• Archive of "Other Ideas" Category

    Alienation, Masculinity, and Mass Shootings

    June 29, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    There’s a well-done, nasty piece of filmmaking available on Hulu right now called Pistol, ostensibly a Sex Pistols biopic but so much more. The series is only partially about the Pistols themselves and more about the world of post-war Britain which formed them. It seems to suggest all that anger and despair was going to have to come out somewhere, either repressed and hidden, crunched deep down inside like the faceless masses of people, or allowed to lance out as “music,” more screaming than lyrical. I wonder if America is not somewhere similar in evolution itself.

    Post-war Britain was a terrible place to grow up it seems for a boy, his role models limited to the broken men who survived World War II (sharply portrayed in Pink Floyd’s The Wall) or the feminized male left overs from the immediate after war years, near-satirized if it wasn’t true by The Who in large portions of their work, including the step-dad in Tommy and most pointedly, Quadrophenia. No wonder the most masculine role model of the era was a woman named Margaret Thatcher with her hen-pecked, besweatered hubby in tow.

    Pistol on Hulu does the time period justice, showing one Pistol as the victim of a sexually abusive step father (his “real” dad having run off) and a groupie, herself the forced plaything of a broken hospital orderly who drives her to insanity. Self-hate is expressed with torn clothing and garish hair styles. It is a bleak world so when Johnny Rotten sings of no future and anarchy in the UK you have no choice but to agree with him. Of course the songs only have three chords, that’s about the limit you can finger out without lessons and anything more would be making music not screaming for help. Screaming feels better.

    Far from “rainbow friendly” and coming as it does during Pride Month, Pistol is an odd thing. My thoughts on Pride Month were shaped by a gay boss, now deceased. He joined the Federal workforce in an era when being found out meant instead termination. Even as standards began to relax he was forced to officially list his common-law spouse on visa paperwork as “domestic helper,” most foreign countries having a visa category for toilet cleaners and cooks but not for someone you have been in love with for ten years. On our regular security clearance updates my boss was forced to pretend to be straight, as while day-to-day standards had moved forward the bureaucracy clung on and standing up as a gay man still meant loss of the required security clearance.

    I wondered why he put up with it all; the job just was not worth it it seemed. But my boss explained there was no other way. He did not grow up in a world where men would march with men and every business from Disney to Doritos had something special to for Pride Month. His role models were either deeply closeted men, or actors like Liberace so self-parodying that society let them be at least a version of themselves. He was inside an angry man, my boss.

    So I approach Salvador Ramos with complex thoughts, not all of them harsh. His real dad had run off, and he was raised by a mother and grandmother leaving him with those same unclear role models for masculinity in that tiny Texas town. It’s ironic most don’t know Ramos by name, as infamous as he is. He was the Uvalde mass shooter. You know, mass shooter, ’bout a month ago? We don’t recognize his name because he never mattered; even now the details of his life are unimportant absent a near-generic statement was a “loner.” And just the way he wanted it, the only thing he is known for is shooting up that elementary school. He even bought himself the murder weapon as a self-birthday present on his 18th. Bet his mom got him a Kohl’s gift card if anything at all.

    When asking why we have so many male (nobody can name even one female mass shooter in a nation that experiences hundreds of mass shooting incidents each year) mass shooters the issue of masculinity and role models rarely comes up. But as punk emerged as angry, angry music from the lack of post-war role models in Britain, and my boss’ anger was suppressed alongside his sexuality, I wonder about modern America. Are we creating these shooters by the anti-masculine society we have created to raise boys? Does a lack of role models for proper masculinity drive disgruntled boys to create their own twisted visions of hyper-masculinity, complete with the clothes and guns not for sale at Kohl’s?

    Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology, and James Densley, a professor of criminal justice, profile mass shooters. They find early childhood trauma seems to be a foundation element. Then they see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, and self-loathing. They start asking themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. For some, that takes the form of a shooting, often followed by suicide in the ultimate act of self-hatred. Peterson concisely explains the predominance of male mass shooters: they have male mass shooter role models.

    There is little doubt our society devalues masculinity. Tabs are kept on the number of women elected and appointed, while white men are left off the carousel of lived experience that brings school board meetings and presidential debates to a screeching halt with the phrase “As a ____…” The handful of masculine role models (usually wrapped in race) are caricatures, hip hop artists hung with babes and sports stars similarly bejeweled. For every unshaven Pitt there is a soft-edged Clooney, for every Springsteen there are a dozen Harry Styles. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Replaced by Paul Lynde in center square.

    Society does not create mass shooters and punk bands as much as it creates the conditions of anxiety and defiance that can create mass shooters and punk bands. That’s why in our anti-masculine society we thank God only one shooter pops up among tens or hundreds of thousands of boys seeking a masculine role model and finding only another boy clad in black tactical gear. It seems the “solution” for our epidemic of mass shootings has to lie beyond the weapons. If Salvador Ramos had had only a hand gun, would we call it a victory if he’d only killed six people instead of 21? What you can do with a knife versus what you can do with a semi-automatic weapon is clear, but is our best solution just to challenge future mass shooters to be more creative in their use of fire, poison, and the like to achieve high kill rates as they search for identity amid anti-masculine idols?

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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 Other Ideas

    Was There a Coup Attempt on January 6?

    June 25, 2022 // 10 Comments »

    Was there a coup attempt on January 6? To answer yes, there had to have been some realistic path by which some action on that day could have resulted in Donald Trump remaining president of the United States.

    Watching the show trial on television and the saturation coverage of the same across all media, you could just believe it might have been possible. The TV show is dedicated to convincing a lay audience they came “that close” to tossing away their democracy as some mechanism almost clicked into place to leave Trump in power. It would be easier to take the Dems much more seriously if they would just coolly and in detail outline just how Trump could have stayed in office without the military, who were clearly not taking a partisan stance on January 6. Absent that, you had political theatre and a riot, not a coup attempt. Think back to the 1960s and imagine how occupying the administration building on campus was going to stop the Vietnam War in its tracks. This is politically much ado about not much except Democratic Party 2024 election engineering.

    So here it is in a sentence: Democrats, take two minutes from your hate telethon and tell us how it would have worked. How was Trump going to stay in power?

    The answer is there is no answer, and that should end the matter. Anything that has zero pathway to success is not a coup attempt. To stage a coup you need tanks on the White House lawn, and America again instead transitioned peacefully from one administration to another. That, that hard reality, is what is wholly missing from the Democratic January 6 Committee hearings and all the frou-frou that accompanies them.

