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Remembering civility on 9-11

meador

“Look, that building’s on fire,” my wife said, waking me. “They think an airplane hit it.” That last bit got my groggy attention. It was before 6:00 a.m. on a bright September morning.

“What kind of airplane?” I asked stupidly, fogged from my recent sleep. I wanted to know if it was a little Cessna or a large transport aircraft. Of course, she didn’t know. No one had a clue at that point. All we knew was one of the world’s most iconic buildings sported a jagged black hole, belching smoke, tens of thousands of papers fluttering to the ground like obscene confetti.

Now that I was awake, the television held my attention and, besides, it was a bright morning, one of those rare days when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky over the entire continental United States. I couldn’t go back to sleep. Like everyone else, we speculated. I knew the scale of the World Trade Center: over 200 feet on a side, that was too big a hole for a little airplane.

Incredulously, as we watched, a second aircraft struck the smoking tower’s undamaged twin. Even the morning hosts of the Today Show had difficulty believing what everyone’s eyes had just witnessed. This was no light airplane — a transport aircraft in familiar United Airlines livery had just hit the second tower. Hollywood couldn’t have executed the resulting fiery explosion in more spectacular fashion.

• • • • •

When I was 11 years old, two events occurred that shook me. Taking place two months apart, my reaction to these happenings became a seminal moment in my life as it was the point I realized the world didn’t revolve around me. I learned that things happen — horrible things affecting real people — but things that had nothing to do with me. As an adult, this sounds obvious, but to a child, it was a significant moment and one I will never forget.

In March 1977, two fully-loaded Boeing 747s collided in heavy fog on a runway on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. The accident was violent and fiery, resulting in 583 deaths. The reference clerks at my local library must’ve thought I was a strange and ghoulish kid as I requested — often repeatedly — all the material I could get on the crash. I borrowed dozens of periodicals, many of them special-ordered by the library and I wore the pages down reading, rereading and staring at the awful photographs. The crash remains the worst air disaster ever in terms of deaths.

The second event took place in May 1977, just a few weeks after the Tenerife catastrophe. This one was a fire at the oddly-named Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The supper club was a sprawling maze of dining rooms, banquet halls and performance spaces. Over 3,000 people were estimated to be inside the club at the time of the fire — 165 of them died in the rush to flee fast-moving flames and suffocating smoke. The Beverly Hills Supper Club ranks as the third-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

As a boy, these incidents fascinated me because they had nothing to do with me, personally, yet they affected me deeply. It was the moment I knew I needed to watch the news. Overnight — and weirdly, maybe — the news went from boring to something I watched regularly. I began reading my local newspaper almost every day. These habits I began at age 11 are habits I retain today.

One adult lesson I learned rather quickly after becoming a well-informed preteen was the tendency communities — from villages to nations — have to come together in times of tragedy.

• • • • •

On September 11, 2001, I arrived many hours late to work at my newspaper job because I was glued to MSNBC’s coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In 2011, MSNBC was a superb news network and its coverage over the next 30 days was outstanding. As news of the catastrophe expanded, so did news of heroism, miracles and, yes, unity.

Former U.S. Navy data analyst Lisa McCracken of McMinnville recalls driving to work at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado, outside San Diego. Prior to 9/11, dozens of angry protesters permanently lined part of her route to work, waving impolite signs telling naval personnel they weren’t welcome. The night of September 11, the signs disappeared. On September 12, the signs of scorn were replaced by an equal number of signs effusively thanking the sailors and expressing undying appreciation for the base. McCracken found the abrupt about-face unsettling.

In a way, the signs on Coronado sum up the about-face many Americans did on that coldly clear September morning 20 years ago. For a short while, Americans were united in horror and grief, our boundaries between our fellow countrypeople lowered. We offered and received comfort, we focused our anger on a far-away enemy, knowing we were in this together with our neighbors. We demonstrated an amity and a unity better than at any other time in my life.

Where is this benevolence now? In the face of an unprecedented public crisis, we have sworn fealty to one side or the other and taken cover in virtual foxholes to isolate us from neighbors who don’t see it our way.

In recent weeks, I have been told repeatedly there is no longer anyone in the middle. To be fair, this opinion has been posited mostly by left-leaners who are convinced all the reasonable people on the right have gone down the dark Qanon rabbit hole of conspiracy, suspicion and paranoia. And to be fair the other way, a worrisome number of Republicans have, indeed, followed each other into the deep state abyss.

But I have news for those who believe no one occupies the middle ground: you’re wrong. Arguably, with the exception of the Qanon idolaters, the middle ground has grown. Yet, the middling people are terrified of speaking up for fear they’ll be pounced on by the growing number of angry activists on both sides. Right now, it’s not only the fringefolk who are speaking loudly. The educated and erudite people who tend to shape policy have found new passion and they’re nearly as loud as the edges. No wonder the mild-mannered middle is so afraid to speak: we’re all so focused on our differences that the middlers fear the slightest misstep will earn them an obscenity-laced public chastising and mockery on social media.

As we reflect on that cruel September morning 20 years ago, I urge everyone to recall the understanding we were so willing to show our fellow Americans immediately after that dark day. As I often suggest, reach out to someone who sees things differently than you do — I’m not talking about trying to connect with criminals, racists or paranoiacs. But those quiet middle people are out there and, if you want to convince a few of them to see things your way, it’s easier to do so over a latte and affable conversation than with shouting and name-calling.

When my wife woke me on that bright morning in 2001, I felt like I did when I was 11 years old. I’ve watched the news and read the newspapers regularly for almost 45 years now. It’d be nice to once again see the endless parade of grim news reports accompanied by a few stories celebrating the sweeping kindness and understanding we once demonstrated in times of crisis.
 

