Category: Uncategorized

Question of the next month and four years

George Mitchell, who is not one to engage in conspiracy theories:

President Trump questions whether the election results are legit. I have zero idea if he is correct. Only hard evidence matters. But context also matters. In the last four plus years his opponents and the swamp tried to rig/overturn an election. They conjured up the phony collusion narrative. They impeached him for doing what we now know Joe Biden did. So how far fetched is it to think something is amiss … again?

An undebatable debate debacle

The Wall Street Journal watched Tuesday night’s presidential debate so you didn’t have to (I announced volleyball on the radio instead):

No one expected a Lincoln-Douglas debate, but did it have to be a World Wrestling Entertainment bout? Which may be unfair to the wrestlers, who are more presidential than either Donald Trump or Joe Biden sounded in their first debate Tuesday night.

The event was a spectacle of insults, interruptions, endless cross-talk, exaggerations and flat-out lies even by the lying standards of current U.S. politics. Our guess is that millions of Americans turned away after 30 minutes, and we would have turned away too if we didn’t do this for a living.

Mr. Trump no doubt wanted to project strength and rattle Mr. Biden, but he did so by interrupting him so much that he wouldn’t let Mr. Biden talk long enough even to make a mistake. The President bounced from subject to subject so frequently that it was hard to figure out what he hoped to say beyond that Joe Biden is controlled by the Democratic left. Even when moderator Chris Wallace asked a question that played to the strengths of his record—such as on the economy—Mr. Trump couldn’t stick to the theme without leaping to attack Mr. Biden.

The former Vice President wasn’t much better, interrupting nearly as much. And for the candidate who says he wants to bring people together, he was ready with his own name-calling. He called Mr. Trump a “racist,” a “clown,” and told him to “shut up, man.” He spun out falsehoods as fast as the President, notably in asserting that 100 million people would be vulnerable to losing their health insurance due to pre-existing conditions. The Obama Administration set up a special fund for pre-existing conditions in the transition to ObamaCare, and the takers were only in the thousands. Mr. Trump didn’t know enough to be able to rebut him.

No one won this fiasco, but Mr. Biden did succeed in passing the test of appearing coherent for 90 minutes. Mr. Trump had done him the favor of calling his mental capacity into question for months, so expectations were low. Mr. Biden passed that bar, albeit in highly scripted fashion.

The former Vice President kept his focus on Mr. Trump’s divisive political style and management of the pandemic. The truth is that Mr. Biden hasn’t offered anti-virus policies that are much different than Mr. Trump’s, except for a mandate to wear masks, which he has since walked back. His indictment is mainly about Mr. Trump’s temperament and narcissism, which Mr. Trump reinforced with his interruptions and “you’re worse” taunts. Mr. Trump succeeded again in making his pandemic policies sound worse than they are.

The benign explanation for the President’s performance is that like other incumbents in their first debates he was overconfident and underprepared. A less benign view is that he grew flustered as the debate went on and lost his cool and whatever focus he had at the start. He was so scattershot with his answers that he rarely offered a sustained case for his own policies. When Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump had called veterans “suckers” and “losers,” Mr. Trump didn’t refute it but brought up Hunter Biden.

Mr. Wallace had a hard task as the two men brawled, but he didn’t help by injecting himself too much into the debate. His verbose questions often took one side of the issue, as if playing gotcha in his Sunday interview program, when the point should have been to solicit information to help voters.

We hope for better when the two vice presidential candidates debate next week. Maybe one of them will act like a President.

The wrong race

Matt Taibbi:

A core principle of the academic movement that shot through elite schools in America since the early nineties was the view that individual rights, humanism, and the democratic process are all just stalking-horses for white supremacy. The concept, as articulated in books like former corporate consultant Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility(Amazon’s #1 seller!) reduces everything, even the smallest and most innocent human interactions, to racial power contests. 

It’s been mind-boggling to watch White Fragility celebrated in recent weeks. When it surged past a Hunger Games book on bestseller lists, USA Today cheered, “American readers are more interested in combatting racism than in literary escapism.” When DiAngelo appeared on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon gushed, “I know… everyone wants to talk to you right now!” White Fragility has been pitched as an uncontroversial road-map for fighting racism, at a time when after the murder of George Floyd Americans are suddenly (and appropriately) interested in doing just that. Except this isn’t a straightforward book about examining one’s own prejudices. Have the people hyping this impressively crazy book actually read it?

DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category. 

If your category is “white,” bad news: you have no identity apart from your participation in white supremacy (“Anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities… Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness”), which naturally means “a positive white identity is an impossible goal.” 

DiAngelo instructs us there is nothing to be done here, except “strive to be less white.” To deny this theory, or to have the effrontery to sneak away from the tedium of DiAngelo’s lecturing – what she describes as “leaving the stress-inducing situation” – is to affirm her conception of white supremacy. This academic equivalent of the “ordeal by water” (if you float, you’re a witch) is orthodoxy across much of academia.

DiAngelo’s writing style is pure pain. The lexicon favored by intersectional theorists of this type is built around the same principles as Orwell’s Newspeak: it banishes ambiguity, nuance, and feeling and structures itself around sterile word pairs, like racist and antiracist, platform and deplatformcenter and silence, that reduce all thinking to a series of binary choicesIronically, Donald Trump does something similar, only with words like “AMAZING!” and “SAD!” that are simultaneously more childish and livelier. 