    Could Trump have used the Capitol riot to declare martial law and stayed in power? No. The president cannot use the military domestically in a way Congress does not agree with. The “web of laws” Congress enacted to govern the domestic activ­it­ies of the armed forces — includ­ing the Posse Comit­atus Act, which prohib­its the use of federal troops to execute the law without express congres­sional author­iz­a­tion — would stop Trump cold. Accord­ing to well-settled prin­ciples of consti­tu­tional practice, the pres­id­ent cannot act in a way Congress has forbid­den unless the Consti­tu­tion gives the pres­id­ent “conclus­ive and preclus­ive” power over the disputed issue. Martial law has been declared nine times since World War II and, in five instances, was designed to counter resistance to Federal desegregation decrees in the South. Although an uneasy climate of mutual aid has always existed between the military and civilian law enforcement, Department of Defense personnel are limited in what they can do to enforce civil law. They can’t extend a presidential term. So that business about putting tanks on the White House lawn? Somebody has already thought it through.

    The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the one stat­utory excep­tion to the Posse Comit­atus Act that does allow the pres­id­ent to deploy the milit­ary domest­ic­ally, but by precedent they can be used to suppress armed insur­rec­tions or to execute the laws when local or state author­it­ies are unable or unwill­ing to do so. Their role is limited and in no way puts the milit­ary “in charge” or suspends the normal func­tions and author­it­ies of Congress, state legis­latures, or the courts. More importantly, troops in the streets have nothing to do with what votes are already in the ballot boxes. Same for seizing voting machines or ballots; they were already counted by January 6. The president has no authority to simply “suspend” the Constitution.

    Anything Trump might have tried to do required the military to play along, something there is no evidence to support. Just the opposite. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley took a number of steps in the final days to ensure any dramatic orders out of the White House would be confirmed, checked, and likely delayed indefinitely.  While some of Milley’s concerns raise Constitutional issues of their own, particularly his right-to-the-edge-of-the-line actions to interfere with the nuclear chain of command, clearly Milley was in no way priming his forces to participate in any sort of coup.

    Lastly, it is critical to point out how deeply the idea of legal civilian control of the military, and the separation of powers, is drummed into America’s officer corps. Unlike many developing world situations, America has a professional officer corps well-removed from politics, and which sits atop an organization built from the ground up to respond to legal, civilian orders. Like a religion. If Trump had ordered the 82nd Airborne into the streets of Pittsburgh their officers would have most likely said no.

    With martial options well off the board, Trump’s coup would have needed to rely on some sort of legalistic maneuver exploiting America’s complex electoral system. The biggest issue is the 20th Amend­ment, which states unambiguously the pres­id­ent’s term ends after four years. If Trump some­how succeeded in prevent­ing Joe Biden from being inaug­ur­ated, he would still have ceased to be pres­id­ent at noon on Janu­ary 20, and Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, would have become pres­id­ent. There is no mechanism to stop that succession, ironic as it would have been.

    That said, the most quoted Trump plan ran something like this: “Somehow” even though the Electoral College had met on December 14 and decided Biden was to be president, Republican-friendly legislatures in places such as Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would “ignore” the popular vote in their states and appoint their own pro-Trump electors. The law (the 19th century “Electoral Count Act“) does allow legislatures to do this in some never-used extreme situation if states have failed to make a choice by the day the electoral college meets (no matter that date had passed by January 6.) Never mind the details; the idea was to introduce enough chaos into the system to force everyone in the whole of the United States to believe the only solution was to force the election two months after voting into the House where Vice President Pence himself would vote the tie and choose Trump for another term.

    In addition to every other problem with that scenario, Pence had no intention of doing any such thing. Trump maintained “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors” when in fact Pence’s January 6 role was entirely ceremonial, presiding over the House and Senate as they receive and certify the electoral votes conveyed by the states, and then announcing the outcome. Location did not matter; although the riots delayed the final announcement, which still occurred at the Capitol, there is nothing in the Constitution which requires the receipt and certification to take place there. Pence could have met with Congress at a Starbucks in Philadelphia and wrapped up business. Pence, in a 2022 speech, said “I had no right to overturn the election. Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

    To imagine a dystopian fiction where one state legislature blows past the vote to chose pro-Trump electors is difficult. To imagine several doing so simultaneously to gin up enough Trump electors, and then to imagine the Electoral College changing its mind, is beyond possibility. There was no indication Republicans in these important states considered going along with this anyway. Pennsylvania’s top state Repub indicated his party would follow the law and award electors to the winner of the popular vote. He stated the state legislature “does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.” Besides, the borderline states all had Democratic governors who would have refused to approve after-the-fact Trump electors.

    To be fair, such goofy schemes were also in the wind in 2016, when Trump was elected and many progressives were looking to little-known Electoral law for some sort of fail-safe. They failed, too. Despite the many claims about how close we came to democracy failing, in reality the complex system proved at least twice in recent years to be made of stiffer stuff.

    There were a few left-overs that were far-removed from January 6, specifically a very unclear plan to weaponize the Department of Justice to declare something, nearly anything, about the election invalid enough to provoke a Supreme Court fight. The details matter and did not really exist, plus the Constitution is very clear the election of the president is primarily a state matter and absent a good reason (as in 2000 where  the problem was one state and urgency begged) needs to be decided at that level. There was also the matter of Attorney General Bill Barr refusing to cooperate with Trump and resigning, followed by his successor refusing to cooperate, followed by threats by a whole raft of senior Justice Department officials threatening to resign. And for the record, there was no incitement by Trump. For all the talk of sedition and coup no charges will ever be filed.

    What is missing most of all from the Great January 6 Democratic Telethon is a statement the system worked. The Constitution held. Officials from Vice President Pence on down did their jobs and stood up for the democratic system. All the fear mongering, all the what-ifs Dems now hope will distract Americans from their own party’s failings at governing — war, inflation, gas prices, gun and crime violence, a growing despair — miss the most important point of all. In the end, no legal mech­an­ism was ever going to allow Trump to continue being pres­id­ent. There was no attempted coup.

    The real problem is the Dems can’t win in 2024 on what they have to offer. Most of their domestic agenda is shot. They have no clear plan for the economy. With all the efforts to prosecute Donald Trump for something (including January 6) having failed, their sole strategy is to make people believe Trump tried to overturn the last election, and having not succeeded, chose the odd path of re-embracing the electoral process. There is room to judge Trump’s actions. But that judgment must not come from a kangaroo court, if you want to talk about preserving the rule of law. We were never even close to losing our democracy. The system worked is the real message echoing from January 6.

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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 Other Ideas

    New York Notes

    June 11, 2022 // 6 Comments »

     

    Coming home to New York City after over a year away is like performing cunnilingus on an electrical socket. You’re shocked, and the socket doesn’t feel a thing.

    I was driven by that same curiosity that makes you slow down passing a wreck on the highway. I’d read the stories of zombie homeless armies in Midtown, the subway system gone feral, the deserted office blocks, and crime stepping in for Darwin to take care of what was left. Like a last visit to a hospital Covid bedside, I didn’t want to but I needed to see it.

    Inevitably someone will say this is all an exaggeration, that they live in NYC and it’s great, or the 1970s were way worse, or they just saw Lion King at Times Square with their grandma. Good for you.

