Monthly Archives: May 2020

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 75

“Everybody is a Ferengi now.” “The high holy church of unfettered capitalism.” Both are flippant remarks about the current state of America I’ve been muttering for a number of years. Sometime in the aftermath of World War II, a significant percentage of Americans began to see and defend our capitalist system with a kind of emotionally-driven religious fervor. We were the greatest country on earth, therefore our economic system must be the best that ever devised. However, no economic system is 100% stable. A variety of forces are always modifying and tweaking it. Groups of people, as well as extremely powerful individuals, constantly compete against each other in an effort to curb the system’s excesses, exploit and enrich themselves further, or simply to make minor tweaks to remove value-neutral inefficiencies.

Since Reagan’s election, however, those looking to exploit the system and modify it to further and entrench their personal enrichment have increasingly possessed the upper hand. It was at some point during the second Bush presidency that the effectiveness of there efforts became undeniably obvious to many of us. At that point, this country had been experimenting with trickle-down economics for 20 years, and the data showed an upward transfer of wealth was clear and undeniable. The richest 10% of the country owned more of the wealth than at any time since the Great Depression (the situation that’s only grown in severity since then.) Yet, many Americans had utterly bought into the notion that our capitalist system was the best and only way to do things. That was when I first started noting the Ferengi and religious aspects to what the American version of capitalism had become.

The truly gobstoppping thing, though, was how entrenched this blind fealty to the economy had become. This has been a godsend to the new oligarchy, which cannot exist if too many people do not have faith in the system. Should that happen, they will rebel eventually, in some form. The best way to inoculate the system from such dissent is to convince as many people as possible that they too can be just as rich and powerful if they just worked hard enough and smart enough. You don’t need to convince everybody; you just need to convince enough people to prevent the system from being completely overhauled. So far, they managed beautifully.

There is no better example of this than Jeff Bezos and his sprawling Amazon business empire. Amazon is literally the kind of company that anti-trust laws were originally established to combat. It long ago became something far more than an online retailer. Its tendrils infiltrate and inhabit our economy in a myriad of ways: they control an an steadily increasing share of the global Internet traffic; it is a significant media company, in the entertainment business both as a producer and distributor; it acts as a middleman to anybody who wants to sell on the Internet; it provides data hosting and cloud services to some of the worlds largest companies; it’s one of the world’s biggest aggregators  of individual’s data; it produces news; and it enriches Bezos personally at the rate of billions of dollars per month.

This is the type of Cthulu-like, multi-tentacled business that should be keeping people awake in fear at night. The reach and scope of their business is quite literally inescapable. Yet, people to continue to act as if Bezos has done nothing wrong. On a literal level, this is true: he has done nothing legally wrong. By those rules and laws. He has just been a shrewd businessman, and he deserves every penny he has made. Besides, hasn’t he made our life’s better, easier, and more enjoyable? What is the harm in that? By the high holy tenants of the religious belief in our economic system, he deserves every penny he owns. This isn’t hyperbole, by the way. I witnessed it myself last week in the comment section of a Facebook post which stated the need for proactively taking our business to away from Amazon. In retrospect, I wish I took a screenshot to illustrate the point.

These people see nothing wrong or disconcerting about the fact that Bezos is on the verge of becoming the worlds first trillionaire. He is accumulating massive amounts of wealth on a scale unseen since at least the Gilded Age — well over 100 years ago — and he continues to do so at a time when the economic inequality of our system is wrecking havoc upon peoples lives in a way not seen since the Great Depression. This becomes even more repugnant when you consider the ruthlessness and immoral treatment of the workers in his distribution centers in Amazon warehouses. The fact that those workers are getting infected by the coronavirus at higher rates than the majority of the population is well-documented. Yet, he is going to slash their meager “hazard” bonus in June. Apparently, he’s not making money fast enough.

Yet, Bezos is just a rather large symptom of a system that is horribly out of whack and unable to handle the current health and economic crisis. The religious fervor of those that support the billionaire class has blinded them to the reality of the fact that they are rubes who have been horribly duped. They are like the character Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when advised by Federation officers to form a union and strike for higher pay. They refuse to acknowledge the full reality of their situation because they want to someday become the exploiters, even though the chances of that happening are realistically nil.