The joke is on me

meador

How did we get here? It’s like we followed a lunatic map to Crazytown, a place where logic is mocked, expertise is rejected, common sense is nonexistent and even gravity is suspect. If you’d told me 20 years ago that American society would become badly fractured in the unnatural manner it is today, I would’ve laughed at your paranoia. But now the joke’s on me.

The pundits and commentators are all singing a similar song right now, lamenting our descent into purposeful ignorance and invited chaos. But there’s a reason for this mournful chorus: we’ve gone from amused to concerned to worried to frustrated to sickened. We know some of the public gets it but a frightening number does not. Worse, those who do not get it view those of us who do with a mixture of pity and contempt. Which, in a predictable coincidence, is kind of how we view them.

I serve as a moderator on a popular social media platform designed to build community by uniting neighbors. I take this small responsibility seriously, abandoning my opinions when I wade through posts. Most users post innocuous observations or pleas, like asking for recommendations for a particular service or looking for good restaurants. But of course, COVID has now reared its ugly head on that platform. Last night a COVID thread had devolved to the point where both sides were trying to out-insult each other. Seriously? We’ve all become third grade playground bullies?

Over and over, I see this. As if awaking slightly dazed from slumber, I shake my head to clear my mind and I realize, yes, we really have arrived at this ugly pointless place.

Here’s where we stand.

First, as I’ve stated in previous essays, we’ve dumped baselines. Since this nation was founded and earlier, the people making up the opposing sides of an issue have first agreed on a stipulated set of undisputed facts, or baselines. In other words, every political issue was built atop a foundation of facts on which all sides agreed before we got busy debating and arguing. While rejecting baselines may not sound like the end of the world, it sets the stage for unbelievable ugliness to come.

Second, we’ve rejected established expertise. Since the dawn of our “enlightenment,” we automatically — sometimes even eagerly — accepted the advice of credentialed experts in the fields of research or practice related to whatever specific crisis had befallen us. We accepted the hard-earned credentials of scientific researchers, medical professionals and public health authorities because we knew they understood a given crisis far better than anyone else. But now, we abruptly decided the experts were no longer the experts, not when the internet and social media groups of like-minded people enabled us to be our own “experts.” When challenged, we angrily point to the one or two outlier researchers who have decided all the other exhaustive research is wrong. With lofty contempt, we disdain the studied word of 10,000 scientists in favor of one or two lonely outliers — who almost certainly have been scientifically rebuffed by multiple colleagues.

Third, we no longer feel a need to dispassionately examine evidence before we take decisions. If we want to take a bold stance, we no longer need actual evidence to back our supposition before we declare our position. We can afford to project confidence because we know many others will join us. We don’t need evidence, we just need enough people standing with us to drown out any opposition. The popularity of obscenities, insults and name-calling as debate makes this one easy.

Yet another error emerges from this third point: we quash logic when we ignore mountains of evidence that suggest our declared position is flawed as we focus sharply on the two or three little clues that favor us. Where we’d once have hesitated before allowing ourselves this indulgence of intellectual sloth, we now forge bravely ahead, knowing many others are doing the same.

Fourth, we are intentionally mis-directing our focus. Rather than viewing related facts or data together to understand context, we are cherry-picking one or two details that suit us and ignoring the rest. This is analogous to refusing pain medication because it only relieves half your pain, not all of it. Likewise, if a vaccine is not 100 percent effective, we showcase the relatively few failures while we ignore the proportionately much larger successes. Choosing to focus on one detail and ignore others is what petulant children do when parents try to make them see something is not good for them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “Oh yeah? Well, vaccinated people get COVID, too, so I’m not getting the shot!” One fact, no context, yet another person totally missing the point.

A reader posted what he thought was a clever meme on one of my essays the other day. It read, “Every drug that has been recalled by the FDA was first proven to be ‘safe and effective’ by the FDA.” While that statement is certainly true, it completely ignores the fact that all the miracle, lifesaving, fantastic drugs that have greatly benefited humanity were also proven to be safe and effective by the FDA. There are a whole lot more of the latter than the former but a staggering number of people totally ignore this inconvenient fact.

Altogether, we have decided that, if one fact is suspect, all facts must be suspect. This would be bad enough on its own but we immediately take it one step further. If all facts are suspect, why take any warnings seriously, even dire ones? If the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) erred in tabulating some numbers at the onset of an unprecedented global emergency, then every piece of data and information issued by the CDC is not worth taking seriously. Therefore we are free to do nothing — after all, the CDC cannot be trusted. Erring on the side of caution doesn’t even enter the conversation. Common sense is nowhere to be found.

Fifth, we are claiming selfishness as a virtue. When we claim that our chances of dying from COVID are minutely small, we’re absolutely correct. But when we use that minute chance as an excuse to do nothing, we’re thumbing our nose at any elderly people in our lives, at any friends or family members who have compromised immunity or are otherwise vulnerable to COVID — the odds of them dying if they become infected is much higher.

Look, anti-vaccine folks, I would’ve preferred not to take the vaccine either. But I decided the potential reward outweighed the potential risk. I applaud those who are mindful of what they put in their bodies but I urge you to explore the enormous volume of evidence — true evidence, like that which would be accepted by an accredited research institution or a court of law — arguing in favor of vaccination.

I have various doubts, too, and I’m pretty sure our government lies to us, both intentionally and inadvertently — it’s government, after all. I also will admit there is a great deal of theater associated with the COVID age. Those salad-bar-style sneeze guards that popped up everywhere might be as useless as they are ugly. I’ll even concede that masks, as we’re using them, aren’t particularly helpful. A mask-wearer can get a limited measure of protection by wearing his or her mask and likewise keep some of his or her germs away from others. But for masks to truly work, everyone would have to wear the right type of mask, wear it properly with no exceptions and wear it every time. We all know this simply ain’t gonna happen. Yes, the theater of the age is all around us.