    The overall of feeling one gets is a place used up, a failed place that somehow is still around. It’s the ultimate irony; it was Wall Street dealers who manipulated the economy of the 1970s and 80s to create the Rust Belt out of the once prosperous Midwest and now the brokers are gone, too. Pieces of them all left on the ground, too unimportant to sell off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, left scattered like clues from a lost civilization. Might as well been the bones of the men who worked there. Now the same way in Weirton or Gary you drive past the empty mills and factories left to eventually be reclaimed by the earth they stand on, so to Wall Street. There are no trading houses left, just one last international bank and it will soon be leasing new space uptown.

    The whole “financial district” is empty. On a weekend morning I found myself alone on the old streets off Wall, the ones that went all the way back, Marketfield, Beaver, Pine, Stone, to near-primitive times. There just were no people, nothing open. Most of the old gilded era banks and trading houses are in the process of being converted into condos, though who would want to live there is an unanswered question.

    You do see a fair number of homeless in the shadows; the city commandeered empty hotels in the area for them during the worst of the three Covid winters. Left out of the place it created is the famous Stock Exchange. The building is still there and there are people inside, but near-zero trades are done there anymore, nearly everything is remote/online, a trend started after 9/11 and completed by Covid’s arrival. On my next visit it wouldn’t surprise me to see the space has been converted into a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Across the street there’s already a TJ Maxx.

    Like some elaborate joke about canaries in the coal mine, the condition of New York’s subway system often points the way the rest of the place is headed. With parts of the system still in use that were built 118 years ago, the thing is a testament to just how far the least amount of maintenance will go. Meh, NY grit. You expect it to be too cold in winter, too hot in summer, with no public toilets, and layers of filth which may be what is actually holding it all together.

    But the purpose of the subway has changed. With fewer people working out of offices, and more and more of those that do now driving private cars in the city (parking is a new thing to complain about, car theft is up double-digit percent from pre-Covid times) it is no longer common ground for New Yorkers. Most of the real passengers are blue collar t-shirted, and most everyone else is homeless. Vast numbers of visibly mentally ill people inhabit the subway system. It is their home, their kitchen, and their toilet.  The person in Union Square Station pushing a shopping cart and yelling racial slurs may not physically hurt anybody but is a symbol of a city that just gave up caring while lying to itself about being compassionate. There is no compassion to allowing thousands of sick people to live like rats inside public infrastructure.

    Not surprisingly, the subway is an angry place. Last year there were more assaults in the subway system than anytime for the last 25 years, including a Covid-era trend of randomly pushing people into the path of an incoming train just to watch them die. I didn’t see that, but I saw the secondary effects: passengers bunched up like herbivores on the African savanna, most with their backs against a wall or post for protection. Fewer people looking down at their phones so as to stay more alert.

    If you need to use the subway, you need to acknowledge that you must share it with the predators, under their rules. Like everywhere in this city, navigating around the mentally ill, the homeless, and the criminal is just another part of life. People treat each other as threats, and just accept that, but to an outsider it seems a helluva way to live. The new mayor says he’s gonna clean it all up. so far, four months in office, not so much.

    My old Upper East Side neighborhood hadn’t changed as much as mid- and downtown. The doorman at my old building said there were many more renters than owners resident now, and the masking and fear of catching Covid had done away with the lobby chatter that served as a palliative when heading in from the street.

    Across the street at the projects the drug dealers were in their usual places; seller, runner, overseer. I knew generally where to look for them so it was an easy spot, but they may have been just a little more obvious than last year. I don’t know where they were during the old “stop and frisk” days but I didn’t see them then. Nearby a good number of the mom and pop restaurants are closed, along with about every other chain drug store outlet (ask a New York friend how many Duane and Reade’s there used to be.)

    A couple of those “only in New York places” are holding on, but the effect is grim not scrappy given the gray around them. Passing the United Nations compound, you’re left with the memory that in the 1950s this was once the most powerful city on the globe. My favorite pizzeria, the original Patsy’s at First and 117th in Harlem, is still open and somehow still staffed by old Italian men in an otherwise all-black neighborhood. Nearby Rao’s, an old-school red sauce joint and still one of the hardest-to-get reservations in Manhattan for those of a certain age, is in much the same state, both places in some sort of time-vortex, the old DNA someone will someday use to genetically re-engineer New York for a museum.

    The good news is that the NYPD seems to have reoccupied Times Square, as the city is betting big tourism will someday save it. The problem is Times Square shares a border with the rest of New York, and a block or two away places like the Port Authority bus terminal are decaying back into their primordial state. No obvious hookers like in the 1970s, but their space in the ecosystem is taken by the homeless and those who provide them services, usually quick, sharp, young black kids selling what the cops told me was fentanyl, NY’s current favorite synthetic opioid.

    Some of the least changed areas were on the Lower East Side. These have always been mean streets, and post-Covidland is far from the first challenge they have faced. It’s not nice but it’s stable, it is what it is and it doesn’t ask for much more. Go tread lightly on the area’s terms and you stay safe.

    Covid did its share to the City but every measure of Covid was made worse by bad decision-making on the part of the city. Lockdowns decimated whole industries while leaving New York still one of the red zones of America. Defunding and defanging the police, coupled with no-bail policies drove crime deeper into the fabric of neighborhoods and decent people out to the suburbs. The tax base crumbled. Pre-Covid the top one percent of NYC taxpayers paid nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes collected in New York, accounting for 59 percent of all revenues. Property taxes add in more than a billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that generated by office space. Those folks are bailing out and the tourists are largely staying home.

    Left is the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, to include 114,000 children. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in public housing. Another 235,000 receive rent assistance. They live in the Third World, like a theme park torn out of the Florida swamps unlike its surroundings. You look at it and you cannot believe this is the same country as where you live. New York does that, puts it all right in your face.

    New York, at least in the guise of its elected leaders, chose this, participated in its own end game decision by decision. Former mayor and once Democratic presidential candidate Bill De Blasio, who presided over the NY apocalypse, still had the moxie to claim not diversifying the city’s elite public schools was one of his only real mistakes. No one seems to know what to do, how to unwind what was created.

    Don’t let anyone tell you New York died. It was murdered. The last time I was this happy to get on a plane and leave somewhere I was in Baghdad.

     

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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 Other Ideas

    Top Gun II Review

    June 7, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    Quick Top Gun II: Maverick movie synopsis (and spoiler alert) by the Bad Guys: Let’s build a secret base using the Star Wars Death Star plans. We’ll leave an air vent that looks like a giant bullseye where one bomb will take down the whole place.

