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You probably have an opinion on this. I’m no authority, but here’s mine, for what it’s worth.


As a group, black people have been marginalized and economically disadvantaged due to the legacy of slavery. Confederate flags and statues of confederacy heroes serve to disenfranchise black Americans. Why do some people still want to display them? To my knowledge, there are no statues in this country honoring King George III, the reigning British King during the American Revolutionary War which was won by those who wanted to secede from British rule. I couldn’t find evidence that there are any statues honoring South Vietnamese leaders (the losers in the Vietnamese civil war) in Vietnam today. Why should we have anything commemorating the losers of the American Civil War? (Had the South won and seceded, would they still have slavery today? Would the Axis powers have been defeated in WWII if the United States were two separate countries in the 1940’s?)


Robert E Lee was considered a great general. If he had led the armies of the North instead of the South, our civil war might have been short-lived, and many lives saved. Some years ago, I visited civil war sites and learned that in the latter years of the war, the North and South traded prisoners of war in the interest of humanitarianism. That practice came to an unfortunate end when Robert E Lee refused to trade any captured Northern soldiers who were black, a blatantly racist move and not very heroic, IMHO. Yes, it’s time for statues of Robert E Lee and all his Confederate pals to go. That also goes for his flag. It’s not okay to disrespect our black citizens.


The murder of black American George Floyd, repeatedly shown on TV, was until very recently the latest well-publicized illustration of policing gone wrong. As I started to write about this, Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed in Atlanta. Another black man killed by a cop, this time shot in the back twice. There is no shortage of other examples. The existence of cell phone video has put these cases front and center. When this happens, there is talk of police racism, and the need for reform. We’ve seen it before. But this seems to be more intense and widespread. Will this time be different? Will there be more changes?


Watching the demonstrations, it is clear there is a lot of pent up anger. Sure, not all police officers treat minorities badly, but enough do to make black lives more difficult. I'm white and I’ve been pulled over by cops a few times in my life – once for forgetting to put my headlights on, once for speeding, and once for another traffic infraction. I wasn’t happy about it any of those times, but I deserved it. I would be incensed if I was pulled over once a month for exactly nothing. Say I was running late, doing errands before an appointment, and I was pulled over because of the way I looked. I would be burning mad, yet that happens to black males on a regular basis. No harm, you might say. Most of the time they’re inconvenienced, but then allowed to get on with their day. I say it is very harmful. It sends a message to those who are stopped—you aren’t as free as others to live your life without being harassed. The despicable actions of Amy Cooper, the woman who called the police to falsely claim she was being threatened by a black man (while doing her best to sound frightened), underscores the reality of the situation, the ease with which minorities can be targeted.


Some changes in policing have taken place over the past decades. There are far more persons of color on police forces, but that hasn’t solved the problem. Even black officers have been involved in controversial police shootings of black men. Blatant racism can’t be the only problem.


Granted, there are some flat-out racist cops. I believe many police departments do their best to weed them out, but they miss some. How could they not? Racists don’t generally come with a tattoo across their forehead reading “racist.” I don’t know if it will ever be possible to weed them all out, as long as racism exists.


Let’s face it—there are racists in every profession. They are scattered throughout society, but where they land, what job they hold, can have vastly different consequences. If a racist works at McDonalds, a minority customer may have an unpleasant transaction. If a teacher is a racist, minority students may suffer from poor self-esteem and/or may be short-changed in their education, with negative, life-changing results. If a doctor is a racist, a patient may be denied a much-needed analgesic or die from lack of attention. If a cop is a racist, a person may be murdered.


It has been said before, but bears repeating: nobody is born a racist. The main reason people become racist is likely the influence of others, such as parents, friends, and people in the community. Once those feelings are ingrained, they cannot be erased at will. Even recognizing racism in oneself does not enable a person to erase those feelings at will, just like wanting to stop eating unhealthy foods for health reasons doesn’t stop all cravings for a Big Mac and fries.


However, people can resist eating unhealthy foods, and can actively monitor their behavior to avoid acting like racists. One can be nice to minorities, despite an urge to be disrespectful. One can hire a minority for a job despite wanting to hire a less qualified white person. If you’re a cop, you can refrain from pulling a minority over for no reason. That would be a good start.