Sadly, this is just history repeating itself. The Great Depression happened primarily because the ultra rich got too greedy and in their efforts to enrich themselves created the conditions that allowed any major shock to bring it all crashing down. The collapse of the Weimar Republic and the ensuing economic shockwaves merely pushed over the first of a long chain of dominoes perfectly aligned to easily topple the global economy into disarray. A more stable and robust economic system could have better survived the shock to the system. This is not to say that there wouldn’t have been economic hardship, but the pain wouldn’t have been as bad. The same thing is happening here. The extreme greed and Smaug-like hoarding of wealth didn’t by itself start the collapse our economy is experiencing. However, it did mean that when the pandemic spiraled out of control, the system was horribly ill-equipped to handle the economic reverberations.

Frankly, it’s hard to see how the current situation doesn’t proceed along the path similar to that of the Great Depression. Even more disconcertingly, that event may even be less painful and trying than what we are currently facing. Aside from the rise in fascism and nationalism (look, more parallels!), humankind was not facing a slew of other challenges and crises that could very well spell the end of civilization as we know it. Global climate change, ecological collapse, environmental damage wrought by decades of a capitalism — especially in regards to convenience and disposability (planned obsolescence)… All these things were easily capable of eventually causing the exact same kind of shock to the system that COVID-19 did.

In short, what we perceived as normal for the past few decades (which, as noted before, was anything but constant or stable) is long gone. We are entering a new and scary period in human history. One that will require societal change on a level of magnitude that Europe underwent in the decades following the Black Death. Much like the nobility of that time, those who have most profited from the current system will fight tooth and nail to preserve everything they have achieved and “earned.” In much the same way the nobility ruthlessly (and ultimately unsuccessfully) used its connections to the church to bolster and defend their position from economic and societal change, today’s oligarchs will use the firmly established high holy cult of the American capitalist belief system in pursuit of similar goals.

Troubling and turbulent times lay ahead. In some ways, I feel like Sarah Connor gazing off into the distance of the desert at the end of the first Terminator movie. Dark times are coming, and it’s prudent to prepare for them. However the coming storm is like nothing that has come before. Short of becoming a full-blown prepper, how do you actually prepare to handle something of that magnitude? Or, is becoming a prepper the truly prudent course of action at this time?

Whatever the future holds, society has to become kinder and far more thoughtful. We have to be better than Ferengi, and we cannot allow ourselves to rely heavily on faith in that our way of doing things will just work out in the end. If we don’t, human civilization may very well be in a frightful state far sooner than many of us ever imagined.

Saturday Morning Blues (NFtP, Day 72)

I have the day to myself today, and it’s the rare type of Saturday where normally I’d engage in one of my preferred acts of self-care: going to O’Faolain’s to read a book over a couple ciders and an order or two of fries. Even if my favorite pub was open, however, this still wouldn’t be an option — it’s just not safe to do.

The whole situation is depressing as hell.

To an extremely limited degree, I understand the red-hat wearing wankers who are bleating about their rights, freedoms, and liberties while demanding that the country reopen. Staying home, not going to your favorite places, and not engaging in your usual activities for months and with no end in sight is trying as hell. It’s a situation that barely anyone alive today has previously experienced. However, demanding that we completely reopen the country is utterly asinine. It will cause the death of hundreds of thousands.

Even if Northern Virginia was one of those regions attempting to fully reopen, I would continue to stay home. It would be just as depressing as the current situation. I want nothing more than to take a book to O’Faolain’s today, and not doing so is making me miserable. Compounding the misery: many of my other preferred activities are also verboten. Going to the Lego store to look and potentially buy, visiting downtown Frederick or Winchester (though, truth be told, those always involve Sally as well), going to any kind of bookstore… all of these are simply not options, regardless of their current state of operation.

So, it’s a day of pushing through the situational doom and gloom, and doing other things. I’ll still get some reading done, and there are more than a few other enjoyable projects here in the house. I may even push myself out of the current funk. I’ll just have stop fixating on the things that just aren’t possible, and be thankful that other options are available.

Fuck Your “Freedom,” You’re an Asshole

I am done with maintaining even a thin veneer of civility. I have had it with right-wingers in this country, and I despise nearly every single one of them. Each time one of them starts bleating about their rights, freedom, and bringing the economy back, all I hear is incredibly narcissistic, overly-entitled, short-sighted whining.

Back in World War II, when this country last faced a serious crisis, we did whatever it took to win. Industries were nationalized, taxes were raised, lights out curfews enforced in coastal cities, rationing was common, and people sacrificed because it was understood that there was a greater good. It was a hardship, but it was necessary. Everyone understood that not chipping in and doing what was right likely meant putting lives at risk.

But, now… Well, according to the current deranged logic being spouted by the John Birch Society, Tea Party, Libertarian, (somehow) the Christian right, and whackadoodle GOP crowd, freedom is all that matters, and if they don’t get what they want they are going to march on state capital building while proudly bearing their arsenals in an effort to intimidate and scare everyone else in an effort to get what they want. They don’t give the tiniest shit about the health and well-being of others or society as a whole. It’s all about them, and fuck everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Well, I just don’t have it in me anymore to attempt to be understanding or talk civilly to people like that. Their selfishness and preschool-level understandings of rights, freedom, and civic responsibilities and duties is getting other people killed — and the worst part is that they don’t care. They feel like they have a 99% chance of surviving if they should somehow get sick, and they are comfortable with those odds. Of course, if they get sick and come into contact with 300 other people during that time, they will kill three other people because of their selfishness and inhumanity to others. But, that’s not their problem.

I don’t have to be nice to such people. Fuck them. All of them. Especially those who know me personally. I don’t care if you are a friend or a family member. If you are of the mindset that your liberty and freedom is more important than doing the right thing, then you are a killer, and I want nothing to do with you. I’m holding you to a higher standard because if you know me, chances are excellent that you’ve seen other things I’ve posted here or on Facebook. You know how I feel about this. This is not a simple matter of “it’s just an opinion” or “let’s agree to disagree.” I have no fucks to give to that bullshit. Your attitude will cause others to die. If you are some kind of Christian who can’t be bothered to understand this… Well, I hope the God you believe in is far more forgiving than I am.

Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die in this country because of a deranged right-wing way of thinking that devalues society and the general well being — all for the fetishization of individualism. I don’t have to talk nice to such people anymore. I’m tired of trying to get them to understand and see the light — tired of trying to get them to develop the smallest shred of empathy. Sometimes, you just have let the lemmings go rushing headlong over the cliff to their death.

It just sucks that they are going to take so many people who are sincerely trying otherwise with them.

Notes From the Pandemic, Day 58

The plan, and still the intent, is to utilize my long morning walks as a time to listen to audiobooks. However, as was the case with workouts on the elliptical motion machines at the gym, it also seems to be the perfect time to dictate posts like this into my phone. That combined with a stretch of days that didn’t include a lengthy stroll has resulted in little progress on Camus’s The Plague over the past week. At some point, I’ll reach some sort of happy equilibrium, but until then…

Last weekend, we began work on what is probably our first pandemic project: properly organizing the garage and getting rid of the junk that’s accumulated via years of inertia. This task has really needed our attention for longer than we care to admit. Aside from the boxes of things that haven’t been touched since moving nearly nine years ago, much of what is currently stored in there is more or less haphazardly strewn around.

We started by tossing some of the things that could obviously go into the trash. However, that’s not necessarily as easy as it was just two months ago. As part of their efforts to protect their workers, something we totally endorse, the trash company will only empty their approved trash and recycle bins. They will not accept anything placed on the curb for disposal. As a result, a section of the garage has become the area where we will neatly stack everything that we will most likely need to pay a junk removal company to take off our hands.

Further complicating our efforts is the significant amount of e-waste piled into a couple boxes. Ideally, it should all go to an electronics recycling program. However, Virginia doesn’t really have such a program — at least, that was the case when I last checked the website for the state agency that should be in charge of such a thing. (Admittedly, that was at least a couple years go.) In fact, the posted directions/suggestions were to take old computers, wires, peripherals, etc. to Best Buy for their recycling program. Unfortunately, at this time the closest Best Buy is only allowing curbside pick up of online orders. So, more items for the junk section of the garage.

In the meantime, we are re-opening all the old boxes, deciding what can be saved and what can be pitched, and repacking what we are saving into sturdier plastic storage bins. Those Items are finding new homes in plastic bins freed as part of another long avoided project: resorting the Lego collection. Despite its size, and the amount of space it occupies in the garage, no effort is being made to whittle down the size. For the time being, I am relocating many Lego into larger bins and their original, smaller bins are being used for repacking items. This effort also serves to help remove the various sets currently taking space in my work office.

The garage isn’t the only place where this kind of effort is needed. A couple areas of the house also have turned into clutter zones. Those need to be tackled in much the same manner. When all this is done, it’ll be time to see who will remove all the detritus at the best price.

None of this spring cleaning would be happening at this time without the current travel restrictions and stay at home orders. Mind you, half the country is hell-bent on re-opening, proving once again humankind’s self-destructive capacity for selfishness, greed, and carelessness towards others. To a degree, it seems that as with things such as recycling and other forms of trying to reduce our carbon footprint and waste, we are left attempting to do the right thing while the powers that be allow the situation to barrel out of control. All we can do is lead our lives as best we can.

So much of life under these conditions is unnerving — and not just the pandemic and the federal government’s woefully inadequate response to the crisis. Before this started, we as a species were already facing a series of events (plastic pollution, pending environmental collapse, runaway climate change — to name a few) that could potentially cause the downfall of the U.S., and human civilization as a whole. Yet, little work was being done to address those. Given the collective denial and inaction of this country’s leaders to those problems, I suppose it’s not surprising that so many of them have collectively decided to shrug and act like the economy matters far more than human lives.

It’s all depressing as hell.


Notes From the Pandemic, Day 50

Today’s post is brought to you by a stream of consciousness dictated into my phone while taking a morning stroll a couple days ago. I considered editing, revising, and reworking in the interest of ultimately posting something that properly flowed and had real structure. However, reading and thinking it over made it clear that a significant amount of work would be necessary to make that happen. Ultimately, leaving it in the form it organically took (with just a few, though significant, modifications) meant getting it online faster, which seemed just a little more important…

It sickens me when reading about the various things that GOP politicians are doing to reopen the economy in the midst of all this. All of it shows an extremely cavalier disregard of human life. I have been fond of saying for a long time that the GOP is not actually pro-life, that they merely have a fetus fetish. The past few weeks have provided ample evidence for this. The GOP governors of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and the states that never actually issued proper lockdown measures in the first place are all  deciding that the economy is more important than human lives. Worse, the ending of measures to slow the spread of the virus comes with particularly odious ramifications. If a business decides they don’t want to reopen because of wanting to protect their workers, they won’t be able to claim any kind of insurance or assistance designed to help businesses affected by the pandemic. By the same token, workers who refuse to report to work due to safety concerns (especially if their employer isn’t taking reasonable precautions to safeguard their health) won’t be able to claim unemployment benefits. After all, the job is there waiting for them regardless of  lack of safety measures deployed to protect them. To further rub salt in the wound, many in the GOP are pushing hard right now for laws to protect businesses from liability if workers get sick due to exposure on the job. All of this, proves the disgusting, immortal worship of the almighty dollar over human life. Those who suffer the worse: those who can’t afford to miss a paycheck if no other means of assistance is available.

As if they see just how morally indefensible their position is, a meme embraced by some acquiescent right wingers has been something along the lines of, “well, freedom means that you also have the freedom to not go to work if you are concerned about your own safety.” No, people are being forced to choose between their own safety on working low-wage jobs just to survive. That isn’t freedom — which is what the right-wing is claiming to defend. No, you just changed the economics of slavery. Actually, this is really nothing new. Slavery, feudalism, children in coal mines, companies taking advantage of economic disparity in different regions of the world, even current laws here in the US — such as those that apply to farm workers and restaurant workers — have all been about boosting profits for the business and upper classes at the expense of human life, health, and dignity.

Combine that with the right wing absolutist worship of the Second Amendment, their affection for throwing around US military might indiscriminately, the subsequent refusal to truly properly care for our veterans afterwards, and the absolute refusal to do anything to help American workers because it reeks too much of “socialism,”… Well, that calls for a revision of my statement about their fetus fetish. Really, America’s right wing, which of the GOP absolutely caters to in every discernible way, is a death cult with a fetus fetish.

Yesterday, David, a friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

So when things get back to “normal,” does anything change on workplace rights / benefits? We’ve got 10s of millions of people working from home with young kids right now — does this move the needle on issues like paid family leave?
Does this ease any of the parent guilt that my generation has imposed on ourselves? Bad parents because we work too hard, bad workers because we parent too hard?

Bunches of questions have been raised — political, social, everything. But as we reopen the economy, I hope people will consider that there are opportunities to make improvements.

In response I wrote this:

I read this this morning and have been giving it a lot of thought. My “short” answer:

    1. Putting “normal” in quotes: well done. We are never returning to the previous normal. This is a society changing event on the scale of the Great Depression.
    2. Having said that, the GOP will do everything in its power to continue the path it had been on for the past 40+ years. The battle is not over, and it won’t be until enough people realize that the GOP doesn’t give an actual shit about anybody who isn’t rich and/or powerful enough to warrant their actual attention. They will continue to throw bones to the religious right and the white nationalists because they need their votes. Remember that it took years of the Great Depression before enough of the voting populace properly internalized the depravity of lassaiz faire economics the first time.
    3. The Democratic Party has its own issues to sort out, and many of the people behind the scenes who are bankrolling the GOP insanity will also do what they can to prevent a proper progressive takeover of the Democratic Party.
    4. If history is a guide, the progressive takeover will eventually succeed, but not before plenty of additional pain and suffering for the American people as a whole.
    5. Complicating all of this: we are still staring down the barrels of ecological collapse, runaway global climate changes, and an increasingly distressing problem with a plastic pollution.
    6. I don’t think its hyperbole at all to suggest we are in the opening stage of a protracted series of global events that will completely change what “normal” means for virtually everyone on the planet.
    7. I want to believe that when the new normal arrives, that it will be one firmly rooted in a new system that values things much differently than the old ones that have created the clusterfuck of events that is threatening human civilization was we know it. Unfortunately, I would say that the chances of a complete collapse of human civilization is disturbingly non-trivial. (I say this without the slightest hint of exaggeration — I truly believe this.)
    8. This has been your ray of fucking sunshine for the day. 🙂

Nearly everything in that rant is something I previously expressed on Facebook, to Sally in private, or via other means/forums. The future scares me. Not just the long-term future either. The orange shit goblin currently occupying the White House has more or less lived up to all the my worst fears after his election. In the midst of all this, it’s frighteningly likely it is he will take full advantage of both of the current situation and of the ridiculous amount of leeway and latitude that the GOP has provided him — as evidenced by their near unanimous capitulation to trump during the impeachment hearings. Who would have ever thought back in 2012 that Mitch Romney would someday be the last GOP senator to show something of a shred of morality and conscience?

The situation seem all the more dire now that the courts have now been thoroughly stacked with right wing idealogues, and the Federal Election Commission is completely powerless. Mitch McConnell and Der Katzengröpenfürher have acted in concert to ensure that there are no longer enough members of the FEC to have the necessary quorum to actually do anything. They couldn’t even be bothered to fill the current vacancies with right wing sycophant, like they did with the FCC and Ajit Pai.

No, there is quite literally nothing to get in the way of Trump should he decide, and he absolutely will, to break every federal law that is in his way while attempting to get reelected. With the pandemic and the massive weakening of the governmental structures designed to constrain someone like Trump (see just about every single statement issued by Attorney General Barr since he was appointed to the post), the coming election is perfectly situated for a Reichstag fire incident — the scale of which could actually bring down the American republic in much the same way the Roman Republic turned it’s back on representative rule.

Should that happen, and the chances are scarily real, who knows what kind of right-wing nationalist monstrosity the government will turn into. I read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here during the 2016 elections. As eerily prescient as it was, it did end on a hopeful note. Maybe Lewis wanted to be optimistic, that he wanted to believe in the overall goodness of American citizens in particular and humankind in general. I don’t have such a worldview. There’s a reason behind my preferred trivia team name, Misanthropic Secular Humanists, for the past few years. We are our own best hope for progress, salvation, and survival in the face of so many daunting issues. However, as a species we still exhibit an unhealthy level of selfishness, greed, nearsightedness, tribalism, sexism, and racism (by no means an exhaustive list of our worst qualities.) These shortcomings are so profound that my comment to David about potential for a collapse of human civilization does not in any way seem overly pessimistic.

(Aside: yes, humankind is capable of amazing artistic and technological creativity and beauty. People regularly engage in awe-inspiring acts of kindness and generosity. Our best qualities can be breathtaking when on full display. Unfortunately, this is clearly a period in history where all worst instincts and qualities are on full display.)

I truly hope my worries are misplaced and that they are ultimately proven wrong. I don’t ever expect us, either as a nation or as a species, to coelesce around a truly progressive vision of how to reshape the economy, the way we live, and the way we treat each other and our world — even though it is abundantly clear that the old normal needs to be jettisoned the same way feudalism withered away after the Black Death.

I wish I possessed something optimistic and uplifting to end this end this on, but I just don’t have it in me.