    Good Guys: To make it a fair fight, instead of one Navy Seal throwing a grenade down that ventilation shaft, we’ll come up with a near impossible plan involving multiple airplanes flown by irascible characters. Should kill the whole two hours.
    It is some sort of anti-union move to credit people with screen writing for this movie; a good 80 percent of the script is Top Gun I with one character’s name crossed out (arrogant Iceman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) and someone else’s hand-written into the script (arrogant Hangman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) as if this movie was a tribute band version of the first. Oh sure, it is 2022 so the Top Gun cadre has more people of color and the black guys don’t have to endure “just one of the boys” call signs like Sundown, but otherwise 2022 shows its age by being less homoerotic than 1986’s. There is far less sexual tension between Maverick and his flame this time. It’s handled more like he reunites with his old Labrador who remembers him and licks his face. And by old flame I mean Goose. The new movie throws away all the buddy stuff of 1986 by having everyone switch their, um, rears, around each flight. People, in 1986 we could handle subthemes with “don’t ask, don’t tell” adding some tension.
    Even the planes are not center screen anymore somehow, the great way the machines were fetishistic characters themselves in the original Top Gun. But remember in 1986 most of us did not know yet the military could put a missile through an Iraqi window on command. So while the featured F-18 in Top Gun II is steroids on Red Bull on little bro’s Adderall to the F-14, somehow it is nostalgia that wins. The aging Tomcat Cruise gets airborne at the end is held together with duct tape the way Cruise is held together with Botox.
    What happened? Since 1986 America lost its need for speed, its desire to go ballistic with some Admiral’s daughter (Val Kilmer is one of three ex-high school principal-like Admirals in Top Gun II whose daughters we definitely are not interested in flying with at Mach 4 because they’ve gotta be like 57 years old.) America has lost its Top Gun spirit and no well-intentioned but ultimately flaccid sequel is gonna pretend otherwise.
    In 1986 when Top Gun first came out Ronald Reagan was president and it was morning in America. Today we have Joe Biden and it’s always late Sunday afternoon. In 1986 we saw the end of the Cold War coming with perestroika and glasnost, and we were winning. When the Libyans messed with us, we launched an air raid and almost caught Qaddafi in his underwear out in his Bedouin tent. Just a couple of years earlier two Libyan Su-22 Fitters fired on U.S. F-14 Tomcats and were subsequently shot down over the Gulf of Sidra even as Qaddafi still proclaimed the existence of his “The Line of Death.”  Maverick sent carrier battle groups in again to the Gulf in 1986, un-freaking-challenged with him and studs like Ice running the show. There were some dark days during Iran-Contra, but from a Top Gun point of view it sure looked like Marine Ollie North was doing the wrong thing to do the right thing. And inflation was only 1.91 percent.
    Libya became the poster child for the last two decades of Middle East policy failure. The Gipper part is now played by Joe Biden, sounding more like a globalist Karen then Reaganesque leader of the free world. Qaddafi is dead, sure, but instead of some hi-tech vengeance at supersonic speed he was sodomized on TV by a thug on the U.S. payroll. Instead of the glory days turning the Gulf of Sidra into our playground, we are shushed into not asking too many questions about another Libyan night spot, Benghazi. America spent 20 years drooling on itself with failed policy after policy in Iraq, the lost opportunities for peace with Iran, the wars in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and of course, Afghanistan. That was where Rambo III in 1988 whooped the Sovs, now in 2021 the Gotterdammerung for failed dreams of empire across five administrations. Never mind if the pattern is full, nobody in their right mind would want a flyby for that final day on the runway in Kabul.
    The bad guys in both Top Gun I and II are faceless (literally; they wear opaque black face masks) and the set up for the all the flyin’ and divin’ and going below the hard deck makes less sense than a typical Road Runner cartoon. OK, this isn’t Platoon or Private Ryan, we get it, it’s hardly even a war movie. But all that unambiguity, the we’re the good guys stuff, was a lot easier sell in 1986 than in 2022. Good news is Mav still gets ‘er done by breaking all sorts of rules though we all hope in real life security is just a tad bit tighter out at Area 51. At least the filmmakers showed a tiny bit of bravado in 2022, allowing Maverick to keep a Taiwan flag patch on the back of his leather cruise jacket, the China market be damned for now.
    Top Gun II’s America is too much like Top Gun II to stir the blood like in 1986. Today in America we worry about double-digit inflation draining our mojo. Whereas in 1986 the bet involved carnal knowledge on the premises, in 2022’s Top Gun II Mav buys a round when he accidentally leaves his cell phone on the bar top. All that macho talk about who will be who’s wingman likely took place in the Top Gun II Human Resources department, not across the locker room. The filmmaker’s even left out “You’re Lost that Loving Feeling” when any film student could have found a place to wedge it in. If Tom Cruise at nearly age 60 can still look cool with aviator glasses on a motorcycle, he can darn well sing the song to someone. But nobody took anyone’s breath away in the end. We get it, it’s all symbolic, is there really any place left in romantic-lead Hollywood for a guy like Tom Cruise?
    America in 1986 was still a place where guys slapped her others’ backsides, where the president was a roll model and political avatar. We won fights, not depended on wordplay from MSNBC to make it seem like we sorta didn’t lose again. There was no need in Top Gun I for Mav to literally throw the rule book into the trash as he does in Top Gun II. We didn’t need no stinking metaphors then.
    You get the Top Gun you deserve, America. In 1986 you were along for a real ride. In 2022 you just want to eject early.

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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 Other Ideas

    The Specific “Why” Behind Russiagate

    June 4, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    Show of hands? How many still believe Trump and Russia colluded? That Trump is somehow beholden to Russia? That Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with “Russiagate?” Anyone? In the back, Bueller? And we’ll get to the large group chanting “it doesn’t matter” and “but Trump did, too…” in a moment, so stick around.

    Hillary Clinton lied about Russiagate. The latest information shows Hillary paid experts to create two data sets, one purportedly showing Russian cellphones accessing Trump WiFi networks, and another allegedly showing a Trump computer pinging an Alfa Bank server in Russia. The latter was supposedly how Trump communicated incognito with his handlers in Moscow Center. We’ve seen the lipstick on the collar before but how do we know for certain this time?

    Because former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias on May 18, 2022 during the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussman, swore to it under oath. Special Counsel John Durham brought Sussman to trial for allegedly lying to the FBI, perjury, claiming he was not working for a client when he was actually surreptiously representing the Clinton campaign. Elias admitted he briefed Clinton campaign officials about the fake information, including Hillary herself, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and policy director Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security adviser. Elias also personally briefed campaign manager Robby Mook.

    In a bombshell during the Sussman trial, Mook testified Hillary Clinton signed off on the plan to push out the information about the link between Trump and Alfa Bank despite concerns the connection was dubious at best. Mook’s testimony is the first confirmation Clinton was directly involved in the decision to feed the Trump-Alfa story to journalists. It explains some of her later actions.

     

    Here’s the timeline which reveals the specific “why” behind Russiagate:

    — On July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey issues a statement clearing Hillary Clinton of any wrong doing in connection with her private email server. This removes what was thought to be her last major hurdle to nomination.

    — Wikileaks releases information taken from the DNC servers which showed, inter alia, the Clinton campaign’s efforts to disparage Bernie Sanders. The leaks break during the Democratic Convention (July 25-28) and threaten to split the party, with the Sanders wing considering walking away from Hillary. This development means crisis time for the Democrats.

