6.16.2020

Do the Right Thing: Systemic Racism and Covid

Do the Right Thing | Spike Lee | 1989

Covid might have been the tinderbox that allowed the George Floyd protests to ignite, but the here and now of racism are the black and brown folks that are disproportionately getting sick and dying of Covid today. Right now. The white liberal response is to hashtag the eff out of this situation, but in fact we should be pressuring officials right this minute to get more testing and tracing in low-income communities, more education of health behaviorsPPE, and protecting families that aready are infected.

It’s not too late to do the right thing. While Instagram activity is crazy high, black and brown people are still getting infected with Covid, right this minute. Let’s reform our police departments, and educate our parents, and set city budgets right, but what can we do right this minute to take down the silent killer that already taken 56 Durham lives and who knows how many more until a vaccine is found and administered.

5.18.2020

CVS

To watch a Latino family try to get medications when they don’t speak English. The cashier uses Google Translate. The child is sick, and the father’s brown shoes are worn thin. What promised land is this?

5.08.2020

4.30.2020

The long middle

I feel like this is the end but it is not the end.  

All that I can control is what is in front of me.  

It may feel like the end of the world, but it is not the end of the world.

Everything is stalled out.

As we sink into the monotony of the days and the depression of everything having changed, we realize how precarious the health and wealth of our civilization is.

What we need to do:

Not trust leaders who don't care about the environment
Not trust leaders who are racist
Invest in leaders that demonstrate intelligence and champion science
Invest in self-sufficiency

4.27.2020

Aggregate Public Health

With public health in the forefront of the fight against Covid, I think this abstract idea of aggregate public health has taken hold of the collective imagination like never before (i.e. flattening the curve, social distancing). But why stop with Covid? Perhaps this the time to think broadly and insightfully and take clear concerted action on:
  • Obesity 
  • Cigarettes
  • Weed 
  • Alcohol
  • Domestic abuse
  • Suicide
  • Opioid Addiction
  • Other plagues?

4.19.2020

asterisks

Dear Rog, on your pod with Rebecca Lowe, you talked about the asterisk that will inevitably be attached to Liverpool‘s league win this year, the irony being that this is one of the winningest sides in the history of football. I couldn’t agree with you more, but for different reasons. Just as 9/11 seems to demarcate the moment that popular culture shifted from modern to postmodern, this Covid crisis will be seen as a inflection point of its own. In the pre-Covid era, our daily lives were infused with snark, irony, narcissism, ostentatious wealth, unbridled consumer capitalism, storylines of multi-multi-million dollar football contracts and foreign owners that play and cultivate teams like they were horses. In a post-Covid era, we will, we must, embrace football, but without this bullshit. If the burning trash pile also known as Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that we still have an appetite for intelligence, and as two of the most intelligent football commentators of the world’s most intelligent and elegant game (I mean, what football commentator uses the word "interstitial" (correctly) in his pod or interviews a Booker prize nominee?), we can see plainly that to be a champion of football, as Klopp and his team has achieved, is of only limited worth. Most important is health, security, and the protection of safety nets for all people, rich and poor, black, white, and Latinx. The asterisk is present because the historical era that it demarcates, like B.C. or B.C.E., is context already to a world gone by.

last one here


https://genius.com/13815592

4.12.2020

If we were as concerned about public health as we are concerned about Covid, we would regulate beer, liquor, and cigarettes more.

4.05.2020

The Long Emergency

As recently as late February, we were still bemoaning our over-busy lives.

The week that the shit hit the fan in Durham, March 16th, I woke up every day as if waking up from a nightmare, a nightmare where everyone lost their job, and a vague specter of death moved through our community. Every day was like going to war with an imaginary demon. Every day was like going to war, but the army you were commanding was losing badly.

Our potential demise as a modern civilization was rendered far closer than we ever imagined. Suddenly, many bourgeois privileges, like going to bars and restaurants, were spoken of in the past tense as if we were speaking of the one-time wealth of ancient Rome.

