Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Thing Behind the Thing

“It’s never about the thing it seems to be about.” That’s what my mom, a psychiatrist and perpetual student of the human psyche, always says when a seemingly trivial idea or object triggers a cascade of conflict. 

Another friend describes this as “the thing behind the thing.” In any conflict, you always have to ask, she says, “what is the thing behind the thing?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question in the context of the “mask controversy.” The “anti-maskers,”  in particular, seem disproportionately devoted to refusing to do what to many seems like a very simple, minor, and temporary public health measure. Could it be that the same country whose citizenry united to fight Nazi Germany would be fractured to this extent over covering one’s mouth and nose in Costco? Really? 

I don’t think so. That’s because it’s not really about the mask.

The fact is that there is good scientific data to support mask wearing to prevent the spread of COVID, and it’s objectively not a big deal. So why do people get indignant over masks to the point of violent confrontation? Is it really about the slippery slope infringement of some imagined civil liberty? Is it really about inhaling carbon dioxide or some fabricated health issue? 

These are surface arguments that try to rationalize the irrational, but they don’t withstand scrutiny—scientific or psychological.

What we are witnessing is an intentional, top-down assault on the American psyche, and the mask is simply a transient object—a canvas, really—on which people can easily and readily protect the rage, helplessness, and hopelessness borne of that assault. 

Four years of sadistic, criminal leadership aided and abetted by naked corruption; the open celebration of white supremacy and misogyny; the 24/7 avalanche of disinformation; and a contempt for science have all conspired amid an unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes public health crisis to laser in on a simple piece of cloth.

Americans are isolated and afraid. They are at sea in a storm, rudderless, and seeking a sense of safety, belonging, and control. Many are out of work or struggling to meet their basic needs while those in power who’ve sold them on the American Dream run away with the store. Of course they are on edge and ready to explode at the slightest provocation. The “mask” has become that provocation, that spark in a tinder box ready to ignite viral fist fights or worse. 

Because we have no meaningful leadership, we are unable to reconcile the tension between individualism and collectivism highlighted by the mask “debate.” Specifically, where do our rights as an individual end and the social contract begin? 

We have no one to guide or unify us on the answer to that question, and so we revert to our basest animal instincts of self-preservation: joining a tribe of like-minded conspiracists, protecting our bodies, defending ourselves against perceived threats, acting out with aggression. Our collective adrenal system has been in perpetual fight-or-flight for at least four years now.

So next time you get into it with someone about masks, understand the futility of reasoned argument. It’s not about the science behind masks or preventing COVID or really anything at all related to masks.  

It was never about any of that.

The mask is just the thing. The thing behind the thing—the thing behind the mask—is a lot bigger and more complicated than that, and a lot harder to resolve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

We Are Failing Teachers and Working Families Right Now and Forever

What are we doing? No, seriously, what the fuck are we doing? I saw this meme (not sure who made it, or I would ascribe credit), but it perfectly encapsulates the bind our country's anemic response to the pandemic and its fallout has put working families, parents, and teachers into this fall.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is many months--perhaps a year or more--from resolving in any meaningful way, by which I mean widespread testing and a vaccine. Scientists and researchers are working feverishly on both, and I think these solutions will eventually materialize. But until then, we are going to have to do better than simply tell parents, teachers, and working parents to just figure everything out on their own.

That is essentially what has happened. 

Trump's edict to "reopen schools this fall!" is just another vacuous, self-serving directive from a clinical sociopath who has never cared for another human being--in any way--in his life. It's just like "build the wall," "make America great again," "law and order!" or any of his other meaningless, bumper sticker lies. And he's issuing it amid soaring cases in many states--including here in Alaska.

I personally witnessed this on a Zoom call for a school board meeting here in Juneau. It was apparent that district officials and teachers had put an enormous amount of work, thought, and effort into developing a re-opening plan, engaging parents in feedback, answering questions, and trying to offer solutions and comfort. 

It was also obvious they had no idea what they were doing, and that's because they are not supposed to know. They are not supposed to be in the position of having to figure this out on their own, and our country has truly failed teachers and parents in asking them to.

I wish someone would just say out loud, "look, the United States is failing miserably to manage this pandemic. We are not prepared for it--not politically, not medically, not economically, and certainly not scholastically. It's obvious that teachers and parents are doing the best they can, but everyone is making it up as we go along and it's a total shit show."

This dilemma--and our government's neglect of it--is not a coincidence. It is the natural outgrowth of decades of a particular model of economics: one where parents--mostly mothers--are told to work eight or more hours a day, five or more days a week, send their kids to school for five or six of those hours, and figure out what to do with their kids the rest of the time.

Now, while Trump and his cronies siphon off federal corporate welfare for themselves, working parents and teachers are left to their own devices. What is more, we are being divided and conquered in precisely the manner described in this meme below:

"Teachers are underpaid and underfunded" (an intentional societal choice). 

"Parents are not prepared to homeschool their children" (Why would they be? Teaching is a profession that not everyone has trained for). 

"Parents need to work and can't be home all day" (another patriarchal choice to value a person's time at work over their home life). 