    — Clinton’s sign off to begin the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign (as Mook testified to, Smoking Gun One) had to have been in late-July (likely concurrent with the Wikileaks disclosure and the Democratic National Convention 2016, which would have created a sense of panic inside the campaign) because on or about July 28, 2016 CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s plan to tie Candidate Trump to Russia as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server. A highly-redacted document states “We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. Cite alleged approved by Hillary Clinton on July 26 a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”

    — The FBI then opened its omnibus investigation into all things Trump-Russia, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016, a Sunday, coincidentally only four days after Clinton initially approved the dirty tricks campaign and as the DNC ended with Clinton’s nomination. Crossfire was ostensibly opened based on information on Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos relayed by an Australian diplomat. Many believe the timing of the investigation suggests it was based on disclosures to the FBI of the Steele Dossier from inside the Clinton campaign, not diplo gossip about Papadopoulos. Many believe a cut out like Sussman, or Steele himself, ran the dossier data to the FBI the same way Sussman ran the Alfa Bank data to the FBI.

    — Brennan may have been personally tipped off by Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security advisor and then the most likely “foreign policy adviser” inside the Clinton Campaign running the Russiagate caper, as Brennan as CIA Director briefed Obama on Clinton’s July 26 sign-off (Smoking Gun Two) on the dirty tricks campaign while his own agency would not come to the same conclusions until September 2016, when it forwarded to the FBI an investigative referral about Hillary Clinton approving “a plan concerning U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections in order to distract the public from her email scandal.” If not a tip off, then how did Brennan, always a public Hillary supporter, know before his agency did?

    — Aiming for an October Surprise (i.e., a major, game-changing political event breaking in late October, early enough to influence the election but too late for the opposition to effectively rebut), Sussman then meets with the FBI to lay out the Alfa-Bank and smartphone story on September 18, 2016.

    — The FBI (via fraud) on October 21 obtains the first FISA warrant against a Trump team member.

    — Following a press release by Jake Sullivan, Hillary tweeted on October 31, 2016 Trump had a secret server and it was communicating with Russia (Smoking Gun Three.) She knew her campaign paid to create that information and push it into the public eye via Sussman (to the FBI) and a woman named Laura Seago.

    Seago was an analyst at Fusion GPS, the people who commissioned the infamous Steele dossier on behalf of Clinton. Seago testified at the Sussman trial she, Fusion co-founder Peter Fritsch and another Fusion staffer went to journalist Franklin Foer’s house to pitch the story, telling him it had been vetted by “highly credible computer scientists” who “seemed to think these allegations were credible.” Foer ran the story on October 31, 2016 strongly suggesting the server connecting Trump with Alfa Bank was used as a clandestine communications tool, a smoking gun in the world of espionage. The story stated “the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.”

    Need it even clearer? Comey cleared Clinton of legal trouble over her emails. The last barrier to nomination was breached. Then Wikileaks disclosures threatened to derail the convention. A distraction was needed. Mid-convention Hillary signed off on the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign per Mook and Brennan and then just days later the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane based on either flimsy foreign gossip and/or the Clinton paid-for Steele Dossier.

     

    “The trial is the vehicle that Durham is using to help bring out the truth, to tell a story of a political campaign that in two instances pursued information that was totally fabricated or at least misinterpreted with the Alfa Bank connection to Trump and use that disinformation to mislead the American voter,” Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former assistant director for intelligence, said. The Sussman trial shows if nothing else Hillary Clinton herself was personally the start and the end of Russiagate’s false story. As dirty tricks go, this was a helluva tale she sold to a gullible public and ready media.

    But so what? Politicians approve dirt being spread on their opponents all the time. But not outright, fabricated lies, which is fraud/defamation, that’s the short answer. And Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, played a still-hidden role in all of it. And what kind of president would Hillary have made if she was willing to lie like this to get elected? She is all appetite, still active in her party, still a dangerous animal. The spiteful Clinton still maintains Trump has ties to Russia and through surrogates like Brennan kept Russigate alive to defang the Trump administration even after she lost, the real insurrection.

    Twitter has still not removed the Clinton/Sullivan Russiagate tweets from 2016 as “disinformation.” That silence allows the lie a second life, important because of course Trump is running again for president and polls show almost half of Americans still think he colluded with Russia.

    It is easy enough to still say “so what?” at this point. Most people who did not support her concluded long ago Hillary Clinton was a liar and untrustworthy. Her supporters know she’ll never run for public office again, hence the claims that none of this matters, right?

    Wrong. What matters in the end is less the details of Hillary’s lie than that as someone close to being elected as her would lie about such a thing, claiming her opponent was working for Russia against the interests of the United States he would soon swear an oath to. This week’s revelations and the way they fill in “motive” in the timeline are bombshells if you blow the smoke away.

    No doubt in many minds Clinton and the intel community’s manipulations are being measured alongside whatever transgressions are attributable to Trump himself. Those who think that way may have missed the day in kindergarten when everyone else was taught how two wrongs don’t make a right, and in high school where good and bad were shown not to be a zero sum game. Trump did not win to absolve Hillary of her sins. And those who worry about the 2024 election being stolen over simple vote miscounts are thinking way too small.

     

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Inflight Masking Fight Club

    May 29, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    Fulfilling family obligations in 2022 means long haul flights of dozens of hours. By hours, I mean because everything already has been on Netflix each in-air hour is longer than others, say those that pass during on-beach massage sessions. The only thing that makes in-air time tolerable is Inflight Fight Club.

    The first rule of Inflight Fight Club is you can talk about it; what else is there to do for seven hours? Yet as much fun as it is to watch someone combat it out with a flight attendant, all this is unnecessary. And for the lawyers, this article in no way condones violence in the air, whether it is the 800th passive aggressive reference to seats being in the upright position or something criminal.

    America faces a crossroads for air travel, a reckoning as inevitable but necessary as changing planes in Atlanta. On April 18 the current TSA masking mandate expires, and the Agency will either renew it or allow it to expire. Airline executives, fearful of their bottom lines, have asked Joe Biden to let it fade away. Airline flight attendants, just fearful, want it extended indefinitely, the take off your shoes mandate of this generation. Leaving aside the actual logic, which says it makes no sense to be unmasked literally everywhere else, including places that have none of the protective air filtration system aircraft do, ending the mask mandate will be a positive step toward ending Inflight Fight Club.

    Flight attendants, deep into Fight Club culture, may in advance want to chat with their bosses about the full range of Gitmo-ization available to ensure “passengers” (we’ll employ the traditional nomenclature here but the correct term is “tolerants in need of transportation”) are pre-angered long before taking their undersized seats. Drip pricing means everyone has paid something more than the old-timey cost of a ticket that will carry their lard from Cleveland to Tampa (with a stopover in Atlanta.)