Writers like DiAngelo like to make ugly verbs out of ugly nouns and ugly nouns out of ugly verbs (there are countless permutations on centering and privileging alone). In a world where only a few ideas are considered important, redundancy is encouraged, e.g. “To be less white is to break with white silence and white solidarity, to stop privileging the comfort of white people,” or “Ruth Frankenberg, a premier white scholar in the field of whiteness, describes whiteness as multidimensional…” 

DiAngelo writes like a person who was put in timeout as a child for speaking clearly. “When there is disequilibrium in the habitus — when social cues are unfamiliar and/or when they challenge our capital — we use strategies to regain our balance,” she says (“People taken out of their comfort zones find ways to deal,” according to Google Translate). Ideas that go through the English-DiAngelo translator usually end up significantly altered, as in this key part of the book when she addresses Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” speech:

One line of King’s speech in particular—that one day he might be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin—was seized upon by the white public because the words were seen to provide a simple and immediate solution to racial tensions: pretend that we don’t see race, and racism will end. Color blindness was now promoted as the remedy for racism, with white people insisting that they didn’t see race or, if they did, that it had no meaning to them.

That this speech was held up as the framework for American race relations for more than half a century precisely because people of all races understood King to be referring to a difficult and beautiful long-term goal worth pursuing is discounted, of course. White Fragility is based upon the idea that human beings are incapable of judging each other by the content of their character, and if people of different races think they are getting along or even loving one another, they probably need immediate antiracism training. This is an important passage because rejection of King’s “dream” of racial harmony — not even as a description of the obviously flawed present, but as the aspirational goal of a better future — has become a central tenet of this brand of antiracist doctrine mainstream press outlets are rushing to embrace. 

The book’s most amazing passage concerns the story of Jackie Robinson:

The story of Jackie Robinson is a classic example of how whiteness obscures racism by rendering whites, white privilege, and racist institutions invisible. Robinson is often celebrated as the first African American to break the color line…

While Robinson was certainly an amazing baseball player, this story line depicts him as racially special, a black man who broke the color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level. Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.”

There is not a single baseball fan anywhere – literally not one, except perhaps Robin DiAngelo, I guess – who believes Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier because he “finally had what it took to play with whites.” Everyone familiar with this story understands that Robinson had to be exceptional, both as a player and as a human being, to confront the racist institution known as Major League Baseball. His story has always been understood as a complex, long-developing political tale about overcoming violent systemic oppression. For DiAngelo to suggest history should re-cast Robinson as “the first black man whites allowed to play major league baseball” is grotesque and profoundly belittling.

Robinson’s story moreover did not render “whites, white privilege, and racist institutions invisible.” It did the opposite. Robinson uncovered a generation of job inflation for mediocre white ballplayers in a dramatic example of “privilege” that was keenly understood by baseball fans of all races fifty years before White Fragility. Baseball statistics nerds have long been arguingabout whether to put asterisks next to the records of white stars who never had to pitch to Josh Gibson, or hit against prime Satchel Paige or Webster McDonald. Robinson’s story, on every level, exposed and evangelized the truth about the very forces DiAngelo argues it rendered “invisible.” 

It takes a special kind of ignorant for an author to choose an example that illustrates the mathematical opposite of one’s intended point, but this isn’t uncommon in White Fragility, which may be the dumbest book ever written. It makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina.

Yet these ideas are taking America by storm. The movement that calls itself “antiracism” – I think it deserves that name a lot less than “pro-lifers” deserve theirs and am amazed journalists parrot it without question – is complete in its pessimism about race relations. It sees the human being as locked into one of three categories: members of oppressed groups, allies, and white oppressors. 

Where we reside on the spectrum of righteousness is, they say, almost entirely determined by birth, a view probably shared by a lot of 4chan readers. With a full commitment to the program of psychological ablutions outlined in the book, one may strive for a “less white identity,” but again, DiAngelo explicitly rejects the Kingian goal of just trying to love one another as impossible, for two people born with different skin colors. 

This dingbat racialist cult, which has no art, music, literature, and certainly no comedy, is the vision of “progress” institutional America has chosen to endorse in the Trump era. Why? Maybe because it fits. It won’t hurt the business model of the news media, which for decades now has been monetizing division and has known how to profit from moral panics and witch hunts since before Fleet street discovered the Mod/Rocker wars. 

Democratic Party leaders, pioneers of the costless gesture, have already embraced this performative race politics as a useful tool for disciplining apostates like Bernie Sanders. Bernie took off in presidential politics as a hard-charging crusader against a Wall Street-fattened political establishment, and exited four years later a self-flagellating, defeated old white man who seemed to regret not apologizing more for his third house. Clad in kente cloth scarves, the Democrats who crushed him will burn up CSPAN with homilies on privilege even as they reassure donors they’ll stay away from Medicare for All or the carried interest tax break. 

For corporate America the calculation is simple. What’s easier, giving up business models based on war, slave labor, and regulatory arbitrage, or benching Aunt Jemima? There’s a deal to be made here, greased by the fact that the “antiracism” prophets promoted in books like White Fragility share corporate Americas instinctive hostility to privacy, individual rights, freedom of speech, etc. 

Corporate America doubtless views the current protest movement as something that can be addressed as an H.R. matter, among other things by hiring thousands of DiAngelos to institute codes for the proper mode of Black-white workplace interaction. 

If you’re wondering what that might look like, here’s DiAngelo explaining how she handled the fallout from making a bad joke while she was “facilitating antiracism training” at the office of one of her clients. 

When one employee responds negatively to the training, DiAngelo quips the person must have been put off by one of her Black female team members: “The white people,” she says, “were scared by Deborah’s hair.” (White priests of antiracism like DiAngelo seem universally to be more awkward and clueless around minorities than your average Trump-supporting construction worker). 

DiAngelo doesn’t grasp the joke flopped and has to be told two days later that one of her web developer clients was offended. In despair, she writes, “I seek out a friend who is white and has a solid understanding of cross-racial dynamics.” 

After DiAngelo confesses her feelings of embarrassment, shame and guilt to the enlightened white cross-racial dynamics expert (everyone should have such a person on speed-dial), she approaches the offended web developer. She asks, “Would you be willing to grant me the opportunity to repair the racism I perpetrated toward you in that meeting?” At which point the web developer agrees, leading to a conversation establishing the parameters of problematic joke resolution.

