Do Something

Nobody can do everything, but everybody should do something. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • I’ve written to my congressman asking him to support HR 7085, a bill that would end qualified immunity for police.
  • I’ve written to my senators asking them to end the war on drugs, which disproportionately affects black Americans (34 percent of our prisoners, for example, are black even though black Americans constitute about 13 percent of the general population). I specifically cited the murder of Breonna Taylor and asked them to legalize schedule I and II substances, defund and eliminate the Drug Enforcement Agency, invest funds into treatment and healthcare, and introduce legislation matching HR 7085 to end qualified immunity for police.
  • I’ve donated to the NAACP. I’ve also seen a lot of people donating to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is a separate organization. Mrs. Kuhl has given to the Black Visions Collective based in Minneapolis.
  • I’ve been volunteering (via CERT) four days a week at our local food pantry, which has transitioned to a drive-thru service due to covid-19. Forty percent of homeless people are black.

It’s not much but it’s something. Maybe you’ve already done something too. If you haven’t, maybe you should.

Tales From the Coronapocalypse

The pandemic has sharply increased demand at food pantries:

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in California has built “pop-up” pantries after some of its previous 275 or so sites had to stop operating during the pandemic, spokeswoman Keely Hopkins said. The new sites, many of which are serving hundreds of people per day, stay open for longer hours and use open spaces such as parking lots to facilitate social distancing, she added.

Paid staffers are diving in at many food banks to stock, sort and bag food for either delivery or drive-thru pickups, a measure they realized was necessary to protect volunteers, many of whom are older and particularly at risk for complications from the virus. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee limits volunteers to 10 per room to fill boxes.

The board of the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry has proposed closing because so many of its volunteers are elderly, including Judy Wahlstrom, who runs the program.

[Associated Press]

For the past two weeks I’ve been volunteering via CERT at our local food pantry, which has switched to drive-thru service to maintain social distancing. I can testify to many of this story’s main points. The first few days we had plenty of fresh produce and frozen meat to give away, donated by restaurants who had more than they could use and a local country club cleaning out its freezer. Now most of that stuff is gone, with little promise of future donations. The only thing we have in abundance? Easter candy — boxes upon boxes of donated Easter candy. Meanwhile, one long-time pantry volunteer told me that several pantries in neighboring Bridgeport have shut down because they were staffed by elderly volunteers who didn’t want to risk going to work.

Pork and beef will likely become scarcer at grocery stores too:

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, indefinitely shut down a slaughter plant in South Dakota this week after hundreds of workers tested positive for Covid-19. The plant typically accounted for 4% to 5% of total hog processing in the U.S.

Two people who worked at a Tyson Foods Inc. pork plant in Iowa died and two dozen are ill, with operations down. Three people died who worked at a Tyson poultry plant in Georgia. A worker at a Cargill Inc. plant in Colorado also died. JBS USA delayed the reopening of a Pennsylvania beef plant from Thursday to Monday.

[Bloomberg]

One of the survivalist lessons I took away from Sandy was to learn to cook vegetarian. Without power for a week, the meat in our fridge went fast. A few times I bought meat in the late afternoon, then took it home and immediately grilled it (we had our Weber charcoal grill plus a little propane stove), but as I boiled my umpteenth pot of ramen noodles I realized I needed to round out my menu options with ingredients that didn’t need refrigeration. While my vegetarian repertoire is still small — my two mainstays are eggplant curry and tarka dhal — it sounds like it may be expanding soon.

In Europe and Canada, farmers are flying in foreign workers to pick their crops. Here in the States, the problem is lack of demand:

At C&E, restaurant and business closures have led to an estimated 40% decline in demand for the farm’s green beans, Colson said. With the drop in business in Florida, Colson says the farm has had to leave beans out in the field — meaning they will die off.

In an interview last week from his farm in Florida, Colson said they’d had 3 million pounds of green beans that weren’t able to go to fresh market. Most of that was sold at a reduced price to canneries.

The rest, roughly a quarter million pounds, was left in the field.

[Daily Press]

My solution: ask volunteers to pick a portion of the crops on behalf of local food banks and pantries, then allow farmers to take the full market value of the donation as a tax deduction.

And people would volunteer to pick green beans because, in general, they’re helpful:

In the wake of a catastrophic earthquake in Turkey in 1999, the emergency relief expert Claude de Ville de Goyet berated media organisations for propagating what he called “disaster myths.” “While isolated cases of antisocial behavior exist,” he wrote, “the majority of people respond spontaneously and generously.”