    Want a normal sized seat? Pay for Economy Plus. Want to sit with your spouse instead of an airsick stranger? Pay for pre-reserved seats. Pay for a suitcase, or pay to get aboard first to join the scrum for carry-on space. And if you really want to travel “in style,” such as having access to a toilet that is not marked with “Biohazard” tape, you can pay double for business class where a child kicks the back of your larger seat instead of a smaller seat.

    Inflight Fight Club is made much worse by the infantilization of passengers. We can’t be trusted to enjoy a drink. We can’t be trusted to buckle up. We can’t be trusted to “stow” (cynicism aside, points to the airlines for steadfastly maintaining a handful of nautical terms. Inflight Fight Club would shrivel away if the pilot said “Avast ye!” on taking off and everyone cheered) our tray table. Our laptop, if we press CRTL+SHIFT+C+X will crash the plane unless a flight attendant stands over us to ensure that one last email check is postponed until Denver. Like kindergarten, we plead “Just two more minutes, please!” In the end only adults are allowed to stand and I swear this plane is not going anywhere, especially not recess, unless everyone takes their seats NOW!

    Was it a surprise when airlines started charging crazy amounts to check luggage/and or mishandling crazy amounts of luggage that people would bring more on board, to the point where a flight without livestock in Economy is noteworthy? For all the bullying by flight attendants, why is someone’s choice to drag aboard a full-on IBM desktop with CRT monitor never questioned if they call it a personal item? Why aren’t flight attendants deputized to throw cardboard boxes leaking chicken fat and bound with wire overboard instead of spending time cramming them into the overhead bins?

    Instead it is some sort of game — whatever someone can MacGyver past the boarding agent the flight attendant must find room for. New rules are needed; passengers who follow the new rules would instead cheer for attendants instead of greasing up to take them mano-a-mano when the Sprite runs out and all that’s left is Diet 7-Up.

    That said, flight attendants, a quiet word or two for you: chill the freak out. Statistically, none of us on board are terrorists. Realistically, none of us are going to kill you with disease (so last year!) Almost all of us just want to get home as peacefully as possible. So try “Would you please…” instead of “Sir, SIR, I need you to squat and cough, now, sir.” Be like the savvy beat cop and maybe, just maybe “accidentally” skip some enforceable thing like an old man deep asleep who you startle awake because his seatbelt is unbuckled.

    I bet we all are willing to take the chance absolutely nothing will happen until we land safely. Same for the tired mom standing and swaying to keep her baby quiet; let her “congregate” near the restrooms, we all promise to take out the baby if she is a terrorist. Your boss is in the cockpit so you won’t get caught. By the way, speaking of the pilot, nobody is impressed when you say “The captain asks that you…” See, we know it’s you, that the captain did not really pull you aside and say “Say, Betty, let’s have them read the safety card this flight, ‘kay sweetheart?”

    Straight up: flight attendants, you’re not caught in the middle, you’re part of the problem. It takes two to fight, unless it is Spring Break and then maybe it takes 10 or 12.

    We can all make this easier on all of us. Look at the room for improvement: TSA reported over 3,800 incidents in the last year involving masks alone, with 2,700 warning notices issued and over 900 civil penalties levied against passengers. Let’s end masking on planes on April 18 as a start.

     

     

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    What Went Wrong During the Pandemic

    May 20, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    We were swindled, fooled, bamboozled, and lied to during the pandemic about the value of masking, closures, and things like social distancing. It hurt us. Understanding how badly we failed ourselves is not only an inevitable part of the “told you so” process, but more importantly, a lesson for next time. Ask the Swedes.

    Sweden had zero excess deaths. The U.S. had the most excess deaths of all nations. New York had more than Florida. That’s the whole story right there in a handful of words if you understand it.

    The key element of misdirection in the American swindle was case counts, those running numbers on all the screens telling how many Americans had tested positive. If you really still wonder, it looks like some 60 percent of us had some flavor of Covid during the pandemic period, most of us with mild (i.e., like a head cold) or no symptoms. How high the numbers went in your neck of the woods depended a lot on how much testing was going on, as obviously more testing equaled more “cases.” For me, with a very mild set of symptoms all clearly in line with Covid, I never even bothered to test. My spouse, with no symptoms, never tested. Both of us fell outside the statistical scary race to ever larger numbers.

    Not that it mattered because case count told us nothing but to be scared. Very similar for hospitalizations; useful for work load management, but often just as indicative of changing medical protocols. The initial thoughts were Covid-positive people needed to be hospitalized and put on respirators, until soon enough it was realized the infections associated with long-term respirator use were killing more people than the virus. Protocols changed, hospitalization numbers went down. That stat, too, did not really matter. Since Covid proved fatal primarily to the elderly (below) many hospitalizations began with something else to end with Covid. My own father suffered a blinding, massive stroke, went into hospital, and caught Covid there, to officially die of respiratory failure. I’m not sure if he counted as a statistic or not.

    Now the bad news. Modern medicine cannot cure death. Everybody dies. Most in America who don’t die earlier in accidents typically die once past the age of 77. In 2019 and 2020, heart disease and cancer each killed about double what Covid did. Each year about three million Americans die of one thing or another. So the only statistic that really matters then when talking about the roughly two years of the pandemic is “excess deaths,” deaths beyond the usual couple of million. Given the broad spread of Covid and its potential to be fatal, it becomes a valid assumption the excess deaths will be Covid deaths. Death is the only real measure of Covid’s impact because it is the only thing we can’t fix.

    Sweden had zero excess deaths. The U.S. had the most excess deaths of all nations. New York had more than Florida. That’s the whole story right there in a handful of words if you understand it.

    Sweden did very little in terms of halting work and school, or forcing masking and social distancing. The U.S., quite a bit more. Within the U.S. states known for their Covid “efforts,” particularly New York, had excess deaths worse than or similar to do-little Florida. An awful lot of effort and angst and secondary and tertiary and other collateral damage (addiction, suicide, unemployment, social unrest, failing grades) did very little to change very little. The U.S. had the highest excess death rate among all 11 countries in a Kaiser-run study.

    And we were lied to. Writing in July 2020, the New York Times stated Sweden’s “decision to carry on in the face of the pandemic has yielded a surge of deaths without sparing its economy from damage. Sweden’s grim result — more death, and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.” Tsk, tsk, said the media. They’re still saying it. Despite Florida having only 148 excess deaths (per 100k) and New York showing 248, Politico’s May 1, 2022 headline read “Florida lost 70,000 people to Covid. It’s still not prepared for the next wave.”

    Much as in Florida, Sweden allowed restaurants, gyms, shops, and most schools to stay open. People went to work, some masked, some not. That stood in contrast to the U.S., where by April 2020 the CDC recommended draconian lockdowns, throwing millions out of work and school. There’s plenty apples and oranges arguments. But they do not explain the disparity inside a particular U.S. state. Nor do they account for how excess deaths compares a country to itself and ignores national differences. If all you want is a locale with statistically low Covid deaths, look to the developing world where numbers are low because most people die of something else well before they reach the Covid danger zone of age 77 and older.