This dialogue straight out of South Park – “Is it okay if I touch your penis? No, you may not touch my penis at this time!” – has a good shot of becoming standard at every transnational corporation, law firm, university, newsroom, etc. 

Of course the upside such consultants can offer is an important one. Under pressure from people like this, companies might address long-overdue inequities in boardroom diversity. 

The downside, which we’re already seeing, is that organizations everywhere will embrace powerful new tools for solving professional disputes, through a never-ending purge. One of the central tenets of DiAngelo’s book (and others like it) is that racism cannot be eradicated and can only be managed through constant, “lifelong” vigilance, much like the battle with addiction. A useful theory, if your business is selling teams of high-priced toxicity-hunters to corporations as next-generation versions of efficiency experts — in the fight against this disease, companies will need the help forever and ever.

Cancelations already are happening too fast to track. In a phenomenon that will be familiar to students of Russian history, accusers are beginning to appear alongside the accused. Three years ago a popular Canadian writer named Hal Niedzviecki was denounced for expressing the opinion that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” He reportedly was forced out of the Writer’s Union of Canada for the crime of “cultural appropriation,” and denounced as a racist by many, including a poet named Gwen Benaway. The latter said Niedzviecki “doesn’t see the humanity of indigenous peoples.” Last week, Benaway herself was denounced on Twitter for failing to provide proof that she was Indigenous. 

Michael Korenberg, the chair of the board at the University of British Columbia, was forced to resign for liking tweets by Dinesh D’Souza and Donald Trump, which you might think is fine – but what about Latino electrical worker Emmanuel Cafferty, firedafter a white activist took a photo of him making an OK symbol (it was described online as a “white power” sign)? How about Sue Schafer, the heretofore unknown graphic designer the Washington Post decided to out in a 3000-word article for attending a Halloween party two years ago in blackface (a failed parody of a different blackface incident involving Megyn Kelly)? She was fired, of course. How was this news? Why was ruining this person’s life necessary? 

People everywhere today are being encouraged to snitch out schoolmates, parents, and colleagues for thoughtcrime. The New York Times wrote a salutary pieceabout high schoolers scanning social media accounts of peers for evidence of “anti-black racism” to make public, because what can go wrong with encouraging teenagers to start submarining each other’s careers before they’ve even finished growing?  

“People who go to college end up becoming racist lawyers and doctors. I don’t want people like that to keep getting jobs,” one 16 year-old said. “Someone rly started a Google doc of racists and their info for us to ruin their lives… I love twitter,” wrote a different person, adding cheery emojis.

A bizarre echo of North Korea’s “three generations of punishment” doctrine could be seen in the boycotts of Holy Land grocery, a well-known hummus maker in Minneapolis. In recent weeks it’s been abandoned by clients and seen its lease pulled because of racist tweets made by the CEO’s 14 year-old daughter eight years ago. 

Parents calling out their kids is also in vogue. In Slate, “Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill” wrote to advice columnist Michelle Herman in a letter headlined, “I think I’ve screwed up the way my kids up about race.” The problem, the aggrieved parent noted, was that his/her sons had gone to a diverse school, and their “closest friends are still a mix of black, Hispanic, and white kids,” which to them was natural. The parent worried when one son was asked to fill out an application for a potential college roommate and expressed annoyance at having to specify race, because “I don’t care about race.” 

Clearly, a situation needing fixing! The parent asked if someone who didn’t care about race was “just as racist as someone who only has white friends” and asked if it was “too late” to do anything. No fear, Herman wrote: it’s never too late for kids like yours to educate themselves. To help, she linked to a program of materials designed for just that purpose, a “Lesson Plan for Being An Ally,” that included a month of readings of… White Fragility. Hopefully that kid with the Black and Hispanic friends can be cured!

This notion that color-blindness is itself racist, one of the main themes of White Fragility, could have amazing consequences. In researching I Can’t Breathe, I met civil rights activists who recounted decades of struggle to remove race from the law. I heard stories of lawyers who were physically threatened for years places like rural Arkansas just for trying to end explicit hiring and housing discrimination and other remnants of Jim Crow. Last week, an Oregon County casually exempted “people of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling” from a Covid-19 related mask order. Who thinks creating different laws for different racial categories is going to end well? When has it ever?

At a time of catastrophe and national despair, when conservative nationalism is on the rise and violent confrontation on the streets is becoming commonplace, it’s extremely suspicious that the books politicians, the press, university administrators, and corporate consultants alike are asking us to read are urging us to put race even more at the center of our identities, and fetishize the unbridgeable nature of our differences. Meanwhile books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, which are both beautiful and actually anti-racist, have been banned, for containing the “N-word.” (White Fragility contains it too, by the way). It’s almost like someone thinks there’s a benefit to keeping people divided.

Virus economics for the economically ignorant

As of the end of last week, according to the state Department of Health Services, Wisconsin had 5,687 coronavirus-positive people, with 1,376 hospitalizations and 266 deaths.

(The latter number is what DHS claims, irrespective of what number of those 266 dead Wisconsinites died of the coronavirus, as opposed to testing positive for the coronavirus after death.)

As of the end of last week, according to the state Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin had 392,408 first-time unemployment claims over the past five weeks. Put another way, each coronavirus positive result has cost 69 Wisconsin jobs so far.

Walter E. Williams:

One of the first lessons in an economics class is everything has a cost. That’s in stark contrast to lessons in the political arena where politicians talk about free stuff. In our personal lives, decision-making involves weighing costs against benefits. Businessmen make the same calculation if they want to stay in business. It’s an entirely different story for politicians running the government where any benefit, however minuscule, is often deemed to be worth any cost, however large.

