The docs can offer various vitamins and supplements but in the end nature always wins and the people just get weak and die. I think most of them, if they could articulate it, are happier to close their eyes at some point.

    About the last thing you can do with dementia folks is talk subtly about childhood and disappointments and anger. Dad seemed to slip and slide mentally around the room. He’d actually retained a handful of generic phrases to interject in pauses of conversation, things like “Interesting” that at first made it seem like he was engaged. It did not take too long to realize he was understanding less than my dog, who has taught herself to cock her head to one side when she sees me talking earnestly at her.

    You realize you’re actually talking to no one, and that makes you wonder why you are talking at all. What is the point now, decades after I’ve left home and become whoever I am at my own hand, of telling dad I’m pissed off we never did stuff together? I feel ungrateful, then angry again, then try and explain some of it to him, and he cocks his head and says “Interesting.”

    I’m not sure what I expected. Was I looking for an apology, “sorry I ran off with the circus, son?” Was I looking for benediction, a blessing, “looks like you pulled it off with your kids where I stumbled.” Am I eight years old again with a book in my hand knocking on the door one more time hoping he’ll tell me about Pickett’s Charge? I don’t know why I’m there so I just settle on being angry about it all. Central Florida is a terrible place to wrap up a life no matter how poorly lived.

    Then I left. Unlike in movies, nothing changed. People expect some sort of conclusion, a zingy line, a “wrapper,” a proper ending, not just running out of time years ago. You realize any of that had to have happened years ago and you realize that was as impossible as the man getting up out of bed now to do it. Instead you walk outside and everything is just going on as it does.

    Mom made me go through his clothes and things, saying maybe there was something I could use and I followed her request out of habit more than respect. I thought hard thoughts that day, and I failed to distract myself by watching the dust in the sun beam. I handled his things too roughly, angry he never was the man I wanted him to be, but worried at the same time that as much as I cursed the image in the old glossy photos I was afraid of what I saw in the reflection.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Fear and the Virus: We’re All Momo Now

    May 2, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     
    The COVID-19 virus turned us into a nation of Momo’s.
     

    Momo is my old rescue dog. She has BB-like pellets embedded under her skin. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She didn’t have to tell me that story but she did. She invents new fears all the time; like out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle, last week it was the the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything she has no fear of being run over, so you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living above those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of America.
     
    We have been practicing to be Momo. With 9/11 we took one terrible day and turned it into a terrible decade. There were real threats, we all saw the Twin Towers fall. But that was… it? We faced a collection of bumbling terrorists with underwear bombs that didn’t work and shoe bombs that didn’t work and dirty bombs that never existed, plus of course the handful of successful homegrowns closer to disgruntled and mentally ill than Islamic and jihadi. If things to be afraid of didn’t exist we’d be forced to invent them. That might help explain how fast all that terror stuff just kinda faded away when it wasn’t needed anymore. ISIS who?

    But before that we convinced ourselves of threats abroad that needed lashing out at (Momo has never snapped at anyone. It’s a flaw in this analogy.) That is handy, the lashing out justified by fear, because it means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination for killing millions of civilians, torturing people to madness, upending nation after nation, yadda yadda. We were scared, you guys! Sure, maybe we’re a little embarrassed for jumping under the table mid-Iraq War when Mom dropped the plate in the kitchen but nobody is going to tell the U.S. of A. it wasn’t justified at the time.

    We entered the Age of Trump in the worst of circumstances. Not only were we Momo-ized by 15 years of color-coded smoking guns being a mushroom cloud (and kudos to the author of that Bush-era catch phrase for the retro invocation of the Cold War) but we had honed social media to allow Momo’s across the country to encourage each others’ fears – “Hey, you guys afraid of the smell of pencils? I’ll just leave that here.”

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. Throw in Americans’ seeming need to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. If you live every day certain you’ll die if they serve one gluten it is easy to get spooked about something actually real. And don’t forget how over-protected we want to be, wiping down the gym like prepping for surgery and reading trigger warnings and dressing like cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks — this fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality as much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Then we get this Trump guy as a Bond-level super villain who was going to end democracy, make us speak Soviet, send the economy into a tailspin, trigger wars with China, Iran, and North Korea when he wasn’t trying to make peace with them which was somehow just as dangerous. Anyone who wasn’t a Nazi was a Russian ‘bot. Clearly a guy like this is to blame for not stopping cold a global pandemic at our shores. Social media allowed us to micro-personalize fear. Trump was going to end my rights (LGBT, abortion, something about toilets, guns, religion, concentration camps, fill-in-the-blank based on what is hiding under your bed.) We could have signature fears.

    You can actually watch it happen in real time. Over on Twitter people noticed Trump retweeted something about liberating Michigan, and using their online law degrees, determined that was the commission of an actual crime of “inciting violence.” A dozen others then tattled to Twitternannyman @jack saying Trump should be banned to save us all. That brought out the historians who decided Trump was trying to start a civil war, which was the trigger for the Constitutional experts to demand the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump from office that afternoon before the war began. From a retweet to the apocalypse in under three minutes. UPDATE: Nothing happened. All the fears were pointless.
     
    But anyway Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again and that was just for mostly made up stuff. Now we have enough of a real thing. Will we recruit Rosie the Riveter to beat the Nazis? No, we’ll just quarantine until our skin will become translucent for lack of sunlight. The face of this is Karen telling someone self-righteously they need to wear a yellow HAZMAT suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. People always find a new way to fear not enough — not enough tests, not enough ventilators, not enough beds, not enough food, whatever’s next. It doesn’t matter the fatal shortages did not materialize yet. The virus could mutate! There’s a second wave coming! Best to stay tense, dog, you will never get back to normal.

    C’mon, just between us, forget about Trump for a minute. Does a virus falling well behind super killers like car crashes and cancer really really really demand upending literally everything in our life? Shutting down schools? Throwing 22 million people out of work? Stopping down our most basic rights? And if anyone says yes, explain why we didn’t do it for past pandemics like H1N1. Imagine George W. Bush deciding post-9/11 no one could go to work or school for “national security reasons,” that we could not protect all those locations from the terrorists or something. It seems silly in retrospect but we’re doing it today. We’re so afraid we no longer can distinguish between prudence and over-reaction. It just seems easier to stay at home than to see if the woods really have bears in them.

    We are somewhat lucky. The most powerful people in our nation just want money. Jeff Bezos has no inherent desire to harm us directly. We still have some value to him, as temporary workers until the robots come and of course to order things. A mild uptick in the market saw Jeff’s net worth leap $24 billion dollars in one day. Fear is currency, and profiting off the pandemic the new status symbol.

    Politically, more luck. The next president has limited ambitions. Trump seems content thinking he’s in charge and busting chops, and Joe Biden’s ambition is to um, something. They’re not the kind of people who would really run with this fear thing. They seem content with the status quo of fear, enough to make people compliant, but not so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. But imagine a bad boy in charge like Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon or John Brennan, a strong man to protect us, an evil man who understands the power of fear.
     