    The U.S. is the only major western nation that still demands a negative Covid test for entry, including for its own citizens. The U.S. is the only nation where every Covid palliative, such as new anti-viral drugs to lessen the impact of a positive case, must be run through the gauntlet of Red-Blue politics via a social media-Late-Night-MSM feedback loop that for two years tried desperately to link anything remotely questionable to Candidate Trump, down to repeated death charms raised in the MSM against “Red” events like motorcycle gatherings and Repub rallies. Despite never delivering on the promised viral load, they retain the moniker super spreader event. You’d expect most everyone in Florida to be dead by now if all you listened to was CNN.

    Besides blowing the response broadly and leaving our economy in shambles, America’s Covid strategy steadfastly refused to acknowledge the age disparity in excess deaths. Globally the vast masses of deaths were in persons age 77 and older. Among Covid-exposed individuals, people in their 70s have twice the mortality of those in their 60s, and 3,000 times higher than for children (a study found no increased mortality in Sweden in those under 70. The U.S. actually had fewer than normal excess deaths in kids ages 0-5 then in non-Covid years.) But everyone was made to wear a mask, school kids in Hawaii still must, and in New York elderly Covid patients were returned to their nursing homes by a governor who once had a shot at being America’s next president.

    The data was known from early days of the pandemic, assembled out of pre-social distancing China. Death rates for Chinese elderly (not social distancing) and American elderly (social distancing) were very similar. Swedish intensive care admission rates showed sharp declines after early pandemic peaks despite a lack of shutdowns. Age-specific solutions were needed for a virus that was age-specific in taking lives, but we instead went for the broadest shut downs across the United States with no regard to collateral affect. We ignored or over-looked the data. We are paying for that mistake now. Savings lives or saving the economy? Both, please. Ask the Swedes.

    The what — America’s pandemic response was just wrong across the board — is clear by the numbers. The why, attributable to “politics,” it is an international shame. But the other reasons for failure are equally shameful. American’s underlying health is worse than most developed countries where some form of socialized medicine exists. This is all exacerbated by income inequality, high rates of poverty, and the maddening levels of obesity, diabetes, and “deaths of despair” which plague our underclass. Blacks were hit harder by Covid than whites. The poor were hit harder than the well-to-do. It is more evil Malthusian than Darwinian that the Haves had not Covid and the Have Nots had it. Whatever we did, masking or not, lockdowns or not, would have suffered because of this fundamental deficiency in our system.

    For next time, there are two elephants in the room. One would be to avoid politicizing the public healthcare response and truly rely on science to dictate societal actions. The joke that if Trump had recommended oxygen to breath MSNBC would have empaneled experts to demand carbon dioxide is so close to true I had to check for it on Wikipedia. The other elephant is to come to grips with the sad reality the pandemic impacted harder here than anywhere else in the developed world because we as a nation steadfastly refuse to chose from the menu of ways to provide broad-based healthcare, especially preventive care. Fixing the next pandemic means fixing America.

     

     

     

     

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Dear Elon Musk:

    May 7, 2022 // Comments Off on Dear Elon Musk:

    Dear Elon:

    Big fan. I cheered to finally see an African-American like yourself rising to the top, owning one of America’s largest media companies, Twitter. I’m also a big fan of free speech, which is why I am writing to you to ask that my lifetime ban on Twitter be rescinded.

    See in August 2018, Twitter banned me for life for a tweet which “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.” I was on Twitter telling some journalists they had allowed the government to lie to them about the Iraq war. I said I once worked for the U.S. State Department, and I was one of the ones who lied to them. It was actually part of my job to lie to them, to give them the false impression our reconstruction programs in Iraq were coming along just nicely. I could name several journalists I lied to directly but what’s the point in that? They all still have jobs and Twitter accounts and it’s not exactly a secret what they wrote about the reconstruction programs was false and wrong. I told the truth on Twitter and lost my account.

    The truth is one night on Twitter I was explaining about my lies, a kind of atonement, and several journalists ganged up on me to begin criticizing my writing and the work that I have done as a journalist since leaving the government. It was all kind of rude (one said I was a “garbage human being” and another claimed I was a Russian stooge) but within the schoolyard boundaries of the scrappier side of Twitter.

    It never occurred to me to report them for harassment or bullying. I happened to have the television on with the Walking Dead playing in the background and I cranked off a tweet, as many of us do, that I’m not particularly proud of. I said to one of the pack “I hope a MAGA zombie eats your face.” You can read all my offending tweets hereWithin about five minutes of posting I was given a lifetime ban on Twitter. It says on my Wikipedia page by someone who continually hacks it, that I was removed from Twitter for threatening someone or something along those lines.

    Anyway I can’t help but thinking my real lifetime ban had something to do with the fact that I had previously promoted free-speech without boundaries on Twitter and other social media. Yes, yes, I’m aware the First Amendment does not cover social media, that these are private companies, but like you I believe they play such an enormous role in the tapestry of our speech that they deserve the protections of the 1A. I understand Jefferson and Madison wrote the Bill of Rights long before the Internet, and think they would be on board with expanding the 1A to companies that have grown to be more powerful censors than the government ever could be. BTW, that’s U now, LOL.

    I hasten to add that there is no such thing as MAGA zombies and so my tweeted threat to have one of them eat someone’s face was actually a bit of a jest. You see since there are no zombies the threat was not real, sarcasm at worst, and so I’m hoping that you can forgive me where are your predecessor @jack was unable to do so. He never even answered my inquiries.

    To be fully honest, what bothers me is not the scolding per se, or (most of the time) the inability to tweet. Yeah, I know, it can be a big time sink. I think the thing that bugs me is I feel I was rounded up and sent off because I wrote true things, albeit critical things, about the media on what they consider their turf, your new acquisition, Twitter. I obviously meant no one harm with the silly zombie remark, but it was used as a very thin excuse to send me down the Memory Hole (you remember, from Orwell’s 1984, a place where facts and ideas could be disappeared in service to the powers that be.)

    My cancellation took place late on a Friday night, which leads me to wonder how the journalist I was engaging got through to Twitter’s censoring staff so quickly. I certainly don’t have that access. It felt kind of more like a set up than a gatekeeper protecting someone against whatever hate speech is (and you know there is no such crime as hate speech, and whatever people insist on calling “hate speech,” including things like the N-word, is fully protected by the First Amendment.) So what’s up with the lifetime ban for one tweet? It seems pretty heavy. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind when I say it did not feel fair.

    I don’t think anyone needs protecting from my ideas, but I guess I can figure out why they’d be frightening to charlatans, pols, and grifters. That’s why I guess a journalist whose livelihood depends on the 1A wrote to you “for democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”  Robert Reich, veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, argued you’re putting us on a fast track to fascism. He thinks an uncontrolled Internet is “​​the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.” On of your other critics nearly exceeded Twitter’s character limit writing “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”  While I am not fully comfortable with billionaires deciding the fate of free speech, they’re downright terrified of you, Elon. If you want to scare them more, reinstating me (and yeah, Trump, too) would be excellent for that purpose.