Related to decision-making is the issue of being overly safe versus not safe enough. Sometimes, being as safe as one can be is worthless. A minor example: How many of us before driving our cars inspect the hydraulic brake system for damage? We’d be safer if we did, but most of us just assume everything is OK and get into our car and drive away. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 40,000 Americans lose their lives each year because of highway fatalities. Virtually all those lives could be saved with a mandated 5 mph speed limit. Fortunately, we consider costs and rightfully conclude that saving those 40,000 lives aren’t worth the costs and inconvenience of a 5 mph mandate.

With the costs and benefits in mind, we might examine our government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first thing to keep in mind about any crisis, be it war, natural disasters or pandemics, is we should keep markets open and private incentives strong. Markets solve problems because they provide the right incentives to use resources effectively. Federal, state and local governments have ordered an unprecedented and disastrous shutdown of much of the U.S. economy in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

There’s a strictly health-related downside to the shutdown of the U.S. economy ignored by our leadership that has been argued by epidemiologist Dr. Knut Wittkowski, formerly the head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at Rockefeller University in New York City. Wittkowski argues that the lockdown prolongs the development of the “herd immunity,” which is our only weapon in “exterminating” the novel coronavirus — outside of a vaccine that’s going to optimistically take 18 months or more to produce. He says we should focus on shielding the elderly and people with comorbidities while allowing the young and healthy to associate with one another in order to build up immunities. Wittkowski says, “So, it’s very important to keep the schools open and kids mingling to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible, and then the elderly people, who should be separated, and the nursing homes should be closed during that time, can come back and meet their children and grandchildren after about 4 weeks when the virus has been exterminated.” Herd immunity, Wittkowski argues, would stop a “second wave” headed for the United States in the fall. Dr. David L. Katz, president of True Health Initiative and the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, shares Wittkowski’s vision. Writing in The New York Times, he argued that our fight against COVID-19 could be worse than the virus itself.

The bottom line is that costs can be concealed but not eliminated. Moreover, if people only look at the benefits from a particular course of action, they will do just about anything, because everything has a benefit. Political hustlers and demagogues love promising benefits when the costs can easily be concealed. By the way, the best time to be wrong and persist in being wrong is when the costs of being wrong are borne by others.

The absolute worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and possibly its most unrecoverable damage, is the massive power that Americans have given to their federal, state and local governments to regulate our lives in the name of protecting our health. Taking back that power should be the most urgent component of our recovery efforts. It’s going to be challenging; once a politician, and his bureaucracy, gains power, he will fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Fascism, Wisconsin Law Enforcement Division

Scott Shackford:

A family in Oxford, Wisconsin, is suing the local sheriff’s department after a patrol sergeant threatened to arrest a teenage girl for disorderly conduct for posting on Instagram about being infected with COVID-19.

Amyiah Cohoon, 16, is a student at Westfield Area High School in Westfield, Wisconsin. According to this lawsuit, she and schoolmates went to Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida for a spring break trip in early March, right as the coronavirus was beginning to spread and businesses began to shut down. She and her classmates canceled the trip early and returned home.

Once home, Cohoon began developing symptoms associated with COVID-19. She sought medical assistance, but at the time they were unable to test her to see if she was infected. She was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection with “symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” according to the lawsuit.

Cohoon went home and posted on Instagram letting people know that she had COVID-19 and was in self-quarantine. Her condition worsened and she was brought to the hospital for treatment. She posted again about the experience on Instagram. Finally, they were able to test her, but the test came back negative. According to the lawsuit, doctors told her it was likely she missed the window for testing positive, but she probably did have COVID-19, despite the test results. (False negative results have been an ongoing issue in accurately diagnosing infections.)

After she returned home from this visit, she posted again on Instagram and included a picture of herself at the hospital wearing an oxygen mask.

The very next day, Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump from Marquette County Sheriff’s Department showed up on the family’s doorstep. He was there under orders from Sheriff Joseph Konrath to demand that Amyiah and her father, Richard Cohoon, remove Amyiah’s Instagram posts. If they refused, Klump said the family faced charges for disorderly conduct and Klump told them he would “start taking people to jail,” according to the suit.

Konrath’s justification was that there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. He found out about the Instagram post from Amyiah’s high school. The Cohoon family had contacted the school to let them know about Amyiah’s infection, but nobody ever contacted them back to get more information. It appears that instead the school contacted the police. Under the threat of arrest, Cohoon complied and deleted the allegedly illegal Instagram post.

That evening the family would discover that a school administrator sent out an alert to families accusing Cohoon of making it up and assuring families that any information of infection was just a rumor. “Let me assure you there is NO truth to this,” the message read. “This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed. This rumor had caught the attention of our Public Health Department and she was involved in putting a stop to this nonsense.”

The family then connected with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and the Institute sent a letter to Konrath warning him that he had violated Cohoon’s First Amendment rights and demanded both an apology and the promise that there would be no further threats of criminal charges against the family for Amyiah’s post.

Konrath refused, and now the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty is suing Konrath and Klump in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin for violating Cohoon’s First and 14th Amendment rights. Her Instagram posts are protected speech, the Institute argues, and there was nothing about her posts that violated the county’s disorderly conduct law, and even if they did, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that disorderly conduct statutes in the state cannot be applied to speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is asking the court to rule that Cohoon’s  posts were protected speech and order that the sheriff’s department may not threaten or cite Cohoon or her family for these posts, plus paying “nominal damages.”

The sheriff’s department is not backing down or even acknowledging an overreaction. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, their position remains that the one negative test means that she did not have COVID-19, which simply isn’t how it works. The Sentinel reports:

Sam Hall, an attorney for the sheriff, said the teenager “caused distress and panic” among other parents by claiming she had contracted the coronavirus despite getting a negative test result.

“This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater,” he said, referring to speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.