I listened to many people being interviewed in the aftermath of the George Floyd homicide. One black man commented that he believed police often use excessive force because of fear. In our society, black men are feared more than white men. With fear comes overreaction. Overreaction in the case of a taxi driver means the driver may not pick up a black man hailing a cab, but overreaction on the part of a police officer can have a much more dire consequence. People can try to tell themselves not to be afraid, but if it has been incorporated into their psyche for whatever reason, wishing it away won’t help.


If, as a society, we can remove that fear, we may remove the tendency of some cops to react with excessive force. How to accomplish that is unclear. Let’s stop disenfranchising minorities with public displays honoring the Confederacy, and decrease the incarceration rate of black men by decriminalizing drug use, enforcing sentencing equality, and providing more gainful employment opportunities. With fewer black men in prison, the perception that they are dangerous will likely diminish.


Fifty years ago, prejudice was more out in the open. Many people made no effort to hide their racism, unabashedly using what we now refer to as “the N word.” It takes time to change attitudes. Attitudes have already changed, but, unfortunately, not enough. Yet.


*


P.S. Chris Rock is one of my favorite comedians. Some years ago he made a joke aimed at white people: “None of ya would change places with me! And I’m rich! That’s how good it is to be white!” I think he was right.


Watch him yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJmvfbDdhFg

Updated: Jun 10


“Your money or your life” is a phrase often attributed to highwaymen who, when robbing travelers, threatened to kill them if they didn’t hand over their cash. In general, victims would hand over their money and other valuables to avoid being killed. We seem to be faced with a similar dilemma these days: social distance to the max, i.e. give up money (your job, stock market investments, etc.) or die. I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus again, but since it has been dominating the news and our lives lately, here goes (at least) one more time.


Deciding about how much social distancing is appropriate has become political, and has become ugly. For instance, a store employee was shot dead when he told a shopper his daughter needed to wear a mask in the store.


We’ve had some experience with this virus now, which should allow for more focused efforts at amelioration of this pandemic. Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered (see below), but I think it’s time to step back and look at the situation dispassionately.


Below I have a graph summarizing the economy vs social distancing dilemma.


If we have no social distancing (substitute business/restaurant/factory/store/public gathering, etc. unabated, if you want) many people will die, and most people, as judged by surveys, will self-isolate out of fear. The economy will suffer greatly as employees die or refuse to work, causing manufacturing to shut down. Transport of goods will come to a standstill. Food and medicine will run out and medical care will be limited, with few health care providers still alive and willing to work.


On the other hand, if the economy is shut down to such a point that it is illegal to leave your house or go to work anywhere, the result will be similar. Somewhere between zero social distancing and one hundred (on a scale of zero to one hundred), the economic vitality (substitute stock market, GDP, or employment, if you like) will be maximized.


Unfortunately, the apex of the curve cannot be located accurately and is different for the various parameters, each of which has a differently shaped graph. I believe, however, it makes for a reasonable point to start a discussion.


The curve is reminiscent of the Laffer curve, popularized in the 1970’s, which shows a theoretical relationship between the tax rate and tax revenues collected. It shows that at a 0% tax, the tax revenues are, of course, zero, and at a 100% tax rate, the revenues are also zero because people won’t work if all their money goes to the government. The enigmatic sweet spot is somewhere in between. Along with maximum tax revenue at the apex, one might argue that as a bonus, the economy is also strong (the measure of economic strength, of course depends on what is being measured).


Laffer Curve:

One can argue about the exact tax rate at which tax revenues are maximal. As in the first graph, the exact shape of the curve has not been determined. Interestingly, according to an economist who gave a lecture series I attended recently, most economists agree that the United States tax policy has always placed us on the left side of the curve, i.e., a place where raising taxes would always result in higher total tax revenues. The recent tax cuts under the current administration has, as predicted, resulted in lower tax revenues, giving us less of a cushion to support the economy during these trying times.

So – what is the right amount of social distancing? We have some data now. Sweden has provided us information on a European country which has not instituted much social distancing. The government has suggested people distance themselves and work from home if possible, although restaurants and bars remain open. The ultimate goal there is herd immunity. What has actually happened there is the following: many citizens have chosen to social distance on their own, their economy has shrunk (estimates for 2020 are between 6.9 and 9.7% GDP contraction), unemployment is up (7.2% current to possible 10.1% later this year), and their deaths per one million people are 319.