    I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a number of different countries. They have problems, sometimes serious ones similar to ours. But they don’t seem to have Momo-ized, where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from the panic that shuts down the point of living.

    Maybe this is because less is uncertain for them. Most have health care, social nets, pensions, day care, stuff like that. Their people start the day worrying less in general than most Americans. Maybe that has something to do with this. For now, it’s hard to feel excited living in a nation of paranoid agoraphobics passing their remaining time slathered in Purell scolding their neighbor for forgetting his mask when out walking Momo. It’s not a healthy way to live.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    A Broken Asylum System, and How We Ended Up With Kids in Cages

    July 17, 2019 // 8 Comments »


    How did we end up with kids in cages? We put them there, across multiple administrations, and created a politicized immigration and asylum system that constrains better options. So time to stop saying this isn’t who we are and start looking beyond the hysteria.

    There are givens. Immigration restrictions are not inherently racist. All countries have borders. They have to so they can make decisions about who can enter their country and who can be a citizen.

    No nation allows people to simply move in. Every border globally is designed to place a barrier in between those allowed and those who are not. At the same time, most economies depend on the cheap labor of immigrants. For most of the developed world, labor needs are worked out via a points system that admits a regulated number of workers with designated skills coupled with border enforcement. The U.S. instead focuses on “reunification,” with family members legally in the country petitioning for relatives with unknown skills to immigrate (do we get the brother with the 4.0 GPA or the one with 3.0 murders under his belt?) Our borders have historically then been left porous to ensure an adequate number of exploitable workers. But since the number of people drawn to work usually exceeds the demand, our immigration laws also place speed bumps in front of the many, many people around the globe who want to try their luck. Inevitably you end up with kids in cages.

    Bill Clinton’s 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act set new records for immigrants detained. Next up was George W. Bush’s 2005 Operation Streamline, a zero-tolerance plan to prosecute all illegal entrants. But to avoid the logistics and negative optics, the program made exceptions not written into the law for adults traveling with children. Nature finds a way, and more and more economic migrants arrived with somebody’s child in hand as a Get Out of Jail Free card. Fewer kids in cages, but more illegals.

    Obama initially prosecuted only those found illegally entering more than once. Caught off guard by an influx of asylum seekers from Central America, the administration in 2014 established then-legally permitted family detention centers to hold parents and children — potentially indefinitely — in cages as a means of deterring others. There were also children held alone in cages when they arrived without parents, or in the hands of human traffickers, or when their parents were criminally dangerous. The program ended only because of a 2016 court decision ordering the release of most of those hostage families and largely prohibiting family detention facilities. Adult men, women, and children, would be caged separately in the future.

    The whole Obama program got little media attention, although kids were in cages, mostly at the same facilities in use today. The holding facility at Clint, for example, currently a focal point for progressives, has been open since 2013. It was set up specifically for children. Fort Sill, Oklahoma, housed Japanese-American detainees during WWII, 1200 immigrant children during the Obama years, and will reopen to again take in immigrant children for Trump. Immigrant rights activists dubbed Obama “deporter in chief” for having deported more immigrants than any president. He still holds the title because his administration deported more migrants per year than Trump.

    While many children at the border are with parents, others arrive with human traffickers, some on their own. “Children” can include everyone from infants to 17 year old “boys,” and the dangers of housing those vulnerable people among adults of all types should make it obvious why the law is written as it is. While on the face a nice solution sounds like “parents with their own kids,” imagine the terrible things that can happen when children and adults are detained together.  Also under Trump, parents arrested at the border are criminally charged with illegal entry. Due process laws do not allow children to be kept with the parent because the child is not being criminally prosecuted.

     

    Trump set out in April 2018 to prosecute every illegal crosser, first or tenth time, with or without kids, the letter of the law. There had been a growing rise in the number of people from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) along with Mexico. For example, the border patrol detained 6,405 unaccompanied children in May 2018, up from 4,302 in April. In comparison with May 2017, the number of unaccompanied children soared by 329% and parents migrating with kids as a family surged by 435% in 2018.

    By law now children and adults cannot be detained together; it was allowed during the Obama years and earlier under the Flores Settlement. Most parents arrested at the border are criminally charged with illegal entry. Due process laws do not allow children to be kept with the parent because the child is not being prosecuted. Overall, interpreting what these laws say must be done versus can be done to end up at what should be done draws some very fine, politically-motivated legal lines.

    What is clear is by ending the various catch-and-release, and ignore and don’t catch policies of his predecessors, Trump triggered the next variation on an old problem. With no legal avenue to immigrate for work, and with border enforcement stopping many from simply walking north and blending into the estimated 11 million illegals already in the U.S., a vast number of economic migrants now ask for asylum. They are aided by for-illegal profit asylum cartels, staff from a Democratic Congresswoman’s office, and volunteer American lawyers.

     

    Asylum applicants must demonstrate if sent home they would be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. The definition of those five protected grounds has varied based on American domestic politics. For example, since 1994, LGBT status has been a possible grounds of asylum. Victims of domestic violence were granted consideration for asylum under the Obama administration, rolled back under Trump. However, asylum never has been and was never intended to stretch to security or economic situations affecting blanket-like most everyone in a country. “Wanting a better life” has never been grounds for an asylum claim.

    However, economic immigrants without legitimate claims to asylum have long taken advantage of slow processing by American authorities. A Mexican man caught on the border who says he came just to work may be sent back almost immediately. However, should he make a claim to asylum, the U.S. is obligated to adjudicate his case, however frivolous (there are potential expedited processes.)

     

    The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act requires those seeking asylum be detained while their cases are processed. But for logistical and political reasons, prior administrations simply released most asylum seekers into American society to wait. Asylum seekers become eligible for work authorization if their case has been pending for more than 150 days, as almost all do. Trump has directed the letter of the law be followed, ending this catch-and-release system. He also has negotiated for many asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico instead of working the while in the U.S.

    The problem is the backlogs are unresolvable. Affirmative asylum seekers, such as most of those now at the border, apply administratively through DHS. The number of such pending cases as of January 2019 was 325,277, more than 50 times higher than in January 2010. Defensive seekers are those applying for asylum once facing deportation or removal for some reason, including being denied under an earlier affirmative application. These cases go through the courts. As of July 2018, there were over 733,000 pending. The average wait time for a hearing was a staggering 721 days.

    The approval rates for asylum claims are low, and always have been. Some recent figures for Mexican claimant approvals are 12%, Salvadorans 21%, Honduras 22%, and Guatemalans 26%. Those countries account for more than 40% of asylum applications, and have for some time. The high refusal rates, while up under Trump, are not at odds historically. In 1984, only 3% of asylum cases from El Salvador and Guatemala were granted, even as U.S.-sponsored wars raged there. Approval rates for all nationalities over the past decade average only 28%, skewed high over recent years by waves of cases designed to pander to general U.S. voters (Chinese pro-democracy applicants) and evangelical voters (Chinese anti-One Child Policy applicants.)