But none of this negates the need to take this virus seriously. Just because you figure the odds of dying from it are (correctly) pretty small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t turn your focus to the elderly people you love or maybe a friend who has a compromised immune system. Heck, if you really wanted to be nice, you could even worry a little about the people you pass in the aisle at Walmart.

If you look even a little, reasons to vaccinate are rife. And if you look a little harder, you’ll find mountains of scientific, peer-reviewed evidence from accredited academic and research institutions. The vaccines being offered have been in development for over 20 years, they’re not new. Nearly all the rumors and misinformation spread about the vaccines has been debunked by qualified experts — these scientific rebuttals are easy to find. Remember, all those people with graduate degrees who are urging us to vaccinate are, themselves, vaccinated. So are their children.

On the other side, you’ll find plenty of invective, a lot of anger and much conjecture but little hard evidence.

I know we’re smarter than we’re acting.
 

A spiritual second opinion

meador

To my Christian brothers and sisters who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, this message is for you. It is neither a mockery nor a condemnation of your choice — it is simply a reminder that rejecting the vaccine is not the only choice you can make as a committed Christian.

I fear the fingers of politics have wormed their way into the church on this issue. Even if your own pastor rejects vaccination, there are many conservative clergy who recommend the opposite: getting vaccinated. I repeat this message not to criticize, but because it’s only a matter of time until someone I love dies from a COVID infection simply because they chose not to receive the vaccination.

To illustrate this point, Pastor George Davis of Impact Church in Jacksonville, Florida says it better than I can. When asked why his church was hosting a vaccination event, he replied that six of his church members died in the last 10 days. Four of them under were under the age of 35 and at least one was a teenager. All were healthy. All were unvaccinated.

“And I’m tired of crying about and burying people I love,” said Pastor George. “So take the political and religious games somewhere else!”

If you believe this must be another “liberal” social justice church, you should have a look at the church’s website. Check out the “what we believe” and “core values” pages, while you’re there. URL: https://www.weareimpact.com/index.aspx

Yes, I am aware some of you can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons. I understand that — this message is not for you. If you have chosen to remain unvaccinated for reasons unrelated to your faith, same thing. If your reasons are purely political, man, that’s just crazy. But if your decision to avoid vaccination lies within your faith or comes from your church family, I urge you to look at other churches and clergy to see what they say. Think of it as a sort of “spiritual second opinion.” You’ll find a lot of them are also opposed to vaccination. But I guarantee, if you look, you will find socially conservative congregations and parishes with like-minded clergy who nevertheless recommend getting vaccinated.

You do have more than one choice.

Pastor George offered this prayer:

Dear Father God,

Thank you for the wisdom and insight you’ve given to the scientists and medical community to be able to develop a vaccine that is effective against this hideous virus.

For the many of us who have been praying for a resolution, we thank you for providing one. I now humbly ask you to help us all weed through the bickering, finger-pointing, partisan politics, fear, religious extremism and conspiracy theories to see the gift that lies in front of us.

Please speak to the hearts of those who are truly seeking guidance to help them see whether it is or is not your will for them to be vaccinated. And help us to all come together with reasonable hearts to do what is best for one another.

I ask this in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

All I can add is my own “amen.”
 

What’s in a name?

meador

I am a RINO. That’s one of the names they call me, along with clever gems like “libtard.” I’ve been called much worse, some of it, no doubt, deserved. For the most part, I don’t take it personally, recognizing that name-calling is a tool of those who have limited thinking and vocabulary skills. But I am becoming enamored of this little RINO label.

A RINO is a Republican In Name Only. The term has been around for decades, gaining increasing popularity in the 1990s. It’s usually used by conservative Republicans when they’re displeased with a moderate caucus member. People like John McCain and Mitt Romney were called RINO fairly regularly. As you might imagine, with the G.O.P. tacking right and sharply tightening its ideological rigidity, the term RINO is being used rather a lot these days — at least with those RINOs like me who are too stubborn to desert the party that long ago deserted us. With the bold insistence on ideological purity the party boasts today, enough of us have departed that the numbers of moderates remaining is fast dwindling. This is the natural outcome when a once-welcoming party tightens the requirements of membership to the point of strangulation.

I’m not sure what the endgame is, but I find it difficult to believe current party leaders are unaware their insistence on ideological lockstep is, by its very definition, the narrowest possible interpretation of the party’s breadth. In other words, when you hone your doctrine to a razor point, you exclude all the people you once embraced — people who were once solid allies, even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye with you on an issue or two. When your ideology is narrow and rigid — when you demand adherence to that dogma — you have reduced your party to its purest form. While this might be satisfying from a purely dogmatic perspective, it makes no sense if you care about growth and sustainability. The only way I could see this strategy working is if the membership of the New Republican Party got busy having babies to raise in the umbra of the party ideology.

When Craig Berkman’s party was in place, Republicans actually had a chance at winning statewide offices in Oregon. Back then, Republicans usually played well with others, eschewed conspiracy theories and had little trouble using the resources of academia, media and government to research and fact-check, even if some of those institutions did seem to tilt a little left. We were bright, reasonable and reasonably dignified. Best of all, we were respected — we didn’t do a whole lot to earn scorn and mockery.

How times have changed.

Today’s G.O.P. would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn’t both destructive and dangerous. What was once the big-tent party has become the my-way-or-the-highway party. What was once the party of optimism has become a cesspool of cynicism, inflexibility and conspiracy. What was once the party of light, is increasingly a pit of dark brooding and suspicion. This is not the party I joined and it’s not a party that gives me a lot of hope for the future.