We had been so blind, and Covid-19, like a biblical Tower of Babel, or an actual literal plague, laid us bare. The orange-tinted emperor had no clothes. The economy, reliant on consumer spending like a perpetual motion machine, had no clothes. The city officials, teachers, school administrators, health officials, were left listless, wholly unprepared to react to a crisis of this magnitude and scope. There was no reaction. All we could muster was "stay at home".

And stay at home we did, or at least those that could afford to. While time slipped through our fingers, Latinx families were expected to follow English website instruction for homeschooling. (Was this really the most creative solution to this problem? Why weren't teachers reaching out? Even using Google Translate for assignments for grade-schoolers would have been better than nothing.) This was the stratification of information access in its most obvious, blatant, and unsparing form. In an attempt to social distance and for lack of beds, homeless folks slept outside at the shelter in March.

I like to use something I call emetic theory as a way to understand the value, if any, in what is happening. In the Winter of 2014/2015, only a year after I had taken ownership, the Bakery hired an employee who proved to be toxic in the most stereotypical sense. She caused long-serving employees to leave. She was mean to staff and to management. She was resentful and disagreeable to put it mildly. To make matters worse, before things came to a head with her, I hired her partner as well, and the toxin spread. When the fireworks were over, they had both quit in a span of three weeks, and I had lost 1/3 of my staff. The way the Bakery was coming apart, it was as if it had swallowed an emetic and was throwing up; literally every day felt like possibly the last we could go on together. The Bakery at the time was barely staying afloat financially. It was at that point that I realized I needed either to step up as a manager, or I was going to go bankrupt. I began thinking more as a manager, and less as a staff member and worker, which had been my role since I joined Ninth Street Bakery as a bread mixer in 2009. I needed to think about what a leader would do. It was an uncomfortable role for me. I was quiet. I was humble. I wasn't good with people. I wasn't particularly good at giving praise, or letting people know they were appreciated on a regular basis, especially when I was feeling stress, which was every day. All those things needed to change if I wasn't going to go down with the ship. Painful as it was, the emetic the Bakery swallowed as a result of those two toxic employees was positive in the long run, both for the Bakery, and for me as a manager. Covid-19 is not comparable in scope, magnitude, or severity, but a blind man can see the fissures, cracks, and outright canyons laid bare by the unequal distribution of suffering dispersed by this emetic, whether it be access to health care, education, basic goods and services, or something as simple as health education on the risk and pathway of viral transmission. This may actually be a chance to take a look at the dysfunctional things in our economy and fix them, to trim fat and excess, and to redistribute wealth more equitably. A twilight of the idols so to speak.

Trump's reaction to Covid from the get-go has had all the overtones of an alchemist trying to convince a scientist that they can transform shit into gold. The fact that we give him or his administration or the (elected) officials that answer to him hand and foot any credence is a shameful reflection on us all. The idea that we can do very smart things in the field of global capitalism, yet and leave a nation of 320 million to be governed via systemic corruption, racism, monied influence, and willful ignorance hurts my soul and boils my blood. In a world of Covid, or perhaps post-Covid, complacency and ignorance will no longer be tolerated. Why is South Korea so much better than us at this? And Hong Kong? And Singapore? As my Nana would say, "You’re not so great.  You’re not so terrific."

In many ways, Covid has brought everything to fore that Trump always wanted. He wanted the borders closed. He saw international trade come to a screeching halt. Like Trump, we no longer shake hands anymore. Like Trump, everyone is socially isolated in their "tower".  His disputed claims of wealth and ostentatious bombast now fall hollow like never before amid severe economic crisis. He is the loneliest man, and as Deleuze would say, "the ugliest man". And he still hasn't released his taxes. And with his xenophobic race taunting of the "Chinese virus", he opens the door for an international race war. He is so dumb and misguided I can literally see the wheels of cognition turning.

I call Trump "racist grandpa". I had a grand-uncle who survived Auschwitz, and like many persecuted minorities, was subsequently racist to other minorities, having heard him use the n-word once. It was the kind of thing that as a young adult in the late 90's, I tolerated and chalked up to the ignorance of having been a Polish immigrant in a new and often hostile world (he lived and raised a family in Brooklyn when being from Brooklyn meant something). Like my grand-uncle, we somehow allow Trump to continue being racist, as well as classist, sexist, homophobic, etc. How he is not impeached for misconduct and abuse of power has as much to say about his inability to see plain facts and string them together as it does our inability to depose him. He is an embarrassment.