     

    But as we talk there are still kids in cages. None of this is to defend the conditions in detainee camps. Those are a result of a sudden shift in implementation of immigration law coupled with a lack of infrastructure planning, driven by a president who impulsively wants to be seen as “tough” facing down a problem, all backed by an asylum system no longer suited for the conditions imposed on it. Conditions can be quickly improved, and the House just voted $4.6 billion to do that.

    But we need also acknowledge the dangers in 2019 of hysteria, driven by media and progressive politicians exploiting the situation to paint themselves as liberating another concentration camp on the road to Berlin, when the immediate solutions are more in line with hygiene kits and child care workers. And no whataboutism. Under Obama we tolerated kids in cages. Without that tolerance then we would not have the intolerant situation now.

    But there are deeper dangers. Progressives don’t want to fix Trump’s logistical mistakes (AOC and others voted against the recent humanitarian funding increases.) The camps must not be made more humane, they say, they must be closed. Deportations must not be limited, they must be ended by decriminalizing illegal entry. Free medical care for illegal immigrants. Asylum to economic migrants. Abolish ICE. Open borders.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s immigration policies resonate with important sectors of the public. Some 60% of likely voters support efforts to “prevent migrants from making fraudulent asylum claims and being released into the country.” This does not grow from racism or white supremacy (Latinos support much of the Republican immigration agenda), though using those words is an easy way to blame people impacted by decades of imposed change and delete them from the conversation on how to do better.

    The driver seems to be the imposition by elites of an uncounted number of illegal immigrants with unknown skills and unknown criminal backgrounds to have an unknown impact on the places they choose to settle. Do we get the guy with the 4.0 GPA or the one who committed 4.0 murders? We are destined — required — to take the bad with the good, scatter them around the country, and hope for the best.

    So when economic turmoil in Mexico during the early 1990s pushed migrants north, just as war in Central America drove them in the 1980s, and gang violence does today, in America there is no plan. Tired, consumed, with resources stretched, there was a backlash building Trump sensed and acted on. As Trump was unprepared at the border and told DHS to make do, America for decades has been unprepared and told to make due. A de facto open border similar to 2015 Europe imposed by progressives would have the same effect here as there, leading to a new, even more conservative backlash.

     

    The peak year for legal immigration to America was 1907. Your great-grandfather entered an agricultural and rapidly industrializing nation desperate for workers with no time to waste putting kids in cages. To get them out today we need more than olde timey nostalgia and modern outrage. We need a 21st century asylum and immigration policy.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    A Mini-Lesson in US Immigration History

    June 11, 2019 // 7 Comments »


     
    I am dying of stupidity reading progressive “takes” on immigration.

    Abolish ICE! Every country in the world that has the means to control its borders does so. The US is no different. Every country that can has rules about who it accepts and in what numbers. You, for example, cannot just pick up and move to Canada ’cause you wanna. The merit (points-based) systems progressive decry as fascism are used by “fascist” countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, across the EU, etc.
     
    But muh grandpa came to this country without on $1 in his pocket and no English and was welcomed!?!?!

    Our period of unfettered immigration into the US was brief, with any serious volume occurring from about 1870-1920 (Ellis Island opened in 1892, replacing the previous main processing facility in New York, Castle Clinton), and coincided with a huge demand for unskilled labor driven by industrialization, western expansion as we killed off the Native Americans and needed to fill their lands with farms, and the end of slavery coupled with efforts to not readily allow those freed slaves into the new economy. At the same time, horrible conditions in, serially, Ireland, eastern Europe, and Italy made waves of people available to immigrate into really horrid conditions waiting for them in the US.

    As for numbers, and the fear that the US is no longer “welcoming” immigrants, the numbers reveal the truth. The peak year for admission (adjusted for one-time special programs such as those in place post-Vietnam) of new immigrants was 1907, when approximately 1.3 million people entered the country legally. The number has hovered around a million a year for the past two decades. During the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s legal immigration was about half what it has been since. Illegal/undocumented immigration numbers have swelled dramatically since the 19th century as cheaper travel and rising prosperity across much of the world has made travel easier and more possible for many.

    We did not “welcome” your grandpa; we shunted him into slums and paid him as little as possible to work in dirty and dangerous jobs for us, all the while calling him kike, polack, greaseball, hynie, and the rest. No one cared about preserving immigrant culture; newcomers faced enormous pressure to abandon their native languages and learn English if they wanted better jobs. They could either isolate into ghettos or assimilate into the mainstream culture. The latter if they wanted to get ahead. Google how many Irish died digging the canals and building the levees around New Orleans. Read up on how immigrant children were worked in factories before you wail about “concentration camps” on the Mexican border that no longer feature sports programs.

    “Not who we are?” Bullshit, it is who we always have been.
     
    Those were unique historical circumstances and our (lack of) immigration laws in the period matched. The race-based restrictions which followed just happened to coincide with economic changes and eventually the Great Depression that required fewer unskilled workers. Racism played a part in deciding which immigrants to cut, but not in the decisions to cut immigration.

    In simple words: Most of what people believe about immigration is myth. Myth is a bad basis for policy. Immigration policy, like economic policy, defense policy, etc., is meant to help the nation. It is not a global charity (that’s refugee policy, a separate thing.) When immigration helped the nation, it was matched to our economic situation. The current immigration laws, which favor relatives of those already here regards of their skills and abilities, do not match America’s current economic need for highly skilled workers. We should adjust the laws to fit the current circumstances as we have done before.

    It is just too easy to forget history and apply 2019-think to what really happened. So please don’t.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    After Jeff Bezos, Everyone in America is Now a Victim

    February 15, 2019 // 16 Comments »


     

    “I didn’t think we’d see this for a few more years, but this Bezos thing put us over the top,” said Department of Homeland Security Director of Victims Ronald Devine, accompanied by his support dog and her personal support kitten.

    “It’s 100% as of today. Every American is now classified — officially — as a victim.”
     

    Devine explained the final holdout were super-wealthy, white, straight, older men, led by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos was once seen by most observers as victim-proof, given his fierce Caucasianess. Yet revelations this week he was not actually a philandering old dude caught sending pathetic nude pics to his younger trophy mistress while still married to the woman who worked beside him for decades while they built Amazon together, shocked a nation.

    “Bezos is a victim,” stated every blue-check, which includes all previously designated victim-Millennials. “His phone, we heard from Seth, was hacked by the Russians on orders from Trump because Bezos’ Washington Prime Post writes journalism about Trump, so Trump ordered the Russians to trick Bezos to take photos of mini-Jeff.”

    “And that did it,” said DHS Director of Victims Devine. “We had previously categorized only about 50% of the entire population as victims until we looped in all women except Melania, who social media feels sort of deserves it. Then it was the creation of ‘People of Color’ being victims, a super victim smoothie that ties together the whole Pantone scale from a Chinese billionaire to a Dominican guy delivering food.

    “Of course black folks were brought in after Black Panther told their origin story, same as Star Wars once did for white people. All immigrants and their grandchildren who write college entrance essays were entitled to victim status for years. Same for Native Americans, though the category now includes all older men who wear overly large turquoise jewelry and bolos.