    It’s funny/not funny because I have experienced their version of the Internet. When I was in Iran, the government there blocked Twitter and many other sites, effectively deciding for an entire nation what they cannot read. In America, Twitter decides for an entire nation what they cannot read. It matters little whose hand is on the switch: government or corporate, the end result is the same. This is the America I always feared I’d see, where Americans not just tolerate, but demand censorship.

    Now if you really want to shake things up (you’re that kinda guy, right?) just flat-out acknowledge the interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like your Twitter is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their, er, your rules, and so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Then there was that game-changing ban on news about Hunter Biden just ahead of the election. Let someone take Twitter to the Supreme Court and see if they’ll extend the 1A in some form to the new public square. The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power.

    Speech in America is an inalienable right, and runs as deep into our free society as any idea can. Thomas Jefferson wrote it flowed directly from his idea of a Creator, which we understand today as less that free speech is heaven-sent so much as it is something that exists above government. And so the argument the First Amendment applies only to the government and not to private platforms like Twitter is both true and irrelevant—and the latter is more important.

    So Elon, thank you very much for your consideration. I realize as a billionaire super villain you have many things on your mind but I hope you find time to at least delegate this to someone in hopes that they could reinstate me to Twitter to prove a point. The old Twitter sold censorship as a product, a dissent-free zone for libs. You can do something important freeing ideas, and I’d like to be a part of that.

    Love, Peter

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Lessons Learned: Dead Bodies in Ukraine

    April 22, 2022 // 2 Comments »

     

    It is hard escape the images from the Ukraine but easy not to think about them.

    The bodies themselves are the only truth; for there but for the grace of them goes us. Were they Russian separatists, Ukrainian heroes, people on the way home from work, people far from home or abandoned by even loved ones in their own backyards, strangers in the north to blue water, patriots or fish mongers in the south? How little it matters when they are placed next to each other on the ground but politics, politics always makes for stranger bedfellows now and forever.

    As we make some deal over their deaths, war crimes accusations levied by a nation (it is America) who quit the International Criminal Court in 2002 ahead of the Iraq War and as CYA for Israel being charged for war crimes in the ‘Strip, what say the shadows, the 460,000 dead in that Iraq, never freed, or those 1,353,000 in Vietnam (say that one again, Vietnam, because yes it echoes behind each muddy footprint, down the halls of State and Defense, Vietnam, where the most senior generals learned their craft.) There is truth to the phrase “never again” but it is this truth not that one: we will never (admit to) lose another war which is why more are gonna have to die, because Putin’s win could be seen as again our loss.

    But… but… these in Ukraine are not American deaths, not really dead because of America, so we can point and declare right from wrong, right? Same as we decry those who judge us we shall judge trespasses against them. I saw a little of war, my year in Iraq, a civilian witness, saw more than a lot, saw a lot less than some, but even a little is enough. Because after the first one you can remember bodies become repetitive until all that matters is how many of them their are. The GOAT is six million, anything else something… less, made to matter by evoking the six million, or the 500 from My Lai, or 35,000 from Dresden, or the 800,000 from Stalingrad. Stalingrad taught us to think of “civilians and soldiers” was a joke left from the 19th century when armies walked to a nearby field, war a ritual, that “he who sheds his blood today with me shall be my brother” bullshit that has killed people forever.

    Karl Doenitz, the head of Germany’s U-Boat fleet during World War II stood trial at Nuremberg for war crimes, specifically unrestricted warfare against civilian shipping. Doenitz, in his defense, raised the fact that the Allies practiced much the same style of was at sea, and even sought testimony from U.S. naval personnel. Doenitz raised broad, almost philosophical questions about commerce warfare, including belligerent conduct by armed merchant ships, contraband hidden aboard “civilian” ships, war at sea as a required evil for a nation under blockade, war zones, commerce control, and unneutral service.

    But it was the non-rescue policy for enemy survivors which brought Doenitz to Nuremberg. Doenitz in 1940 issued Standing Order 154 to his U-boats, “Do not pick up survivors and take them with you… The enemy began the war in order to destroy us, so nothing else matters.” and at his trial raised the question of why it was allowable to seek to kill people literally one moment, before their ship sank, but not one moment afterwards. He pointed out weapons were designed not to win wars per se but to destroy people efficiently, as we now know with modern cluster bombs and so-called hyperbaric vacuum bombs in Ukraine. Doenitz was found guilty but his testimony resonated with other combatants. Over 100 senior Allied officers sent letters conveying their disappointment over the verdict. They understood killing was killing and that rules were for the victors to use, later, as politics required, and never wanted to find themselves so entrapped..

    We look at those horrible photos again from Ukraine. Who are the dead? Some are collaborators shot by Ukrainians, some are innocents shot by Russians, some are civilian combatants who nonetheless took up arms for one side or another. Some may even be ethnically cleansed people, or just fake images, or old photos. None of that matters. The media is telling us to react. All that’s left is for someone to find a way to have our computers deliver a little food pellet along with the ultraviolence. It’s just about stim, little jolts to the brain, isn’t it? None of us have any idea who the dead bodies are in Ukraine, and who shot them, and why. We just enjoy the thrill, and the flexibility of creating our own righteous story. But we don’t grieve, we politicize.

    The truth is much more restrained than reality as we understand it at this point in the war. Human Rights Watch documented Russian military forces committing law-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include one case of rape, and two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man. There were other non-specific instances of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood.

    Yes, that’s the sum of it. One rape, seven executed. No death is to be celebrated or dismissed but a handful of war crimes does not equal a holocaust, a genocide, or what Zelensky is claiming today. Over-stating the actual situation will only serve to make the public numb. The Ukrainians are approaching the jump the shark moment, and since we’re talking about propaganda here not deaths, the phrase is appropriate. Oh my God, HRW says the Russians looted firewood! What horrors will follow?!?

    But in the end there is always the small story, and the big story, often so big it runs over the edges of our monitors so because of its size we don’t see it. We talk about peace, but the only place we all seem to live in some sort of harmony is in the land described by the Panama Papers, countries and statelets that pimp out their economies and legal systems to the global rich (oligarchs and entrepreneurs, it’s just the difference in word choice and how many feet of waterline their yachts have) so that sanctions become  a poor man’s punishment.

    The cover story never really changed. Our parents were told the raison d’etre since at least WWII was to destroy Communism. We were promised once we achieved nuclear parity with the Russians it would all be over, then told once we won the next proxy war (Cuba, Greece, Laos, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria, Yemen…) things would be right. The bodies, you see, don’t matter. They never really matter in the biggest picture.

       

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in 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 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 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 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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    Posted in 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 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 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 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 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 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 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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    Posted in 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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    Posted in Other Ideas