For thousands of years, each successive generation has positioned itself slightly left of the one that preceded it. Think about it — it’s a sure thing that the people of my kids’ generation will collectively be slightly further left than the people of my own generation. Likewise, my generation tacked left from that of my parents. These inexorable shifts have redefined aspects of conservatism and liberalism before and they will do so again. Thus, a political party must from time to time reexamine its precepts, adjusting things when necessary. Where conservatives once stood vehemently opposed to women’s suffrage, for example, today most conservatives would fiercely defend a woman’s right to vote.

Back during the Reagan years, we loved the guy. Reagan’s optimism was contagious — his speeches made us proud to be Republicans, proud to be Americans. Even if hindsight has shown many of Reagan’s core policies to be deeply flawed, most of us remember the Reagan years fondly. For us, it seemed a happy and stable era. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

Moderates like me can look back and acknowledge that trickle-down economics was a failure — supply-side policies make dangerous assumptions. Deregulation did more harm than good in the long run. Scrapping the Fairness Doctrine was probably a bad idea. We can recognize plans that sounded good at the time were, in fact, bad plans. We can remain true to our core values while sculpting our party’s future based on learned knowledge — including our mistakes.

A moment ago, I said the 80s seemed good to us. The current iteration of the G.O.P. pines for that milquetoast stability of the 1980s, that halcyon period when law-abiding, middle-class white people had it good, Black people weren’t clamoring for change, new pronouns weren’t on the agenda, a Latino majority was over half a century away and Portland didn’t reek of pee.

I hate to break it to them but those days are long gone and there’s no way to get them back.

Aside from the Taliban-style hijacking of a once-great party, what bothers me most is that the not-so-G.O.P. effectively ignores our mistakes, claiming many weren’t errors at all even in the face of very obvious evidence. As a grand example, consider the litany of policies and practices that effectively hobbled Black Americans from achieving the so-called American Dream — a college education, home ownership, business ownership, savings, et.al. Why shouldn’t the party of Lincoln be perfectly positioned —indeed, even eager — to help right the intentional wrongs inflicted on Black Americans over the last hundred-or-so years?

That question was rhetorical — I know there’s not a chance in hell of today’s G.O.P. correcting a moral evil when most of its members blithely deny wrongdoing was committed in the first place. Yep, Black people had a totally level playing field, same as whitefolk. The whites-only G.I. Bill, redlining, employment and income disparities, sentencing and incarceration rates, none of these had any effect on anyone — well, no effect on white people, anyway.

Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want me because I want to fix mistakes they don’t believe exist. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want me because I believe some aspects of conservatism might need updating. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want me because I think for myself and I don’t march lockstep with the party’s non-negotiable ideology. Viewed this way, calling me a RINO is an affirmation far more than a pejorative.

So go ahead, call me a RINO, I’m cool with that.

But while we’re on the topic of names, let me offer you a small tip. When you call me a libtard, you make yourself look like a dullard.
 

A tiny minority

meador

I am disgusted with what we’ve become. It’s all or nothing, one extreme or the other, not even a fleeting consideration that perhaps the edges are wrong and maybe a bit of truth lies near the center.

A guy named David Lidstone — River Dave to his friends — has apparently been squatting for 27 years on private property in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Squatting, if you were unaware, is the act of a person or people living on or in property that doesn’t belong to them. As you might expect, squatting is illegal.

River Dave, a U.S. Air Force veteran, has spent nearly three decades living in the woods along the Merrimack River. The 81-year-old’s tiny cabin is cluttered inside, tidy outside and adorned with bird feeders, a thriving climbing rose and even solar panels. Or I should say “was” — River Dave’s little home was burned to the ground today after he was arrested and jailed, charged with squatting. None of these facts are in dispute.

Here’s where the disgust with my fellow humans comes in. While reading about River Dave’s plight, I also read many dozens of remarks my fellow Americans penned about the man.

The remarks were about evenly split between River Dave’s supporters and detractors, unsurprisingly grouped in bursts or clusters of like-minded sentiment. Dave’s supporters voiced what seemed like genuine concern and compassion for the jailed octogenarian, vigorously condemning anyone who would remove him from his little plot. Not one of them — not one! — acknowledged that what River Dave had been doing for 27 years was illegal. On the other side, Dave’s detractors had awful things to say, ranging from heartlessly urging his permanent incarceration to much, much worse. Not a shred of compassion.

Are we collectively so polarized that we can no longer demonstrate compassion for a fellow human being? I’m not talking that false 1980s-style tough-love type of compassion — that was little more than virtue signaling then and is no different now. It’s empathy in name only, allowing its giver to appear as if he actually cares.

On the other hand, are we so hell-bent on thwarting the other side that we can’t admit that what River Dave was doing was, in fact, illegal? We only have to look about 30 miles to the northeast to see the poster city for what happens when you celebrate tolerance without accountability.

Is there no middle ground?

To be sure, River Dave was breaking the law and had been doing so for many years. But arresting an 81-year-old man and destroying everything he owns — even if what he owned wasn’t sitting on his land — is not the solution of a humane society. I assure you, the irony of New Hampshire’s state motto “Live Free or Die” does not escape me.

Those who say a law is a law and a lawbreaker deserves whatever he gets are missing the point. River Dave isn’t guilty of bank robbery or rape. He’s an old man who built a little cabin on land he didn’t own and lived in it for almost 30 years. For the bulk of that time, no one knew Dave was there except for the kayakers and canoeists who paddled the Merrimack River and befriended the kindly bearded old guy who lived on the shore.

Reports say River Dave grew his own food, cut his own firewood and tended to his cat and his chickens. His little cabin included a small garden plot and neatly stacked firewood. Dave’s place was quirky but it was nothing like the public image of a homeless encampment.