"Children and teachers need to be safe" (which they can't be with a highly contagious virus no one fully understands, but who cares because "the economy" comes first. And for some kids, of course, school is the only safe place they can be). 

"Teachers cannot teach online and in person simultaneously" (of course that is completely impractical, and not everyone has food or running water, much less internet access). 

"Anyone in contact with COVID should be quarantined" (science suggests this is true, but what does that do to us, and how impractical is that, given the above demands on our time)? 

"Kids won't be able to stay in masks and social distance all day" (not even for five minutes--anyone who has spent more than ten seconds with a child of any age knows that). 

"Distance learning is difficult and socialization is important" (again, how are kids with working parents, food insecurity, no running water, no internet, and no ability to see their friends supposed to distance learn or socialize at all)?

"We don't know the long-term effects of COVID" (another troubling aspect of this disease is that, like polio, COVID may beget long-term physical and neurological impacts).

"It is not an educator's job to risk their lives for other people's children" (which goes back to the main conceit here that the Trump administration is more or less telling teachers to drop dead this fall).

It did not (and does not) have to be this way. We need to move the Overton window to a place where we value teachers and working families at least enough to provide them with the basic infrastructure and tools they need to get through this thing. 

They deserve that, at a bare minimum, don't they? 

Other countries are doing it; there are good ideas about ways to do it in the United States. But we don't feel like we can pull it off, because people can't even be trusted to put on a mask for ten minutes at Costco without dissolving into an insane temper tantrum, and the President of the United States thinks that's a beautiful thing.

Again, this is not a coincidence and it is not inevitable. It is a direct result of choices we have made as a society to elect sadistic leaders who value money over lives. Now, as a result, parents, teachers, and working families are being asked to figure out how to navigate something it is not their place to navigate, and made to fight amongst themselves to accomplish the impossible, all while the one percent abscond with the lion's share of federal resources that are supposed to be helping us

Disregard for mothers in the workplace, for children and teachers at school, for a struggling workforce that can't pay its bills no matter how hard it works--has been woven into every policy choice our government has made since at least the 1980s. Leave aside, even, the mass shootings: COVID has exposed the indifference and the "fuck off and die" attitude toward school children and working parents that has long been the fulcrum of American public policy.

We need to keep voting and advocating to make sure we are never--ever--put in this position again.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

I Rewrote Ice Ice Baby for Vanilla Ice’s Corona Show

Yo, RNA, let's kick it!
ICU baby
ICU baby
All right stop
Collaborate and listen
Ice is back without COVID prevention
Virus, grabs a hold of us tightly
Stay in your bedroom, daily and nightly
Will it ever stop?
Yo, we don't know
Take off the masks, at this show
To the extreme, he spreads the virus like butter
Light up the swab and drop a lung for this nutter
Rush the emergency room
It's killin' your brain like bar mitzvahs on Zoom
It’s deadly, when it gets in your airway
Down for the count, you can't walk up a stairway
Love it or leave it
You best stay away
You better stay home
Cuz this shit don't play
Rona is a problem
Trump can't solve it
Check out the stats while his spin docs revolve it
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
Now that the cases are jumping
With the bars poppin' off, and the beaches bumpin'
Quick to the point, to the point no faking
Infecting Gen-Z's, they remain unshaken
Burning 'em, laid up on the couchie
I go crazy when I hear Doc Fauci
MAGAs, with their guns and their ammo
Rona's on a roll and it's time to go solo
Rollin' at 103 point O
With my temp up high cuz of bat guano
The doctors on standby
Ain't here just to say hi
Did you stop?
No, I just drove by
Kept on, pursuing to the next state
I busted south and I'm trying not to tempt fate
That state was dead
Yo so I continued to A1A AUSTIN TEXAS!
Girls were out, they were not quarantining
Rona lovers, driving Lamborghinis
Jealous, 'cause I'm out getting mine
Grab that Purrell, it’s malignant not benign 
Ready, for the chumps on the wall
The chumps are acting ill ‘cuz they're all outta Tylenol
Sirens, ranged out like a bell
Grabbed my N95
And my white blood cell count was
Rising, in my bloodwork real fast
Jumped in my car, slammed on the gas
Bumper to bumper the avenue's packed
No social distance, viral load is jacked 
Medics on the scene
You know what I mean?
They passed me up, I didn’t even get screened 
Rona is a problem
Trump won’t solve it
Don’t have a vax, watch his spin docs revolve it
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
Take heed, I ain’t washing my hands
COVID’s on the scene and I’m packing in the stands 
In Austin, with the aerosol droplets 
Enough to super-spread from Miami to Charlotte 
'Cause my stupid, is like a chemical spill
Feasible dumb you can vision and feel
Conducted and formed
It’s a hell of a concept
We infecting the masses, you don’t wanna step with this
Hydroxychloroquine, scroll past like fake news 
It’ll be some time before you go on a cruise, it’s hot 
CDC says, “Damn"
If my rhyme was a drug
They would say it was a scam
Keep my composure when it's time to get sick
Magnetized by the mic, I’m an epic dick
Rona is a problem
Trump won’t solve it
Go read a book, while the spin docs revolve it
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
ICU baby Vanilla
Yo man, let's get outta here. Go call your mother.