Sunday, August 9, 2020

Popping wheelies in a pandemic

          This week, Sturgis, S.D., is the best place in America to be a germ.

            Its population of 6,943, has grown by 250,000 or so for the Sturgis 2020 motorcycle rally. Even if we don't count microbes, it's by far the nation's biggest gathering since the pandemic began.

            Elbow to elbow, few masks, no fear, tons of exhaust.

            Pandemic, shmandemic. They dined together, drank together, partied together. They did what any virus would endorse.

            I'm not calling bikers unclean. I'm sure there was a lot of hand-washing, maybe even Purelle between shots of Cutty Sark.

            I'm not saying the assembly is passing around one wineskin, or that Bandidos and Cossacks have shown up and coughed on each other in lieu of gunfire.

            The rally itinerary is respectable and clean.

            That's not the point.

            The point: In a pandemic where roughly a third of those infected show no symptoms, a gathering like this is petri-dish ridiculous.

            What were the people of Sturgis thinking? Actually, most were and are in accord with others' sense of alarm. It's just that city leaders weren't.

            A survey found 60 percent of residents wanted the rally postponed because of the virus. However, business interests won the argument on city council.

            Public health lost to the buck that could be made. That includes your health and mine, or what's a pandemic for?

            The United States is doing worse at dealing with this scourge than any developed country, despite whatever charts Donald Trump might have in his lap.

            The tragic thing: Unlike him, most of us are taking the pandemic seriously. We are making the requisite sacrifices and precautions.

            But even as we do, as the meme says, when a certain segment behaves like there's no problem, "It's like having a peeing section in a swimming pool."

            Survey after survey finds most Americans share the concerns of the townspeople in Sturgis. To them, public health should be preeminent over juicing the economy. They realize this is a moment in time. Now is the time to defeat this virus. Only by doing so will the economy do what it can.

            Instead, people will die so others can take the fast lane to satisfaction.

            Our need for speed makes it impossible to rein in the virus. Florida. Texas. Georgia. Arizona. The leaders in each thought that they could live apart from this worldwide crisis and behave differently from New York and its silly lockdowns. No they couldn't. 

            Now a school year arrives. Ever hoping to goose the economy, Trump threatens school districts that won't stomp on the accelerator.

            It didn't take but one day for some school districts that opened in-person to send students home. That's going to be the story of 2020, guaranteed.

            The best way to get grade-schoolers back to the loving embrace of their teachers is to curb the disease stalking them.

            To that end -- toward fighting the disease with facial coverings, social distancing, testing and contact tracing – our president behaves like a 2-year-old in a "You can't make me" crouch on the floor.

            At first I typed "kindergartner" to describe him. But the nation's kindergartners will be much more responsible than Trump whenever they convene in-person. They'll do their best, and the teachers will do theirs.

            But it's absolutely impossible to keep these children from exchanging hugs, wiping noses on arms, and generally sharing microbes.

            Anyone who's had a kindergartner knows that the red track beneath the nose is the central trademark of the in-school experience.

            In this case, however, the problem is not one that'll be mitigated with boxes of tissue.

            After Sturgis returns to population 6,943, we shudder to consider how many will fall ill while, like a giant sneeze, motorized microbes are expelled out on our highways and byways, and toward membranes near you.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Of facial coverings and 'cancel culture'

           What do my pet store and the great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt have in common?

            Quite a bit, actually.

            First, my pet store. It's a big chain -- no surprise -- and therefore nothing unusual. However, its devotion to people's safety is remarkable – so much that it offers a 10 percent discount to get goods curbside.

            Hence customers don't infect each other or store employees inside. Our cat and dog food are handed over from a gloved hand with a smile beneath a mask.

            Now to Teddy Roosevelt's great grandson.

            In a commentary on "CBS Sunday Morning," Mark Roosevelt said that the statue outside New York's Museum of Natural History of Teddy astride a horse while a head-dressed Native American and a bare-chested African hold fast at his stirrups should go away.

            "If we wish to live in harmony and equality with people of other races, we should not maintain paternalistic statues that depict Native Americans and African-Americans in a subordinate role," he says.

            Wait. Doesn't Mark Roosevelt care about his family name?

            It depends on your definition of family. His is bigger than the House of Roosevelt. He is president of St. Johns College in Santa Fe, N.M. As such, he serves all cultures and colors, something anyone who subscribes, say, to the Christian faith would do as well.

            That would apply to my pet store.

            This has been a grim period in so many ways, particularly with a president whose sole concern appears to be serving his base and, not coincidentally, his race.

            By contrast, credit businesses and their employees for showing concern for everyone. File for history's keeping the photos of store clerks in masks and gloves. They are among 2020's heroes.

            At the same time, file for history's keeping the image of Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert mugging and sulking about having to act responsibly in a pandemic. Now he's infected, and he wants to blame the mask he mostly shunned. Right.