The property on which Dave was squatting is a 70-plus acre plot once used for timber harvesting. It’s been owned by the same family since the 1960s — the family has no plans to develop the land. According to River Dave, one of the owners gave him permission to live there many years ago but it was an oral agreement, nothing written. The listed owner of the property, Leonard Giles, 86, lives in Vermont and denies Dave’s claim. Giles says he was unaware River Dave was even there until alerted by the Canterbury city administrator’s office in 2015.

Again, there is no doubt River Dave was breaking the law. As such, Dave should expect an appropriate penalty and his living situation clearly needs to be changed. But is incarceration and destruction of his possessions a solution an advanced and humane society should laud? Is the hateful venom directed toward an old man who just wanted to be left alone something we should accept as normal? Are we not both clever and kind enough to envision a solution that doesn’t include incarceration and destruction for one old man or the taking of land from another?

On a much larger scale than River Dave and his little plot of land that’s not his, I believe this ugly divide illustrates what U.S. society has become. These days, it’s almost embarrassing to be an American not because of anything in our collective history but because our current behavior has devolved to that of myopes, morons and unabashed assholes.

I feel bad for River Dave and his cat and chickens. I also feel bad for Mr. Giles, the property owner who didn’t ask for or deserve all the less-than-uplifting attention he’s now getting.

I wish I didn’t feel like my position makes me part of such a tiny minority.

UPDATE: Contrary to early reports, after River Dave was jailed on July 15, many of his personal possessions had been removed before a suspected arsonist torched his cabin.

After a whirlwind of publicity, River Dave was inundated with offers of help, including $180,000 from Alexander Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies. River Dave has been given temporary housing at least into spring 2022, until construction on a new — and legal — home can begin. According to kayaker Jodie Gedeon, one of River Dave’s friends and advocates, the location is being kept secret to protect the 81-year-old former hermit’s privacy. A trust has been established in River Dave's name.

Reports say River Dave has been reunited with his cats — two cats, not one — and chickens and many of his personal possessions.

It’s nice to see a happy ending, now and then.
 

Happy Reinstatement Day!

meador

WASHINGTON — Citizens took to the streets today, jubilantly celebrating events unfolding in the nation’s capital. As former President Joe Biden and his allegedly communist vice president were led away in handcuffs, President Donald Trump was reinstated by Supreme Court Justice Kimberly Davis, herself newly installed by the president’s private armed security detail.

“I am proud to administer the oath of office to the rightful president,” said Davis. “I mean, this is way more exciting than not issuing marriage licenses back in Rowan County.”

The true president wasted no time outlawing anything he found threatening. “We are restoring the Bureau of Land Management’s name,” said President Trump. “From now on, BLM means trees and rangers and cute little forest animals.” The president said Black people need to quit complaining and leave the white people out of it. “I did more for the Blacks than any other president, ever, even Idi Amin,” said Trump. “They should be grateful and quit bugging everyone.”

Trump’s new vice president, Mike Lindell, had nothing but praise for his boss. “He won the election by a landslide,” said Lindell. “He carried the state of Ontario, something no Republican president has ever done before.” When informed that Ontario was actually a Canadian province, Lindell shrugged it off and said it underscored his point. “See? If even those people voted for him, that just shows he’s the rightful president.”

Lindell explained how the election results became much more clear once the G.O.P. abandoned hindrances like evidence and fact-checking. “When we realized that all the people who know stuff are liberals, we had to quit fact-checking,” Lindell said. “Bill Gates owns Snopes and Google and Amazon and he wants to control our minds with microchips and vaccines and fluoride and we’re not going to let him destroy America with that liberal crap.”

Lindell said removing fact-checking simplified his task as he put together his “Absolute Proof” documentary. “I’ll tell you what, it’s a whole lot easier to make a documentary when you don’t need to waste time confirming everything,” said Lindell. “Man, that was a pain in the neck! Fortunately, MyPillow® eliminates that kind of discomfort.”

Lindell said the G.O.P.’s new policy on fact-checking was especially handy when he accused Dominion Voting Systems of massive voter fraud. “Well, I’m pretty dang sure the Chinese and the Venezuelans changed all the Trump votes to Biden votes,” said Lindell. Experts say that such an accusation requires Dominion’s voting machines be connected to the internet. But Dominion has demonstrated its machines are part of a closed system, not connected to any outside network. “We dodged a bullet on that one,” said Lindell. “Fact-checking would’ve really screwed that up for us.”

When Lindell’s hired cybersecurity expert said he was unable to find proof of election fraud, the vice president brushed off this detail. “We get our intel from an organization called Qanon,” Lindell said. “It’s much more reliable than the liberal propaganda from outfits like the NSA, the CIA or PBS.”

The first moves of the neo-Trump administration included planning activities for reinstatement week. Events include a large military parade, fireworks, two reinstatement balls, several MAGA rallies and a mask burning. “Only the weak wear masks,” said the president. He went on to say asking people to wear masks eradicates their freedom, even if wearing them helps protect them and benefits the whole community. “Many Americans don’t really care about bleeding-heart liberal crap like that,” he said. “Masks destroy lives.”

At the same time Justice Davis was completing the reinstatement ceremony for President Trump, a minor scare occurred when the ground trembled at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. But after a brief investigation by the U.S. Geological Survey, it was determined the disturbance was the result of one of the interred rolling over in his grave, posing no lasting threat to the public.

[DISCLAIMER: This is satire. It is irreverent humor. It will not hurt you.]

(image)
 

Tyranny is a weighty word

meador

“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

In my half century of life, we never batted an eye at those signs. Sure, they took a tiny slice of our freedom but we recognized there might be reasons for the requirement and we put our shoes and shirts on before we went in. Besides, even if we were unhappy about it, we knew the business displaying the sign was within its rights to ask us to wear those items.