To win at a public health intervention like Covid takes conformity. We all need to move like a school of fish to win at social distancing. But to win at a political intervention like new civil rights (read upending structural racism, gerrymandering, expanding Medicaid, installing Medicare for all, fighting environmental racism, removing insider trading, lying Senator Burr, etc.) takes concerted and sustained action, both at the national and state level. When you look at a relief package like the CARES Act, it turns out that all along we had the money, lots of money apparently, to give direct payments to poor and working class people, we just didn't have the political will to stomach it. As with massive outlays for wars of deception and interference, the money is there and has been there to lift people out of poverty, just not the political will. It's abysmal. I didn't realize that the government had 2T dollars to give to poor and working class people, it just took a global pandemic to show it.  And the amount of that actually going to actual folks is like 230B. It's so wrong. We could actually lift every poor person out of poverty tomorrow if we wanted. I think what this shows is that all the time we had the money to provide direct payments to citizens. We just didn’t have the political will.  We willingly and voluntarily let people live in poverty. We could raise the living standards of millions of people and create a generation of voters that believe justice means bringing everyone up to a basic level of safety, security, and well being. Do we keep growing, or do we redistribute what we have? Ironically, Covid is a virus built on stratification. The first people to transmit and fall victim to Covid and transmit it internationally were the folks that have the income to travel by plane regionally and internationally: NBA stars, movie stars, health ministry officials, international soccer players and coaches, for example. The next tier of people to get it were those bourgeois who fly in planes, go to bars, restaurants, clubs, concerts.  A lack of discretionary income to be in places where people gather for leisure meant that the poor and the working class, the 3rd world, were both the last to get it, and also the least prepared to perform behaviors like social distancing or to get adequate health care or health information. At Wholefoods, only 25 people at a time can be in the store. At Compare Foods, there are no limits and people confusedly negotiate and ignore the blue taped Xes on the ground near checkout meant to indicate appropriate social distance.

I put this all in context to stake the claim that there is still time to put our intellectual capital and moral wherewithal to work.

I wish I had right now:

Better information!

Information is the foe of panic and fear of the unknown.

I wish I had:

1. Confidence that contact tracing is happening for all hospitalized and non-hospitalized cases. How many public health workers are intersecting with the community to do this work?
2. Where are the hotspots in your community? How is the community being messaged about this?
3. Public health advisories. How are we communicating about health behaviors to all communities?

This is a public health crisis, and it has already proven fatal in communities where information is not shared effectively about risks and behaviors.

Leaders need to step up and think as hard about the transmission of information as the transmission of the virus. Leaders will step up through this crisis, and pretenders will step out or step aside or step down or be deposed.

If there is any opportunity in Covid, it is to think twice about getting back on the capitalism treadmill if and when things return to normal. Covid effectively pulled the Andon cord on our economy. The question is what and how we will fix what was broken. What if we didn't keep growing and instead redistributed what we have? If we base wealth on growing GDP quarter after quarter, we are doomed to fail eventually as a society and as a civilization. What would it mean to clean the slate? What type of people are we going to be when we return to the capitalist treadmill, how are we going to be changed by this? What will we demand of our leaders? Covid has taken the wheels off of the capitalism train, and not eager to get up back on that treadmill, I see the pain in the eyes of all who have been laid off or affected; there must be a 3rd Way, a way to distribute wealth equitably without these extremes and lack of safety nets. What would I do if I got off this treadmill?

Addendum: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/opinion/climate-change-covid-economy.html

Virus culture

Coronavirus culture is really STI culture gone global.

The blame.
The resentment.
The guilt.
The confusion.
The feelings of invincibility that it can't happen to you.

Axioms of Viral Culture
1. Information is often insufficient, inadequate, and untimely.
2. No one tries to give someone else a virus.
3. You can blame others, but it won’t be as half as bad as the blame you hang on yourself.