            Back to that Teddy Roosevelt statue, and what defenders of gray eminence deride as "cancel culture."

            Gohmert wouldn't cover his face and protect others from a virus that often doesn't show its own. Similarly, those who venerate symbols of racism and white supremacism don't see that governments, like colleges and pet stores, serve every race and creed.

            Face coverings and "cancel culture" are one in the same. Both are discreet means of siding with smart over the opposite.

            True, not all of the grievances related to the latter are about racism. Some "cancellations" are about rank stupidity.

            Twitter said it was stupid for Donald Jr. to retweet a video promoting COVID medical theories that would make colonial-era bloodletters blush.

            I won't call Ivanka Trump stupid. However, the administration of Wichita State University Tech realized it was stupid to have her speak to 2020 graduates once faculty and students asked what in the world she'd done to merit the honor. You mean being born to the House of Trump is insufficient? Oh, woe.

            In most cases, "cancel culture" is a grievance only for the hyper-privileged or the hyper-ridiculous, or both. And it's most assuredly not about free speech. (Just as wearing a mask is not an abridgement of your freedom.)

            In the Washington Post, author Eve Fairbanks writes that when it comes to getting "canceled," the argument from the aggrieved is not so much about speech but a protest from "people worried their points may be weak."

            As with pet food, this is about the marketplace of ideas. Some win; some lost around the time we emerged from the '50s. Sorry, Don Jr. Sorry, Ivanka. Get a sign and stand out on the sidewalk. No one will abridge that freedom, unless your daddy has a photo op nearby.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Trump sends in his storm swoopers

           Cure the evils of Democracy by the evils of Fascism! Funny therapeutics. I've heard of their curing syphilis by giving the patient malaria, but I've never heard of their curing malaria by giving the patient syphilis! 

                                     -- Sinclair Lewis, "It Can't Happen Here." 

 

            Yes, it's happening. A man whose political career is going down in flames has turned to setting fires at calculated locations, frantically hoping the wind shifts.

             In 1935 Sinclair Lewis imagined such a person – "A public liar easily detected . . . his 'ideas' almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture.

            "His political platforms were only wings of a windmill."

            And yet such a man rose to power in Lewis's novel, and that man resorted to fear and fascism to achieve his ends.

            And that man dispatched a paramilitary force to advance those ends.

            Well, slap our faces. We all assumed that this was a democratic republic where no individual was entrusted with unchecked power. We were wrong.

            Our previous assumption – that this is a nation of the people, and by and for them -- might hold today if the Great Leader's political party held to any of its republican principles.

            Like states' rights -- previously a fundamental GOP principle. Now? Disregard the protests of states and cities to which the Great Leader would dispatch his storm swoopers.

            In Portland they've been without identifying markers except for "Police" on their camowear – tooling the streets in their unmarked rented mini-vans, sweeping up stunned protesters and discovering the romantic pleasures of tear gas.

            All is completely uninvited, and according to local authorities and witnesses, totally counterproductive.

            There are all sorts of situations in which states and cities might seek the help of the Great Leader – say with testing for a pandemic, equipment to deal with a pandemic, federal coordination to deal with a pandemic.

            But the Great Leader is not about those matters. He is about windmill-waving and staging great scenes of discord for his favorite cable news channel. Send in the para-swoopers.

            Wag the dog? These tactics would incinerate the poor creature.

            Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said these uninvited invaders were not keeping the peace but "escalating violence," and that was their goal.

            The proof is in the powerful video of heightened tensions and confrontation.

            A Portland man who was at the protests said the feds' presence shifted things "from protesting racism to protesting the increased federal presence.

            A Navy veteran, attempted to engage a storm swooper in conversation, you know, that First Amendment stuff, only to be hit repeatedly with a baton and pepper-sprayed, his hand broken.

            Said the bone-spur-deferred Great Leader, people like that Navy veteran "hate our country."

            What a dire time for us.

            A Colorado Republican state lawmaker, hopped up on Fox News hype, wrote the Great Leader requesting similar federal presence after protests in Denver. (He cited graffiti and the presence of antifa!)

            Gov. Jared Polis called "BS" in so many words. He pointed out that if he wanted federal help he would request it, starting with the Colorado National Guard.

            What the Great Leader has in mind by sending in the swoops, said Polis, is to pour "oil on the fire." But then, oil on fire provides better illumination for fearful TV footage.

            At this point, all those folks talking about defunding police should shift to defunding Homeland Security. Start with the Border Patrol and ICE.

            Don't these people have a job?

            Shouldn't they be at the border fighting back brown hordes, bayonets gleaming?

            You say bayonetting brown people isn't what Border Patrol does? Well, neither, by job definition, is apprehending Oregonians.

            Any Republican, any American, should denounce what the Great Leader is doing.

            It couldn't happen here, but it did.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.