    “We’d already counted all veterans and their grandchildren who write college entrance essays as victims. It once was just those Vietnam guys rocking handlebar mustaches down at the VFW who all needed to blame their drinking problem, their cheating problem, and their buying cars at 21% interest problem on something, but now anyone who did two years as a supply clerk at Fort Hood is in. You don’t need to even show any paperwork anymore; just get a Support the Troops sticker on your car, or, south of the Fairfax County line in Virginia, fly that POW flag in your front yard.

    “Most of the rest of Americans — I think it got us into the 90% percentile — made it to be victims when we started adding letters to being gay. In the old days we just had the guys from the drama club at Brett Kavanaugh’s old high school. The category jumped when LGBT became so many letters. LGBTQIA added queer, intersex, and asexual. We also have U for unsure, C for curious, another T for transvestite, TS or 2 for two-spirit persons, P for polyamorous, and O for other. The initialism LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual) covered most of California and parts of Austin.
     

    “Another step forward toward 100% victimization was a decision to merge ‘survivors’ and ‘community’ with ‘victims.’ There’s a ton of crossover you know. People who had a suspicious mole removed from their back now qualify as cancer survivors, and everyone that knows them forms a cancer survivor community supporting their struggle, see. And then once you could purchase that kind of thing by typing your credit card number into a GoFundMe, it was like the Big Bang of shared victimhood.

    “So really all that was left were super-wealthy, white, straight, older men. We at this office had been keeping an eye on them for some time, and thought they’d made the jump into victim status when Trump claimed avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was ‘his Vietnam.’ But for some reason that didn’t catch. Funny, given how nearly every super-wealthy, white, straight male of his generation would have been under that umbrella alongside those college deferments. Same as that Esquire article about American boys everyone flipped out on. Nonetheless, it is, once again I may add, Jeff Bezos who leads us into the future. Him being the victim, his very privacy lost, brings every single person in America into victim status. We did it, people. There still is that American Dream. This rejects the Trumpian view of the world.
     

    “So effective immediately, some changes. We’ve ordered millions of ‘Do Not Pet’ reflective vests for Americans to wear themselves to avoid unwanted touching at work. Otherwise, no more clothing with words on it. Every pet and most house plants are now officially designated as support animals. No more need to buy those fake ID cards for Rover off Amazon.

    “Things are gonna get crazy at the airport, because after the crew boards everyone with a branded credit card and local municipal employees in uniform, 100% of the remaining passengers are going to qualify for preboarding and extra time. We may need to create new, expansive forms of social media. I know one already being tested is called SJWMobster. I can imagine mandatory VLOGs. It’s difficult to see Joe Pesci’s career advancing, but there will be huge opportunities in sensitivity training. And we gotta add about 8000 words to the First Amendment to define hate speech so we can ban it. We can expect ‘raising awareness’ to become the number one major at America’s colleges, and setting up a GoFundMe our fastest growing job title.

    “What’s ahead? I think the new frontier in America is going to be celebrities, who have already been victims for a long time owing to the pressures they face earning millions of dollars and having to do drugs, using some of the new victim coaches out there to grow themselves into more varied categories of victimhood. There will be a lot of competition to book those who can tick the boxes in three or more categories.

    “We’ll be busy sorting out who we should be boycotting, given the competing victim statuses creating new categories of multiverse victims for nearly every piece of music, literature or film ever made. Here at the Department of Homeland Security we have already created a new sub-ministry of truth that is even now working through everything ever published to unoffend it double-quick. We may just close all the libraries and let Amazon decide what’s safe to read now that all victims finally have a voice.

    “With 100% of Americans enjoying victim totalitarianism, somebody is being hurt, retraumatized, triggered or disrespected right now as I speak, maybe just because I am speaking. How will we as a nation deal with that? I mean, it’s not like we can just laugh at all this, right?”
     
     

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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Trump, Privatization, and the Passion of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin

    April 15, 2018 // 28 Comments »

    As some seek to further privatize veterans health care, with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, sacrifices will have to be made. Let’s hope few fall on the veterans themselves.


    Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin once held the title of least controversial Cabinet secretary in the Trump Administration. He was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 100-0, and for most of his time in office enjoyed broad bipartisan support as he sought to reform veterans’ health care.

    That all changed for the lone Obama Cabinet holdover when Donald Trump sacrificed Shulkin on March 28 in favor of White House physician Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson. Though pushed out ostensibly over a damning ethics report, Shulkin’s story is really one of whether or not further privatizing health care for veterans is the right way to fix a damaged institution. Shulkin being pushed out is a big story that has been both understated and oversimplified in the press as mostly just another episode of the Trump chaos soap opera.

    Shulkin himself pulls no punches. “I believe differences in philosophy deserve robust debate, and solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing VA health services, however, reject this approach,” wrote Shulkin after his dismissal. “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

    Despite the quick-fix appeal of privatization in the face of a VA clearly not meeting fully the needs of its population (Shulkin took over the VA in the wake of a report citing a “corrosive culture that has led to poor management, a history of retaliation toward employees, cumbersome and outdated technology, and a shortage of doctors, nurses and physical space to treat its patients”), is a system morphing toward “Medicare for veterans” the answer?

    In its simplest form, privatization means that instead of seeking care at a VA facility at little-to-no charge, veterans would be free to visit any health care provider in the private sector, with Uncle Sam picking up most of the tab. The VA would shift from directly providing care in its own facilities to become the insurance company of dreams. In many cases long waits to access a VA facility would diminish, veterans in rural areas would most likely have less of a travel burden, and patients could better match their needs to a provider. The latter could be especially important to LGBTQ veterans. It’s hard to argue against choice.


    The issue is money. According to one report, moving vets to private providers would double spending in the immediate term. By 2034, the cost of VA health care could be as high as $450 billion, compared to a baseline of less than $100 billion. And even those numbers may be too low; as Vietnam-era vets require more expensive end-of-life care, and as waves of veterans from the past 17 years of the War on Terror enter the system, costs will rise. The challenge is clear; between 2002 and 2013, the number of annual VA outpatient visits nearly doubled to 86.4 million. Hospital admissions — the biggest driver of costs — rose 23%.

    Under any calculus veterans health care is big money and proponents of privatization want to pull as much of it as possible into the commercial sector. But where would the money come from? Major veterans’ organizations opposing additional privatization worry disability benefits and other core VA programs such as education would be cut back. Others speculate a privatized VA system would quickly go the way of civilian insurance, with limited networks, increased co-pays, and complex referral systems, all as a way of passing increasing costs on to the patient. As for many under Obamacare, vets would be caught in the gap between being able to have insurance, and being able to afford health care. Choice can come at a price.


    The specialized needs of many veterans are part of the reason for the specialized veterans’ health care system. Despite much justified criticism, the VA serves the needs of many of its patients well. In the critical area of psychology, VA performance was rated superior to the private sector by more than 30%. Compared with individuals in private plans, veterans with schizophrenia or major depression were more than twice as likely to receive appropriate initial medication treatment. RAND concluded separately “the quality of care provided by the VA health system generally was as good as or better than other health systems on most quality measures.”