[Financial Times]

I’ve run into the disaster myth too. After Sandy, the National Guard was deployed in our neighborhood, patrolling the beaches in full tactical gear — like something from Smedley’s era, there were rumors of boats coming across the Sound full of thieves targeting the abandoned houses along the shore. Even today I’ll still hear someone talk about the alleged looting that took place during Sandy. Yet there wasn’t a single documented incident of local looting or vandalism during Sandy or its aftermath.

Not only are people generally decent and courteous in bad times, they often look for ways to help. Our local firefighters have been turning away people who show up at the station asking to volunteer: they’re untrained and unvetted, so they direct them toward private charities instead (which is a good point — if you’re looking to volunteer, then recognize it helps to be something more than a summer soldier or sunshine patriot). But the fact that our first responders have to decline offers for assistance rather than patrol against window-smashing pillagers speaks volumes about human behavior during crises.

Short News, Tinfoil Hat Edition

I’m a member of my town’s CERT chapter. One of the priorities of our team leadership has been countering the misinformation and conspiracy theories that are circulating. These days, it’s a noble ambition: I myself have heard the most crackpot utterances from people whom I otherwise consider to be sane and rational human beings. If we’re going to get through this, it’s because we washed our hands, not because we derailed trains into 5G towers.

So to that end, here’s a quick list of articles useful in debunking those folks in your life who’ve taken one too many bong hits around the lava lamp.

No, people are not hoarding toilet paper. The disappearance of TP from store shelves is due to more of it being used at home than at work. Commercial TP is a very different product than consumer TP and cannot easily be repurposed for home use. [Marker]

No, COVID-19 is a not an engineered bioweapon. Analysis of the spikes on the coronavirus has shown they’re so effective at penetrating human cells that their intentional creation is beyond modern technology — only Mother Nature is capable of it. COVID-19 is very similar to viruses that infect bats and pangolins, and it probably passed to humans through an unknown third-party vector. [Forbes]

No, we can’t just isolate the elderly or vulnerable. Not only is it logistically impossible, but concentrating at-risk populations would just make it easier for a contagion like COVID-19 to burn through them. Also, the fact that seniors and people with existing ailments are usually cared for by younger, healthier people makes strict isolation unworkable. [Washington Post]

No, it’s not too late for social distancing. This particularly irrational theory posits that because we didn’t begin social distancing back in January, it doesn’t matter what we do now and therefore the disease should take its natural course. The incubation stage for COVID-19 is 2 to 14 days and a carrier infects an average (the R0) of 2 to 2.5 people 5 to 6 people (updated by the CDC). If you can’t figure out that math, I can’t help you. So yes, regardless of what happened months ago, what we do right now has a large effect on how quickly we get through this and how many wind up dead. [CDC, Business Insider]

Update, 8 April: After further reading, I now realize the above is part of a bigger misrepresentation which supposes that COVID-19 has been present in the United States for months and therefore has largely saturated the population, and because a majority of people are asymptomatic, social distancing and quarantines are pointless since most of us already have the virus. If this was true, however, we would expect to see antibodies present in a majority of the populace, which we’re not finding. Complicating matters is a new study out of Shanghai that counted low levels or even no levels of antibodies in recovered patients, suggesting they could be re-infected. Update, 9 April: The Shanghai study looked for an unreliable marker. Other studies searching for better markers suggest a strong presence of antibodies in recovered patients.

No, Lamont did not lie about an infant dying of COVID-19. During one of his daily press conferences last week, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont stated that a six-week-old infant in the Hartford area died of the virus. This may or may not be true: the unresponsive infant was brought to a hospital, where he/she died. Currently, anyone dying in a hospital is tested for COVID-19 and the infant tested positive. Was it causation or coincidence? We won’t know until the medical examiner announces the autopsy results, but if we don’t assume that all deaths of positive people were caused by the virus, then we risk under-reporting the number of deaths and throwing off calculations of the disease’s mortality rate (among other things). Some anti-vaxxers/pandemic disbelievers, spurred by conspiracy theorist and all-around wingnut Candace Owens, have accused Lamont of lying about the death in an attempt to scare the public, introduce Communism, establish UN concentration camps, etc. While announcing the infant’s death by COVID-19 may have been premature, there’s zero evidence that Lamont or other officials lied or misled the public. Until the autopsy results contradict the cause of death, the infant is being tallied as a casualty of the virus. [Hartford Courant]

Take the Next Chance, and the Next

This Is the Noise That Keeps Me AwakeFor Christmas I received the memoir This Is the Noise That Keeps Me Awake, a big coffee-table book about Garbage, probably my all-time favorite band. Incredibly Mrs. Kuhl and I saw them live for the first time this past summer when they toured with Blondie, and it’s strange to think I’d never seen them in the twenty-plus years of my fandom; but then I remember that in the 90s I was ramen-noodles poor and by the time we had money and were doing well enough to afford concert tickets and big nights on the town, we had babies and toddlers.

