Thursday Required Reading

  1. Emerging From the Coronavirus. As someone with pandemic privilege—my state has done a very good job of limiting it and my circle of family and friends have been spared—I took my time with these personal stories on how profoundly Covid has changed millions of people’s lives.
  2. Diversity in Presidential Cabinets. As thorough and thoughtful a description and analysis as you will find. Should become a staple in political science courses.
  3. Lego enthusiast explains why the black market for the toy bricks is so lucrative. Fifty years too late for moi.
  4. The Robots Are Coming … to Mow Your Lawn. Yes please.
  5. How open and face to face will fall semester be? Sigh. Surprising how cynical the commenters are about higher education on this highly intellectual blog.

What My Critics Get Wrong

I refer to this as the “humble blog” because of the small readership. I routinely get proposals from search engine optimizers (presumably from India) who promise an increase in readership as a result of their coding prowess. But their pitches are impersonal and expensive, so you remain a part of a highly selective group of readers. 

Given that reality, I can’t afford to alienate any loyal readers, but that’s exactly what I did when I flippantly wrote that I wouldn’t be voting for Biden at age 82 in 2024. Check that, in hindsight, it wasn’t flippant, it was a semi-thought out point of view which of course anyone can disagree.

But one friend didn’t just disagree, he declared he was done with the humble blog. Who knew I was committing an unforgivable sin. Another very good friend somehow colluded with the first from across the country to ask if I’d vote for an assortment of especially revolting right-wing nut jobs if they ran against The Octogenarian.   

Since the infamous post first appeared, The Former Reader sent me a few text messages about “probably being too old” for this or that. For the record, he is 63 years young. Finally, a light bulb went off, he took it personally. Somehow, me not wanting an 86 year old President was saying his own expiration date was fast approaching. I wonder if the same is true for his Fellow Critic, who is two years the President’s junior.

That most certainly was not my intent. I would vote for both of my friends for President without hesitation. Here’s hoping someone shares that sentiment with The Former Reader.

The Former Reader’s and Fellow Critic’s doomsday electoral hypotheticals distract from the key question. Why the hell should any national political party have to settle for someone so elderly for one of the most difficult and important jobs in the world? Is there no man or woman as well qualified in their 40’s? What about their 50’s? 60’s? 70’s? An 82-86 year old Biden might do okay, and Fred Couples might win the Masters, but the odds are a lot better that Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, or Dustin Johnson is sporting the green jacket Sunday night. I probably won’t be voting for Biden in 2024, because I’ll be playing the odds.  

I do not expect this elaboration to have any salutary effect on my critics, known and unknown. In fact, I’ve probably just stepped into it a little deeper. Fellow Critic despises golf, so he’ll probably cancel me too. 

If a blog post falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?  

  

Breaking With Biden

Why is President Biden framing geopolitics this way?

“I predict to you your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy, because that is what is at stake. Not just with China. Look around the world. We’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution of enormous consequence. Will there be a middle class? How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology? The environment. How will they do that? It is clear, absolutely clear … this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. That’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got to prove democracy works.”

Why do we have to prove democracy works? What’s wrong with sovereign nations choosing other forms of government that work well for them? What do we gain from trying to impose democracy on others who have no interest in it?

It’s ironic that Biden asks, “Will there be a middle class?” because China is rapidly building one while ours is shrinking. Would I want to live somewhere like China without the civil liberties I’ve grown accustomed to? No, I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are willing to live with centralized power as long as their quality of life is improving.

I prefer our inefficient democracy, but it’s ethnocentric to assume our form of government is better than all the rest. Maybe in 2089, Tiananmen Square II will happen and the Chinese people will force a change of government.

Until then, improving quality of life is all that matters. Instead of framing geopolitics as a zero-sum game between democracies and autocracies, we should focus on diplomacy, 21st century environmental policies, demilitarization, creating jobs that pay livable wages, and reducing poverty home and abroad.

Granted, this is nitpicking. Biden is off to a great start. What a refreshing reset. Nevertheless, no matter how successful he is over the next 3+ years, I will never vote for an 82 year-old for President.

The ‘Greatest Country In The World’ Has A Serious Gun Violence Problem

How do all of the gung-ho pro-gunners who reflexively say America is the greatest country in the world interpret this data?

Gun Violence Deaths: How The U.S. Compares With The Rest Of The World.

Most mind numbing of all, the gung-ho pro-gunners reflexively say America would be safer if more people carried guns. Every man, woman, child a gun?   

Postscript:

Screen Shot 2021-03-25 at 8.35.43 AM

Nomadland Reconsidered

This Joshua Keating critique of Nomadland is excellent. He starts off praising it.

“The film Nomadland, which cemented its status as the front-runner for Best Picture with six Oscar nominations this week, includes unforgettable characters and images. It heralds the arrival of a major directing talent in Chloé Zhao, nominated for Best Director, and features yet another masterful turn from Frances McDormand, nominated for Best Actress. But for anyone who has read its source material, Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the film feels oddly incomplete. The filmmakers chose to jettison the book’s muckraking journalistic spirit and economic critique, ending up with a film that’s supposedly an examination of contemporary society, but feels politically inert.”

Lucid, critical, respectful, the phrases “oddly incomplete” and “politically inert” strike the perfect chord.

His main critique:

“These are people who are adamant that they are not victims, have chosen the lifestyle they lead of their own free will, and are grateful for the opportunities they get. This is admirable in some sense, but in the case of modern nomadism, it’s part of the problem. As Bruder’s reporting shows, one of the reasons companies like Amazon like to hire retirement-age “workampers” for physically demanding jobs that seem better suited for young bodies is that they “demand little in the way of benefits or protections. … Most expressed appreciation for whatever semblance of stability their short-term jobs offered.” The scrappy, no-complaints stoicism that makes these people appealing movie characters also makes them extremely exploitable.”