    The VA also has expertise in prosthetics, burns, polytrauma, and spinal injuries rare in civilian life. The VA has a lifetime relationship with its patients, leading to broader implementation of preventive care and better integration of records. These advantages could be lost as more choice under a largely privatized system could result in significantly less choice at the VA in areas where it matters most.

    The risk is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as increased privatization will inevitably mean shuttering some VA facilities. The solution lies in a system which pairs the best of privatization with a reformed government-run veterans health care system. Paring off some services into the private sector while retaining those unique to the VA, all to the satisfaction of Congress, demands an administrator with extraordinary bureaucratic skills. The Trump administration was very likely wrong when it decided Shulkin was not that man.

    Though painted as a solid opponent of privatization, as he was fired Shulkin was already pushing the VA to further privatize its audiology and optometry programs. He oversaw change that led to 36% of VA medical appointments being made in the private sector. Shulkin’s Veterans Choice Program (VCP) allowed access to private doctors where the VA couldn’t provide specialized care, when wait times exceeded standards, or when travel to a VA facility represented a hardship. Shulkin was advocating for the program’s expansion when both his funding and his tenure ran out.

    The VCP program was consistently underfunded, in part due to the unpredictability of month-to-month expenses that will plague any privatized system. However, some of the underfunding was political; one holdout was Senator Jerry Moran. Moran wanted the program tapered off in lieu of his own bill calling for the greater leaps into privatization Shulkin remained skeptical of.

    As Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin was an experienced medical administrator who had specialized in health care management at some of the nation’s largest hospitals. The new secretary nominee, Dr. Ronny Jackson, is a fine Navy doctor who has served two presidents, but comes to the job with no experience with an organization the size and complexity of the VA, already the government’s second-largest agency.


    Questions will be asked at what will no doubt be contentious confirmation hearings about whether Jackson can rise to the challenge, or if privatization advocates will take advantage of him to rush ahead with their own preferred changes, to their own financial gain.

    Hanging in the balance? Nine million veterans who rely on the VA for life-sustaining care in return for the sacrifices they have made.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    ISIS Terror Alert: ‘We Will Crush Christmas with Star Wars Spoilers’

    December 24, 2017 // 5 Comments »

    jarjar


    Declaring a literal “War on Christmas,” the Holy Trump Fighters Righteous Hand of God Brigade of the Islamic State issued a chilling threat for this Christmas: they plan to ruin the season for holiday moviegoers everywhere by posting detailed lists of spoilers online for the new Star Wars movie.


    In a rambling statement delivered in front of a cheesy animated flying stars background made from an old Windows 95 screensaver, holding a numbered replica of the bloody, severed head of Jar Jar Binks complete with a certificate of authenticity from LucasFilm, a Brigade spokesjihadi issued the following:

    “We will bring down the infidel’s entertainment, the puerile space drama many of you pigs will seek to watch on your so-called holy day.”

    “Even as I speak, our most holy hackers are breaking through the firewalls of the infidel websites of CNN, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and HillaryClinton.com. Come Christmas morning, the western whore Cindy Lou and others will awake to read each and every spoiler in 36 point type, set amongst animated GIFs. You will feel as if Allah is melting away the flesh of a virgin Leia and allowing it to drip upon you.”

    “Oh, you say, I have a fancy plug-in that will not allow me to see anything spoiler-esque about the Star Wars! Hah hah hah, Allah has blessed us, because that plug-in was created by us! It will push our spoilers into the very heart of your Internet experience, as well as any new PS4’s you unwarp. XBox, that’s still cool, we love Halo out here to relax after a beheading, or when the goats grow weary.”

    “So suck on this infidels and blasphemers — this year, the Force is with us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    “Also, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Review: Springsteen on Broadway

    December 13, 2017 // 8 Comments »

    With Netflix showing this very concert Sunday, December 16, I am re-running my review of the live performance from last year.

     

    Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show now running through February in New York City, is something extraordinary. A man who has entertained us our whole lives stands on a stage for two hours and confesses his sins, asks for our forgiveness, offers an apology, and opens his heart to a room of people about what it means to acknowledge you’re closer to the end than the beginning.

    I almost wrote “a room full of strangers,” but that would not have been true. We all grew up with different parents in different towns, and went to different schools together, but we knew each other. Despite our differences, we grew up hearing the same stories, listening to these same songs. And now, he at age 68 and most of us in our 50’s it seemed, it was time to make amends.

    I’d heard some of this before – at AA meetings where people working through their 12 Step Programs had to admit what they had done, the people they had hurt, and seek forgiveness. Bruce stood up and apologized for allowing Born in the USA to become an anthem; he sought amends tonight by telling us it should have always been sung as a protest song, that it always was to him, but he let it slip away. So tonight he took that back, hitting the line “son, you don’t understand” hard, maybe directed at himself back in 1984 trying to ride the tiger of fame, maybe at himself as a young man dodging the draft and wondering when he visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington decades later who was sent in his place. Calling his own career “frivolous” in the face of such sacrifice, Bruce was pissed off up there tonight singing, no, shouting the lyrics.

    Age is omnipresent as a theme – maybe we ain’t that young anymore – right down to the construction of the unchanging set list; of the 15 songs, three of them come from the Born to Run album, published when Bruce was only 26 years old, one from earlier than that (Growing Up), and another from before he turned 30 (Promised Land.) For a career that spanned 45 years and counting, it’s telling that a 68 year old Springsteen chose a third of the set from that youthful period. As Bruce said tonight, there’s less blank paper for us to write on.

    “I have never held an honest job in my entire life. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never done any hard labor. And yet this is all that I’ve written about. I have become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something of which I personally have had no practical experience,” Bruce confessed or apologized or maybe both, confusing us further by delivering the sentences in his odd acquired Midwestern drawl that sounds like nobody in New Jersey. These thoughts could explain the absence from the show of any of Bruce’s material from Ghosts of Tom Joad, the industrial songs from The River and Darkness, the American folklore tunes, and the Seeger sessions. He had to leave a lot out to make it all fit on Broadway, but those omissions seemed purposeful, not merely practical.

    Maybe those tunes were left out because they really weren’t his own; he owned the emotions there as a character but not the biography, and tonight was all about biography. A lot of this has hummed around the edges of Bruce’s performances for years; he was already working out his emotions over his unloving father on stage as a kind of rap meditation when I first saw him perform in 1978. But tonight when he imitated his father telling him to go away as a young Bruce was sent to fetch him from some bar – “don’t bother me here, don’t bother me here” – that was an 8 year old on stage mimicking an adult. If it was Bruce acting for us, it was Academy Award-quality, because the pain as present as the sweat that popped out involuntarily on his forehead.

    Bruce’s autobiography, published last year, covered a lot of what he’s saying on Broadway, and parts of his speeches tonight were nearly verbatim quotes from the book. But it was clear the book, the words, weren’t enough without the music. Springsteen’s a poet, but his poetry is meant to be played, not read.