But now a little scrap of cloth — or finely woven synthetic plastic fibers, as the case may be — is threatening to turn us all into savages. “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” Get used to it, folks.

But even with a contentious issue like COVID masking, both sides actually do have some significant points in common.

First, other than a handful of virtue-signaling leftist masochists, nearly everyone I know hates the masks. From liberal Democrats who religiously wear their masks to conservative Republicans who refuse to even touch them, pretty much all of us dislike the thought of wearing masks whenever we go out or meet other people. Do you hear that, anti-maskers? The people nagging you to wear masks also hate wearing them. Nobody likes the masks.

Second, as evidenced by daily CDC policy reversals, consistently mixed and confused messages from two White House administrations and multiple state-level policy hedges and reversals, all of us can agree that no one fully understands this COVID and its ultimate end-effect on the public. In other words, yes, the science evolves as we learn so we should expect changes in protocols. But it’s true we’ve also witnessed some significant confusion beyond the scope of evolving science in recent months. But the one thing nearly all the experts agree on is that we need to take precautions like wearing the hated masks.

Unfortunately, for the masks to be effective, we all need to wear them conscientiously and properly. This is crucial. When half the population refuses, this causes problems for everyone, anti-maskers included. In fact, no one should be surprised that almost all new COVID infections are — you guessed it! — being suffered by people who refuse to vaccinate and mask. If I was an anti-masker, this would worry me.

It should be noted that uncertainty and confusion about a microbiological threat to the public is not a reason to do nothing — nothing, as in refusing basic precautions. Since medical and research personnel do demonstrate abundant agreement that the COVID threat is real, ignoring their simple preventive steps is foolish. Those of us without doctoral-level credentials and scientific backgrounds must take them at their word, even if we have questions and doubts. This is basic common sense or erring on the side of caution. Plus, almost all of us have loved ones who are particularly vulnerable to COVID — surely even the most vehement anti-masker wouldn’t endanger them for political reasons?

I hear the masks referred to as tyranny all the time. Really? Isn’t that a huge overstatement? The United States has a long history of stepping up when the country faces a crisis, the public making notable sacrifices when they’re asked to by their government. Many of these sacrifices have been significantly more burdensome or restrictive than simply wearing a hanky on your face. In wartime, we submitted to our mail being read and censored by government agents — that’s a big deal. We rationed gasoline and food — we gave up a not-insignificant amount of liberty in what we ate and where we drove. We sealed up our houses so not a speck of light could be seen outside at night — indeed, in some communities, we even gave up smoking outside during dark hours. Most of these sacrifices were far more onerous than mask-wearing but the public did it with minimal grumbling, temporarily yielding their liberty, accepting such steps as necessary to help the nation in a time of crisis. Almost universally, the sacrifices were considered a patriotic duty.

Remember the 1970s? Americans were shocked when the country ran out of gas — well, not really “out” but when geopolitical events triggered a totally unforeseen national shortage. Fuel was rationed, in many jurisdictions by allowing drivers to purchase gas only on certain days. We griped but we did as we were asked. We gave up our freedom to buy gasoline whenever we wanted and we often sharply limited where we drove.

Next to these public sacrifices, the hyperbole of mask mandates as tyranny sounds shrilly hysterical. If the anti-masking language was applied to the restrictions on liberty we’ve faced at other times, those making such statements would be viewed as distinctly anti-American, somewhat subversive and probably a little weak.

Hospitalizations and new infections have surged across the state as the delta variant spreads among unvaccinated populations. As Oregon ramps up masking requirements, we should pay close attention to what the experts are saying, even if what they’re saying changes from day to day. Remember, the experts have postgraduate credentials and experience working in the fields of microbiology, virology and epidemiology — even if they don’t now have all the answers, they know a whole lot more about COVID than I do, than pretty much everyone I know. If we ignore them because they haven’t figured it all out, we do so at our peril. We do so at our vulnerable loved ones’ peril. For now, we need to heed their words. It’s not tyranny, it’s just basic common sense.

With the delta variant forging ahead, Oregon could hit nearly 1,200 new infections a day by mid-August, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Even if you believe OHA’s figures to be exaggerated, a significant surge in new cases should alarm anyone with compromised health or with loved ones at risk — this should include everyone.

I, too, was once immortal. I made choices on my feelings of the time — the euphoria of excellent health and a fit body had convinced me I would never suffer the misery of breaking down. Aging was for old people. Now, as a result of thousands of bad decisions, I am paying the price of my personal hubris. I know my days are limited and I don’t want COVID to further cut them short. As much as I hate precautions like masking, I am taking this thing deadly seriously. There might even be a little irony in my wearing a mask: I have a legitimate exemption not to wear one but I choose to do so anyway.

You realize you also have a choice, right? No, not that one — there’s another one, too. You can choose how you want to view a minor inconvenience like wearing a mask. You can choose to use words of hysteria like “tyranny” to describe medical advice that’s really basic common sense or you can choose to see the mask mandate as an annoying but necessary patriotic duty.

Tell me about tyranny when they confiscate your guns or force you to get sterilized or they take your house from you. But don’t use a weighty word like tyranny to describe a tiny strip of cloth smaller than a hanky.
 

Social (dis)Graces

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I made someone cry once, when she read my comments in a news forum. She was a person of some note and influence and her tears were not those of compassion or sorrow — she was outraged. I am told she took my remarks to the forum’s publisher, demanding they be removed, all the while shaking and crying tears of anger. Of course, I heard all this third-hand so I have no way of knowing whether it’s true. All I know for certain is my remarks caused a certain amount of offense among those who read them.