Keating convinces me that a very good film could’ve been even better.

How Not To Care

If you look even a little bit, the growing population of homeless men, women, and children in Olympia, Washington are easily visible; mostly you’ll find them close to the social service agencies they depend upon, like the Salvation Army and the Thurston County Food Bank. An enormous tent and tarp community stretches all along the western edge of Capital Lake on Deschutes Parkway SW. It looks like a refugee camp you might find in Northeast Africa, but worse because there’s no UNHCR to create some semblance of order. More accurately, picture Miami post Hurricane Katrina. Many more live in tents and tarps among the trees that line the Woodland Trail and the I-5 freeway.  

The classic argument between the Individual Responsibility folks, “they have to take responsibility for their bad decisions” versus the Systemic Forces folks, “the growing numbers of homeless who succumb to combinations of poverty, addiction, and poor mental health are entirely predictable given our ‘winner-takes-all’ economic system coupled with our anemic social safety net” shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of the Individual Responsibility folks respond to  homeless men, women, and children with a mix of resentment and anger. At the same time, a gradually increasing percentage of the Systemic Forces folks are exasperated as some natural areas are lost and downtown grows less clean and safe.

So why, as the population of homeless men, women, and children rises; does it seem like our collective empathy decreases? Even among a lot of decent people who have demonstrated empathy in their past for others less fortunate than them?

Mired in resentment and anger, we leapfrog caring about our fellow citizens’ pain and suffering because we don’t know any homeless person’s story. We don’t know where they’re from, what their childhood was like, what hardships they’ve had to endure. Not knowing any of those things makes it much easier to assume they’ve made a series of bad decisions. And that until they start making good ones, they get what they deserve. 

Local papers don’t have the resources to tell their stories anymore. And even if alternative papers tried, would we read them when we don’t even really look at our homeless neighbors? As if they have leprosy, the best we can do, it seems, is a quick glance.

The secret to not caring about the homeless is not knowing anything about any one homeless person. Not learning their names and not looking at them helps too, but mostly, it’s avoiding learning how and why and where things went off the rails. 

Irrespective of one’s religious views or politics, it seems increasingly common to castigate “the homeless”. Because they remain an abstraction. 

This proven strategy works equally well in other contexts too. For example, the same approach to not caring works for the growing number of Central American immigrants gathering at our southern border. Many Fox News hosts are absolutely giddy over what the gathering numbers of desperate immigrants mean for Biden’s approval ratings and the midterm elections because they don’t know any of their stories. There are laws to be enforced and political gain to be made, nevermind their pain and suffering, their humanity.

Yesterday, I screwed up. And mistakenly read this story in the New York Times.

A Violent End to a Desperate Dream Leaves a Guatemalan Town Grieving

In doing so, I was introduced to Santa Cristina García Pérez, a 20 year old, one of twelve Comitecos who were massacred by Mexican police near the U.S. border. I learned Christina was one of 11 siblings who hoped to make enough money in the U.S. to. . . 

“. . . cover the cost of an operation for her one-year-old sister, Angela Idalia, who was born with a cleft lip. . . . 

She wanted to save Ángela Idalia from what she thought would be a life of ridicule, relatives said.”

I doubled down on my mistake by taking my time to truly see all of the Comitecos mourning their friends and family. Powerful images of profound loss, one after another. Including one of Ricardo García Pérez, Cristina’s dad, placing a bottle of water next to her casket. . .

“. . . so that Ms. García’s spirit did not suffer from thirst on its journey to the next life.”

I wasn’t the only one learning about the Comitecos. The Times explains:

“The killings have stunned the community, spurred a wave of international media attention on Comitancillo and an outpouring of financial support for the victim’s families. Among other acts of largess, donations from nearby communities in the region and from the Guatemalan diaspora have paid for Ángela Idalia’s first surgery to repair her cleft lip and have enabled the García family to build a new house.”

That’s one more vivid example that when most people see someone suffering, look into their eyes, learn their name, and something about their life journey; they can’t help but care. And help.

In contrast, the homeless in my community remain an abstraction. An abstraction most of us are determined to keep at a comfortable distance. Given our mounting resentment and anger at this abstraction, we keep asking, “When is someone going to do something?” 

 

Longish Tax Sentence To Ponder

It’s well known that in the (dis)United States, many business owners do not report all of their income. It is also well known that the Internal Revenue Service is unable to catch and penalize them.

From the New York Times editorial team:

Mr. Rossotti, together with the Harvard economist Lawrence Summers and the University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin, argued in an analysis published in November that investing $100 billion in the I.R.S. over the next decade, for technology and personnel, in combination with better data on business income, would allow the agency to collect up to $1.4 trillion in lawful tax revenue that otherwise would go uncollected.

What percentage of tax evading business owners routinely bitch about the “criminal element” in society?

Questions To Ponder

  • I’m far from a Presidential historian, but I can’t help but wonder, has there ever been a more dramatic change in governing assumptions and policies than we are witnessing right now?
  • After their amazing comeback victory over Sparty last night, is UCLA the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA championship?
  • Speaking of the NCAA tourney, is my contingent of the PAC-12 teams plus Gonzaga plus Oklahoma State going to overwhelm Richie’s ACC teams for yet another t-shirt victory?
  • How many t-shirts does one need?
  • Chuck is proposing a 30% rebate on electric bikes. Can I get a shop to throw a cheap battery on my next bike, and then immediately take it off, for 30% savings? And still get into heaven?
  • In the (dis)United States, how long until the ‘rona vax supply outstrips demand?
  • Why doesn’t Trudeau want my money?
  • When is Trudeau going to shave?
  • How do young adults find romantic partners these days?
  • What should I make for dinner?