    The unexpected musical highlight of the evening was Promised Land, framed around a retelling of Bruce’s first long car trip out of Jersey, one that took him across the great western deserts. Bruce made no secret that the promise he saw in America then remained unfulfilled now in what he described as a dark chapter in American politics. He finished the song, updated from 1978 to 2017 in those few words, aside the mic, singing and playing without amplification directly to the hushed crowd. It was as if he was singing to each of us as individuals, and it was meant to be so. Unlike the other songs, applause waited for a moment of silence to pass after the last chord faded. The universe of people who had previously heard Bruce Springsteen sing to them unamplified just grew exponentially.

    Unlike a typical Springsteen concert, where anything less than three hours is a short cut, and four hours on stage more common, the Broadway show was about two hours, with a definitive ending. No encores. It was tight, maybe even felt a bit rushed. Not like Bruce was trying to cram in everyone’s favorite songs and still get home for the news, but that he had a lot to say and knew he didn’t have a lot of time to say it. The end is coming even though we don’t know exactly when, so you listen up now.

    While the tickets cost a fortune, and while Bruce was careful to throw in a few stagy tunes (Dancing in the Dark didn’t fit otherwise except maybe to pump up the crowd for the finale), much of what happened in the theater wasn’t for us. We didn’t show up to see him as much as he seemed to need us to show up so he’d have someone to talk with. It’s something Bruce maybe didn’t even know he told us about in his autobiography, but when you see the book as a whole, his adult life has been all about crippling bouts of depression relieved only by maniacal touring and marathon shows. You could imagine if it was somehow magically possible, Bruce would have liked to deliver this show to each of us individually, maybe in the kitchen, with little more than the light off the stove to give some space between us. Gathering everyone into a theater was a necessary but unwanted logistical thing.

    The evening was as dark and sad and as necessary as a last hospital visit with an old friend. Bruce wanted to know – he asked – if he’d done OK by us, had he been a “good companion.” We’d made him very rich, allowed him as he joked to never have to hold a job in his life, indulged him through the low periods, let him sneak some mediocre material in here and there. Twice he accused himself of being a fraud, saying he’d never been inside a factory in his life. But it’s time now not to focus on a bad track or a disappointing night, but take that long walk. We’re tired, we’re old, we’re at the point where there is more to look back on than to look forward to. So did he do OK by us? Was it… enough?

    Yeah, Bruce, it was enough. The show finished where things started really, with Born to Run. It was on side B of his third album and it was 1975 when it came out. And everyone in the audience heard it a first time a different time, but now, 42 years passed, we were all hearing it together. Every one of us, and by God that had to include Bruce, heard a hundred versions of that song in that moment, our lives flashing before us. Born to Run on a car radio, our hand slipping a satin bra strap aside. Born to Run in some foreign dive bar, reminding us we were forever tied to who we are no matter how far we’d run ourselves. The DJ played Born to Run at our wedding even though there is no way anyone can dance to it. Born to Run the first time one of our kids asked “What’s that, it’s not bad” and every time we heard it on 8-track, cassette, LP, CD, MP-3 and had to face the warm embrace and cold slap of never being 16 years old again.

    Bruce’s message was clear and true, and he made sure we got it: I may not be doing this much longer. The weight of it all – the bad father, the love lost, the hate and pain collected, that marriage gone wrong – feels heavier than it used to. So, Bruce seemed to say, I’m going to get these things together for you and hand them over during these two hours. After that, they’ll be yours to take care of.

    In a way, they always were.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    #Metoo is for Me, Too

    November 28, 2017 // 7 Comments »



    As a young man I was the victim of unwanted sexual attention from someone in Hollywood. In the intervening decades I never told anyone what happened. I know the name of the man who did this to me, but I am not sure what to do with that.


    I landed a summer internship with a major studio, out of a Midwestern college in the 1980s where people simply did not talk much about sexuality. One of the only men at the school who was open about being gay was considered something of a political celebrity on campus. I am a straight man, what today people dismiss sarcastically as boring CIS binary old white bread.

    I knew no one in California. The man who played me was in a position to help me in all sorts of ways, and he sometimes did. He was generous with advice and what seemed to be friendship. Things changed as I remember him showing me the thick binders of aspiring actors and actresses’ head shots, him lingering on the beefcake images and making jokes about how he knew a no-name young shirtless actor, who since went on to some modest roles. The man complimented me on the way I looked, and “accidentally” touched my arms, especially on the days I wore short sleeves. I was very naive and it wasn’t until the invitation to take a drive out into the desert that I finally realized what was happening.

    I distanced myself from him via a rotational program that sent me to another office. It never occurred to me to say anything. For anyone who questions the value of Human Resources in 2017, it was called just Personnel then and did little more than process tax forms. After I moved to the new department, the man called me a few times, showed up at my new office to “say hi” more than once, and invited me to lunch, parties, events, and a place he kept in Palm Springs long after he knew I would say no. He was older than me, and married to a woman at the time. He wrote me a nice letter of recommendation, which I shamelessly and selfishly used to get a future job.


    After I left California, he sent me occasional photos, often just in beachwear. A string of late night phone calls that woke me up, always with an apology that he’d mistaken the time difference – again – between California and the east finally made me realize who I was and what he was when he looked at me like a meal. I think my new-found hostility coupled with his growing boredom (perhaps there was a new intern?) convinced him to leave me alone.

    I never heard from him again after that last unwanted call. I have had no contact with him for decades, and I wonder if he would see this article if he’d even have any idea who I am.

    I don’t think of myself as a survivor, or anything like that. But some of my adult bitterness has roots in what happened. Nobody just walks away. I did learn a lot. I learned about fear and insecurity, and because I was ashamed of myself, I learned how to keep my mouth shut while for years people said to me in response to all sorts of terrible things in the news “Well, you don’t know what it feels like” when I did.

    I wrestled for some time with the idea that I had done something wrong – this took place in a world away when even in Hollywood people didn’t show all their cards to strangers, and some careful back and forth signaling was not uncommon if one party found another of the same sex attractive. Maybe I sent out the wrong signals, maybe I didn’t realize I had to say no unambiguously much earlier than I finally did. Maybe at some level I enjoyed the attention, drawing a line in my mind that didn’t exist in his between the non-sexual and sexual.

    The events of the past weeks brought all of this back from the dark place in memory where I had left it. I was able to make peace with myself long ago, but the complexity of emotions these days still surprised me.

    It took me a moment to pull his name forward, though his face came readily into my mind once I let that happen. Some Googling of a person I had not thought of for many years tells me he’s still in the movie business, doing well, though by no means an A Lister. You’ve heard of some of the projects he has worked on, and he is very active with charities. Turns out he played an important behind-the-scenes role in a TV series I really enjoyed watching with my kids when they were younger. He has some minor connections with the Democratic party. In the current climate, the story might make the news.

    If I say his name.