Denmark, which has the second highest death rate in Scandinavia at 91 per one million people (less than one third of Sweden’s,) did enforce social distancing successfully, has already reopened elementary schools and daycare centers, and is just now opening malls and shops, with restaurants soon to follow. Denmark’s unemployment has been four to five percent (the government paid employers to keep their workers on the payroll). Companies received government help as long as they didn’t have stock buy-backs and suspended dividends. The economy is predicted to contract three to 10 percent in 2020.


At this writing, the US unemployment rate is 14.7%, and the GDP has dropped 4.8% in the first quarter. Estimates I’ve read range between 25% to 40% decline for the year. It is unclear if the same parameters are being looked at in predictions for US and other countries, but it seems that we are doing much worse than many countries. Our deaths per I million are 244 (less than Sweden, but more than 2.5 times that of Denmark). Our higher death rate than Denmark is likely due, in part, to the difference in the medical systems (all Danes receive free healthcare), something I will not elaborate on at this time. The Danes, by the way, are probably the unhealthiest of the Scandinavians. In Finland and Norway, which also supply healthcare to all their citizens, the deaths per million are 48 and 40, respectively. BTW, “welfare states” is an unfortunate misnomer we’ve given to Scandinavian countries. A more accurate translation, I have learned, is “well-being state.” Citizens there have a feeling of well-being, as they are not burdened with worry about their health care or living expenses if they lose their job.


Unemployment, economic contraction, and death rate vary from country to country, depending on steps taken to limit spread of virus, and government economic/social policies. In one country that appears to have done almost everything right, South Korea, the death rate is 5 per 1 million, unemployment is 4.8%, and GDP is predicted to range from a small decrease to an increase of 0.9%.


I do not subscribe to the notion that we should just let a lot of people die so we have herd immunity. Rather, I believe that intelligent relaxation of restrictions makes the most sense. I do not know of anyone who has gotten COVID-19 who, like me, is not working outside the home, shops for food only when necessary, and practices some sort of decontamination of everything brought into the house.


Most cases (if not all, see below) are likely spread by person-to-person contact, so, like grocery stores, I believe that other stores could open up to shoppers (as long as they don’t try on clothes) if everyone wears a mask and does their best to distance from each other. Ditto with places of work, where people can maintain their distance while wearing a mask.


Temperature checks of all people entering places of business could be done easily with thermometer guns. Employees could be checked fairly regularly for COVID-19. It may not be practical to check them every day. Perhaps a screen where samples of, say, twenty people are screened in one batch could be devised to save money. Only if there is a positive, would each individual in that batch be tested. Contact tracing for employees is a must. People laid off could be trained to do that.


Gyms? Beauty shops? Tattoo parlors? Let’s get some data from states that are opening up. I suspect that with reasonable screening and wiping down of equipment, these can be opened safely. Restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other large gatherings, unfortunately, probably can’t safely open for a while. Perhaps not until we have a vaccine, which will probably be at least a year from now.

*

Now I have some questions which I believe should be answerable at this time, but haven’t been addressed to my satisfaction. Knowing the answers to these simple questions would go a long ways towards helping us come up with a rational plan.


1. Can you really get COVID-19 from fomites (inanimate objects)? I know it’s theoretically possible to get a COVID-19 infection this way, but does it actually happen? If you can’t get COVID-19 from such objects, or only very rarely, it would be really good to know. We wouldn’t need to waste time and money disinfecting things. If we can get the virus from a doorknob or other things frequently handled, perhaps we should have tissues and nearby trashcans in public places so we can touch things safely with the tissue.


2. Can you get COVID-19 from food? Authorities say you can’t, because it’s a respiratory virus, which is destroyed by stomach acids. However, these same people tell us we can catch COVID-19 by touching our mouth with our fingers that have virus on them. So why can’t we catch it from food with the virus on it?


3. Has anyone who is sheltering in place (which includes people shopping while using recommended precautions), without outsiders coming into their home, gotten COVID-19? I don’t know of any.