The news story was a simple one, describing a new business coming to one of the outlying small towns scattered throughout the Yamhill Valley. Several local residents were bothered the new business might erect a cheap back-lit sign — in not-very-polite terms, I remarked that a shabby little town like the one in the story had greater sartorial concerns than one more tacky plastic back-lit sign. In my defense, as McMinnville has become known as a wine destination, the surrounding communities have jumped aboard the tourism bandwagon, some with greater success than others. The offended woman interpreted my blunt comment as classist, a sweeping insult to people of little means. While my remarks were not intended kindly, they were also not intended as classist.

At the time, I thought her outrage was quite humorous.

I do not find it funny now.

What changed? Well, we all did, most of us anyway. As social media grew in use and influence, we were fairly quick to spot the hazards inherent to posting anonymously. It was easy to see that we and others could and would vent freely when protected by the shield of online facelessness. The venom came quick and it came in unbelievable measure as the public felt the exhilarating freedom of dropping all constraints of decorum when there was no threat anyone would find out what assholes we really were.

Oops. Did I just say assholes? Sorry. I went through dozens of words to fill that spot and there was really only one that fit. I apologize if you find it offensive. I know it’s tacky at best, but so were we when no one knew who we were. Anonymity gave us license to say whatever we wanted to whoever we wanted whenever we wanted with no consequences or accountability — well, with no consequences to us, anyway.

So the responsible among us tried to tone down our anonymous commentary or even stick with posting only under our real identities. Problem solved, right?

Not so much.

What happened next was far more insidious. When COVID hit and everyone was forced to stay at home for unprecedented lengths of time, our dependence on social media grew. Coupled with one of the most politically divisive periods in our history, people just decided being polite wasn’t worth the effort. So no one felt like being nice but at least those of us who had already made a conscious decision to eschew the protection of online anonymity believed we held the high ground — we posted under our real identities so nothing we said could really be all that bad, right?

What was missing was subtle but enormously important.

We’ve become dependent on social media — we’ve become familiar with it entangled in the events of our lives and we’ve become comfortable with it. What’s lost is the nuance of a tilted eyebrow, the barest smirk, a wink, a nod or any of a thousand tiny signals we use to convey the emotion behind the words we speak.

Online, I find myself scolding people who maybe didn’t mean their remarks as I interpreted them. Likewise, I am regularly chastised by people who read negative emotion into a comment I intended neutrally. Or I reread comments I made hours or days earlier, startled to see that they sounded harsher than I intended. Or any of ten thousand combinations of the ways we assign emotion to dispassionate text when we haunt our favorite news and politics pages on the internet.

That’s the problem: text, itself, is totally dispassionate. We can feel any emotion to any degree when we pen an online remark but these words we type are, themselves, unfeeling. Thus, those who read our comments — even if we took great pains to make them reflect our feelings — will assign their own emotions to what we wrote, based on their own perspectives. And vice-versa. I can encounter an innocuous remark about a subject dear to me and I may read all sorts of emotions into those words, feelings the remark’s author never intended to represent. And many of us tend to default to the worst possible interpretation when we do this. Even if we don’t become the full-on a-holes we were with anonymity, we certainly become mini-a-holes, knowing the worst backlash we’re likely to face is a flurry of hateful responses in the thread. No real world consequences. Most of these little snark-a-thons in which we engage online we would never allow to escalate in real life, with a real person in a real place like a coffee joint or a shop.

Most of us would be mortified if we behaved in person like we do online.

Lest anyone think I am lecturing, let me state unequivocally that I am guilty of all of these bad practices. In fact, I examined my own social media use to form the outline of this essay. I am as guilty as anyone.

So what’s the solution? How do we go about implementing the small-but-hugely-important constraints we use when we have a conversation with a real human, face-to-face?

I dislike the virtue-signaling redolence of vowing to ditch social media entirely. For one thing, it’s impractical: so much of our lives are tied up in the events and discourse present in social media. For another thing, few people can make such a commitment and stick with it. Further, swearing off social media entirely throws out its good connective aspects along with the bad. But using social media mindfully — meaning consciously monitoring our use of social media, being careful to balance digital relationships with actual human contact — is another thing entirely. With a little practiced discipline, we should be able to calm the instinctive negative reactions we have to things we read online, making our default interpretations neutral instead of worst-case. If we approach social media with our eyes open and our minds aware, we can begin to fix this monster we’ve created — a monster bent on turning us, ourselves, into mini-monsters who accept menace and suspicion as completely normal.

Where I once saw humor in creating outrage, I am now embarrassed by my own related actions and reactions.

Writing political commentary, I am well aware I will regularly offend people — it’s an unavoidable occurrence when anyone takes a public stance on any controversial issue. But offending people with reasonable dialogue is a different creature than penning intentionally rude remarks that serve little purpose beyond insult. I probably won’t be able to help myself once in a while but I’ve already sharply constrained the way I react to comments with which I disagree or even to the rude words of people doing their level best to offend.

I’ll never be perfect but I’ll tell you one thing: I no longer worry I’ll regret my remarks later. It’s a surprisingly refreshing feeling.
 

Meet the capital doorman

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Can you answer a question for me? In my ignorance, I just can’t get an apparently-simple concept through my head. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

Lately, several local elected officials have been holding forth about the sanctity of the will of the voters. For the record, I agree with them. Well, I mostly agree, anyway. The will of the voters is sacrosanct except for very rare occasions when extraordinary circumstances render the voters’ choice unfit to serve.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know we’re talking about Oregon House District 23, the one former Rep. Mike Nearman fled when his colleagues unceremoniously expelled him on June 10.

It all began when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown temporarily closed the capitol building to visitors as a COVID constraint. Most of us agree the place where the people’s business is conducted should be freely accessible. But in this case, all legislative business was livestreamed to anyone who wished to see it and the usual methods constituents use to reach out to their House and Senate members — telephone, email and social media — were readily available. No problem, right? I mean, it’s just for a few weeks. But in the current civil wasteland of menace and suspicion, hundreds of people suddenly decided the best time to visit the capitol in person was during the temporary closure. With attitudes, angry signs and plenty of firearms, they descended on the capitol to voice their discontent on the morning of Dec. 21, 2020.

Meanwhile, Nearman decided the need for the capitol to be open superseded any need for medical caution. While I understand his point, I do not understand the way he decided to prove it. As the disgruntled throng milled around outside the capitol, Nearman met a group of them at a side door and happily let them in. Once inside, Nearman’s minions broke windows and maced half a dozen Oregon State Police troopers before initiating an armed standoff, according to most reports.

While Nearman’s act was caught clearly on video, many people were willing to extend him the benefit of the doubt, believing his lie that he was just leaving the building — even though “leaving” involved him walking briskly to the rear side of the building where he let himself right back in. Not buying Nearman’s story, Speaker of the House Tina Kotek stripped Nearman of his committee assignments and commission appointments. No one was surprised.

Then another Nearman video surfaced. This one starred Nearman coaching a group of people on how they could text him in the capitol building when they were assembled outside a door and ready to invade — er, enter. “Operation Hall Pass,” Nearman dramatically called it. Immersing himself in what he undoubtedly believed to be something like plausible deniability, Nearman repeated a “random” telephone number several times on the video — a number that just happened to be that of his cell phone. Worse, this video was recorded several days before Nearman opened the infamous door.

When confronted with the Nearman-as-doorman and Nearman-as-insurrection-coach videos, Nearman admitted he’d lied and that, yes, he’d intentionally let the angry horde into the closed capitol. Because his own caucus had no trouble recognizing a monumental blunder when they saw one, a unanimous vote expelled Nearman from the House — the first time an expulsion ever happened. Well, the vote was almost unanimous. The single vote to retain him was rendered by Nearman, himself.

The rusty mechanism to replace an expelled House member involves local-level precinct committeepeople presenting nominees to the county commissioners of each county overlapping a House district. A commissioner’s vote is then weighted according to the portion of the district encompassing his or her county. As luck would have it, there’s no rule preventing a previously-expelled member from being appointed to his own vacant seat and — you guessed it! — the nominating precinct committeepeople think Mike Nearman is a fine gentleman, thank you very much.

Fortunately, level heads prevailed and the twelve commissioners (ten of them anyway) wisely selected the fifth choice of the precinct committeepeople, roundly rejecting their first choice, Mike Nearman, himself.

Which brings me to my question.

Can someone please explain to me why the will of the voters of Oregon House District 23 supersedes the will of all other voters? I don’t need you to explain the sanctity of the will of the voters in general — I already understand that. But I must know why House District 23 gets special treatment. I am having a difficult time understanding this.

When an elected official commits an act that threatens harm to his elected colleagues, he effectively removes his ability to work within the body because some of his colleagues are now afraid of him. Don’t get me wrong — I hear Nearman is actually a nice guy but when a nice guy intentionally causes his colleagues to feel threatened — to fear for their safety — no one should be surprised when some of those colleagues can no longer work with him. When other House members cannot come to work because they’re afraid Nearman might pull another juvenile and dangerous stunt, it effectively usurps the will of the voters in their own districts.

In the private sector, such thoughtless defiance would never be tolerated — no one would question the resulting termination. But I know, I know: this is the legislature so the rules are different than those of a mere business. Still, our duly elected governor enacted some temporary restrictions in the face of a health crisis clearly outlined by countless researchers, scientists and physicians. Yes, I get it — you have doubts about the agendas of all those credentialed experts but, really, isn’t any such disagreement a matter for the courts? Or even a matter for debate within your own elected body? When medical experts say there’s a crisis, I would be stupid using my non-medical education to question or second-guess them, even if I do have reservations.

And as for due process, you can pine for legal adjudication until the cows come home but for the vast majority of Oregonians, the moral jury has already very clearly ruled. It did so in the face of laughably overwhelming evidence. Frankly, at this point, I think the moral judgment trumps the puny legal one anyway.

Now, I’ve called Nearman’s rude guests “thugs” but you can call them whatever you like. Protesters, demonstrators, rioters, tourists, Baptists — I don’t care, they were armed, they assaulted half a dozen Oregon State Police troopers and they caused thousands of dollars of damage to our capitol building. Whatever term you prefer is unimportant. Their abhorrent actions caused widespread fear throughout the capitol building.

The crux of my problem is this: when a guy like Nearman commits an act that allows angry armed thugs to enter a building and imperil all of his elected colleagues and their staffs along with capitol personnel, he damages the ability of his colleagues to effectively govern. Why is the will of the voters of House Districts 1 through 22 and 24 through 60 subordinate to the will of District 23’s voters? The actions of District 23’s member should not be permitted to diminish or damage the abilities of up to 59 other districts’ members. Several dozen other legislators shouldn’t have their ability to serve constituents hobbled because they’re afraid of the potential actions of one member with questionable self control.

From another perspective, if the member representing District 44 had disobeyed the governor’s orders and admitted an angry group of armed Antifa rioters into the capitol — rioters who assaulted the police and vandalized the building — I’m pretty sure the member representing District 23 would’ve felt a teensy-weensy bit threatened and I’m even more confident that those all-knowing District 23 voters would’ve been downright outraged that someone from another district threatened their beloved member. Further, if other members were fearful District 44’s representative might repeat her bad judgment, you can be certain there’d be all sorts of clamoring for her removal from the other caucus.

Which brings us back to my original question once again. Why, please tell me, does the will of District 23 voters remain unquestioned when that will imperils the choices of the voters of 59 other districts?