That the sheriff’s lawyer is misusing the much-maligned “fire in a crowded theater” argument from Schenck v. United States is a huge tell that these guys don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s a bad argument, a bad precedent (it was about censoring anti-war activism), and the Supreme Court has subsequently weakened that decision and broadened our free speech protections.

And even if that ruling remained relevant, Amyiah Cohoon was not engaging in the equivalent of “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” Because of the significant number of false negative test results, it’s appropriate for health staff to treat her as though she likely has COVID-19 based on her symptoms. It’s also appropriate for the Cohoon family to attempt to warn families of the students who went with her to Florida that they might have been exposed, too.

It’s the school officials and the police who behaved irresponsibly, not Amyiah or her family.

A tale of two areas

Michael Smith:

There sure seems to be an undercurrent of worry that the more sparsely populated areas of this country might advance economically while the more densely populated cities languish as a result of the physical reality of disease transmission.Cities have a transmission modality that simply cannot be overcome absent a vaccine for this virus. The reality is that the only reason any “curve flattening” is happening today is that the virus is being deprived of fresh victims, that solution provides little more than a temporary respite and a false sense of security – because the underlying condition promoting spread – the population density – has not changed.

National policy is being driven by a fear that originated in our major population centers.

I get it. Nobody wants to spread this disease – but the fact is that New York state’s 2900 deaths would have to increase by 27 times to equal the 79,000 annual deaths due to heart disease and cancer the CDC reported for the state in 2017 (the latest I could find at the CDC website).

At 7900 deaths nationwide so far, this pandemic doesn’t crack the top 50 for mortality classifications in the nation.

I understand the pandemic deaths are concentrated in a short period of time and when things happen over a short period, they have more impact – but I still question the need for Kansas or Utah to be driven by situations in New York.

The real pandemic is not the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it’s fear.

Wisconsin is a perfect example of what Smith is talking about. As of Friday out of Wisconsin’s 1,916 cases, 955 are in Milwaukee County and 244 are in Dane County. Some counties have not had a single case, and other counties’ measure in the single digits. Yet state government is stupidly treating every part of Wisconsin the same, mandating, for instance, statewide school closings when school administrators could have told you that was a really bad idea.

If politicians weren’t being profiles in cowardice maybe after this ends they could figure out that the state should not treat, for instance, Milwaukee and Marathon the same. And perhaps small towns could market themselves as superior places to live over crime-plagued and now disease-riddled urban areas.

My cool uncle

Today’s blog is about a member of my family who died earlier this month. A gathering of a group of his friends is taking place Saturday, when I cannot be there due to sportscasting commitments.

Even though I come from a relatively small family, I had a lot of relatives in my parents’ generation, some of whom are still living. My father was the oldest boy in his family, and my mother was the youngest of three, so I had aunts and uncles older and younger than my parents.

On my father’s side, I have three aunts I could describe as the “cool aunts.” Two are younger than my father, and the one who is older lives in California and New Mexico, which makes her automatically cool. Whatever fashion look I got from middle school Christmas gifts came from them.

Greg was one of the uncles who married into the family. With one exception, all the uncles in my family married into the family. After I started watching movies. I decided that Greg was like having Steve McQueen as your uncle, and the uncle I’m related to was like having Burt Reynolds as your uncle. (He died in 2016.)

Greg went into the Army after high school and then the Special Forces in Vietnam, was injured there and then spent nearly a year at an Army hospital in Okinawa. He almost never talked about his Vietnam experience. He was one of those people you had to work on to get him to open up, but when you did, he could be hilarious.

He talked quite a bit about his experience immediately after Vietnam, which was three years at UW–Madison as an engineering student on the GI Bill in the height of the protests against the war in which he had just fought. Greg had a second-floor apartment on State Street, and would watch the daily antiwar protest start on the Library Mall and then proceed up State Street to the Capitol, with the protestors/mob smashing business windows along the way. He knew Paul Soglin when Soglin was a UW Law School student and a leader of the protesters.

One day, Greg went to a class. This happened to be the day of a student strike protesting the war, which was to close the campus. As he told the story, he found his access to the classroom blocked by a student who announced he couldn’t go in. Greg said he had a class. The student said he couldn’t go in. The student found out that getting in the way of an ex-Green Beret was a poor decision on the student’s part. As Greg told the story, he was the only student who actually went to class that day, which made him easy to find when the police came to arrest him for assault, which was later amended down to disorderly conduct.

My uncle and aunt lived in Auburn, N.Y., for a few years. (That was where, as Greg told the story, their motorcycle broke down.) Then they came back to Wisconsin so Greg could take over his father’s building business. Thereafter he was a stockbroker and then started a machine shop in Appleton, which made him a reader of Marketplace Magazine back in a previous life of mine. He was a fan of my work.

Greg was never a parent, so he probably didn’t really know how to deal with little kids. I do recall that he would take quarters and hold them in his fists, and my brother and I would work to get the quarters out. That was difficult, because he was a strong guy.

One of the purposes of cool uncles is for them to introduce you to activities your parents may not necessarily endorse. That included driving their truck in a field a couple of years before I was legally able to do so. A couple of decades later, in their basement following the Packers’ clinching their second consecutive Super Bowl berth, I sat in their basement and smoked the only tobacco product I have ever smoked in my life — a Cuban cigar.

Before that, he purchased a dark green 1969 Corvette. (Which replaced a Harley–Davidson motorcycle.) I’m not sure which 427 V-8 engine it had, but I do know it had the M-22 “rock crusher” four-speed manual transmission. It did not, however, have power steering or brakes. He took it out with me one day, and we reached, shall we say, extralegal speeds. And then he let me drive it. I had never driven a stick before, nor had I ever driven a car without power steering before. (They’re easier to drive while moving.) He was amazingly patient while I figured out how to take off without killing the engine. Later on he bought another one he was going to rebuild, but I don’t believe he ever finished it.

A Fathom Green 1969 Corvette, not necessarily the aforementioned Fathom Green 1969 Corvette.

He was single-minded in his pursuit of his hobbies. The first I remember was photography. He had more lenses and filters than I previously seen in 1970s-vintage photography (before zoom lenses became a thing). He also thought it was fun to take his flash and fire it in people’s faces to temporarily blind them. Sometime later he took up pool, and then after his vision made it hard (in his opinion) to play he dropped that for piano.

They had a succession of dogs. The first I remember was Brandy, a golden retriever that might have been the best-trained dog I have ever seen. If you snapped your finger, she would stick out a front paw for a handshake. She went bird-hunting, even when she was old enough to need painkiller shots before she went out. On the day of the bicentennial Independence Day, Greg, Brandy, my dad, my brother and I all went out on the Madison lakes in a boat he owned, on one of those perfect summer days. Earlier that day our new puppy, Dolly, followed Brandy around so close that she kept getting hit in the face by Brandy’s tail.

Brandy was followed by Kelly, an Irish setter. I went out with them as he was training her, and nearly collapsed laughing when she started barking at a bulldozer blade that was just sitting in the woods. Greg thought that was less funny than I did.

About a decade later, when Mrs. Presteblog and I were living in Appleton, they went to a Caribbean island for a diving vacation. My brother was tasked with caring for Kelly and their other dog (I believe she was Susie the black-and-white setter), but he had to be out of town that weekend, so he asked me to feed them and let them out. I got to their house, and of course the dogs were overjoyed to see humans and seemed quite sad at the prospect of my leaving them alone. And so I brought them back to our house, where we had our two dogs and one cat, for the rest of the weekend.

Nick the male spaniel thought having three girl dogs around was the greatest thing ever. Puzzle the female spaniel did not agree, and decided to follow me around even more than usual out of jealousy we had never seen before from her. The cat, meanwhile, got up on our fish mounted in our loft, a place we never would have guessed she could have reached due to her girth, to stay away from the dogs while monitoring their presence. We have a photo of my feeding four dogs treats, all of them at rapt attention.

They also had, for a while, big birds. I got an introduction to one of them when he let out a macaw (Tigger, I think, was his name) and said macaw flew up onto my back, and then walked up to my shoulder.

I didn’t hunt with Greg, but cars were a common interest, as were the Packers, in their Gory Years and then in the 1990s when they returned to the top of the NFL. So was music.

One day we visited them in Richland Center. They had what appeared to be a state-of-the-then-art sound system with big speakers and a reel-to-reel tape player. For whatever reason he decided to play Chicago’s “Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon,” which included “Make Me Smile.” I had heard the latter, but not the whole thing. And never as loudly as he played it that day.

Did that make an impression? Well, I have seen Chicago four times in concert, most recently in Madison in May, with our trumpet- and trombone-playing sons.

I always looked forward to going to their house. He started presenting us with Bloody Marys you could chew and beer chasers. We watched Super Bowl XXXI there, with my parents and a group of their friends. (Afterward we decided in a snowstorm to drive to Lambeau Field, but that’s another story.)

One Sunday we decided to visit Frank’s Pizza Palace in Appleton. He wasn’t dressed for the day when we got there, and so someone made a comment about that. He didn’t say anything, but went upstairs and returned a half-hour later, wearing a suit, outdressing everyone else in the restaurant.

An even more epic night than that was Dec. 31, 1999, when the family determined the best way to depart 1999 and welcome 2000 was a course-per-hour dinner. We went along with our oldest son, who couldn’t see anything because he was four months in utero. I remember driving home after 2 a.m., listening, for one of the few times in my life, to Art Bell to see if any of the more dire predictions of Y2K were coming true. The next day — actually later that day — we drove back to watch the 2000 Rose Bowl.

These are my experiences with Greg that stand out. I hadn’t seen him for a few years after my uncle and aunt divorced. I now regret not having reached out to him since then. We’ll have to schedule a Bloody Mary you can chew sometime this weekend in his memory.


Message of the day and academic year

Louis M. Profeta, M.D.:

“Colleges should do this and colleges should do that, everyone says?” I walked across the front of the auditorium, stopped and faced the two hundred young men who had invited me to their fraternity house to speak. “Really?” I paused some more. “Colleges are supposed to do what … protect you from you?”

It was a simple question, one they perhaps had not thought about in a world where some modern parenting involves hermetically sealing the previous 18–20 years of their lives from anything that could possibly hurt them. In reality, some of their parents—people who love them the most—were setting them up for academic failure, a lifetime of addiction … and even worse … their death.

“It’s the incoming freshmen that cause most of the problems,” the upperclassman told me as he walked me to my car. “They come in, away from mom and dad, and they are out of fucking control. Trying to fit in, I guess, things like that. Most of the upperclassmen, well, I mean are kind of over that. More future-oriented, I imagine,” he said, kind of exasperated.

“I believe it, I absolutely believe it,” I said. I thanked him for his leadership and went on my way, pretty much the same thing I’d had been hearing all over.

It had been about two years since I wrote the viral essay, “A Sunday Talk on Sex, Drugs, Drinking, and Dying with the Frat Boys,” and since then I had been traveling the country speaking on campuses brave enough to have me. I hadn’t held anything back from the students. I warned them beforehand. I was coming from a different place, a place where doctors do rape exams, pump veins full of narcan and epinephrine, look at the clock and pronounce time of death and break horrible news to moms and dads. I had become kind of sick of it (giving out the bad news, I mean). It didn’t seem like much was working to change the tide of opiate abuse, reckless behavior, and other causes of death in young people so I figured I’d start going to the source and begging these students to, well, grow the fuck up.