    I tried to think why it would make sense now to say who he is. If I said his name and Twitter caught it, I’d have a chance to tell everyone I did it for those who can’t stand up, to empower others, those things people seem to know just how to say now when the cameras come on. Maybe someone else would find comfort knowing they are not alone, but I really doubt the world needs my story to understand unwanted sexual attention is rampant. Maybe people would say I am brave and put me on a talk show. We don’t like to acknowledge it, but in 2017 there can be profit in being a victim, and sensationalism for its own sake is part of the world we live in.

    Who knows, maybe the guy would Tweet out an apology, say he was ashamed of his former self, explain he has since gotten help or something, though that would be for him and the people close to him. I certainly don’t need it for anything. Humiliation isn’t zero sum. His wouldn’t erase mine. There was never a chance of justice, not then and not now.

    I can only speak for myself in saying the only reason I could really come up with to “name and shame” this man now is revenge.

    Years ago he was in a position of power over me, and I convinced myself I had no choice but to put up with what was done. Times have changed, and in a way I’m now the one in power: he potentially has something to lose via my accusations while I have little to worry about in the current climate. I have the chance to use the power I have now to hurt him.

    So yeah, #MeToo. But if me, too, means doing to him what he did to me now that I finally can, then, no, not me, too.



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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    How to Talk to Trump-Hating Millennials This Thanksgiving

    November 22, 2017 // 7 Comments »

    Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (Not in Iraq)


    With Thanksgiving fast approaching, many freshmen college students will be heading home for the first time to confront their ignorant, racist parents. Semi-employed millennials will leave their joblets to endure a long weekend of Dad and Uncle Mark spouting fascism between tearing hunks of non-free range turkey flesh off bone.


    To prepare these young people for the ordeal, the Internet will soon be running guides, such as “How to share a table with relatives whose views you abhor.” A Google search for something like “how to talk to family at thanksgiving about Trump” brings up a cornucopia of advice. Young folks are told to listen to the olds’ racism with compassion and to realize we are threatened by our impending extinction. The job for youth alongside the turkey and gravy? “We have to put in the messy and unfun labor of listening to complaints about modern America, and then offer solutions that aren’t built on fear and hatred for the other.”


    Well, that’s fine for telling them how to deal with us. But here are our tips for young people on how to better prepare for a Thanksgiving political showdown.


    1) Take a moment to note history did not begin on 11/09/16. Mother and I want you to know Trump’s wars started under Bush and Obama. Much of the assault on our civil rights, particularly the devolution of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, began right after 9/11. The CIA, NSA, FBI, Robert Mueller, John McCain, and others may be rock stars today because you think they’re part of #TheResistance, but each has a long history of serving the deep needs of the State. I read 1984 in high school, and Handmaiden’s Tale was written before you were born, so no need to quote them to me. Pass the beets, willya? Who doesn’t like beets?


    2) Everyone can have an opinion, but you might want to listen more closely to the one held by somehow who has studied a particular subject her whole life. Some things have such a history behind them that they are “facts.” If you want to read informed content on federal contracting in regard to Puerto Rico, the lawyers at POGO are better than the kids at Daily Beast, for example. “Conspiracy” in legal filings doesn’t mean spying, it means only that more than one person worked together to commit a crime; lawyers know this, dudes on Twitter do not. So careful about “hot takes;” what you want instead in most cases is a well-debated question among experts. Read The Death of Expertise to learn how intellectual egalitarianism cripples informed discussion. Think about Uncle Mark’s coffee mug, the one that says “Your Google search is not the same as my medical degree.”


    3) For the love of all good things, look up the definition of “fascism” and read a bit about the rise of Hitler before citing each as a response to every thing in the news that frightens or offends you. Might as well dig into causes of the civil war and history of early compromises on slavery in American instead of citing blurbs from the Trevor Noah show about the roots of racial inequality. The people on late night TV are comedians. You are not better informed by listening to their jokes. Entertainment isn’t education. Damn, the stuffing is good this year. Why don’t we have this more than once every twelve months?


    4) Freedom of speech means protecting the right of someone to say things without necessarily endorsing their content. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said no to banning hate speech. The ACLU supports the First Amendment rights of nazis. Get with the program. The rights you defend are in reality your own.


    5) The nation is not at the edge. Democracy is not dying in darkness. The issues of today can be important without being apocalyptic. Nobody is setting up labor camps for LGBTQ illegal immigrant POC refugees. A few nazi cosplayers at a rally are not the same as Crystal Nacht, nor are they likely a predecessor to that. You sound like bad dystopian fan fiction. Get off the ledge – America survived a civil war, two world wars, and a real constitutional crisis surrounding Watergate and Richard Nixon. A President who Tweets is not the end of us. And stop sounding gleeful alongside CNN when you predict it might be.


    6) There’s a bunch of important stuff going on you don’t seem to be focused on. If you’re looking for things to change, speak out against the war in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year. You and the soldiers deployed there wore Huggies when it started; pretty much the same for the fighting in Iraq. You’re worried about the treatment of Muslims at America’s airports? Cool; spare a thought for the treatment of Muslims in the multiple nations where America is making war at present. More gravy?


    7) Learn how to read critically and think skeptically. The media environment is rough, with “facts” increasingly corrupted by ideology, and speed of publishing a hot take taking precedence over getting the story right. Be skeptical of reports you absolutely agree with, especially if they are based on anonymous sources. Ask yourself who would really know what the President said in a closed door meeting first-hand, and why would they leak that? There’s usually an agenda, by either the writer, the source, or both, so try and understand it. You might actually have to read multiple media outlets, some representing a point of view you don’t agree with, to get a full picture.


    8) Thoughtful criticism of a (black, female, etc.) candidate is not racism/sexism/bigotry/misogyny, it’s thoughtful criticism. A good line of questioning by a black, female, etc., candidate isn’t brave, fierce, courageous or an attack on the patriarchy, it’s just a good line of questioning. Lotta turkey this year; you want seconds?


    9) In the real world, you can’t slam the door on arguments with single-word retorts like Mansplaining! Benghazi! The Emails! Putin! Whataboutism is not a one-word alternative to the real intellectual work of sorting out history, precedent or parallels that matter. Two things can both be wrong. A bad thing by a Democrat does not cancel out something bad a Republican did. It might be necessary to talk about both. Some ideas cannot be explained in 280 characters. Some require whole books. Don’t dismiss an argument because learning about it is more work than thumbing a scroll wheel.


    10) Talk is fun. But somebody has to in the end do some real work if anything is going to get fixed around here, so help clean up after Thanksgiving dinner.




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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    I Have Become An Old White Straight Male (OWSM)

    August 2, 2017 // 5 Comments »

    angry-old-men

    I can’t help it. I was born this way.

    When I was hiring and managing people, I worked hard to choose the most qualified candidates whoever/whatever/however they were. When I managed I tried to judge only performance. I acted as I did because it was the right thing. Please don’t dismiss me by saying “well, good for you, you at least had that choice.” To me it was not a “choice” but a part of who I am. I never used racial slurs, and am pretty sure the last time I referred to a person with a gay slur was at age 13 in a Midwestern junior high school. Got me there.