4. What about delivered newspapers – are they put into plastic bags by humans (which carry a contamination risk to the newspaper surface) or machine? Are mail carriers instructed to keep the mail clean?


5. Can people who have recovered from COVID-19 get the disease again? C’mon, there have been a lot of people who have recovered by now. We should be able to get information on this. A related question is: what information do we have about antibody titers to COVID-19 over time?


6. Do we really need to wear masks AND stay six feet apart when in public? Maybe only one or the other is good enough.


If you’re still with me, sorry I went on for so long. Still lots more to question/discuss, but I’m calling it quits here. I’ve got other stuff to do, like going outside and enjoying the unpolluted air, thanks to decreased vehicle traffic. Hope I don’t run into any murder hornets.

Updated: Jun 10

I thought that instead of my usual type of blog, I would try to entertain you with a short story (my shortest story yet) inspired by our need to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One or the Other

By Deven Greene

Max lifted the bed skirt and checked under his bed. All appeared in order. The blanket he’d placed over everything looked undisturbed. To be sure, he took out his cell phone and checked the picture he’d taken just before he’d left for school that morning. The folds in the blanket looked exactly the same. Nothing had been disturbed.

He remembered arguing with his mother about that bed skirt when he was five. She’d insisted he keep it even though he hated it. Like he hated everything in his life. Of course, she’d won the argument, and it had remained on his bed for ten years, until now. He still hated the way it looked but was glad he had it now as it hid everything under his bed from the casual observer. Even though his parents promised never to enter his room without his permission, he didn’t trust them and needed to hide things from them, even in the inner sanctum of his room.

Max reached under the bed and started to drag out the large shallow box so he could check the contents again. He didn’t consider himself to have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he’d found himself checking his inventory more and more frequently as the date got closer. He knew he wouldn’t sleep well tonight. Tomorrow was the day, and he could hardly contain his excitement. After months of planning, all the while suppressing any comments that would give his plan away, he needed to maintain secrecy just one more day.

Max’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. “Dinner’s ready, Max.”

“Be right there.” Max aborted his plan to check his stockpile, letting the bed skirt fall back into place and brushing it a few times to hide evidence it had been disturbed. He breathed in and out slowly a few times, a trick he’d learned from one of the many therapists his parents had sent him to. The calming effect wasn’t great, but it helped him keep his thoughts to himself in times of stress.

Forcing a smile, Max exited his room, locked the door, and took his place at the kitchen table. As usual, the table was set, and his dad was seated at the head.

“Need any help, Mom?” Max asked as his mother placed a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table.

“No, dear. But thanks for asking. One sec and I’ll have everything ready.”

“Everything smells delicious,” Max said. “I wish you’d called me to help you. I know I’m not a good cook, but I could set the table.”

“You’re so considerate, Max. But I know how busy you are with your schoolwork and everything, and I love nothing more than taking care of you and your father. Here, all done.” She placed a bowl of green beans and a platter of sliced meatloaf on the table.

“Looks wonderful, Honey,” Max’s father said.

“Well, dig in,” his mom said.

As the food was passed around the table, Max’s father asked, “How was school today, Son?”

“Pretty good. I learned some cool expressions in Spanish class.”

“That’s nice. And how was your geometry test?”

“I think I did pretty well on it, to be honest.”

“That’s great news,” Max’s mother said. “I know you were having trouble with that class, but I was sure that with a little more effort, you’d do well.”

“I’m so proud of you, Son,” his dad said. “Your mom and I know you’re very smart. It wasn’t your ability, but your lack of interest…”

“I know, Dad. I wasn’t applying myself. You and Mom were right all along. I had a bad attitude. But that’s all changed now.”

“We can see that. These past few months, it like you’re a different person. Making friends, active in school clubs, doing your homework. And smiling! That’s so important.”

“I hate to bring this up again,” Max’s mom said, “but it really hurts our feelings, the way you still keep your father and I out of your room. We respect your need for privacy, of course, and we would never go in your room without your permission, but why all the secrecy? What are you afraid of? If you have a girlfriend, that’s okay. We understand. We were young once. Your room hasn’t been vacuumed for so long. I’m afraid it’s unsanitary. We don’t want you to get sick.”

“Tell you what,” Max said. “I’ve been thinking about it. I think you’ll be able to go into my room real soon. I’m just not quite ready now, but soon.”

“That’s good to hear,” his mom said, smiling. “It’s not that we want to pry. It’s just that we’re a family. We used to be so close, until you went into that slump. But I’m glad you’re finally yourself again, thanks to Dr. Siegal.”

“Yeah, he’s been really great.”

“Now I have a bit of bad news,” Max’s mother said. “I think we’ve all been expecting this, sort of, but not so soon. I got a call from your school while I was making dinner.”

“Oh?” Max asked. “What did they say about me?” Max felt his muscles tighten and his pulse quicken as he spoke.

“Son, your sweating,” his father said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just want to know what they said about me.”

“They didn’t say anything about you, Max. They were calling all the parents to tell us school has been canceled until the end of the school year because of that coronavirus. It’s the law now. Everyone has to stay home. No getting together with your friends til this is over. Everyone has to shelter in place.”

“What?” Max yelled out, reflexively standing. “When? When is school going to be cancelled?”

“Starting tomorrow.”

“WTF! They can’t just do that!”

“Well, they did!” his mom said. “And watch your language, please. I’m glad you’re enjoying school so much more now, but I didn’t expect you to be so upset.”

“It’s just that I like school so much. I was really looking forward to going there tomorrow. I can’t believe this is happening.” Max ran into his room and slammed the door.

Lying on his bed, at first all Max could do was bury his head in his pillow and cry. He ignored the knocks on his door from his parents, and their requests to enter. Eventually, they stopped and he was left alone with his thoughts.

Max dried his tears and sat on the floor next to his bed. Still sniffling, he reached under the bed skirt and pulled out the box. One by one, he took out the Glock G44 semi-automatic pistol, the Beretta 92, and the AK47 with the bump stock. He checked each, confirming they were still loaded, then opened each box of ammunition. Lastly, he took out the paper with the list of names.

Brent Cox, Alexis Ernst, Xavier Garrison, Kurt Izhakoff, Jared Lambert, Ashley Mendoza, Amanda O’Neil, Forest Parnell, Lucas Stevens, Zoey Wilcox. He didn’t care how many other jerks at his school would die, but he would make sure these super assholes did. At least, that was his plan.

The assembly had been scheduled for tomorrow, and he knew all those scumbags would sit together. He’d gone over it in his mind so many times, he could picture them sitting in the same seats they always took at assemblies. He knew exactly which door he would enter by, after picking up the ammo. He was going to hide everything he needed in the early morning inside the closet near the auditorium, the one that opened from the outside and was never locked. He’d even done a dry run at the previous assembly to be sure he’d have a clear path from the closet to the auditorium.

After spraying the crowd with bullets, he would check to make sure all ten on his list were dead. He wasn’t concerned about hitting others, as he hated everyone at the school. It would all be over in less than a minute, before anyone could stop him. Then he’d blow out his own brains with the Beretta. His only regret would be not being able to see the headlines, or seeing his parents’ reaction when they read his suicide note filled with hate and blame, the note he had planned to pen that night.

Now, after all that planning, with months of pretending to like his therapist, act like he was happy, lie about caring about school, participating in school activities and making friends, his plans had been quashed. Quashed by a virus of all things. A thing with no soul, no intelligence, no nothing. There was no way now that all those jerks would be together in one place any time soon with this shelter in place thing going on. He’d have to wait until next year before carrying out his plan.

*

Max’s father lost his job at the hotel convention center due to the coronavirus. The family moved to another state over the summer, where Max’s dad found a well-paying job for a medical equipment supplier. Max’s new school was welcoming, and for the first time he made friends. Not a lot, but two young men he could relate to. The guns he’d brought with him to the new home, hidden on the bottom of a suitcase, remained well-hidden in his closet. With no need for them, they remained untouched. Two years later, Max graduated from high school and went off to a local college, where he majored in engineering. His classmates at the old school never realized their lives had been saved by the coronavirus.

*

Dear Reader, have you noticed that the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted the escalation of school shootings and workplace violence that has been causing so many deaths and injuries in our country? In a perfect world, we’d have no deadly viruses or mass shootings. If you had to choose one or the other, which would you choose?

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