Flipping through the book at random I was immediately struck by a quote from Shirley Manson. In 2005 the band took a seven-year hiatus, and during that time Manson acted as a killer robot on the show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s not as weird a transition as you might think; Manson had been a print model in her teenage years and intended to segue into acting before, as she said, she “stumbled into music.” She took acting lessons with instructor Sharon Chatten, and although she hasn’t acted much since the show was cancelled, Manson considers it a positive experience:

“She completely changed my attitude to being an artist and my approach to making music,” says Manson. “She taught me how not to focus on results but instead to focus on ideas and taking creative detours and risks; how to cut the strings of who I thought I was and instead be in the moment, completely free of external appraisal.”

No musician, I suppose, begins her career with anything more than a vague idea about playing music. Then one day she may say, I want to record an album, but she has little idea of how the final product will sound, perhaps only a blurred notion at best. There can be no real understanding of the result; she can only understand what she is doing in that day, only in that moment.

She can only record one song, one idea, then another, and another, until she has enough to fill an album. Then later she does the whole process again, then maybe again. Eventually she has albums and albums of music and can look back and see a career and a trajectory which was completely opaque at the beginning.

Having two sons, our family is not immune to periodic Star Wars excitement whenever a new installment appears, and Manson’s sentiment dovetails with a line that hooked me while recently rewatching Rogue One. Toward the story’s climax the heroine Jyn Erso explains her strategy for infiltrating the Empire’s top-secret base. “They’ve no idea we’re coming,” she tells her misfit team. “No reason to expect us. If we can make it to the ground, we’ll take the next chance, and the next, on and on, until we win or the chances are spent.”

Take creative detours, take risks. Take chances. That, I think, is the best new year’s advice I can provide, to myself and to everybody.

What Matters Is What You Believe

As an epilogue to my last post about Twin Peaks (among other things), director and cowriter David Lynch recently made some comments about the series and the nature of ambiguity itself, both in art and real life:

When it comes to the final moments of this season, he said, “What matters is what you believe happened. Many things in life just happen and we have to come to our own conclusions. You can, for example, read a book that raises a series of questions, and you want to talk to the author, but he died a hundred years ago. That’s why everything is up to you.”

If Robert Aickman was to be resurrected as a filmmaker, he would be Lynch.

Short News, Post-Election Post Edition

In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.

— Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt

We can’t stop here, this is bat country. Are you experiencing anxiety, depression, and terror after last week’s election? Congratulations! Now you know how it feels to be a libertarian after every election! As a veteran of such emotional swings, might I suggest a period of self-reflection? During this time you could consider the libertarian idea of opposing government’s — and specifically, the executive’s — possession of far-reaching powers; as well as the possibility that blaming white people for all the world’s ills is unproductive, and that better ends might result from outreach toward America’s rural working classes. Following that, I propose sampling my daily medicine. Work out. Run. Read. Write. Help settlements. Don’t assume someone else will fix a problem. Keep a sense of humor. You’re not alone.

Let us not have such a machine any longer. Earlier this week LitHub published a list of 25 books for resisting the coming Trump junta. Notably absent was Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Thoreau’s full-throated cry has been out of favor with some on the left ever since Ronald Reagan (who was raised a Democrat) co-opted the radicalist idea that government is the problem and not the solution, but maybe it’s due for a comeback. Open Culture has a nice backgrounder on Civil Disobedience, an essay I find supremely inspirational and evergreen.

Truth is weirder than any fiction. If instead of nonfiction you’re in need of a politically relevant novel, I really enjoyed Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country.

By the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto. Doctor Strange was a fun but fairly mediocre experience with its main strength being the excellent interpretation of Steve Ditko’s vertiginous artwork from the character’s early days. While not a 1:1 translation, the visuals conveyed that same MC Escher sense of distortion and confusion that disconcerted this young reader. Over at Vulture, Abraham Riesman has a great piece about stalking Ditko (still alive — who knew?), and along the way details Ditko’s feud with Stan Lee and his gradual withdrawal from the world in anger and bitterness. It’s a fascinating and yet scary CT scan of an incredible talent consumed by mental illness.

Just say nyet. Probably because the Russians and Chinese are inside all of our servers these days, I’ve been flooded with spam through the phonetically rendered e-mail address that used to be on this site’s About page. I’ve removed the address until I can determine a better way to present it. In the meantime, if you want to contact me the best way is either @ing or DMing me through Twitter.