    Am I telling you all this because I seek your approval? Mansplaining? Defensive much? Looking for a white-guilt laden liberal high-five (which used to be a gesture reserved for urban Blacks until appropriated by everyone)?

    Nope. Because I am not your stereotype, here for you to make yourself feel woke by telling me I’m not.



    And that’s by way of introduction to me recently becoming an Old White Male (OWM.) I did not know I was this until recently, but I guess it’s true.

    Built into that OWM label is the implication that I am also straight, er, cis. I am also implied to be boring, which I concede. I guess you can look at me and see I am old, white, and male, but I’m not sure how anyone knows my sexual orientation. But let’s call it Old White Straight Male (OWSM.) I know we’ll soon enough get caught up in nomenclature during this essay, but let’s try and forestall that as long as we can.

    Whatever, I am so many people’s enemy now, part of so many people’s problems. At one place I recently worked, people who looked like me were referred sotto voce as “red hats,” for the invisible #MAGA caps we were all assumed to be spiritually wearing.

    I guess I am supposed to be shamed, and/or ironically awareness-raised that I am being judged by the color of my skin, my gender, my age, and my (implied) sexuality.

    Here’s an example of what people say now (written online, but I’ve been told things very much the same):

    But as a white woman, it would be tone-deaf of me to assume that there’s nothing problematic about me taking a black person’s lived experience and making it cutesy and palatable for a mostly-white audience. Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” isn’t about Trick or Treating with his family; the song is about Snoop’s teen days in Long Beach, which belong to him — warts and all. De-contextualizing his music and obscuring the history behind it is a form of erasure and, let’s be honest here, a form of racism. Similarly, adopting the mannerisms, dress, and slang of black artists, like the white rappers in popular YouTube parenting raps — that’s racism as well. It’s little better than contemporary blackface.

    For the record, I have made no rap videos. Unlike about 99% of the white people I see on Facebook and Instagram, I have never posed for a photo making exaggerated kissy lips throwing what I imagine is a gang sign with “my boys/my bitches.”

    Some good news is as an OWSM I do have one tiny carve-out exception available.

    And that’s if I can tie myself to someone younger, less white, less straight, and/or less male. So, if say my spouse is Black I’m “allowed” to comment about Black stuff more. I think. I think it works the same way as if someone has never served in the military but can kind of inherit military vet dry humping cred by saying stuff like “You can’t say that, man, ’cause my cousin fought in Iraq (I’ve heard it as “my dad in WWII” as well) and it’s disrespectful to our troops!”

    A big problem I recently discovered is that as an OWSM I do not belong to any “community.”

    I am not part of the Hispanic community, which does include the 55 million persons of Hispanic ethnicity in the U.S., and maybe the millions more in places like El Salvador and Argentina though I don’t think we count them. Not part of the gay community (I said it, yes, I am straight, but you already supposed that.) About the best I could do to join a community is get some disease, and thus be a part of the liver cancer community but there’s not much future in that.

    I get “privilege” and do not in any way imply our society is not chock-a-block with prejudice. But note more than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute. Also, a bit of history. Before we were a monolithic heap of “white men,” we were Paddys, Kikes, Hillbillies, Wops, Hunkies, Polacks, and all the other forms of prejudice and discrimination.

    A big messy part of all this is Trump, who has been anointed the leader of the OWSM “community.”

    Trump is an OWSM. He does not represent me, and I do not support him or what he stands for or the way he acts. FYI, I also did not support Hillary Clinton, who is by the way an OWSF, three-quarters of what I am. And don’t dismiss my deeply-thought political choice of whom to vote for as misogynistic.

    Yet I’m pretty sure a decent number of people stopped reading this essay a few paragraphs above thinking Trump and me have a lot in common.

    One thing I can say about being the old part of being an OWSM is after 57+ years (full disclosure: some of that in diapers and before I could read) of following the same basic set of liberal, trying always to be fair and reasonable, trying to treat all people with respect, things, I am pretty sure I’m going to ride those values into my grave. No deathbed conversion to hate crimes planned. I have proved myself to myself.

    So why do my fellow liberals have to be such boring but self-righteous stereotypes in treating me as an OWSM? Such scolds outrage me, offended warriors so quick to dismiss whatever successes I’ve had to privilege. It’s not nice to use any large group as a punching bag. As my personal needs system is in pretty good shape, I will sum it up as less offended than saddened.



    Maybe I’ve been too harsh, so let me end in a way to make you feel better about boxing me in as an OWSM: Hey you kids, get off my lawn!

    Even that doesn’t work. I don’t have a lawn, I live in an apartment. Dammit.



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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Apologizing to George Takei (and Everyone Else!)

    July 31, 2017 // 18 Comments »



    Um, yeah, so, like we white guys got together for a Handmaiden’s Tale watch party, and realized we owed a lot of people an apology.

    Actually, we need to apologize to pretty much everyone except the few of us stuck in this dying demographic. So we gotta get this done before heading off to the Galapagos Islands in hopes those big turtles will breed with us and allow our bloodline to continue. But it turns out even with social media, none of us know a lot of POC, or LGBTQ folks, or even women who’ll answer our calls (those restraining orders can be tricky) so we decided to apologize to you, George Takei, in hopes that you’ll spread it around for us.

    Of course if anyone had any message for we white men, I’d be happy to pass those along and return the favor!


    See, we realized (and I speak for all of us, from those Manchester by the Sea kind of people to wiseguys in New York to meth heads in Ohio to my cousin out west, ’cause apparently somehow we’re all the same anyway) George you kind of sum things up in America right now.

    First, you’re like the the best victim ever. As a child you were in a Japanese internment camp. I mean, you went with your parents and all at age 5, but the U.S. government did that and yep, white guy in charge, it’s in all the history books. There have been reparations paid, formal apologies made, a national monument created, a lot of documentaries and Never Again statements, but you have personally, George, kept that victim thing alive some 70 years later. Respect. By the way, you know the white guy who was in charge then, Franklin Roosevelt, was in a wheelchair so I kinda thought we’d cut him some Caucasian slack as a disabled person, but, whatever, it’s OK.



    Lastly, George, we picked you because you haven’t really done anything special other than be victimized.

    You were an actor on a TV show when I was a kid and then… you did some other stuff, right, like, um, be an example and raise awareness and all. In fact, here’s what you say in your autobio: “George Takei is best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series Star Trek. He’s an actor, social justice activist, social media mega-power, originated the role of Sam Kimura and Ojii-Chan in the Broadway musical Allegiance, and subject of To Be Takei, a documentary on his life and career.” In 2015, Cosmopolitan Magazine named Takei “One of the Internet’s 50 Most Fascinating People.” Your resume is basically full-Kardashian, but she has never clicked as a victim.

    So what could be better than for us to choose you, a guy whose basic job title is Victim of Stuff, to receive our apology for the things white guys have done bad (ongoing) since the dawn of civilization?

    Sorry, George. Please tell the others.




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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas