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.

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?” 

 

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?

Think FDR Not Obama

Biden’s COVID Bill Is His First Step Toward an FDR-Style Presidency.

Strong opening paragraph:

“President Joe Biden and Democratic legislative leaders were extremely clear about how they hoped to govern when they won full control of Washington for the first time in more than a decade. Their mantra? Be more like Franklin Roosevelt and the Congress of 1933, and less like Barack Obama and the Congress of 2009.”

Interesting insight:

“Democrats may be able to pass a transformative agenda despite having just a bare legislative majority. . . . It depends on whether Republicans ever stop talking about Dr. Seuss long enough to fight back against the next big Democratic bill.” 

It also depends on whether the Republicans’ media allies ever stop obsessing about Biden’s mental acuity long enough to fight back against the next big Democratic bill. Whenever you hear Republican politicians and media rip the President as “out of it” ask yourself what they did to reduce childhood poverty. Two months versus four years and it’s not even close.

Inexplicably left out of the Slate piece was any mention of the significant expansion of the Affordable Care Act which was written into the Covid relief legislation.

Hot damn, all of a sudden we have the makings of a real-life safety net.

The ‘Rona Reflex

Yesterday, I began my day with one of my favorite runs to PriestPoint Park and back. I went in the back door, meaning I climbed up 26th and then hung a right on the wide, paved connector road that drops down before dead ending into a single track trail on the park’s edge.

At least ten feet away, a young hipster (meaning he sported a beard) and his cute dog were walking up the 12-foot wide connector on the opposite shoulder of me. While exchanging silent “good morning” smiles, I couldn’t help but notice he edged off of the car-less road’s shoulder to create one or two more feet of distance between us.

Because he was youngish, seemingly healthy, not wearing a mask, and smiled at me, I doubt he was a grunt in the Mask Wars. And yet, even though everyone now knows the CDC guidelines—six feet away from one another when indoors while masked—I predict many will continue going a lot further given the ‘rona reflex which is the now deeply engrained idea that if some distance and masks and safety precautions are good, more are better.

I am not advocating for Texas Governor-like “Neanderthal thinking” about masks and mitigation. I’m advocating for proportionality. Specifically, a return to more relaxed interpersonal interactions as we chip away at the virus. Trusting that 12 feet is more than sufficient when outside.

If, in return, the Neanderthals are more patient with our neighbors for whom the reflex is deeply engrained, maybe the YouTube videos of people losing their minds while fighting the Mask War will abate and a post-‘pan peace will descend upon the land.

Botched Sexual Harassment Apology #193—Andrew Cuomo

Some public relations pro, not an amateur like me, should write a book on how not to apologize. There’s so much material in the public record, it would almost write itself.

Call it “Sorry, Not Sorry: The Art of Not Apologizing.” Each chapter a separate apology. Provide the context of what’s alleged, then the transcript of the non-apology, then translate each individual non-apology sentence-by-sentence. In a concluding chapter, illuminate all the problematic things the non-apology apologies have in common.

Rough notes for the Andrew Cuomo chapter based upon problematic things he volunteered at today’s presser:

  1. “. . . this has been an incredibly difficult situation for me—as well as other people.” Translation. . . Can we please focus more on me and my pain and less on these spiteful women’s misinterpretations of my personal style of communicating?
  2. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone. I never intended it.” The blanket “whatever pain” phrase coupled with the amorphous “anyone” is expert use of vague generalities to sidestep the very specific, credible, corroborated accusations. Translation. . . I didn’t do anything wrong to anyone. Major props to the journo who asked the Governor, “Who exactly are you apologizing to?” The exact right question. Along with, “What are you apologizing for specifically?” 
  3. “I will be better for this experience.” Translation. . . My political future, which is most important, is hanging in the balance. Can we please focus more on that? 

My Subconscious Is Weird

I make so many trips to the loo each night, I’m more efficient than a NASCAR pit crew. I’m awake about three minutes each time, which is what makes this story even stranger.

Here is my internal dialogue from a random 2 a.m. loo visit from a few nights ago.

“Why do John Rahm and Tony Finau have so many Top Ten finishes? Hella short backswings. They don’t get anywhere close to parallel, but very, very quickly accelerate through the ball generating above average power. Because their swings are shorter, there’s less margin for error, thus they are more consistent than the vast majority of their peers. Thus, they are human ATM machines.

It’s the same minimalist principle I employed as a poker player. I often won at poker because whenever I was dealt a poor to middling hand, I folded. Over the course of hours, I profited from other more optimistic players staying in a round or two too many. My competitive advantage was being more disciplined about bailing early. In essence, I shortened my swing.

Governor Cuomo should shorten his swing. A lot. The more he talks, the worse things get.

This is some weird shit for 2a.m.”

I would ask you to diagnosis my condition, but in the interest of dodging Liz’s wealth tax, I think I’ll pay a therapist.

Thursday Required Reading

1. Hiking Is an Ideal Structure for Friendship. Love stories like this.

“As soon as we complete one hike, we immediately establish when the next will be. We rotate the organization and planning duties, eeny-meeny-miny-moe style.

That person has complete authority and responsibility to organize the hike, select the location, provide the beer and other refreshments, and make any other side-trip plans. We’ve done breakfast, dinner. We sometimes hit various local watering holes, or we just plop down with a cooler in the woods somewhere. The organizer is responsible for setting up all the logistics, soup to nuts, and is not questioned on the decisions made.”

2. This game has surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant as the most-watched gaming category.

3. 2021’s Best States to Retire. I know, I know, how can any state known for the blog ‘PressingPause’ be ranked 31st? Spurious methods.

4. Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College. Don’t know where to start on this one.

5. Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee. If only Neera Tanden had shown the same tact and diplomacy as The Former Guy. Has nothing to do with “civility” and everything to do with political power. It’s a tad bit ironic that the R’s are channeling Malcolm X. “By whatever means necessary.” (credit: DDTM)

6. The most important Western artist of the second half of the twentieth century. (credit: Tyler Cowen)