Most loved the candor, the openness, the willingness of a seasoned ER doctor to answer uncomfortable questions about drugs and alcohol, sexual assault, and hazing, and a whole host of semi-taboo topics. But it was the questions when the “adults” were out of the room that made me say to myself, “Holy shit … so many of these ‘kids’ have absolutely no business being in college.”

“What about whippets, what if I just snorted one xanax, can you really soak a tampon in alcohol and get drunk, is cough syrup OK to mix with vodka, is ecstasy and molly the same thing, can’t you just strap a backpack to them to keep them from rolling over so they don’t choke on their own vomit, what about phenergan, what’s in skittles (not the candy), how many milligrams of THC can you eat and not die, are they starting to add stuff to coke (not the cola) that makes you more hyped, how much does it cost to go to an ER, will you call my parents if I go, how can you tell if your roommate is suicidal, what if you know your roommate is using heroin … should I tell their parents, how do I tell if the ‘bars’ I bought online are not fentanyl, I got raped last year … should I tell someone now, I think my roommate is going to probably kill herself…who do I tell?”

As I’ve traveled the country, these are just some of the questions and emails I have gotten from your college students. I try to approach them with openness and honesty, as a doctor and a father who almost lost a child to cancer, and I tell them that I want them to live a long life and experience the joy of holding their own child in their arms one day. I tell them they can always email me and I’ll find them help if they need it. Occasionally, they do. Most of the time it’s a parent who drops me a note and says something like, “Thank you, my kid called me tonight after your talk and apologized for every stupid thing they ever did.”

Yeah. These are a fraction of the questions your kids are asking me, and I have come to the simple realization: some of these young men and women are simply too emotionally immature and lack the basic self-control and sense of personal responsibility to be in college.

College will still be there. It is not a race to adulthood.

Let that sink in for a second: Some of your kids, in fact many of your kids are not ready for college—and if you think college administrators can or will protect them, you are dead wrong. They’ll act like they have it under control and tout their counseling services, student health, etc., but they don’t. When things go bad, they’ll point the finger at fraternities, or a toxic sports culture, or bullying, or whatever in order to shift the blame rather than admitting that they accept too many students that are simply too immature to be there. If you don’t believe me, think about what college campuses would look like if you could only attend once you turned 20 or 21. Give me one year of age over a hundred extra points on the SAT any day.

I watched a documentary recently on D-Day. I’ve been somewhat of a student of WWII and veteran issues for years. What keeps me fascinated is the realization that many of these soldiers were mere kids by today’s standards—18- or 19-year-olds, fresh out of high school, and I try to imagine them in today’s world and I simply can’t see them snorting xanax, or doing a beer bong, or sharing adderall, or chowing down on a handful of THC-loaded gummy bears. These were 18-year-olds, but in terms of today’s measure of maturity and responsibility, they might as well have been 50. I can pretty well damn near guarantee if social media was around then none of the D-Day mothers would be posting.

“Well, we had to get Kyle moved into to his dorm, register for classes, pick his schedule, tour the campus, find out where his classes are, get him linens and a dorm fridge, meet his roommate, and go to parent orientation.” Post after post making moving into a dorm and registering for classes sound like a Homeric poem. “Well first we had to get Kyle on a ship that would not be crushed on the rocks by the songs of the sirens and then we had to get him a sword and a shield so he could kill a cyclops. I read where this one guy used his shield as a mirror to cut off Medusa’s head, so we’re going to Costco later to see if they carry that one…”

It’s sad and disconcerting because at the very core of this is a parent, consciously or not, treating an adult like a child. As an ER doctor who is now talking to these young men and women, I want to offer a few words of caution. We need to love them like our child but send them off as adults.

Do not send children to college.” College is for men and women. It is a place to expand the minds of these young scholars who, if they did not have the good fortune or desire to get a higher education, would be jumping into the workforce or the military right out of high school. It is a place to explore career options, expose oneself to diversity of thought, hone social and life skills, and to make contacts that might translate into future business opportunities or life partnerships.

It is NOT a defacto summer camp. It is NOT a surrogate parent. It is NOT a place to grow up, and it’s about time we step back and contemplate, “Is my child emotionally and mentally ready for college?” instead of “Does my kid have the aptitude for college?” The former is infinitely more important to consider than the latter.

We need to ask ourselves, “Does my child have the strength of character to say no? How independent are they really? Would I feel comfortable leaving my house for two months right now with them alone, by themselves, fending completely? Could I go a week, two weeks, three weeks without talking to them secure in the knowledge that they are fine? Does that describe my child?”

Give me one year of age over a hundred extra points on the SAT any day.

If the answer to any of those questions is no, perhaps a year waiting tables, doing construction, working in a nursing home, taking a welding class, community and environmental activism, learning about automotive maintenance, being a janitor, or bussing tables would be the best thing for them. Anything but tossing them into an environment full of sedatives, weed, beer bongs, fentanyl, cocaine, sexual promiscuity, peer pressure group-think, and a thousand temptations you never even knew existed.

College will still be there. It is not a race to adulthood. We do not have to disguise putting off college with terms like “gap year” or “intern year” or “leap year” or whatever. There was a time when gap year actually meant you worked at the GAP for a year, and got a ten percent discount on shirts and shorts, too.

Who the hell cares what our friends are doing with their own kids? Who cares where they bought their shield and sword. I, for one, wish I had taken a year or two off between high school and college. In fact, I wish I had served in the armed forces, for that matter. I went from kindergarten to residency. I could have used a couple years to grow up, too.

We need to encourage our kids to slow it down, to take a longer path to college, perhaps. Expose our kids to real education—the kind of education that comes with a W-2, a boss, getting up early and working late and interacting with people who can’t afford a higher education. Make them appreciate the life experiences that come with nailing a 2 x 4, washing dishes, wheeling people to X-ray, picking up garbage, answering telephones. Make them earn their spending money BEFORE college and decide on their own if they’d rather use it on alcohol, weed, a four-block Uber ride, or laundry and food.

Teach them these things and send them off to school as adults.

Or someone else may just teach them how to snort xanax instead.

A mass murder motive

The Washington Post:

Before the slaughter of dozens of people in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso this year, the accused gunmen took pains to explain their fury, including their hatred of immigrants. The statements that authorities think the men posted online share another obsession: overpopulation and environmental degradation.

The alleged Christchurch shooter, who is charged with targeting Muslims and killing 51 people in March, declared himself an “eco-fascist” and railed about immigrants’ birthrates. The statement linked to the El Paso shooter, who is charged with killing 22 people in a shopping area this month, bemoans water pollution, plastic waste and an American consumer culture that is “creating a massive burden for future generations.”

The two mass shootings appear to be extreme examples of ecofascism — what Hampshire College professor emerita Betsy Hartmann calls “the greening of hate.”

Many white supremacists have latched onto environmental themes, drawing connections between the protection of nature and racial exclusion. These ideas have shown themselves to be particularly dangerous when adopted by unstable individuals prone to violence and convinced that they must take drastic actions to stave off catastrophe.

The alleged El Paso shooter’s document is full of existential despair: “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.”

In recent years, the mainstream environmental movement has moved strongly in the direction of social justice — the opposite of what hate groups seek. Now, the leaders of those organizations fear white nationalists are using green messages to lure young people to embrace racist and nativist agendas.

“Hate is always looking for an opportunity to grab hold of something,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, a vice president of the National Wildlife Federation and an expert on environmental justice. “That’s why they use this ecological language that’s been around for a while, and they try to reframe it.”

Michelle Chan, vice president of programs for Friends of the Earth, said, “The key thing to understand here is that ecofascism is more an expression of white supremacy than it is an expression of environmentalism.”

This is all happening in a rhetorically and ideologically overheated era in which public discourse is becoming toxic, not only in the dark corners of the Internet but among those occupying the highest elective offices. Environmental activists want to create a sense of urgency about climate change, the loss of biodiversity and other insults to the natural world, but they don’t want their messages to drive people into deranged ideologies.

There is a danger of “apocalypticism,” said Jon Christensen, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who has written extensively on the use and misuse of dystopian environmental scenarios.

It’s important, he said, to provide people with potential solutions and reasons to be hopeful: “There’s definitely a danger of people taking dire measures when they feel there’s no way out of it.”

Hartmann, who has tracked ecofascism for more than two decades, echoes that warning, saying environmentalists “need to steer away from this apocalyptic discourse because it too easily plays into the hands of apocalyptic white nationalism.”

The leaders of several major environmental organizations say that white supremacy is antithetical to their movement.

“What we saw in the El Paso manifesto is a myopic, hateful, deadly ideology that has no place in the environmental movement,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Echoing that was Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “We need to speak out so that our members know that under no circumstances are we buying into this kind of philosophy.”

The alleged gunmen in El Paso and Christchurch did not emerge from the green movement. The documents attributed to them are primarily focused on race, cultural identity, immigration and the fear of a “great replacement” of whites by people of other races. The “eco” part of the equation is arguably an add-on.

But these people did not come up with their hateful ideologies in a vacuum. They have tapped into ideas about nature that are in broad circulation among white nationalists. Before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, for example, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer published a manifesto that had a plank on protecting nature.

Ecofascism has deep roots. There is a strong element of it in the Nazi emphasis on “blood and soil,” and the fatherland, and the need for a living space purified of alien and undesirable elements.

Meanwhile, leaders of mainstream environmental groups are quick to acknowledge that their movement has an imperfect history when it comes to race, immigration and inclusiveness. Some early conservationists embraced the eugenics movement that saw “social Darwinism” as a way of improving the human race by limiting the birthrates of people considered inferior.

“There’s this idea coming out of the eugenics movement that nature, purity, conservation were linked to purity of the race,” said Hartmann, the author of “The America Syndrome: Apocalypse, War and our Call to Greatness.”

Conservationists have a long history of wrestling with questions about immigration and population growth. Some of those on the environmental left have seen the explosion in the human population — which is nearing 8 billion and has more than doubled in the past half-century — as a primary driver of the environmental crisis. That argument has then been adopted by racists.

The alleged Christchurch shooter began his online screed by writing, “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates,” and then warned of the “invasion” by immigrants who will “replace the White people who have failed to reproduce.”

The document thought to have been posted by the alleged El Paso shooter cites birthrates among the “invaders” trying to enter the United States and asserts, “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

This line of thought is dismaying to Paul Ehrlich, 87, a professor emeritus at Stanford University whose 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” proved hugely influential.

“They often cite me, even though I’ve spent my life trying to fight racism,” Ehrlich said.

John Holdren, a Harvard professor who co-authored articles with Ehrlich and later served eight years as President Barack Obama’s science adviser, said the environmental movement grappled decades ago with the perceived racist undertones of the emphasis on population growth.

“A lot of people felt they were getting burned by talking about population growth and its adverse impact,” Holdren said. As a result, he said, the movement’s leaders began focusing on the education and empowerment of women, which has led to falling birthrates around the world as women take control of their reproductive lives.

A refrain among environmentalists is that if anti-immigrant groups are genuinely concerned about degradation of the natural world, they’re targeting the wrong people. Climate change hasn’t been driven by poor people struggling to get by. The activities of wealthy nations have been the main historical source of greenhouse gas emissions, the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of habitats.

Ali, the environmental justice expert, said he often hears people say population growth is the big problem today, and he shoots that down.

“My response to them is, ‘Who are the people we need to limit? Who are the people making decisions about that?’ . . . Until we have true equity and equality and a balance of power, then we know vulnerable communities are going to end up on the negative side of the ledger, whatever the tough choices are,” Ali said.

Interesting that the apocalyptic language used by environmentalists for decades is now paying off.